Instagram or Influencer: A Discussion on How Instagram Effects Artists

For my anthropology capstone project, I spent a few months looking into the ways in which Instagram is affecting artists on an individual level. As an art major myself, I am trying to figure out the world of art, and Instagram now has a huge role to play in how one markets themselves. This site is a compilation of the interviews I had with each artist. As I did not get to use everything each artist talked about, I wanted to create an archive of my findings. I am using this as an extension of my essay, which is attached below. Here I can share the experience of what sort of content I was consuming and also how I came to the conclusions I did on attention based off of my interviews.

A screen recording of a large majority of reels I had saved on my phone from my ehthnographic research done starting in July of 2023 through November of 2023.

Instagram: The New Art Gallery?

If you look up “how Instagram has changed the art market” you find a slew of articles about the power it has to change the antiquated systems of the art world. I am sure most artists would agree that the art world has changed immensely, favoring the smaller self-employed artist. “Starving Artist” means less now that social media can be used to promote and sell your work.

Usually, if you want to be represented by a gallery space, especially a prominent one, you have to live near a major city where these spaces are actually located. Many people may not know, unless you are versed in the art world, that even if you do get gallery representation, they will take 50% of the earnings on the pieces they sell. The trade-off is usually that the gallery, in turn, promotes the artist’s work in other prominent art spaces as well, like at art fairs and such, leaving the art making and marketing to the artist.

Marion Maneker, the publisher of Art Market Monitor, said in an article about how Instagram is changing the art market, “The great thing about Instagram is that it seems to have opened up a field for artists who might not have had the connections through the right mentor, the right MFA program, the right dealer, the right collectors to developing a market.”

I wanted to see if all of this change was truly helping artists, and that’s when I decided to reach out to artists at varying points in their careers who all use Instagram. Below is the list of questions that I asked each artist in their interviews. Each interview is attached below. This work represents a moment of time in the use of Instagram as an artist.

How is Instagram affecting you creatively?

Do you find Instagram to be more helpful or hurtful to your creative process?

Do you see social media as a good thing, especially in relation to art?

Do you pay attention to the algorithm, especially through making content such as reels?

Do you connect with other creatives through Instagram?

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to other artists on a larger scale?

Is it more of a negative or positive comparison?

If you have a separate art account from your personal account, do you find that to be useful?

Do you pay attention to Instagram business statistics?

Tammy Nguyen – Multimedia Artist represented by Lehmann Maupin – @tammowhammo on Instagram
Holly Greene – Artist and Artist Assistant – @littlecrushclothes on Instagram
Spencer Klink – Art and Art History double major at Wesleyan University
Simone Doesburg – Ceramicist – @graceofglaze on Instagram
Daniel Pizarro – Graphic Designer and Co-Founder of La Diaspora
Lindsey Ruth – Photographer – @lindsphoto on Instagram
Joshua Mizusawa – Painter – @jmizu on Instagram – Interview through Instagram DMs

Alice Mawdsley – Illustrator – @alicemawdsleyillustrates on Instagram – Done over email

Hi Daniella, I am really sorry for such a delayed response, I have been very busy with projects so the time has somehow flown by. I hope you will still find my answers of some help for your dissertation. 
1.  How is Instagram affecting you creatively?

Instagram is both an amazing tool and a challenge for creativity. For the positives, being a visual platform Instagram helps with creative inspiration for projects, connecting with artists, increasing your artwork reach and for gaining work. However, finding the right balance between completing illustration work and maintaining your account to keep it growing can be difficult. Especially as a creative, where it takes time to make art and you can’t always share all the projects you are working on at that time, it can make it hard to consistently be posting content that will engage with your audience. I find myself often feeling like I am not doing ‘enough’ on the platform, or I am not spending enough time sharing my work. If this happens, I think it is important to remind oneself what your goal is – mine being to focus on developing my illustration career. Yes, having a successful Instagram account is very useful, but that does not at the end of the day determine if your work is ‘good’. I find it can make you more self-critical about your work. It is good to always question things and try to grow and develop your work, however, if you are focussing on creating art just to be ‘successful’ on Instagram, I think that is where the issue comes. If your engagement goes down or people don’t respond as you had hoped to a post, this can make you question whether your work is good enough – which I believe is very detrimental to one’s creative spark and passion. You cannot be motivated by your engagement and Instagram alone. Instead you need to focus on creating work that is true to yourself and continue focussing on developing where your work fits in the overall creative industry and where you would like to go.

