Do I Have to Instagram?

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Dear BURNAWAY,
Do I really need an Instagram account? I’m a visual artist, and I feel like updating  Facebook and Twitter already takes up a lot of my mental space, but I’ve been told by friends that I need to be on Instagram, too. I feel like I should just focus on my work and not bother with social media so much.But is that shooting myself in the foot somehow? I want to stay relevant and do everything I can to promote my work, but I just don’t know how much more internetting I can handle. Please advise.
Lady Luddite in Birmingham

Georgia Museum of Art

 
Dear Luddite,
I feel your pain, as do a lot of people out there. When a new social network emerges, a little part of me dies inside. I haven’t yet joined Twitter because frankly, I can’t fathom it. The mere thought of adding another thing to check nauseates me. (Though I keep promising people I’ll get on it one day soon—I will!)
If you’re like me, your relationship to social media feels a lot like that Portlandia skit where Fred Armisen spirals into a “technology loop” hysteria because he can’t stop checking his texts, email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, DVR, Netflix queue, et cetera. It’s not that he even cares much about any of it—he’s just possessed by that awful, neurotic, all-too-familiar compulsion to check things; that digital itch that refuses to be sufficiently scratched, ever. If that’s what social media feels like for you, then don’t do it.

There’s a very simple answer to your question—and it’s no. No, you don’t need an Instagram account to be a good, relevant artist. Frankly, you don’t need anything to be a good artist other than good, relevant art.
Social media is just that: social. And like actual real-world socializing, some people thrive in it, others wither into a sad, weeping ball of angst. Know which person you are. If Facebooking and tweeting and blogging and Instagramming is fun for you and gives you some gratification, then by all means go for it. If it’s a source of anxiety or a major time-suck for you, which is the vibe I’m getting here, steer clear and focus on your work.
People will tell you all day that you need to “optimize” your “personal brand” by increasing your “self-marketing” on every single social media platform that exists. I’d argue that if it takes away from your studio practice, then it won’t help you at all. Your efforts as a professional artist should be going into your work, your website, and your CV, i.e., exhibiting your work in galleries; anything beyond that is simply icing on your “personal brand” cake.*
That said, internetting about your work doesn’t have to be a chore. A redeeming thing about social media is that you don’t necessarily have to post all that often to be involved. Sometimes just having a presence on it is enough; the world is pacified that you’re participating, and you get to feel in the loop, even if you only post something once or twice a month.
In my observation, different types of creative people thrive on different platforms. I happen to think Instagram is a pretty good one for artists, seeing as it’s rooted in the visual. If you do join, however, consider making two separate accounts: a professional and a personal. That way, if you really love Instagramming and find yourself desperately wanting to post lots of pictures of your dog or your lunch or your face, you can refrain from creeping out those who are mainly interested in your studio/work life. It’s just a thought. Most people don’t have separate accounts, but I’m starting to feel more and more like it should be a requirement. Not convinced? Just hop over and take a look at Ai Wei Wei’s account, and it should prove my point entirely. Brilliant artist, but then dude posts like 14 pictures a day and clogs up fans’ feeds with everything except his artwork. UNFOLLOW.
* Full disclosure: I have some pretty strong anarchic tendencies and don’t feel you should ever have to do anything that offends your soul or senses. Except pay taxes.
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville, Tennessee. She currently works at David Lusk Gallery and is the former gallery coordinator for the Carl Van Vechten and Aaron Douglas Galleries at Fisk University. She is also the apprentice to renowned paintings conservator Cynthia Stow of Cumberland Art Conservation. Estes is the cofounder and curator of the Nashville-based contemporary exhibition space, Threesquared. Her writing and art criticism has been featured in numerous publications, including BURNAWAY, Number, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, and ArtNow.