Arts un/healthy relationship with Instagram: part 2

I wrote an article back in early 2019 about the Arts relationship with Instagram, whether it was a healthy or unhealthy relationship. That was back when the world was normal – well, as normal as the world can be. Now, times are very different indeed, and with us all currently being on lockdown, our relationship with Instagram is now even more important, vital even, to keep people going and to keep the industry going.

I touched on this recently in an article about how coronavirus is changing the art industry, but I felt that there was more to say about Instagram itself, and how this colossus social media channel is changing everyone’s approach to their art and how they work. Some of the points from that recent article lead on to this new post.

I talked in the previous article about how people visiting art galleries are taking images to boost their Instagram feed, rather than really looking at the art. Well we are unable to do that currently as most galleries are closed. For us here at Cotton On MCR, we have had to change how we work and what we post on Instagram because of this. There are no more exhibition posters to promote and no more images of exhibitions in galleries to use. Our whole feed now is about promoting Manchester artist’s work, and re-promoting our articles.

What I am seeing more of though, is artists out there using Instagram more to promote the sales of their work, or to show us their ‘working out’, behind the scenes of their art – the work in progress, the preliminary sketches, the 5 mins ideas, the lunchtime doodles etc. This is all interspersed with free online courses.

This was a tricky one for me, as I really wanted to follow these and see what you guys were up to and what you are teaching. But I found most of them were in the afternoon, and at the time of writing this article (up to Friday 27th March), I was still working at my second job, 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. (I have now been put of furlough so will have a LOT more time to get involved in these things). There are so many online workshops to get involved with, Tom Quigley, our previous Manc of the Month, he is also an art teacher, so he is using IGTV (Instagram TV) to teach drawing lessons. dotdotdot jewellery taught us how to make our own scrunchie. Leanne Van, an illustrator and designer, has uploaded some 10/15 minute illustrations that we can follow and copy. It won’t take much scrolling on Instagram to come across some kind of workshop, drawing exercise or some kind of downloadable colouring in page etc.

When writing the article about coronavirus and the art world, I asked a couple of artists what their thoughts of Instagram are:

Jen Orpin said: ‘Instagram has been a brilliant platform for me to connect with people and other artists, invaluable in fact. I have sold my paintings to people who’ve seen the work on Instagram first… it’s not just about selling it’s about exposure too.’

I also did a story asking for people’s feedback, asking if Instagram is helping their work whilst on lockdown? Responses were mixed. Some said yes, ‘lots of new art in the response to he situation emphasises that we’re together in this.’ Others said ‘It’s teaching me to be less self critical and to post things I wouldn’t normally post.’

Yet, there are negative views about Instagram and how this is affecting people and their work. One of the responses to the question I asked simply said ‘nope’ it isn’t helping them work. Another said it was a ‘more distracting than anything.’ And in my last article, I added a comment from an art director that said she was feeling the pressure to be creative because of all the new ‘stay productive’ posts we are seeing online.

For some artists, Instagram won’t help their work. We asked Matthew Burrows, the artist that came up with the #artistsupportpledge, what his views on Instagram were.

‘Instagram is a blunt tool, if you accept that then it has its use. Art still needs to be seen in person.’ Exactly! Art still needs to be seen in person! I think this all depends on the type of art you prefer and what you are looking to buy. You’re not going to make a huge investment in a piece of art that you have only seen on social media – well I doubt you are anyway. And you are never going to have that pull, that draw, that art can have over people if you are seeing this through a screen.

Saying that, although I do have some negative feelings about Instagram and the art world, I can’t avoid talking about the benefits of it and joining the band wagon. I am currently speaking to artists about running workshops via Cotton On MCR, both online and IRL. The idea of doing online courses never crossed my mind before lockdown and before everyone started this new trend. I am now thinking it’s a great idea! Especially as we are new to hosting workshops, why not do this online and get people’s feedback as to what they want from future events? It’s a idea I am toying with so let me know if you think we should run with this?

Another online thing I will be doing (promoted via Instagram but will be hosted on YouTube) is a live Q&A. Myself and my friend David from Escape Art Magazine (whose background is in marketing) will be talking about how to build your online presence as an artist – pretty relevant for this article right? This will be on this Sunday, 5th April, at 3pm, live on YouTube! More info to follow so watch this space. And yes, that was a shameless self plug – but hey, this is my website, my rules! Haha. (link below for more info on the Q&A)

So, to wrap things up, as we are on lockdown, and lord knows how long we are going to be here for, Instagram has become an invaluable tool to help artists keep going, to stay creative and to keep working. It seems to be working really well for artists and in some cases, even boosted sales of their work. I wonder now, if this is just a phase, a new movement as we are self-isolating? Or if this online art trend will continue when we are allowed outside to play, if this is another element of the ever-changing art world. Who knows? I am eager to see how this will pan out, but also a little apprehensive of it too.


If you are interested in hearing more and signing up to the Live Q&A – please sign up here.

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Follow us on Instagram for more updated about the Q&A too – @cottononmcr

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