Hashtag Instaart: what does it mean for the artworld?

Claire Fogarty is a first year English and Philosophy student interested in all modes of communicating and expressing thought. Outside of her degree she experiments with a range of creative arts, and loves exploring the intersections and boundaries between them. Though she often works in Fine and Visual Arts, her main passion is writing, which you can find on her blog at filletofemme.wordpress.com. In this opinion piece, Claire discusses the pros and cons of 'social media art'.

Social media plays a huge role in shaping our generation’s creativity. Millennials may be mocked for our increasing obsession with the self or hated for our invention of the selfie, but what we are undeniably doing is, in some way, producing snippets of Art.

A Tweet is a mini Philosophy/diary entry (Twitter being a microblogging platform combining traditional journal keeping with websites) and though the process of taking, cropping, editing and captioning last night’s Insta pic may constitute procrastination, it does take effort and creativity. You can certainly tell a great writer from their captions and visual artist from their choice of filter.

The self is, of course, extremely evident. Anyone on any of these sites has their own personal profile regularly updated with content revolving around them. Profile pictures are a form of self-portrait, and though our increasing obsession with outward appearance may seem shallow, the clothes; makeup, and general personal style which we present is a means of personal expression. And what, if not that, has Art always in at least some way been about?

I won’t go into an already laboured debate as to what ‘counts’ as Art, but I will say that it is one I think is more relevant today than ever. It has never been quite so mainstream to be a photographer in at least some sense, or to express one’s identity in such a tangible and public way. Practically no one exists, anymore, without some sort of online alter-ego: an artefact presenting the self.

What I do question, however, is how helpful or hurtful this is for the art world. In some ways it is clearly a wonderful thing to mainstream creativity, and to see so many people expressing themselves in a way which benefits both them and the people they influence. A world in which everyone is an artist is a world of endless sources of inspiration, communication, and personal therapy. 

I suppose where the problem arises, however, is where we begin to consider the motives behind the art, and how these influence its production and quality. A classic twenty-first-century quandary is: do I post the better photo where I look worse or the blurry one where my abs/hair/everything looks perfect? An ideal solution is obviously a good photo where we also look flawless (never happens), but I’d say nine times out of ten people would opt for the latter. Our obsession with how we look is impacting artistic decisions, and because a lot of social-media-style art contains the self, our self-identification with what we produce is stronger than ever.

Overall, I think it’s a great thing to see creativity more popularly in practice than ever, but what we should be wary of is a trend developing where it suffers due to the impact of vanity.