While homo sapiens were capable of abstract thought almost 100,000 years ago
, it took much longer for the human mind to invent
. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that artists such as
created abstract works with no identifiable references to the physical world. Abstraction quickly became the lodestar driving artistic production, a trend that largely continues to this day.
But just how popular is abstract art with collectors and art enthusiasts? To try and answer this question, we assembled a database of 112,600 Instagram posts made last December for which the geolocation and/or hashtags indicated that the user was in Miami during Art Basel in Miami Beach
and the dozen-plus other concurrent art fairs. Eliminating selfies and other extraneous pictures yielded approximately 74,760 images, which represents the collective visual record of all the artworks Instagram users saw in person that they also elected to share with their followers. Building on our earlier work
, we then ran these images through an artificial intelligence tool designed and optimized for art, in order to categorize the art into broad groupings by genre (e.g., abstract, figurative) and to identify the 10 most Instagrammed works of art. These algorithms were developed by Artrendex, a New York–based technology startup of which Ahmed Elgammal is founder and CEO. Some surprising results emerged.
What’s the most popular mode of artistic expression today?
While abstraction remains popular, its relative importance to the art-going public seems to be declining. Across all of the Miami fair visitors this past December who shared their pictures on Instagram, abstract works of art accounted for just 36% of the total number of posts, down from 52% the prior year.
works, by contrast, rose to 36% from 30% the previous December. The third-most-popular category, at 18%, were works of art that referenced landscapes or interiors in some way. Artworks that were predominately text-based represented 9%, while just 1% of the images represented specific objects—for example, a screwdriver or a pair of shoes.
We compared the Miami posts to a larger data set of Instagram posts we have been aggregating over the past 18 months from other top art fairs. As shown in the table below, Instagram users’ fascination with abstract art has declined over the past year, replaced with growing interest in figuration, landscapes, interiors, and text-based art. While cause and effect are hard to pin down, our sense is that it has become increasingly difficult for artists to stand out in the marketplace by trying to innovate within abstraction. Tweaking more traditional tropes may be a more surefire way to stand out in the crowded art marketplace.