Picture Perfect: The pros and cons of using Instagram to promote music
Augustin Macellari wonders if artists can fill Instagram’s perceived vacuousness with substance.
It became clear to me that my Facebook use was unhealthy a few years ago. In an act of self-discipline I managed to delete my account. I’d decided that any platform that normalises compulsively voyeuristic behaviour to the degree that it can be jocularly referred to as “stalking” is pretty suspect, while one glance into master-breaker-of-things Mark Zuckerberg’s eyes was enough to reassure me that the organisation’s agenda has been fucked-up from the get-go.
Instagram, by contrast, appeared more innocuous. While Facebook stands as a kind of social panopticon, and Twitter a performative echo chamber, Instagram seemed as though it had the potential to be something more like a gallery. The service never lived up to that promise of course, but some artists have put it to interesting use: as a means to enhance their audience’s understanding of the reference points, interests and processes which constitute their creative practices.
Though Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz) is a critic, not an artist, his Instagram account exemplifies the best qualities of the platform. His daily posts meditate on subjects ranging from gender politics to the transcendent qualities of art, to his rage at the Trump administration. Instagram’s binary system of text and image, and its immediacy, give his posts the quality of notes or sketches, uncovering a new dimension to his approach and offering fresh insight into his critical perspective. That’s not to say that everything he posts is agreeable or even interesting – in fact he can be desperately smug and tedious – but at least he conveys a feeling of genuine conviction.
Last year, a survey conducted amongst young people revealed that Instagram is not better than Facebook or Twitter. In fact, it’s worse – it’s been associated with depression, anxiety and FOMO. A platform that rewards glossy perfection with likes is always going to be a fertile breeding ground for untruths and misdirection, exposing photography’s fallibility as a subjective medium. While the idea that a photograph can’t be trusted seems like common sense, it can be a difficult thing to remember in the face of Instagram’s relentless onslaught of beautiful faces and paradise beaches.
Amalia Ulman (@amaliaulman), an Argentine artist, interrogated the performativity and falsehood of self-representation on Instagram beautifully with a project called Excellences & Perfections. An ongoing series of glamorous selfies that attracted tens of thousands of followers, it’s telling that the project only really became ‘art’ when it made the leap from Instagram to a gallery; on the social media platform itself it was indistinguishable from the content it set out to confront.
But artists most commonly put the service to use in the same way as everyone else: as a tool for self-promotion. The benefits are obvious, but the pitfalls are dangerous. As an informal platform that blurs the lines between personal and professional, it facilitates a more fluid relationship between artist and audience – which can backfire. Last summer, London-based artist Hetty Douglas provoked outrage after uploading an offensive comment on an Instagram story. The intense backlash made Douglas a trending topic and the subject of widely-shared opinion articles, revealing how fragile and potentially perilous the web of relationships Instagram supports really is.
Even artists whose lives are seemingly improved, rather than ruined, through the employment of Instagram as a point of contact with fans and audience, report growing apprehensions about sustained use of the platform. Experimental musician Holly Herndon recently tweeted about the conflict that arises when principled objection to the social media collides with professional interest, proving that getting off the fucking thing is more problematic for artists who have to promote themselves for common-or-garden Instagram addicts.
Because that’s what it is: addictive. Recent reports from industry insiders have confirmed what any compulsive swiper already knows; big tech has pursued a creepy, bio-hacking agenda, a conspiracy to literally steal people’s lives away from them in the form of attention invested in screens, rewarding engagement with dopamine. Instagram has colonised the interstitial moments of the day, so that queueing, waiting for a lift or sitting on the loo need never seem “boring” again.
Any utopian-digital-gallery daydreams I once had have been crushed under a cycle of inanity, untruth and gloating. We’ve got the itch now, and so we keep unlocking, refreshing and scrolling. Instagram is a black hole, and any moments of accidental quality, from Saltz to Ulman to whoever else must be recognised for what they are: decoration hanging in the void.