I had long suspected that Instagram was killing the way I experienced art, the way I moved through museums and galleries. It’s easy to scoff at smartphone-wielding tourists at MoMA
or the Met
, dutifully snapping off-kilter, fuzzy images of masterpieces. Why bother? My own Instagram practice seemed more mature, somehow—a savvy detail shot showed off a refined sensibility. Sure, you could Google the same
painting and see it online in glorious, professionally photographed high-resolution, but I was narrowing in on a particular moment
in the Grant Wood, because it’s something that my idiosyncratic eye happened to notice, and I hope you like it. Seriously, like it
We hear a lot about the perils of “Instagram art,” which I generally understand to mean flashy, spectacular stuff that’s meant to go viral on social media. But the problem isn’t just that a certain sort of eye-catching artwork panders to these inclinations. It’s what happens when all art is Instagram art, when even a solo journey through a museum becomes an awkward threesome: you, the art, and your phone, with the whole world supposedly watching.
This creates a lot of cognitive dissonance. I’ve walked into exhibitions recently that left me entirely cold and unmoved, yet I’ve still dutifully snapped my own installation shot; that bland, modular arrangement of abstract, colored panels on the wall might be boring in person, but with the right angle and lighting, it’s thrilling on Instagram. Meanwhile, a painting or performance that’s guttingly beautiful IRL often doesn’t translate into the flat world of the app. Instead of enjoying the experience as it unfolds, I would find myself suddenly irate about the inability to capture and share that ineffable feeling.