I think art has become such a cultural identifier for a lot of people. Art is personal and it’s subjective, not everyone understands that. I remember one Christmas my mother was visiting, and I found her staring at a Yayoi Kusama painting we had just bought. She turned to me and said, “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” Touché.
Text by Jordan Watts and Aureta Thomollari
with Dwayne Brice
Images Courtesy of @love.watts
When Instagram launched, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. The usual quotidian subjects littered our feed: lunch shots, selfies, airline tickets, you name it. For a while, it’s what we all did. But there had to be more. What started as a personal page gradually grew to the social media art gallery it is today. We didn’t know we were breaking rules or even creating new ones, but we did know that people were hungry for culture, hungry for art. We’d post textures and images that excited us, and the response was encouraging. We’d post art from creative figures that inspired us, and it seemed to inspire other people. A certain celebrity would like our posts and our numbers would jump. These followers would tag their friends and before we knew it, artists themselves started to direct message their works to be “featured.”
Now, the concept of the “feature” begs some introspection. After all, this was our “’gram” and we posted what we liked. We didn’t think we were featuring, but it turns out that this fledgling app was giving us a platform, one in which our opinions mattered. Why? Well, the community quickly answered that. As a viewer, ours was no longer just a personal page. The social currency became cultural exchange and the commodity was art in its various forms, genres, and interpretations. Artists, on the other side, frustrated by the bumper-to-bumper highway of failures and rejection in securing gallery representation, began to imagine that one closed door didn’t mean the end to a career. Perhaps the social media world could be a hi-speed lane to public exposure?
What started as a personal page then began to question the very structures that allowed us to have a platform to begin with. Is it really art when it’s shown outside of a gallery enterprise? Does art on social media matter? The rarefied, elitist, and inaccessible art world that doles out credentials in the millions of dollars had a stepbrother? And what was the public’s perspective on these vaunted halls, these marble mausoleums to our ancient greats that didn’t seem to care about their opinions? It was time to deconstruct these strictures, and for us, that meant becoming an accessible, communal creative space. Why is it that the esteemed art world hasn’t embraced social media? What would it mean to have an unbiased, free, social gallery?
In the most basic sense of it all, it is important to share culture. Social media has erased borders and bridged divides, most certainly due to the power of the image. Far too many people view art as belonging to the “other,” a subject for study and dissection. But it is key to understand that art belongs to us all. It is a manifestation of our humanity. When we expose others to these different voices, we begin to hear differently, and our horizons are widened.
And leave it up to Instagram to uncover these truths. You see, we are all curators on this platform. No matter the content of one’s feed, you usually make a decision on what you should post and why. Here, everyone is curating their life in images, even if they don’t know that they are. We simply try to take this concept to a more conscious, active level by curating a wide range of artistic works. It is a training of sorts, for the audience, of the eye and palate. From complex oil paintings to simple crayon doodles, the more we show, the more people begin accepting art in its various forms and questioning what justifies art to begin with. You could say we are developing taste. But can taste be developed? Akin to style, is it something innate? A birthright? Someone can sit and eye our thousands of posts and still not grasp anything we’re communicating. And that’s okay with us. We’d like to think that we are sharpening our audience’s taste without pushing them, even if that is but a futile effort.
But what if it sparks in someone a passion or skill they never knew? Before we could be seen as curators, we had to be trusted. But for the first time, it was not by degree, pedigree or institutional training. Our vision and integrity had to be trusted by our followers. It is the people that ultimately determine our credibility, and this is what makes the concept of a social art gallery a truly communal endeavor. Here, people take ownership of their critical power even in an action as simple as a “like” or comment. And while these can’t be seen as barometers of artistic merit, there is a democratic element to this exchange that is ripe for further development.
People tell us all the time they had never experienced art before social media, much less owned a piece or studied a work. While some remain critical of those that flick through feeds like ours while on a coffee break or in the comforts of their armchair, we’d like to think we’re making art more enjoyable and less scary. We’ve really never heard people talking about art the way they do now. When art makes its way into our everyday lives, it is easier for people to appreciate its direct impact and it invites a dialogue, a communication between what is seen and what is understood. When we repost certain artists, viewers start to notice signature techniques, themes and subjects. The artist starts to take shape for them, and this recognition ignites a spark in the viewer: they too can be a part of this “other.” In traditional galleries, it’s not just the artist that feels judged, but also the viewer/voyeur. There is a certain pressure to understand why works are important, why you should subscribe to the hype. You feel the need to dig deeper when it doesn’t make sense and embarrassed when you just don’t get it. We choose to allow people to be open about their opinions when it comes to what we post. It’s a freedom that’s not readily available in traditional gallery settings, and comes from social media’s unique ability to allow the viewer to step into/out of or just observe a live critical exchange. And disparate views are okay; we really think there is a beauty to everyone’s reactions, because when people don’t feel judged, their interests are piqued, their emotions are laid bare and the language of their reactions provides the perfect feedback many artists need to advance their craft.
Yet, what are we to make of this language of images? And what exactly are we communicating? We are in the age of social media and in the immediacy of its delivery, we tend to get lost in the new and now. Who’s posting what now? What’s trending now? Interestingly, it is in this maze of relevancy that we see how vital art in a social medium becomes. What’s breaking news one minute is a reactionary art post the next. Here, art is no longer static, it is a dynamic force that bends and sways with what is directly affecting the community. Instantly a multi-colored painting of a sunset on a dirt road can go from speaking to the beauty of rural life to the never-ending debate on gun control. Or more simply, how a set of lips can function as fodder for love poetry or the objectification of the female form. Here art bends and invites multiple translations. Only now, we can see them in one place, the intersection of the creative and the community’s heartbeat. So, maybe social media is making the world even smaller for us all, and maybe more human, maybe a little more just? And we are finally granted options: to continue the dialogue with family and friends by sharing these images, for example; to wax poetic or spar via the limits of the comments section; or maybe to buy a piece with which you particularly connect. Because in the end, art is alive, and even small reminders go a long way in society.
“The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. Its authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose.”
John Berger (Ways of Seeing, 1972)
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