There’s zero doubt that Instagram has become a game-changer for artists looking to gain exposure and connect with wider audiences. Though artists do utilise other social media platforms, none are more important than “IG”, whose visual nature is perfect for both creators and art lovers.
It may even be nearing the point where, from a business perspective, artists who don’t utilise Instagram are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Instagram accounts have become the de facto online portfolio that showcases not only an artist’s talent and creativity, but also their popularity and ability to build a following.
Museums and galleries nowadays use Instagram to scout for new talent. One of the most notable examples is Canadian painter Anna Weyant who, after posting paintings on her Instagram for some time and amassing a decent following, was discovered and approached by the Gagosian Gallery last year.
The gallery’s owner – and Weyant’s current boyfriend – Larry Gagosian was so impressed with her work that she was offered a solo exhibition, making history as the youngest artist on the prestigious gallery’s rooster, then aged 27. This boosted the “millennial Botticelli”’s following overnight, and within the space of two years, an artist who was selling paintings for US$400 at beaches had pieces going for as much as US$1.6 million at auction.
There are artists from all over the world who have become “Insta-famous” and are getting most of their revenue through the platform. There are famous examples like the British street artist Banksy, who has now amassed 12 million followers and uses his feed to showcase work and spread political messages. Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist known for creating vibrant prints of everything from celebrities to psychedelic abstract subjects, has more than 2.5 million followers, a figure to rival pop and movie stars.
Arguably the most profound impact Instagram has had on the art world, however, is related to digital art, a relatively new medium that is growing with the recent explosion of NFTs and text-to-image AI art programmes. The most prominent example is American artist Mike Winkelmann, known professionally as Beeple, who has around 2.4 million Instagram followers, and famously sold an NFT artwork for US$69 million at auction in 2019.
Instagram has become such an integral tool for artists because it allows them to amass followings in so many ways. Many artists build followings by posting regularly, sharing stories, using reels and hashtags and interacting with fans. They can also network with other artists and have more successful artist or gallery pages share their work. Others can master the algorithm, get somewhat lucky and “go viral” with one explosive post. The possibilities are endless.
Many artists attribute a large portion of their success to Instagram, including digital illustration artist Donna Adi, who has over 170,000 followers after years of steady growth.
“I can definitely confirm that posting my work online and on Instagram has really helped me gain exposure and to be in the right hands. So, yeah, I think Instagram is actually the platform that really helped my career take off,” Adi told the Pencil Kings Podcast. “And, yeah, I just want to confirm that because I keep trying to demystify how people can build audiences or build businesses or get hired.”
Adi believes that artists starting off nowadays should be tuned into Instagram and other platforms’ algorithms. Though Instagram is an important tool, it has been around for a while and as a result, the market is saturated and competition is fierce.
“Social media is a huge driver of business today, particularly for artists and creatives looking to extend their brand footprint and reach the masses,” she said on the podcast. “As a digital creator and visual artist, I recognised the power of Instagram and the necessity of a high social IQ early on – I maintain a robust social media strategy that has been paramount in navigating an increasingly saturated market. Understanding the pros and cons and nuances of the digital landscape has pushed me to challenge myself and grow quickly as an artist. It takes constant reinvention, innovation and evolution while still staying true to myself and my vision.”
Adi is a big advocate of artists focusing on their passion, blocking out the noise and focusing on one thing at a time, be it a specific niche or a specific platform. It is easy to get distracted with so much content around, and growth can often be slow and discouraging.
“There are a lot of different ways to find success, but choosing the right path for you is difficult. What happens and what I see end up happening is that people try to do a bunch of different things. And I’ve tried to do this as well. And it’s hard to get traction on anything. But if you just focus on one thing, like Instagram, then you can start to get traction and momentum. And then after you have momentum, you can let that lead into creating other things,” she said.
Though some might argue that new artists ought to focus their effort on newer up-and-coming social media platforms like TikTok, many, including Adi still believe Instagram is “the place to be” for artists. The platform still boasts more than one billion active users.
This year, Hong Kong Art Basel will feature several Insta-famous artists, including David Shrigley, the famed “scribbler” who has over one million followers. Shrigley is an example of an already-successful established artist using Instagram to increase his already-robust profile.
Some other notables to embrace the platform include Nigerian visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor, Thai performing artist Kawita Vatanajyankur and veteran British painter Anne Rothenstein.
Note: This story was originally published on SCMP and has been republished on this website.