How Collectors Use Instagram to Buy Art

Elena Soboleva
Apr 19, 2015 7:49PM

According to a recent survey of collectors on Instagram, an incredible 51.5% have purchased works from artists they originally discovered through Instagram. More importantly, this discovery led to an average of 5 purchased works by artists originally found on the app! Although respondents are all active on Instagram, and nearly half have collections of 100+ works, these are significant findings. Collector and social media expert Karen Robinovitz (@karenrobinovitz) commented, “Collecting art is an addiction and Instagram is the dealer and pusher that enables it.”

Is Facebook’s image sharing platform (valued at $35 billion) the next big sales channel for fine art?

As big fans of Instagram (@Artsy), at The Armory Show we created an installation (#ArtsyTakeover) with Hank Willis Thomas, dubbed “easily the single most ‘grammed Armory shot” by ArtInfo. Instagram’s influence on the art market continues to grow, as more artists, galleries, and collectors explore its commercial potential. In fact, you may be surprised to learn just how much Instagram impacts purchase decisions.

We thought it could be extremely valuable to explore Instagram’s impact on art collectors, and to chart usage patterns and collecting habits. To achieve this, we surveyed art collectors known to use the app. We discuss our findings below.


About the Survey

We reached out to top art collectors active on Instagram, and found them eager to share information about their Instagram usage. Since our survey included four pages of questions, and given the volume of insights, we have divided the results into a two-part series.

Part 1 (this edition) covers how collectors use Instagram and their buying habits.

Part 2 focusese on gallery-specific insights and advice, aimed at helping galleries leverage Instagram as a new digital channel.


The Collectors

Our sample included only collectors who are active Instagram users, and therefore represent the early adopters of Instagram as a tool for collecting art. That said, these are some dedicated folks: Almost half have 100+ works in their collections. A majority (55%) collect primarily emerging art, while 45% identified and themselves as contemporary art collectors.

42% had over 100+ artworks in their collection and on average have collected for 9 years.


Instagram’s Appeal


A staggering 87% of collectors surveyed check Instagram more than twice a day and 55% open the app 5 or more times a day—translating their passion to the iPhone screen. Additional discovery occurs as collectors tend to “search artists who you know you love, find who’s posting them, and see what else they are drawn to,” one collector told us.

Collectors are not only consuming, but are also actively engaged, which often empowers them to become influencers and tastemakers: more than half (55%) post on Instagram multiple times a week.


Collectors also rely on Instagram as a tool for discovering and researching art trends. While 30% post the works they are considering acquiring for their collection, many others use it to gauge current trends.

“It is hype for sure, which has negative and positive effects. But if your artwork isn’t represented on Instagram these days, do you exist?” — NY Collector


More than half (64%) told us that the majority of the accounts they follow are art related.
 However, while these collectors clearly place value on Instagram for timely information, they also rely on other sources. As art advisor Liz Parks (@lizparks) notes, “It is one tiny prong in the fork of information-gathering prior to making an acquisition”and provides “a mental coffee break to keep up with what is going on in the art world.”


Instagram has a clear impact as a discovery tool. Around 61% of collectors consistently look at an artist’s hashtag (Ex. #DeanLevin or #PetraCortright) before buying—and 42% do so often. One collector described the activity of browsing new artists as “falling into a hashtag hole.” Instagram’s ease of discovery will continue to be one of its strengths, given that 74% of collectors surveyed for Hiscox’s Report said that this was the primary advantage to purchasing art online.


A surprising 51.5% of surveyed collectors have purchased work from artists they originally discovered through Instagram. These collectors have each acquired almost 5 works on average by artists they found on the app!

Almost one third (31%) of the collectors have purchased specific works they discovered on Instagram. Those who purchased such works have done so 4 times on average. 

"By scrolling through my Instagram feed I first discovered the work of Kasper Sonne and Sofia Leiby. My interest in the two grew, eventually leading to their work being added to my collection" says Scott Friedman (@sfriedz), a young New York collector.


Art Market Implications


A large majority of collectors (73%) believe that Instagram makes the art market more transparent, with many citing that as its key impact. As one collector expressed: “Instagram has added a crucial element of transparency that was lacking in the art market. In the past, dealers and galleries were the only ones familiar with an artist’s entire body of work...a collector could only rely on the few images that a gallery posted on their website.” However, with Instagram, “collectors are exposed to a large body of works by contemporary artists and thus this knowledge gap has diminished.”


The larger effects of Instagram on the art market was a point of debate. While it was clear that the majority embraced the app for its potential for transparency, collectors were split over whether the effects were all good. 51% of those surveyed believed that it promoted art flipping.

Barry Malin (@burning_in_water_art) has amassed over 200 works over the last decade, and notes that, “Critics use Instagram as a bogeyman in the discussions around flipping, but active flipping flourishes in secrecy, while Instagram is a transparent medium.” Malin observes that “Social media is altering the distribution of influence within the contemporary art world, with these new channels privileging those who are adept at their use and willing to invest time and energy engaging effectively.”


The topic generated much discussion and here is what collectors had to say about Instagram’s effect on the art market:

“Instagram is best viewed as a marketing tool as opposed to a sales tool. It is great for finding out about an artist’s most recent body of work, or learning of a gallery’s latest exhibition, or getting behind the scenes takes on the inner workings of the art world.”

“I think the biggest influence has been the ability to provide instant access to its users.”

“It can help bring an insight to an artist's practice and work to a broader audience, but it will never replace the in person experience with a work.”

“It will continue to create transparency in a world which has been kept a secret for many years.”

“Instagram allows users to be part of an art community even if they don't live in the city or country which has to be positive for the art market.”

“Instagram almost de-incentivizes artists from seeking gallery representation from small or no-name galleries, as Instagram allows artists to promote their work to targeted people free of charge.”


See Part II of the survey results:  7 Ways to Win Over Collectors on Instagram

Elena Soboleva (@elenasoboleva) is a contemporary art Specialist at Artsy. She works with collectors, manages art fair sales, and develops curatorial programming. She studied economics and art history and writes about the art market and online trends.

Elena Soboleva