Is social media the new art gallery?

Written by Arts, Exhibitions

Whether pictures of paintings or snapchats of spoken word, there is little doubt that physical art spaces are leaking their way into the virtual world. The white-box gallery can be conveniently condensed to an Instagram hashtag- a live music performance might soon appear as shaky footage on YouTube.

Curators, consumers and budding artists alike are each being  enticed by the ease and immediacy culture-in-your-pocket. The reachability is unlimited: more people than ever are getting to engage without financial or spatial barriers and the share-and-consume cycle fundamental to all art is expanding exponentially in the online world. But is this new fast-paced and abundant version of art undermining the value of the “IRL” experience? A quietly meditative encounter with an art piece might suffer the intrusive desire to share it, the scrupulous observation of a new sculpture for its best photographable angle or a considered critical response reduced to the tap of a like button. As the art world becomes increasingly digitised, the importance of how and where we present and consume it falls into question.

The entire real-life experience of seeing art is flattened by its optimisation for the internet

Step into any gallery or exhibition and you will likely be greeted by a plethora of technology: the photographer crouching in strange positions with his DSLR, the tourists taking souvenir snaps of every work, the woke students tweeting passionately about the controversial political piece. While art’s aim is to push boundaries, this social media presence seems to enforce them, reducing works to a 10-second video, a quick caption or a literal square. This simplification does not only happen through the screen, though. The entire real-life experience of seeing art is flattened by its optimisation for the internet: pieces with bright colours that show up well on screen, attention-grabbing modern art that can keep up with speedy scrolling, sculptures with nooks for selfie poses or high-brow allusions that demonstrate the cultural maturity of one’s feed. The rise of “instagrammable” art brings success on a two-dimensional screen into physical art spaces. San Francisco’s “Museum of Ice Cream”, for example, has become one of the worlds most Instagrammed, its hashtag containing over 125,000 posts of pop-art style poses in a room of sprinkles, floating bananas and giant cherries. Artist Do Suh has created an installation of colourful mesh-fabric corridors which serve as real-life Insta filters. Murizio Cattalan’s 18-karat gold toilet makes the perfect reflective surface for a witty mirror selfie. It is no longer just the art world entering and culturally expanding social media, but now the social media world entering and narrowing the physical art world. When such a large link is drawn between the actual art and its online form, concepts that work well in the fast and superficial climate of a smartphone might be equally two-dimensional in the gallery.

Murizio Cattalan’s 18-karat gold toilet makes the perfect reflective surface for a witty mirror selfie

A cultural catastrophe, surely? A new artistic genre, certainly… but perhaps this adaptation for our evolving world is one to be embraced rather than condemned. Changes and evolution in the artistic eras of the past have always adapted and thrived around the restrictions of the time. Now, the square boxes of Instagram symmetrically enclose the works of artists like Chiara No. “Instagram has become my gallery” – she insists, and meticulously frames her graphically feminist content in response. Twitter’s 140 character limit has given rise to the poetic form of the “twihaiku”, where budding poets like Benjamin Zephaniah and George Szirtes create imagist-style musings using snippets of words. As director of the Poetry Society, Judith Palmer puts: “the constraints of the 140-character limit play […]  in the same way as the 14 lines of the sonnet or the 17 syllables of the haiku.” A new bite-sized medium encourages modern expression and creativity in bite-sized chunks. Perhaps art is not narrowing but adapting and thriving in a new and vibrant online world. It may lack the scale or physicality of traditional art, but conforming to the new boundaries of the digital age breaks free from the boundaries of the past. With an equally boundary-breaking and open mind, we should recognise this progression and embrace art’s arrival into the vast and expansive realm of the online world.

Last modified: 24th September 2019

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