Art & Instagram: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

A few months ago, we were discussing how we had each quietly started following a few different circles of artists in various locations around the world via Instagram.  Eventually, we started sharing our Instagram “likes” with one another through screenshots and tagging in comments on different feeds.  

We began tracking our likes and experiences as we delved into the alternative art market within Instagram.  With ever-growing social media tools like Instagram, Vine, Twitter, and of course Facebook, there is no question that the art market is expanding in exponential and unpredictable ways. The first Vine videos were recently sold as art last spring at the Moving Image Art Fair, for instance. Not to mention the explosion of new art “gallery” websites such as Artsy and Saatchi Online where you can browse and follow emerging artists. Even web giant Amazon is getting in on the game with their newly launched Amazon Art site, which sells original works of art at various price points. - Ellen C. Caldwell and Lauren Gallow

A handful of our favorite Insty artists, from left to right, top row: @xlucasgrogran@hawktrainer@m_i_s_o_.

From left to right, bottom row: @ghostpatrol@davidchoe, and @louise__zhang.  Caldwell recently had Insty-inspired studio visits with Melbourne artists Lucas Grogan and Ghostpatrol – those interviews will be coming to the NAP blog soon.

As with sites like Etsy, Instagram offers a new place to follow and find artists and their work.  Unlike Etsy, however, Instagram allows users the coveted voyeuristic glimpse into an artist’s life, as snapshots of vacations and meals and, of course, selfies are often intermixed with artwork on an artist’s feed. Through Instagram, underdog artists are coming out on top and getting new attention in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.  Instagram is redefining self-marketing and promotion, especially for artists. In many ways, this changing virtual market of the present is or at least can be the new art market.

Our comment exchanges on artists’ feeds, such as @willis82 and @folkfibers.

Instagram as the new art market.

Both Instagram and Etsy provide everyday internet users with a new way to find and buy art. Instead of going through a dealer or a gallery, today potential buyers are able to discover art much more quickly and directly. This discovery can even happen in the palm of your hand as you scroll through your Insty and Vine feeds on your iPhone, looking for art you like, rather than what is trending with dealers, collectors, and the larger art world. And more so, this discovery can also happen when you’re lying in bed, scrolling through your feeds while you aren’t even looking for art. In multiple cases, we have purchased art out of the blue and solely because of seeing coveted items on artists’ feeds.

Compared to Etsy which is a virtual marketplace, Instagram is really just a collection of images.  On Etsy, users need to know exactly what they are looking for before they start scrolling.  With Instagram, you can wander virtually and wistfully.  Oftentimes, we’ve encountered various artists, and slowly began to follow their artistic circles via Instagram users and followers.  It’s virtual browsing that leads to serious falling.  We often lost track of how we had come to “like” various artists because we had fallen so deeply down the Instagram rabbit hole. In many ways, this rabbit hole phenomenon is precisely what we love about the Instagram art world.

Instagram as art network.

We found that if you dedicate even a short amount of sleepy browsing time to Instagram, you can fall so deeply into other people’s images and friends of friends, that you forget how you found people until you are digging your way out.  And once you get over the annoyance of clicking your way back out, there is something kind of special about this part of the rabbit hole Instagram phenomenon. Being forced to retrace your way back up and out of the hole you just dug offers a space for reflection and awareness that is often denied during mindless scrolls through the Facebook newsfeed or the Twitterverse.  During this process of reverse digging on Instagram, it was nice to be reminded how and through what networks we had ended up with artists we liked.

A handful of examples of @powwowhawaii’s posts, featuring artists: Antonio SantinJosef Kote, and Jonathan Yeo.

Falling down the rabbit hole on Instagram can happen several ways. Within our own existing art circles, our friends on Instagram comment on other people’s photos and tag us in them if they think we’ll like respective artists.  We’ve also noticed we are becoming networkers, as we often see our Instagram friends connecting to new, and otherwise unconnected artists via our Instagram accounts. This idea of an Insty user as “hub” is also central, as we’ve discovered several users like powwowhawaii and booooooom who function as virtual gallerists, posting pictures of new artists’ work or letting various artists guest curate the feeds. These hub users can more often than not be traced back as the source of our rabbit-hole-falling on Instagram, as it’s so enticing to keep clicking on artists and commenters when we find something we like on hub feeds.

Compared to something like Twitter, which admittedly feels rather stale today, whose function is networking, branding, and promoting, Instagram offers a much more tangible, art-savvy, and aesthetically pleasing venue. Instagram allows all the same functions and purposes of Twitter-- connecting, commenting, and the pleasure of voyeuristic stalking--but in a much more artistically conducive format. The image-based world of Instagram is a perfect place to find and follow new artists, as it is defined by the visual in a way that Twitter and Facebook simply are not.

Instagram artist @callenthompson’s work and exchange with the authors.

The act of scrolling and digging through your Instagram feed, browsing images and users, and even posting your own VSCO-Cam-edited photos, allows for a new connection to the visual in this virtual world. It’s probably been a few weeks (months?) since we popped into a gallery or a museum, and the same is likely true for most of our art friends. But on Instagram, we’re constantly following and “heart”ing new artists and images. We’ve even followed up with some of our favorite Insty artists to buy prints, books, jewelry, baskets, and floor cloths. While it’s sometimes a trip to get caught up in the rabbit hole of Instagram, that trip has led us to some of the more interesting artists we’ve encountered today. We hope you are enjoying the fall too, or that you at least give it a try.


Lauren Gallow is a writer, editor, and barista located in Seattle. You can follow her Insty feed here: @desertren.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, writer, and editor.  You can follow her Twitter feed here: @ellencaldwell.


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