What is the Instagrammable Artist?
Two days ago, I was browsing through my Instagram feed – as like anyone else into the arts, usually following contemporary artists, illustrators and young designers alike. Most of whom have already grasped a strong understanding of the social media game and how branding yourself as an artist in this way has many pros and cons. In light of this, I was curious on artists who were at their peak say thirty or fourty years ago, the artists whom we would read up on in our college years, those who were prized for being masters in their own right and craft. These artists did not grow up in the ‘Instagrammable age’ as we do and as such I highly doubt their vision and ideas are as easily shaped and molded by the internet as our peers today.
I guess I should clarify as well, ‘artist’ in this context does not necessarily mean only painters, digital artists, sculptors or any practice specifically that caters to a visual narrative or beauty in aesthetics, though I don’t blame you if you think that way – since a lot of people prefer their art like this. I’m referring to the ‘artist’ with a more thought provoking approach, one more concerned behind ideas and breaking social expectations and boundaries, one who perhaps, is adverse to the visual game of posting their work for the sake of shareability – Because in this day and age, to grossly simplify, Instagram is built around pretty images.
For a platform built around “pretty imagery” how does the artist cope? And more importantly how do long time artists who have been revered for years work around this or with it?
Cindy Sherman is a revolutionary performance artist from the 1970’s and coincidentally, a modern day Instagrammer as well. I did not follow her on social media for the longest time, perhaps due in part to her veiled reverance as being a pioneering feminist artist, or perhaps it just slipped my mind. Why was I concerned?
So here is Cindy Sherman, posting what I believe to be a digitally manipulated image of someone, or of herself I’m not too sure. It could be a collage of significance but it’s not exactly clear. The caption of “I’m here for ya baby…” does not do much to help either and the image surrounded with hearts and filters similar to snapchat feels like a parody of something at best. This hyper stylization and caricature is often seen from skilled lmage manipulators and digital artists alike – why was this one adorned with over 15k likes?
What was so engaging or empowering with this particular image? From a critical perspective, I would argue that the subject of masculine/ feminine has been done many times over and some works with an even more engaging and provocative response than an image edit. It tries to sweep us into the uncanny valley, but I feel neither perturbed, disgusted, or curious for the work. It just feels sort of ‘eh’ in trying to emulate a sort of “drag” ish style, self indulgent and while with all due respect to Sherman, her stature does not exclude her from important points of criticism.
In her earlier days, she was known for her provocative works, and I often cite “Sex Pictures” from (1989 – 1992) for shaking up the idea between sexuality/ physicality and intimacy. Dolls taken apart, put together and posed provocatively – many hailed this as anti-porn porn. This was something still considered quite new at the time; the lighting and dark seductive and yet grotesque postures of these dolls only amplify the feeling of an unprovoked sexuality. Disturbing
Sex Pictures (1989 – 1992) NSFW ahead
And though these images are not of real people, it is still explicit so slight NSFW warning ahead!
Of course I would have to take the time period into account but do you think these images are Instagrammable-safe in this day and age? Sometimes, outright porn can get into people’s feed by a loop in the system. These pornographic images are usually, despite not being allowed in Instagram’s policy are usually ‘welcomed’ because well…humans are perverts but I digress.
These sort of images by Sherman from almost 30 years ago are more provocative, engaging and alluring compared to images Sherman posts on her IG nowadays. It diffuses the potential of the artists exactly because of that social media game. Its a platform that anybody can access and perhaps that is a problem? When you strive for relevancy but have to adhere to policies fit in place for the general public, your creative liberties take a toll, hence why I implied the metaphorical ‘death’ in title.
What about other ‘Instagram-safe’ works?
Or perhaps if you even look at her works that still focus on horror but avoid graphic nudity and transgressive tropes. This is from Sherman’s Untitled Film from 1979 that many have said it to be one of her scariest works. Would this be something that is Instagram worthy? Perhaps so, if you have the right audience for it I suppose.
My reason in all this? I guess I bring this up this case of Sherman because it made me think of this important point. In the age of the Instagram, branding and notoriety is key for being lampooned as an artist. Museums and shows focus on ‘shareability’, hashtags and huge installations that have more visual intrigue, nice to look at and opportunity for photography and relevance in the art scene.
There are still artists out there who value good provoking imagery, and not to say beautiful art or that typical Instagram art is ‘bad’, but it hinders the thought process for what could make for good art. At this point, it kind of reduces the reverence of the practice and ideas for it.
Since anything can be art nowadays, nothing is in essence.