Art and Social Media: How Instagram Impacts the art world

Sun Jun 04 2023
Instagram logo in front of a blurred painting

As with every aspect of our hyper-connected lives, social media is now an important component of the art world. During the last few years, artists, galleries, auction houses, museums, and art collectors have increasingly turned to social media, mostly Instagram, and more recently TikTok, to showcase their art, spot the next art trend, and promote art exhibitions, art fairs, and art events around the world. In this series, we will explore the different facets of art and social media, elaborating on how it has changed the art landscape. Given its relevance and popularity within the artistic community, we start this installment by diving into the world of Instagram.

When did the Instagram-craze start?

Social media has been an integral part of our lives for decades, but the launch of Instagram in 2010 was a game-changer for the art world. With its innovative format allowing users to share Polaroid-style images and 15-second videos, Instagram quickly became popular amongst artists, with over 1.6 billion users today, including many artists. However, the platform has evolved significantly from its early days, with changes greatly triggered by Facebook's acquisition in 2012. Next to this, over time, Instagram has incorporated new features, such as Instagram Stories, embedded links, and sponsored content, which, even if met with reluctance from its users, have increased its potential as a powerful marketing tool.

Without a doubt, nowadays, Instagram is a critical component of the art market's infrastructure. As proof of this, a New York Times article highlights the crucial role it plays amongst contemporary artists, galleries, auction houses, and art fairs, who use the platform to promote their projects and introduce the works of artists to social-media-savvy art collectors. Even if for years Instagram’s influence was strongly felt and was studied at panels held at the world’s most important art events, like Art Basel, for some time there was not enough quantifiable data that documented the real impact the once not-sales-oriented platform had in monetary terms or in terms of its reach among art collectors.

Keeping track of Instagram’s influence in the art world

This partly changed in 2018 when Instagram started offering shopping features that had evolved making it increasingly possible to add tags to the posts that redirect to the product page. The changes in the platform, which are explained in this interesting post, next to its impressive exposure resulted in a growing number of specialized studies that confirmed what was suspected by many: while not an overwhelming amount of high-end art transactions are closed directly on the platform, it can have a real effect on an artist’s career. Regardless of this, Instagram is a double-sided sword as a single post can both launch or shatter the reputation of an artist, gallery, museum, or art dealer.

To get a glimpse of the important role the platform has as a marketing tool for the art world, one of the latest reports on the matter, the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2021 by ArtTactic, found that 40% of respondents think social media has an increasing influence when buying art, the highest reading since the company began asking the question in 2015. This was confirmed by the Global Art Market Report, in 2021, a report issued by Art Basel and UBS, which documented that, while online sales on Instagram were relatively low (where artwork was found on Instagram and purchased directly or through a link on Instagram to an artist, gallery, or another seller), dealers and collectors continued to think it remained the most important social media channel for finding and researching new artists and galleries.

Who is on Instagram?

The art world on Instagram is vast and diverse, encompassing blue-chip galleries, art museums, emerging artists, art collectors, and art curators alike. Some of the biggest players on the platform include The Museum of Modern Art (@themuseumofmodernart), Sotheby’s (@sothebys), Christies (@christiesinc), Bonhams (@bonhams), and Phillips (@phillps). On the other hand, contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei (@aiww), Jeff Koons (@jeffkoons), and Damien Hirst (@damienhirst) boast impressive followings of 400,000 to 900,000 users. Furthermore, tastemakers like Brett Gorvy (@brettgorvy), a partner at Lévy Gorvy; and Simon de Pury (@simondepury), a celebrity auctioneer and art dealer, also use their popular Instagram feeds to promote their travels and the artists they admire. As could be expected, Blue-chip galleries like Gagosian (@gagosian) and Pace (@pacegallery) have also developed successful Instagram handles, with Gagosian boasting 1.5 million followers and Pace following close behind at 1.1 million. Even controversial figures, such as Stefan Simchowitz (@stefansimchowitz), have also developed strong followings.

