Likes, comments and sometimes sales — how Instagram is shaping the art world

Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

SAN FRANCISCO -- As a member of a millennia-old profession, 28-year-old artist Laura Rokas can do her job -- painting, sculpting, drawing, weaving -- without the help of most modern technology. But the Bay Area artist makes one exception: Instagram.

Since its launch in 2010, the photo and video sharing app has become a mainstay in the art world. Originally an app that used filters to add a retro aesthetic to photos taken on phones, the Facebook-owned platform has become a home to artists, art collectors and curators like no other social network.

It's more visual than Twitter. It's more social than Pinterest. And simply cooler than Facebook. It's fitting then that artists are using the app to promote, discover and sell art.

"I've sold work through Instagram," Rokas said. "I've gotten show requests from people who have found me on Instagram, and galleries and curators have contacted me over Instagram."

Many emerging artists see the photo and video sharing app as a democratizer, helping artists who might not have representation from the most prestigious galleries or degrees from the most exclusive art schools get their work in front of big audiences.

"I've met a lot of artists and curators that aren't local through Instagram," said Rachelle Bussieres, 31, an artist who also works in the Bay Area and has received, through the app, offers of art residencies in Brooklyn, Paris and Iceland.

"Without it, I don't think it would have been possible to show my work in Norway," Bussieres said of the country where she has exhibited twice. "I've never even been there!"

In the days before social media, emerging artists had a harder time getting noticed. The traditional way, according to art consultant and appraiser Alan Bamberger who runs the website, was for artists to call local galleries and hope for the best. To cultivate a bigger following, there were additional hurdles such as securing representation at top galleries, exhibiting internationally and participating in major art festivals.

With the advent of social media, artists started using services such as Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and Flickr to showcase their work, attract audiences without geographic limitations and advocate on their own behalf.

But it's Instagram, according to Bamberger, that has had the biggest effect on the industry.


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