On December 15th 2016, the photography-sharing app Instagram officially announced that it had reached 600 million users, which represents a staggering 9% of the world population [1]. Since its creation in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, the application has grown exponentially and gained widespread notoriety in just a few years: after Apple named it “App of the year” in 2011 [2], it was bought by Facebook for an alleged 1 billion dollar the following year[3]. In the same way that Twitter’s 140-character count limit transformed journalism, as a visual-first social network, Instagram quickly became the art world’s favourite. Today all the major art institutions are on the mobile platform: MOMA, Tate and Sotheby’s, to name a few, compete in finding creative ways to engage with their respective 2.2, 1.3 million and 420 000 followers. The London-based Chisenhale Gallery even took a step further by creating an Instagram Residency that invites artists to post on their account for a short period of time. Artists are also actively using the platform to both connect with their audience and expand their practice in the digital realm. For example, the feeds of contemporary artists Molly Soda and Ai Weiwei combine personal, professional and political posts, which contribute to shaping their online persona and increasing their popularity.


Ai Weiwei’s Instagram feed, a fascinating (and often captionless) combination of personal, professional and political posts. / Photo credit: @aiww

It is precisely the easiness with which Instagram enables to connect and communicate that also attracts art buyers. In 2015 the online platform Artsy surveyed art collectors who were active on Instagram to evaluate its impact on the art market[4]. The results found that 87% of collectors surveyed checked Instagram more than twice a day, more than half posted on Instagram multiple times a week and that 51.5% of them had purchased work from artists they originally discovered through the network. This is certainly the app’s most fascinating impact on the art world: as users can discover unknown feeds by clicking on account’s names and hashtags, aspiring artists can become Instagram superstars almost overnight if an influential person stumbles upon it. A few years ago, the renowned art critic Jerry Saltz provided a brilliant example of this kind of “Instagram miracle” by covering the work of an artist he discovered on the platform[5].

However, while it is undeniable that Instagram has democratised the art world, it is not a judgment free zone and comes with its own sets of boundaries. A logical consequence of its increasing importance is that it exerts pressure on artists to spend more and more time online; when interviewed for the Artsy survey, the art collector Barry Malin remarked “Social media is altering the distribution of influence within the contemporary art world, with these new channels privileging those who are adept at their use and willing to invest time and energy engaging effectively”[4]. The rapidity with which one can test the popularity of a work unquestionably influences art-making trends, replacing the approval of traditional tastemakers by the number of likes and followers. Also, the platform’s use of algorithms filters the feeds that users view and limits the visibility of posts that didn’t receive enough likes or comments; in other words, everybody can create an Instagram account but getting the right people to see it is a different story.

Embarking on “the Instagram superhighway”, the art world is changing at high speed: traditional hierarchies are torn down while new limits, rules, and influences are emerging. But in a digital era in which countless new applications are created every day, social media are more temporary than ever: Myspace or Msn Messenger, once the leaders in the music industry and instant messaging market, have long been replaced by Soundcloud and Facebook. Will Instagram continue to lead the game or a new social media specifically targeted at the art world emerge? Will Snapshat and its more exclusive feel become the art world’s next social media of choice? Only time will tell so we better keep scrolling in the meantime…

Audrey Kadjar

Audrey Kadjar is a  Berlin-based visual artist as well as a freelance creative and art writer. She studied the humanities in France before completing her MA in History of Art at University College London in 2016. Her past work experience includes positions at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., the Centre Pompidou and Autocenter Space for Contemporary Art. Audrey is currently developing art and publishing projects. She is particularly interested in body and gender representation, the uncanny and the dynamic interplay between art and technology.


[1] Instagram’s official website, 600 Million and counting

[2] The Washington Post, Apple names Instagram top app of the year

[3] The Washington Post, Facebook acquires Instagram in $1 billion deal

[4] Artsy, How Collectors Use Instagram to Buy Art

[5] Vulture, Is there great art on Instagram ?

Featured Image: Anna Uddenberg, Journey of Self Discovery (2016),  installation view Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 9th Berlin Biennale, 2016. Photograph: Timo Ohler. / Photo credit: The Guardian

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