Social media broadens world of art

Technology has made the world a smaller place and the world of art is no different. Social media is changing the way art is represented, viewed, interacted with and purchased. It has made art more accessible and more engaging.

One of the greatest offenses hurled at young people today is that they spend too much time on computers and social media, and while those concerns are not completely unfounded, I think it’s also reasonable that such beliefs may cause us to miss an opportunity — the opportunity to engage young people in the arts and on their level.

Since it began in 2010, more than 400 million people have become Instagram users. Instagram is second only to Facebook in users, and its platform is dedicated to photos as opposed to the text used on Facebook. About 90 percent of Instagram users are under the age of 35 and more than half of those users log on daily. When you consider the demographic of people spending time on Instagram along with the growing number of artists, photographers and graphic designers creating and posting content, it’s obvious that a new art age is unfolding.

Social media is shifting the traditional art paradigm. Museums and galleries are now virtual spaces (for those who choose) and the need to go through agents and dealers to purchase art is less necessary. I’m not saying these resources are not important, but for people who simply want to view and acquire art, they are a little less relevant.

Museums and other legitimate art establishments are embracing technology, too. As early as three years ago, museums like The Guggenheim, that are traditionally object-based, began creating virtual content. And a digital media company named Refinery29 began offering virtual events called “pop up rooms” as an alternative to New York’s exclusive Fashion Week events. In 2016, the events generated 310 million social interactions and the following year, more than 520 million participants joined under the theme “Turn it into Art.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has designated hashtags for all of its exhibits, allowing visitors to share photos of art, and more and more art-apps are becoming available.

Having a presence on digital media can also drive sales and museum visits. A survey conducted by art app Artsy found that more than half of art collectors who are active on Instagram have purchased a work from an artist that they found through the platform.

There are some who even call social media an emerging new art form. People balked at talking movies when they came out, and, similarly, just a few years back few would have predicted that the biggest brands and companies would have the presence they do on social media. But at its essence social media connects humanity, and its ability to be expressive and creative continues to blossom. With advanced cameras and sharing capabilities, taking a photo of your art and posting it for the world to see is as easy as it sounds. And with the use of hashtags, artists can segment their audiences even more.

More art enthusiasts are taking to social media to connect not only with artists but with other art lovers. Social media provides a platform for people to discuss art online and for arts organizations to expand their audiences. For those who want to meet in person, there’s even a platform called “” that allows enthusiasts to create events.

Social media also gives artists a realm for selling their works. Last year, Forbes published an article about a young artist who makes almost half of his art sales online. And the article backed up the notion that social media can increase art sales by providing some hard numbers from the Pew Research Center.

According to the article, “How A 26-Year-Old Artist Makes 40% Of Sales Through Instagram,” 32 percent of all online adults use Instagram. Demographically that breaks down into 59 percent of all 18-29 year-olds, 33 percent of 30-49 year-olds, 18 percent aged 50-64 and 8 percent of those 65 and over, with women significantly more likely to use the service, in all age ranges. And while art buyers are traditionally older, the report stated that “the number of millennials that indicated interest in buying art suggests that as their salaries rise, this will be the platform they turn to for purchases — and 41.9 percent of young millennials regard art buying as a good investment. Additionally, Instagram users tend to be relatively wealthy, compared with the rest of the populations … 31 percent of Instagram users earn $75,000 or more.”

Social media is just as much about humanity as arts and culture is. Promoting arts and culture is important, and technology should be embraced as a vehicle for transporting people to new realities.

A former colleague of mine used to assess situations based on two categories — “it’s a challenge and an opportunity” — and sometimes it’s both.

For art lovers, I hope you will see this medium as a new opportunity.


James Bass

Contributing columnist

James Bass is the executive director of Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He may be reached at