From Marginalised To The Masses: Is Instagram Changing The Way We Buy Art?

In the past, the only way to discover artists and buy their work was to attend galleries and exhibitions. While fuelling the artist’s recognition and the privilege of having art displayed for people to admire, selling art through a gallery does have its shortcomings. For a start, a gallery takes a high commission (surprising, this can be up to 50%). Secondly, the audience that will attend a gallery is limited. This becomes a small pool of prospects and perhaps doesn’t reach the people your art should attract.

However, with the digital age, there are now more ways than ever for artists to extend their reach. One of the most prominent methods for this is through the use of Instagram. So, is the image-sharing site a positive or negative for the art world and how has Instagram changed the way people buy art?

Cutting out the middleman

By displaying artwork on Instagram, artists can curate their own gallery. With no fees to Instagram and no physical gallery required, Instagram provides a platform where artists can communicate directly to their audience. Enabling people to buy and sell art online allowing the process to be both private and direct.

In an interview in the Guardian about his love of contemporary art, Russell Tovey states;The magic of Instagram. With emerging artists, if you post a picture of their work or you comment on it, if you ‘at’ them, they normally contact you. Or you can direct message them.”

In essence, selling art through Instagram cuts out the gallery commission and should give artists the true value for their work.


Over half of the artwork sold globally through auctions and galleries is over $1 million. This not only pushes art out of the reach of many art lovers, collectors and fans, but it also marginalises those who appreciate art but cannot afford these staggeringly high prices. Furthermore, there is a lack of inclusivity with auctions and galleries, switching many people off from these traditional outlets and giving the motivation to find inclusive and welcome ways to appreciate art.

As a result, Instagram becomes a marketplace for more affordable artwork.

The wider reach

Instagram provides an easier way to access art. As a result, artists can widen their audience and ultimately target (through hashtags and their network) the people they want to attract. This broader reach not only gives artwork more exposure, but it enables networks to form and opens the door to bigger opportunities such as solo shows or media features. 

There have been several stories about notable names in the art world, such as Richard Prince, featuring emerging artists on their profiles which have skyrocketed the artist’s own profile and brand.

Of course, with the opportunities that Instagram can provide, there are also several pitfalls that can hinder and not help an artist’s career.

The screenshot

Displaying work so openly on Instagram does lead to problems. For example, it is easy for people to screenshot the work of an artist and appropriate it or include it in publications without compensating the artists.

One example of this is the controversial appropriation of Richard Prince’s New Portraits. Suicide Girls were selling portraits from $90 from their Instagram account. With the appropriation from Prince to add comments to the Instagram pictures underneath the portrait, Prince’s work sold for $100,000.

In other forms, screenshots can lead to theft and duplications. Work can become attributed to the wrong artist. When this happens, it is the artist is losing money from a potential sale.

Lowering value

With Instagram, work can be shared, reposted and recycled thousands of times across the internet. In some cases, this can increase recognition which is positive for the artist. In other cases, the work becomes over-shared, boring and edited to levels which reduce the work’s quality.

Consequently, this constant recycling and reusing of images can actually lower the value of the work and can lower the reputation of the artist.

Marketing pressure

Instagram users are always hungry for more and more content. As a result, artists may feel under pressure to create new pieces of art to post online. However, Instagram shouldn’t be the reason to make art. With the pressure of constant marketing that social media requires, artists may lose the purpose of their art, or the quality may reduce from rushing. All of which can lead to a loss of sales and a switch off from fans.

Selling more or selling out?

For good or bad, Instagram is changing the way we see, perceive and buy art. For some artists, they may think it is selling out, others will see it as an opportunity to sell more. The important thing for artists to consider is what they want their Instagram to do for them and how can they maintain their identity and control over images while still demonstrating that they are open for business.