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Issue 19

From Strolling to Scrolling through Galleries: How Has the Art World Changed?

Maahira Jain

The boons and banes of social media in the art world are a tipping scale, the unspoken impact of which remains in the nature of creating and experiencing art.

According to a 2021 survey, social media users form 57% of the world’s population. Over the last decade, art and culture on social media have journeyed through several aesthetics and ideals. A canvas has been replaced by a screen, a paintbrush by a smartpen and the intricacies of brushstrokes and handmade forms are waning. User-generated content has become the primary focus. Artists’ styles are fueled by the need to please the audience, as what appeals to them is what will get noticed. Appreciation is now marked by ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ versus technique and skill. 

These broadened digital platforms gave birth to new genres, like experiential art where the piece relies on its ability to be captured by a phone and deemed Instagram worthy. Success is measured by reposts, comments and the audience’s ability to repurpose a piece for their personal social media, falling prey to a consumer-oriented approach. Yayoi Kusama, pioneering Instagram art sensation, has developed several such immersive experiences, attracting global audiences. While such installations have been a huge success worldwide, with millions of trending hashtags, are they only working to fit consumer ideals and seek engagement ? Can Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirror’ rooms be compared to Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’? Are his immersive pieces mere attempts to appease the masses?

A recent study traces through these shifts in art spaces, audiences and aesthetics, where researchers Lachlan Macdowall and Kylie Budge say: 

Instagram shifts the spaces, scale, speed, and terms of visual culture. It generates new terms (#instaframe) and forms (the selfie) and creates and organizes new audiences. Overall, Instagram affects the institutions of the art world.” 

The boons and banes of social media in the art world are a tipping scale, the unspoken impact of which remains in the nature of creating and experiencing art. The limitations of Instagram’s square grid, curated exposure through algorithms, and repetitive styles restrict accessibility and dilute creativity. Artists design pieces to fit the 1:1 dimensions of an Instagram post, using it as a basis to create, consequently limiting the scope of their ideas. In fact, consumers are only shown what an algorithm chooses to expose them to, based on their previous engagement. This limited exposure tempts artists to design within a niche aesthetic, which receives the most views, giving way to monotony.

While the media has given people an equal and accessible medium to engage with art, the digital divides remain. Boosting posts on Instagram requires significant payments, while promotion and management are now the job and expense of the artist. They are required to spend anything between a few hundred to forty thousand rupees daily to promote each post for a menial financial return, making it a luxury only some can afford. In fact, with the increasing need to create and market art digitally by using technological tools like Apple Procreate and other software, is the art industry still retaining its “elitist” roots? 

Increased accessibility also enabled the commercialisation of art, and an entrepreneurial mindset among artists who now sell and commission artwork for brands in advertising and marketing gigs, making them more of a commodity than before. Social media feeds act as portfolios, thus putting a tremendous emphasis on not merely the physical piece but its social media appearance.

Social media has been taking the art world by storm for over a decade now. NFTs  (non-fungible tokens) however, made their mark in 2021 with sales valued at approximately 25 billion.  In several instances, artists have been hesitant to upload artwork online due to a lack of protection against piracy, theft and copyrights. NFTs by providing bonds of authenticity acts as a solution but is now being wrongly equated with art. 

Everything ranging from a tweet to a selfie to a hand-painted canvas is sold for millions of dollars. Everyone is a creator, right from your next-door neighbour who posts pictures of her cat every day to a famous artist uploading their painting. The exclusivity of art has been overshadowed by the agency of online media.

Social media and NFTs together have created a clutter of content online, with no filters or screening system but much rather an abundance. This commodification has undermined the uniqueness and scarcity of creations, stealing away the very roots of purchase; demand.  

This begs the question- why will a consumer pay millions of dollars to purchase a piece of art, which can be downloaded, shared or printed for free? 

The rising hype around NFTs only increases the impending threat on physical artwork. Pushing the boundaries of artistic trade, they continue to endanger museums and galleries. While sceptics have held their ground, globally NFTs have snuck their way into auctions, art fairs and online marketplaces including social media. 

NFTs continue to sanitize and hamper the creativity and aesthetics of art. Auctions like the Gobardhan Ash collection in Prinseps Mumbai sold both physical and blockchain versions of pieces. Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan have launched collections, businessmen have created NFT exclusive marketplaces like Wazirx all furthering the extinction of natural art forms. NFTs cater to consumers’ laziness, and the growing demand for online retail by providing an easy way to purchase assets like art, without the need for storage.
Social media and NFTs align on their agenda of agency and access of art to all. Platforms like Twitter have allowed NFTs as profile pictures, Youtube distributed them to key influencers and Reddit is in the process of doing the same. Artists have eagerly joined the NFT craze adopting a commercial lens towards art. Higher rates of return and surety of financial gains have caught artists attention. The slowly fading presence of innovation-driven artwork will accelerate once social media platforms also start selling NFTs, reducing them to mere means of monetary gain and not displays of unique talent.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

Picture Credit: Unsplash

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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