Additionallyl, Instagram has proven to be instrumental in the development of many artists' careers, particularly those who do not form part of the mainstream. For them, the platform is the main tool to sell their art. Among them are landscape painters Erin Hanson (@erinhansonartist) and Julia Powell (@juliaspowellart). Additionally, digital art curators rely on Instagram to promote online shows, raise awareness towards social or political causes, and put together exhibitions.

Now, it is important to note that while some artists, art dealers, and art galleries handle their accounts personally, the figure of the social media manager is also present, with many deciding to delegate their social media handling to experts in the field that track impact, statistics, engagement, and more. Some artists have also sought more visibility within Instagram by buying ad space.

The tricky business of getting noticed on Instagram

While everyone wants to be Instagram-famous, simply posting content does not guarantee that it will be seen. Success on the platform requires social media savviness and an understanding of how to navigate hashtags, timing, and content types. This difficulty has only increased in recent years, since Instagram shifted away from a chronological newsfeed to an algorithm-based feed in 2016. Furthermore, having a large following is no longer enough. Engagement from followers is essential to ensure that posts are seen. Quality is also crucial, as followers can be bought, and quantity alone does not guarantee success.

What type of art gets more likes on Instagram and which one is censored?

Without a doubt, painting is a medium that enjoys immense popularity on Instagram, with numerous studies confirming this. For instance, The Art Collector Instagram Attention Report published by Larry’s List and NAMAC, reveals the most popular handles that art collectors follow are the ones of artists that work with painting. Next to this, many of the artists that enjoy a huge following work with this medium.This includes artists like Thierry Duval (@thierryduvalaqua) and Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley), who have followings of 661k and 589k, respectively. Hashtags related to painting, such as #oilpainting#watercolorpainting#watercolors, and #acrylicpainting, are also among the most used art-related hashtags on the platform.

However, alongside painting, there is also a growing trend of "Instagrammable art." This refers to art that, whilst created without this intention in mind, is particularly appealing or photogenic on the platform, such as the works of Yayoi Kusama or James Turrell. On the other hand, some artists even create content specifically for the app, as a way of evading Instagram's strict censorship rules that can result in shadow banning or the dreaded account deletion. However, these censorship rules can also be highly controversial, particularly when they are applied to realistic paintings featuring female nipples. Popular campaigns like #Freethenipple have emerged on the platform in response.

Overall, while Instagram has its pros and cons, it is clear that it has had a significant impact on the art world. Some argue that it is even changing the way art is made, shown, and seen. Regardless of our opinions, it seems likely that it will continue to be a significant force in the art world for the foreseeable future.


  • Instagram provides unprecedented visual access to both contemporary work and the larger canon of Art History which precedes it.
  • The digital realm increases accessibility for both the artist and the viewer because art is no longer limited to historically exclusive institutional spaces.
  • As Elizabeth Wickham stated in this Studio Museum collaborative work, Instagram challenges the traditional and problematic top-down approach of the art world and instead celebrates and listens to the voice of the audience.
  • Collectors can spot emerging artists on Instagram.
  • Cutting out the middleman, Instagram is standing in for the role of the dealer. People can see a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating art.


  • Instagram functions in algorithms that favor certain kinds of content over others.
  • There is a strong degree of censorship in the platform that abides by the platform’s criteria so transgressive art forms are not invited.
  • Reduced to a digital representation, the complexity of some artworks may be diminished.
  • Artists feel the pressure to develop new content at a fast pace to remain competitive in a world that favors short attention spans.
  • People may visit exhibits only to post their pictures on Instagram. This can be both a pro and a con. On one hand, museums get more visitors, but on the other people only want the perfect picture and do not necessarily connect with the art. However, that does not only happen in art exhibitions, it happens everywhere we go…

Stay tuned for our next articles covering art and social media!