- Victoria Comstock-Kershaw
OPINION: INSTAGRAM DID NOT KILL ART | AN EXPLORATION OF POST-INTERNET ART & CRITICISM
Work produced for Instagram is apparently only responsible for the Death of Art when it's not yours. writes Victoria Comstock-Kershaw.
'Instagram Killed Art.' 'Facebook Murdered Creativity.' 'Twitter Choked the Artist In His Sleep And Proceeded To Sleep With His Mourning Widow.' If you have any form of social media, you will be no stranger to the delightfully superficial nature of digital culture criticism and the art that stems from it. The message remains fairly consistent: phones are evil, social media is bringing about the downfall of civilisation and Steve Jobs was, if not the Devil incarnate, at the very least a witch. We've all seen those wonderfully cringe-inducing pieces about the evils of social media and its' effect of the artist, usually depicting someone's soul being sucked out by their phone screen or foregoing their paintbrush and pallet to instead inject themselves with Facebook likes. It's easy, superficial stuff, perfect for "woke" clickbait articles with names such as 10 Illustrations About The Twisted Society We Live In or 27 Pieces About The Art World That Will Make You Want to Put Your Phone in a Blender, Abandon God, and Become a Recluse in the Himalayan Mountains. But what is it about art produced and distributed on social media that garners so much hatred? In an age where creating and sharing art is easier than ever, post-internet criticism should surely be more concerned with celebrating the web than denigrating it. So why is it that the majority of post-internet thought surrounding art on social media is so negative, when it has given the art world so much?
From left to right, up to down: Antoine Geiger, John Holcroft, Human Works Design, Steve Cutts, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Marco Melgrati
It seems far too obvious to sit here and point out that idea that Art as a whole is so fragile that it can be ‘killed’ by a social media application is utterly laughable. And yet, it's a point that needs to be made. Art made it through countless millennia, hundreds of revolutions, two world wars, and the god-damned 80s, but some silicone valley sweetheart managed to create an app that would single-handedly destroy the expression of human imagination in all its forms? Even as a hyperbole, it's an idiotic claim. It also seems too obvious to point out the hypocrisy alone of using social media to post anti-internet commentary, and yet here we are. It can, of course, be argued that the use of social media to share these anti-social media pieces is simply adding a layer of artistic irony all you like, but I think we both know that it's nothing more than a weak attempt at appearing intellectual without actually putting any thought into our criticism. Work produced for Instagram is apparently only responsible for the death of Art when it's not yours. But thirdly, and most importantly, this anti-technology line of thought encapsulates the sort of knee-jerk caveman reaction that does the exact opposite of what criticism is intended to do: it holds us back.
Social media allows for interactions between artist, audience and - most excitingly of all - medium that are unprecedented in the history of art. However, the attitude surrounding these interactions - cries of the "uberisation of photography" and "cultural narcissism" - is one of anger, fear and outrage. 'Insta-friendly' art exhibits or pieces are seen as pandering at best, and utterly devoid of artistic value at worst. It's a regressive and superficial reaction to something new and exciting; an immature and redundant refusal to see social media as the extension and progression of art that it is, choosing instead to brand it as vain or, god-forbid, common. Those who spew this unfathomably basic post/anti-internet rhetoric are the same people that were critical of Pollock and his splatters, of Matisse and his cutouts, of Hirst and his formaldehyde. Instagram has provided countless new ways of interacting with, appreciating, and examining art.
On the purely aesthetic side, the platform's unique layout of cropped, perfectly curated squares, provides both artist and audience with new challenges: we can see an artists entire body of work in one sweeping glance, something that was not possible twenty or thirty years ago without purchasing, say, a coffee table book of their works. Artists and creators can add dimension to their presentations by fiddling around with colour themes (like the incomparable pastels of @exotic.cancer), consistent features (like the sharp and sexy linework of @regards_coupables), or video posts(see the wonderfully terrifying transformations of @blakeneuberts portraits) to their hearts content. Hashtags, too, have provided us with an exciting new way of viewing artworks, categorising them by everything from location (#TATEBritain) to style (#Modernism). It's fun and multidimensional; everyone has the same platform, and seeing how different artists interpret it gives us a whole new view into their world: the account itself becomes a piece of art.
But it is not only the aesthetic side of Instagram that has had an impact on post-internet art: creators are given the opportunity to gage their audience reactions almost instantaneously through likes, comments, and shares. Interaction between artist and viewer has never been so easy and so entertaining (Andy Leeks' artworks are a terrific example of this: his Notes To Strangers Instagram page is filled with photographs taken by his audience of his pieces in a synergetic collaboration between artist, audience, and their shared environment that is both enigmatic and delightful), and it is perhaps this leap that frightens and angers anti-internet critics the most. All art is, to some extent or another, created to be seen by others: it is the reality of immediate and uncensored feedback that upsets and terrifies critics. One should be of the opinion that by providing a technological platform that matches both users and providers on such a massive scale, Instagram is encouraging Art rather than killing it. Is the Art community so elitist and close-minded that the opportunity for amateurs to create and share work deemed akin to the genocide of Art? Are the concept of selfies and filters so upsetting to you that you must resort to comparing them to the end of human expression?
@insta_repeat on Instagram
Sure, there can be problems with the art found on Instagram, but their faults are not inherent to the platform. Photography on Instagram can be amateur and repetitive - in fact, so much so that accounts like the glorious @insta_repeat exist - but even accounts like these have the self-awareness to accept that "there is a lot of mimicry everywhere in media, not just on Instagram". When interviewed by PhotoShelter, the Anchorage-based account creator confirmed that the goal of the account was to critique originality in all media creation - it just happened to be through through the lens of this one genre of Instagram photography accounts.
Is some Instagram art cliche and mass-produced? Sure, but so are Howell Conant photographs. The fact that every teenage girl from London to Los Angeles has that one picture of Audrey Hepburn up on their bedroom wall doesn't change the fact that it's good photograph and a perfectly valid piece of art. To compare this mass-production of visually similar images to the death of Art is overkill to say the least: photographic evidence against uniqueness has been around since the early 90s, as seen with Dutch photographer Ari Versluis' Exactitudes project. Not all art will be unique, and not all art will be good: it's the fear of being faced with that reality that drives post-internet critics insane. Their art is under stimulating, uninspired, and frankly, very much a Pick Me way of expressing discontent about something they don't quite understand. Instagram has provided so many new and exciting fashions of viewing, interacting, and thinking about Art - it's a progression and extension of a constantly changing cultural landscape, giving masters and amateurs alike a platform on which to share and develop their skills. The Art world has benefitted massively from social media, and at this point, the only thing that's "killing" Art are the lazy criticisms surrounding it.