Is Instagram the New Gallery?

It’s no secret that Instagram plays a vital role in the distribution and promotion of art by artists and galleries alike. In a moment, artworks are displayed to anyone who has a smartphone all over the world. Although Instagram is oversaturated with a never-ending stream of alluring images and videos, the draw of instantly uploading and sharing work for users to adore, dislike and critique is compelling more artists to use the platform as an art gallery.

Aisha Mohamed who is behind the Instagram handle @artsyblackheaux creates captivating digital art that re-interprets famed works by Van Gogh and Renaissance paintings by placing empowering images of black women over them. Her dynamic work looks stunning emblazoned onto Instagram’s sleek square layout and the artist notes how the app is a great platform for her to showcase her work. “I think it's pretty cool that art has become more accessible and that social media has given people the confidence to follow their dreams. I wouldn't be where I am without social media.” She goes on to say that Instagram is “the only platform that I'm really familiar with and actually understand.”

Feminist illustrator Quinn Rockliff draws beautiful line figures and vivid watercolour paintings that rack up hundreds of likes on Instagram. “Instagram was how I began to share my art, and how I continue to promote myself,” says Quinn. “The feedback from my peers has built up my confidence to begin to sell work and collaborate with others. I would say more than changed it completely, it has fostered my philosophy on connection with others and promotion as an artist.”

Alexa DelSol or @acrylex creates vibrant and detailed artworks that are beautifully adorned across her Instagram page. She explains “My curatorial skills were virtually non-existent before I had Instagram. Instagram quickly became a space for the exchange of knowledge between artists; I became exposed to new methods and materials.”

The monumental surge in Instagram use has led to art becoming more inclusive and less private and restricted. As notes, the app allows users to “evaluate whatever art they look at without any pressure, without anyone yapping in their ears about what it means, why it's significant, why the artist is hot, why it's a good investment, why they should buy now, and on and on.” Quinn states how “calling yourself an artist is a hard thing to do as it embodies both the space of an identity and a career, so if the platform allows more folks to do so I think that's really positive.” Alexa believes that “artists are artists.” Yet she explains how Instagram “has commodified the identity of the artist, and in a way exacerbated struggles that artists already face as a result.” These struggles she describes as “not being credited, being overworked and underpaid,  art being regarded as ‘for public consumption’ and as completely separate from the artist.” 

It isn’t only advertising and promotion that Instagram offers artists. The platform gives artists the freedom to sell their own work - no need for a middle man. Forbes recently reported on how Nashville-based artist Shane Miller makes 40% of his sales via Instagram. In a recent article the artist expressed how the app is a “long-term bet for his career” and that art buyers “trust artists enough to send me a couple thousand dollars and hope I ship the painting.” This isn’t surprising since the rise in social media and use of the internet has created an underlying trust in the buying and selling of products and the commissioning of work digitally.

The app’s easy and quick messaging system is at the heart of its direct communication between buyer and seller, as well as between the press and the artist. “That first initial point of contact usually begins in the DMs. A lot of major publications have DM'd me really amazing opportunities through Insta,” says Aisha. This is reiterated by Quinn “I love how accessible communication can be between my followers and people that I admire!” Alexa describes how through the app’s instant messaging system she has discovered “that people who want your work will find you,” and the platform is “a weird mix between business and a shared interest in art.”

So where does this leave time-honored museums and galleries, after all Bloomberg notes how “museum behavior has always been synonymous with restriction,” which is in opposition with the freedom and personal agency that creating art and posting it on social media exudes. However, some institutions are embracing the merge of social media and art by ending ‘no-selfie’ bans and allowing visitors to freely snap and post images of the artworks across social media.

When speaking on displaying their work in a real life gallery, the magnitude and appeal of having work co-signed by art authorities and displayed in the beauty and splendour of a concrete space seemed to override the efficiency of Instagram for both Aisha and Quinn. “Although social media is my medium of choice, I would love to exhibit my work (in a gallery) but like I said that's not as accessible as just posting on Instagram,” Aisha comments. “I love having the ability for people to see my works in galleries, and hearing their feedback in real life is so valuable to me. Eventually, I would like to get to a place where I am mainly showing in gallery spaces. While I work out my style and continue to grow, Instagram has been a very important place for me,” declares Quinn.

However, Alexa makes a different point, explaining how she has had numerous opportunities to showcase her work in galleries since displaying online. However she doesn’t “prefer one over the other,” she explains “as a multi-media artist, social media gives me a more versatile means of sharing my work. The sharing via photo and video has also pushed me to develop my photography and videography which I'm also interested in. I think perhaps social media is pushing creators to experiment with more practices.”

Tali Ramsey a London based writer who focuses on contemporary art, culture and music, particularly reporting on the underrepresented and overlooked artists of these industries. Email: Instagram:

 Photo by Katka Pavlickova on Unsplash