2. Do you find Instagram to be more helpful or hurtful to your creative process? 

Overall I would say Instagram is helpful as an illustrator. It is an amazing visual platform to share your work and a portal for opportunity, inspiration and marketing your art. There are also great creative challenges to get involved in and be part of a larger community as well as the opportunity to collaborate with other artists. Building a successful Instagram account is all about personal branding and marketing, which helps push you to work out who you are as an artist and what your brand is (which is very important). I don’t believe Instagram is the enemy for creativity, but you need to be mindful and question how to use it best to support your creative practice rather than hinder it. I also think it is important to not feel like everything you share has to be ‘perfect’ or has to be the work you think people will be engaged with, as this can stop you from creating authentically and continue pushing and developing your work. This also refers to the importance of not feeling like you need to share all of your work, there is great value in creating personal work for you without the added layer of worrying about how people will respond to it – this can also often be a great opportunity to try new things.

3. Do you see social media as a good thing, especially in relation to art?

Social media can be a great thing, with the emphasis on can. I have personally found it very useful for gaining clients, with most of my commissions and collaborations coming from people who have discovered my art through Instagram. Social media can also be a great source of art inspiration, getting to see behind the scenes of other creatives that can spark ideas for your own practice.

(answer for negatives linked back to question 1)

4. Do you pay attention to the algorithm, especially through making content such as reels? 

At the start of my account, when I was most focused on growing, looking at the algorithm and working out what content would be most successful definitely played a big role in the content I was creating. Through this, I found reels to be very useful for seeing growth and started to introduce these more. As you have to spend time to create the content it is useful to know what formats better engage with your audience – whether it is longer chatty process videos, carousel posts of behind the scenes or final pieces. Although it is less so than the beginning, I do still look at my ‘insights’ to see what formats to use to make the content creation hopefully more engaging and efficient in the time I have in between working. However, I will say I am still confused by the algorithm and don’t believe it determines whether your art is good. The issue comes in saying your artwork is only successful if your engagement is high – which is certainly not the case and I believe can be very detrimental for creativity and make artists less likely to push boundaries.

5. Do you connect with other creatives or galleries through Instagram?
Yes, I connect daily with other creatives which is one of the biggest positives of this platform! It is also a great place for finding galleries and future clients and collaborations. As I spend a lot of time in the studio working by myself, it is really nice to be able to have conversations with other creatives, to see what they are doing and to have a larger global art community.6. Do you find yourself comparing yourself to other artists on a larger scale? Is it more of a negative or positive comparison? 

With platforms like this, comparison can definitely come into play. You are able to see work and accounts by so many other creatives that it can make you question your own work, why your account may not be doing as well or why you aren’t getting as many clients. However, for me personally, I don’t like to focus on comparing my illustration to others, in an industry where uniqueness is power with beauty being in the diversity of everyone’s work. I also find it important to remember that there is no set route for a career in the creative industry, and to try not to compare yourself with how quickly people achieve things. Rather than comparison, I think it can be useful for some to explore other people’s work you admire and areas of the industry you would like to go into and think why you like it, what makes it successful and then explore the ways this could positively influence your own artistic practice to help you grow as an illustrator and get you closer to your own creative goals.

7. If you have a separate art account from your personal account, do you find that to be useful? I have two separate accounts which I think are very useful. This means I keep my art account purely for illustration and business work, so it stays professional, and my other account for personal use only. As my art account has grown more and I have been spending more time on it, I have found that this makes me want to use my personal account less as I see Instagram as more of a work platform now.

8. Do you pay attention to Instagram business statistics? The business statistics can be quite useful to get to understand who your audience is. This can help you work out the best ways to engage with your audience and how to market your work. It is also useful for working out the best posting times when your audience is most active – so your work will hopefully be seen by more people.

I hope this is helpful and wish you all the best of luck in your dissertation and creative endevors!
Best wishes,

Culmination in Attention:

What I realized after going through each of these interviews, is that each artist was grappling with capturing and holding people’s attention while trying to manage maintaining their own attention in a distraction ridden platform. This is what I delve into in my essay, which is attached below.