Instagram Part One:
“Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.” - Paul Valéry (1928, p: 226)
Valéry in this quote from his essay ‘The Conquest of Ubiquity’ (1928) has corresponded the fast and today’s almost universal development of utilities in our society to the development in the technologies of photography (as well as auditory media), presenting to us that in the future that images will be available to us with the similar level of familiarity and reliance that (more specifically within western society) our household utilities provide. It will be available with a simple human action, in almost no time at all. And by relating them to the household utilities he also implies that we will be surrounded and have access to them in the most domestic and common of places.
Instagram is unarguably the most commonly used form of social networking that bases its communication in images. Within that, as a painter myself, I have immersed myself in the vast society of painters (and artists) that exist on the platform.
Many (usually more recognised) artists use it as a chance to display their ‘phone-photography’ or contextual images performing as a ‘diary-like’ representation of their lives and their Art practice. Possibly documenting studio situations, or works in progress or more personal images such as those of their friends or family, rather than simply, total photographic reproductions of their finished paintings.
Fig.1: Dexter Dalwood - Instagram Post (12/09/17)
Here we have an example of an Instagram post by the painter Dexter Dalwood. It isn’t a complete photograph of the painting he is documenting, but instead it is a digital photo of one of his paintings being hung; the central subject being the assistant hanging the painting. This is revealing a certain insight to the process of exhibition curation, which the public perhaps otherwise would not typically see. The reason these types of images from certain ‘well-broadcasted’ painters are valuable and engaging for their audience is similar to the nature of the press photography of famous actors. In the same way that an actor in their movies is the foremost situation that their human presence is viewed by the public, a painter’s presence is most commonly viewed through their paintings; these paintings and their reproductions are more common than say, a photograph of the artist or of their studio. So naturally, ‘fans’ or viewers of their work would like to access what we could call ‘relatable information’, so that they feel closer to their heroes or sources of inspiration. Also, these documentary-like pictures act as a way for audiences to track what the painter is doing, such as upcoming exhibitions or even their inspirations as painters themselves.
This second quote from the same Valéry text speaks more specifically about the distribution of artwork (paintings):
“They [artworks] will not merely exist in themselves but will exist wherever someone with a certain apparatus happens to be. A work of art will cease to be anything more than a kind of source or point of origin whose benefits will be available — and quite fully so — wherever we wish.” – Valéry (1928, Pp: 225-226)
Next I will talk about another Instagram account that reproduces painting and distributes it for inspiration and research.
I shall be using the examples of two images posted one after another on an Instagram account managed by the painter Peter Shear (fig.2). They are two full reproductions of paintings that exist elsewhere in the world. Shear’s Instagram page is curated as a progressive form of visual inspiration that regularly posts digital reproductions of paintings that he comes across in his research and everyday life as a painter. In these two examples of A.R Penck and Peter Doig, we can see small visual similarities between them: the blue figure that is mid action and rather central to the compositions of each painting, as well as the thin application of paint used to create the aesthetic of both. It is certainly no coincidence that Shear posted these two paintings next to each other on his feed, it isn’t uncommon to see similarities like these examples between the other posts on his feed; it creates a very considered flow of imagery.
Fig.2: Instagram posts by Peter Shear
Although I could discuss the down-sizing of the paintings into the screen of a phone as a belittling of the real paintings, I shall instead talk of the new lives they are given through their new found portability: Through messaging and sharing on Instagram, e-mail, other social networks and technologies, we are able to send the paintings onto our friends and followers. We are able to take them to other screens, projectors and perhaps print them. We become aware of them; we can then research further into the painting or the artist’s practice, thus discovering more paintings and painters. We may well discover where the painting is located, leading us to subsequently visit it in real life.
The paintings Shear documents, including the examples, are very often painted at quite different points in history. Shear uses the application of Instagram in a way that can be described as a ‘flattening’ of time between the contemporary, and the historical. This is creating an assorted range of Art history and contemporary Art research through a popular and openly available image archiving tool. Making it available for anyone with a phone (or the internet) to hold these influential paintings between their fingertips and summon them at any time with a ‘simple movement of a hand’ (Valéry, 1928, p. 226).
Here are the links to Dexter Dalwood and Peter Shear's Instagram accounts, in that order: