This is a complimentary copy of an article in the October/November 2015 issue. Click here to get the whole issue. Click here to subscribe to Professional Artist, the foremost business magazine for visual artists, for as low as $32 a year.
If you type #art into Instagram’s search bar, you will get more than 116 million image posts and counting, making Instagram the most comprehensive art gallery in the world.
Designed to be used on smartphones, this social networking platform has garnered over 300 million users. As a photo-sharing and video-sharing service, Instagram is popular with artists and collectors alike because it’s quick, simple to use, mobile and does not require a lot of writing when posting. Instagram offers the user a more visual experience, and aside from a short description of the image, not much explanation is needed for the viewer to simply enjoy the art.
Instagram is an ideal way for artists to share their talents and make solid connections with others in the art world. Images of artwork can be quickly uploaded using a smartphone and instantly reach a global audience.
Even new Instagrammers with few followers can reach an international audience of art enthusiasts using hashtags that target their desired viewers. And art aficionados can peruse images from the comfort of their homes and while sitting in a waiting room or standing in line at the grocery store. They can search for art by tapping the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen, and typing in any art-related words or hashtags into the Instagram search bar. By simply tapping the search icon, Instagram automatically offers images from posters similar to those you already follow. This is an opportunity for artists to reach those who are not currently their “followers.”
Los Angeles artist Vakseen (@vakseen), with over 3,500 followers, lights up the Instagram scroll with his vibrant and intriguing images. His art reflects his formidable painting skills with its hyper-realistic renderings, but he then fragments the images into abstractions. His collage-influenced painting style fuses elements of surrealism, cubism and photorealism. His artwork has been selected for over 50 solo and group exhibitions in galleries and venues throughout Los Angeles. His work has also been featured in over 80 art and literary magazines and been sold to collectors and art enthusiasts worldwide.
“The simple fact that [Instagram] allows you to create a global audience and have direct communication is so powerful,” Vakseen said. “Although I work with a few LA galleries, I like to avoid the middleman at all costs, and Instagram allows artists to do just that.” If a viewer likes an image shared on Instagram, they can directly contact the artist through a link to the artist’s website in the bio section of the profile.
“I also love how you can get direct feedback on existing and new creations, Vakseen said. “I can honestly say that Instagram is the first channel that comes to mind when I’m sharing new work. Sometimes I might not show a new piece in a gallery for a couple weeks, but Instagram allows me to gauge things almost immediately.” Within milliseconds of posting an image on Instagram, orange icons pop up at the bottom of the screen indicating “likes,” comments and new followers from all over the globe — that is, if the image is captivating enough and if properly targeted hashtags are used.
In 2012, Vakseen decided to transition his art from a side interest into a business, and he credits Instagram as being instrumental in creating a wide audience for his art. Because Instagram is so visual and instantaneous, it becomes very democratic. The viewer can fall in love with an image without knowing anything about it. A brand new artist without a following or a gallery can command worldwide attention with artwork that is engaging and consistent.
Dyana Hesson (@dyhesson), an Arizona artist with 300 followers, resisted Instagram at first “until fellow artists shared with me how much they enjoyed not only sharing their work but following other artists,” she said. “I’ve had several friends who’ve been contacted by galleries and new collectors through Instagram. When I could see clearly a benefit for the time I would spend posting, I made the decision to jump in. I am enjoying the community of artists I have found and am learning the nuances of sharing content effectively.”
Hesson finds Instagram to be a powerful medium for visual artists. “While Facebook ‘likes’ are often generated by friends or friends of friends, Instagram ‘likes’ stand independently based on the content of your hashtags and common interests, and that allows me to reach an audience specifically interested in what I do.”
On Instagram, Hesson is rapidly gaining committed followers, as her luminous oil paintings are perfect for the Instagram scroll. Her botanical images painted in a unique architectural style stand out on the small screen because of their large scale and bright colors.
The Instagram app is available for free on iPhones and Android phones, and you can sign up using an email account or through Facebook. Artists can add a short bio on their profile page. When composing a bio, use your name so you can be easily found. You can also add the word art to your name. That way if someone searches for “art,” your profile may come up. An Instagram bio should be short and to the point, as Instagram is such an image-driven platform. Don’t forget to include a clickable link to your website so users can click to find out more about you.
Posting is simple: Just take a photo or choose one from your phone’s image library. Add a caption and a few hashtags and that’s it. Your art is global. “I think the ability to hashtag your content helps potential collectors find what you do,” Hesson said. A hashtag is a way to sort and classify your posts into specific categories. Hashtags help artists reach beyond their followers to find even more users interested in art, such as other artists, designers and collectors. In addition to using #art, an artist can further categorize their work by subject (#landscape), medium (#oilpainting), color (#blue), or any other words that may describe the work and reach the desired audience.
To be a successful Instagrammer, post images regularly, at least a few times a week. Not all images have to be of your art. Let the viewers learn a little about your story. Show how you create your art and a little of your life behind the scenes as well. Be interactive and connect with others who have similar interests. Comment on posts you like and follow others you admire. By interacting with others in the art world, you build relationships and develop a following of your own.
“I’ve spent a good portion of my life in music so you’ll definitely see posts related to those adventures,” Vakseen said. “I’m also a huge foodie so I love sharing food pics.” He said that one of the most important aspects of social media is allowing fans to connect with you personally. “I think that’s what really makes people fans. I’m actually a private person, but I definitely share pieces of my personal life. I’ve also grown to understand what certain audiences are anticipating. I do share my private life on Instagram, but I’m actually a little more personal on Facebook. I’ve learned to keep it very specific when I share things outside of art.”
When Hesson joined Instagram, she decided to narrow the content she shared to a small list of interests. “I thought about who essentially I am, and I try not to get sidetracked,” she said. “My art and adventures are the focus. I also repost posts from those I follow. It’s important to share the love.”
Hesson’s posts include her striking paintings and studio shots as well as photos of her excursions into the beautiful Arizona landscape. But she avoids sharing too much private information on Instagram.
Selling on Instagram
Instagram has rapidly become a powerful tool for artists and galleries to share and sell art. Searching by subject and category, anytime and anywhere, collectors scroll to find compelling art. “Today, the marketing of fine art is moving to the web, and artists can’t afford not to be an expert in social media,” Hesson said.
“Instagram has helped tremendously with bringing in clients for originals, commission work and merchandise,” Vakseen said. “I’ve had people show up to a gallery opening and make a purchase simply because they saw my image on Instagram. It’s actually a huge avenue for me to find new clients, outside of the gallery shows I’m doing.”
According to the 2015 Online Art Trade Report by Hiscox, London-based fine-art insurers, 41 percent of survey respondents said they had discovered an online transactional art platform through social media, up from 34 percent last year, and 24 percent of art buyers said they recognized the affect of social media on their buying habits, indicating the importance of social media for today’s artists. The growing popularity of Instagram and other social media sites is swiftly reorganizing the art world and shifting a lot of control to artists, challenging the traditional relationships with dealers.
“I think initially most galleries were concerned when their artists chose to market themselves through social media,” Hesson said, “but a smart gallery will see it as an opportunity to partner with you in promoting your work this unique way. I often tag my gallery in my Instagram posts, and they tag me. It’s a partnership.”
Artist Ora Sorensen (orasorensenart.com) was born in New York but grew up overseas. She has owned a gallery in Delray Beach, Florida, for 20 years, and has also been represented by other galleries across the country. Sorensen now lives and paints in North Carolina, and her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.