Social media, when done right, could have the potential to replace agents, marketers, and others who used to play the in-between role of connecting artists to audiences and collectors. It opens new doors, especially for those who are looking to have people connect with the artist as well as their work. 

It gives artists a certain freedom and autonomy to make, self-promote and sell their work without going the traditional route. This controls and limits, to a certain extent, what is seen and validated within the art world.

Social media and other online platforms are certainly changing the ways artists interact with audiences, communities, and stakeholders. It allows artists to build a community around their work, and go directly to the marketplace.  

Instagram has quickly gained popularity since it burst onto the digital scene in 2010. Through this app, unknown artists are getting attention in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Instagram is redefining self-marketing and promotion with more than 100 million people using the photo and video sharing app worldwide. And for social media savvy artists, it’s their marketing tool of choice.

You can give people sneak peeks of your progress, grow your following, and get instant recognition and gratification. According to Vogue online, there are plenty of artists who sell works straight off their Instagram feed.

So, is it worth the effort for an artist to go all out on social media? If you are ready to invest the time and learn the skills, and if you are comfortable with inviting your audience to go on a digital journey with you, it probably is.   

We chatted to some NZ artists who are using Instagram to build their profile.  

@aimee_daniels, Varanasi, India #everythingbetweenyouandme

Ceramicist Hana Rakena (@hanarakena) says her recent work He Tohumarau (hashtag) has been fun project. Created with her sister Rachael Rakena for Whenua Hou: New Māori Ceramics, the pair invited people to take a block while visiting the exhibition, and to respond via #everythingbetweenyouandme on Instagram.

“I didn't know what to expect, and I hadn't anticipated how touched I'd be when people took photos of their blocks and uploaded photos to the Instagram hashtag,” she says.

There are now more than 200 images of people's blocks on Instagram. One photo, of a man on a boat on the Ganges river, cross legged and holding one of the blocks in his hand, blew the artist away. 

“People seem to be enjoying the invitation to get creative and interact with the piece. One man has kind of embarked on his own art project with the block infiltrating his Instagram account to the point where it's become like his constant inanimate companion.”  

Rakena thinks that social media has the potential to give artists a direct line to their collectors, but at this stage she sees it more as an opportunity to engage with interested and interesting people.

“To feel I'm part of a creative community, and to encourage others and be encouraged in my work.  It can be a very disconnected experience, making work, sending it out and some time later (if you're lucky) being paid for it, or sending it to shows but hearing little feedback.

“Having said this, I'm not blind to the fact that building a bigger and more involved audience must help sell any work that is already 'out there', and I'm seeing some super successful overseas ceramicists (@tortus_copenhagen (655k followers) & @jonosmart (65k followers) earning really good money selling directly to their followers”, she says. 

Back in 2009, Auckland-based artist Matt Dowman (@matthewdowman) suggested:

“Culture is no longer something we experience first-hand, it is mediated to us through television, advertising and digital technology. I see painting and drawing in a wide context incorporating spray paint, marker pens and digital media as a way of visually representing and translating my own simulated experiences.”

Dowman uses Instagram as a daily photo journal of interesting things he sees and encounters. He says social media is a great way of DIY self-promotion.

“It provides a platform to reach more people, a great way to expose your work. Also, it’s very helpful in terms of research, what is current and edgy locally and globally.

“Where you live doesn’t matter, as long as you have access to the internet. You can be in Ohura the middle of nowhere and see what is going on in NYC,” he says. 

“Accessibility allows greater exposure but at the same time increases competition for that exposure. You’re up against the billions of images, stories, and events that are already circulating on the net.”

Social media platforms may reduce costs, but they require substantial time to learn and utilise effectively. If not used with skill, it won’t be worth the effort. Less tech-savvy artists could be seriously disadvantaged.

Dowman adds that the potential for plagiarism increases, and that competition for attention increases as well.

“Time spent updating profiles sharing information is a positive and negative, understanding how to navigate differing platforms to benefit your practice is a challenge.

“The building of a brand, that marketable identity which I am against in a way, can be limiting. It makes what you do palatable for the consumer, which has its positives and negatives.

“There is a reason it is called “social” media and as artist participants we need to be active, engaged and consistently provide some kind of value, with associated information which is related to our followers’ art interests.”

Top 5 - Who to watch on Instagram:

@13thwitness - Astonishing photographs of cityscapes that fuse perfectly with challenging abstract shots. (739k followers)

@faileart - Photos from their studio of in-process screen prints, completed sets, old graffiti, and other interesting things. (108k followers)

@zioziegler - an American street artist, painter and sculptor born in 1988, currently working in San Francisco. (83.5k followers).

@adam_wallacavage – an Instagram is teeming with interesting finds, octopus-leg lamps and chandeliers. (62.8k followers).

@anthonylister - One of Australia's prominent street artists who posts photos of his work on walls, toilets, trashcans and more. (56.7k followers).

Hanna Rakena’s favourites

@vitacochran - gorgeous feed with an incredibly consistent aesthetic.

@chefpetergordon - takes great photos and has a fantastic globetrotting life. He’s also very responsive and encouraging.

@pete.hohepa shares her process in a fearless and consistent way and is full of enthusiasm.

@sutergallery has quirky and beautiful photos as well as fun and thoughtful writing. 

Matt Dowman’s favourites

All of them.