Instagram updated yesterday! This could possibly have been a mild inconvenience, but I’ve decided it’s actually one of the worst things that has happened in the social media landscape in the past few years.
I have had an art account on the platform for the last six years (made when I was 13, meaning it’s been there for nearly my entire adolescence). It was fun at first making and posting fanart for the really questionable things I was into and receiving nice comments from my well-meaning little online friends. It became less fun when I decided I didn’t like making fanart all that much and started losing followers, and when the algorithm started messing with my self-esteem over time. I managed to draw and paint quite a lot this spring and summer, and it got depressing when I realised that a) barely any people who had originally followed me got to actually see my work, and b) although I made a few things I genuinely liked, I often only produced art to put on that page.
I also became disillusioned with the bite-sized format of Instagram and similar websites. I don’t think fine art should be displayed in isolation: anyone who is able to look at a painting should be able to access information about the visuals and worldview that inspired it. This isn’t in the interest of censorship or no-platforming, but in the tradition of museums and galleries, where the best curators arrange artwork thematically or in accordance with artistic inner circles to help visitors understand the links between different works. It might have been fine when I was still really interested in self-explanatory fanart, but my priorities are different now: I accidentally fell in love with the methodology I was taught during my Art A-Level, where you must reference existing pieces from art history at every stage of the creative process. There are so many masked statements that can be made from the very act of reference, and so many ways to distort, corrupt and appropriate any section of the artistic canon when making new work – so why limit art online to a photograph and a descriptive caption when you might be able to spell this out explicitly?
Instagram has replaced its central camera button (its original priority) with a rip-off of every other website at this point, eg. a scrolling list of inane videos to watch, all 15 seconds in length. I am just about the right age to appreciate one of twenty or thirty classic Vines, but beyond this point, these short videos can only spell danger to me – especially when they are starting to influence popular discourse on social justice and politics, as some of my braver friends have explained. What nuance, dignity or sophistication could there be in 15 seconds? How will the next generation talk, think and act if they are raised on this kind of entertainment, engineered precisely to keep their attention?
And the kicker: on Old Instagram, one tab showed you likes, comments and follows. Obviously there has been a lot of negative public discourse on this already, which I can’t say I disagree with, but it seems almost utopian in contrast with its replacement, a whole screen dedicated to online shopping. Goodbye narcissism and hello materialism! Here is a never-ending scroll of literal adverts for things our algorithm thinks you might want, and probably will want once we’ve shown them to you enough! And we also expect you to do free advertising, making public lists of products you like, pretending you work at some fancy magazine, when really all you are is bored on your phone.
Instagram’s aim to give its entire userbase a shopping addiction and an attention deficit by the year 2021 was the last straw in the stable of the horse of my disillusion. I have already decided to stop posting my art there and to put it here instead, and to start making it in a more organised, sequential way that might fit in a blog post instead of a single square. It will be very strange reconciling my two internet personalities, one with sort-of-objectionable opinions and one with some semblance of artistic skill, but I feel it must be done. My worldview and cultural tastes are starting to influence each other big time, so this seems at least slightly logical.