Is Instagram Now Doing For Art What It Did For Fashion?

Hundreds of fashion brands have built their success through direct-to-consumer marketing on Instagram, and now the platform is offering a place for artists to communicate with the monied masses. 

Illustration by Blair Breitenstein

Art has long been reserved for the rich and elite; inaccessible to most and its galleries kept as a playground for society’s, shall we say, most pretentious. Until recently, the closest thing resembling “art” in my home was an IKEA-framed poster (although don’t underestimate the charm of a vintage-film poster in a beautiful frame…).

It wasn’t long ago that artists were limited to one route: gain the support of elite-critics, galleries and big-name collectors, exhibit at museum shows, and eventually reach the consumers. It’s a lengthy and costly process, and one many under-the-radar artists struggled to afford. But social media – ah, the good old internet – has proven to be a revolutionary tool for artists, particularly for the up-and-coming.

Today, artists are using Instagram as a virtual exhibition space. Here they can connect directly to their audience – cutting out the critics, curators and collectors – and spark a dialogue between artist and consumer. Perhaps more significantly, artists can connect to a new audience, an audience who was, until recently, excluded by an industry shrouded in pretence. Much like the many direct-to-consumer fashion brands that have flourished in the last five or so years, artists can now forgo brick-and-mortar spaces and sell work themselves.

Hercules and Omphale after François Boucher. New print with @alminerechgallery

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Genieve Figgis can attest to the influence of social media. The Irish painter rose to fame in the art world via Twitter after posting photos of her work from her tiny Dublin studio. Following a request to buy some paintings from the controversial artist Richard Prince, she became a star. Figgis has now amassed over 46,000 followers on Instagram and exhibited at multiple Manhattan galleries.

This democratisation of art has levelled the playing field, allowing everyone to enjoy art, rather than just those whose pockets run deep. And it is this unparalleled access to a previously off-limits world that has enabled artists to build large online followings and successfully build their businesses.


Studio walls

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For Sydney sisters Hayley Segedin and Tash Sefton, Instagram provided the vehicle to turn a passion project into a thriving business. Seften posted images of her artwork on Instagram and was inundated with people asking her where the artworks were from. Their popularity led to the creation of Sefton Segedin – a collection of affordable abstract artworks painted by the sisters.

Illustrators Blair Breitenstein and Angelica Hicks have both witnessed this flipping of the guard first hand. Their Instagram recognition lead to high-profile collaborations with heavy-weight fashion brands. Hicks has long been enjoying a partnership with Gucci (a result of her and Alessandro Michelle “following each other on Instagram for a while”), which led to a limited-edition t-shirt collection and several wall murals around the world. Blair Breitenstein has worked with everyone from Prada and Oscar de la Renta to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. 

Both Breitenstein and Hicks attribute their success to Instagram. In an interview with The Redefined Woman, Breitenstein explains: “I started to use Instagram to share my work with a bigger audience and potential clients and strategically tagged my posts. That got me in front of important eyes.”

@florence in Florence !

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But aside from just benefiting artists, Instagram has unlocked a whole new world of accessible art for never-before buyers. Without the need to walk into a gallery, buyers can circumvent the intimidating aspect of purchasing art and approach artists in a more informal manner. Nudging the dealer out of the way, Instagram makes art available to all. By comparison, gallery exhibitions can seem old-fashioned and out-of-touch.

Of course, buying art online has its drawbacks. Experiencing a piece’s “emotional” value, colour, scale and texture can be no better done than in person. And many Instagram-led artists have faced criticism or struggled to be taken seriously by those who can’t let go of the art world’s protectionist ideology.

But no doubt the positives outweigh any disadvantages. Even for those not looking to purchase, Instagram offers an extraordinary way to discover and critique art. I, for one, have found myself at the very beginning of an art love affair having discovered several budding artists and photographers on the platform. Even for artists who are inclined to stick to the gallery route, Instagram houses a myriad of benefits: it acts as a gateway to in-person galleries, can be a place to experiment with new mediums and techniques, it’s an infinite research tool and offers a database full of inspiration. More importantly, it provides instant validation and feedback from potential buyers, something many artists have, until now, missed out on.

Has Instagram led you to a favourite artist? Let us know in the comments below!