Thursday: 9am – 12pm, Fiona
Cyprien Jane Pearson
Over the course of MECO 6936, we touched on ideas of cultural production and social media. Specifically, both lectures and the core textbook, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) explained the ways in which art is being mediated, promoted and altered through social media. As such, this paper will discuss this broad idea) before providing examples and criticism from additional research. Specifically, through the lens of social media, it will question audience participation with art, the artists’ self-censorship in pursuit of likes and the censorship by way of the rules of social media sites.
In chapter five, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) discuss the key term cultural production, or “how culture is produced and reproduced within modern societies” (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013, p.79). In terms of art, culture is traditionally brought to the public through the forms of museums and art galleries. As art gallery owners and curators determine what is showcased, they become a type of cultural “gatekeeper” (Bystryn, 1978), dictating what is and what is not worthy to be admired by the masses. This is, by nature, exclusionary. Hinton and Hjorth (2013), though, argue that the prevalence of social media in society at large has opened up the previously exclusive realms of art and culture to the masses, making it inclusionary. In this way, the intersection between art and social media is communicated in a positive light as amateur and professional artists can self-promote and anyone can log on to a virtual museum (Whitehead, 2017; Proctor, 2010; Mangolds & Faulds, 2009). What was once elite is made available to all through the boundaries of social media.
While Hinton and Hjorth (2013) communicate the positive aspects of cultural production and social media, there are also several criticisms that one could level. Namely, social media is subtly transforming art as we know it. The following sections will discuss three core ways this occurs: new relationships with art, self-censorship in the pursuit of likes, and censorship through site rules.
The first criticism of social media and its effect on art is that the relationship between art and the viewer has shifted. In other words, artists may strive to produce works that are “Instagrammable” (Williams, 2016) rather than thought-provoking, profound or other traditional goals in the art world. Williams (2016) provides an example of this as she discusses the exhibits of Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama. Koons’ exhibit featured reflective surfaces in different shapes, while Kusama’s work featured a series of infinity mirrors (pictured below).
Upon attending these events, Williams (2016) notes that the exhibits were both immensely popular but that people are not looking at the art so much as they were taking pictures with it. Specifically, viewers were using the art as a way to take interesting selfies and then post these on Instagram. As such, several questions arise. Are viewers attending these events to appreciate and think about the artwork and the emotions it evokes, or are they using it as “a mere tool of…narcissism, the equivalent of a flattering filter, making us appear more attractive, more hip” (Williams, 2016). In other words, does art as a means to a better selfie lessen the art? Williams (2016) argues that artwork as one’s selfie background acts as a form of cultural capital, a way of showing the world what superb taste one has through a single image. As such, it can be argued that art in the time of social media has led to alternative forms of interaction between the artworks and the audience.
And what about the artists who produce this art? Do they form their art with the conscious goal of being popular on social media sites? This question leads us to our section about self-censorship. Namely, Whitehead argues that social media “has encouraged artists to create work in formats favourable to social media” (2017). In particular, she notices more and more art installations featuring bold colours, geometric formations and square outlines. Whitehead (2017) argues this is conducive to being photographed and posted on social media sites like Instagram, and thus, the artist is planning their artwork around the format of social media. It is as if artists are specifically only producing art that can be best showcased in an online format. Miranda (2016) provides an example of this. Notably, she writes about the Excellence and Perfections show, in which artist Amalia Ulman created an Instagram account and chronicled several days of her life. Each post was highly made-up, had perfect lighting, inspirational quotes, immaculately posed selfies, etc. (see screenshot from the exhibit, below).
Thus, her piece was meant to open up a larger dialogue about unattainable beauty and perfection communicated on social media. In this way, one understands Whitehead’s (2017) idea that social media has become a limiting medium in which art must fit. As Ulman’s entire art format was communicated on Instagram, so social media has shaped her work. Philosophically, Miranda (2016) argues that this is negative, as art should be about challenging boundaries while social media is a boundary enforcing construct. As such, both Whitehead (2017) and Miranda (2016) argue that art being made for social media limits the artist. It does not allow for the freedom of self-expression that art used to be, because each piece is subconsciously striving to be liked, shared and commented on online. It creates a form of self-censorship that limits artists’ self-expression in the pursuit of likes.
Similarly, there are also criticisms of art and social media in regard to traditional censorship. While the paragraph above refers more to the internal self-censoring of artists who only think of works that would suceed on social media, this section refers to artists who create art for themselves (in whatever form they see fit) and then face repercussions online if they try to post or promote. For instance, Miranda (2016) provides the example of artist Micol Hebron who posted a photo of a friend’s painting. The painting depicted a women sitting on a stool, lifting her shirt up to look at one of her breasts. It was not a sexual painting, nor was it a photograph. It was a photo of a painting. Despite this, Facebook proceeded to delete the artist’s photo and lock her account for thirty days. Accordingly, this example showcases a situation in which art and social media do not correspond. The rules of social media are not conducive for certain types of artistic self-expression. As such, if social media becomes a core location for art to be showcased, social media could constrains the bounds of art. Social media sites’ own codes of conduct could dictate to the artists can and cannot be featured in their words. As such, many scholars such as Miranda (2016) question to what extent art will be able to push boundaries if social media becomes the main source of sharing, promoting and viewing art.
In conclusion, this short paper has discussed cultural production, art and social media according to Hinton and Hjorth’s (2013) ideas in chapter five of the class textbook. As Hinton and Hjorth’s (2013) points were largely about the positives of social media and art’s intersection, this paper has sought to highlight several criticisms. First, it pointed to a transformed interaction between the audience and the art work because of social media. Second, it discussed self-censorship in the way that some artists produce works specifically in order to garner likes on social media. Third, this paper has highlighted the notion that social media sites’ rules pose extra restrictions to traditional artists and is a limiting factor. In these ways, social media is transforming the way modern artists and their audiences view and interact with art.
Bystryn, M. (1978). Art galleries as gatekeepers: The case of the abstract expressionists. Social Research, 45(2), 390-408. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40970338
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Mangold, W.G. & Faulds, D.J. (2009). Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix. Business Horizons, 52, 357-365. doi: 10.1016/j.bushor.2009.03.002
Miranda, C.A. (2016, June 23). Social media have become a vital tool for artists — but arethey good for art? Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-is-social-media-good-for-art-20160517-snap-htmlstory.html
Proctor, N. (2010). Digital: Museum as platform, curator as champion, in the age of social media. Curator: The Museum Journal, 53(1), 35-43. doi: 10.1111/j.2151-6952.2009.00006.x
Whitehead, K. (2017, February 28). Is social media killing art or bringing it to people? South China Morning Post. Retrieved from http://www.scmp.com/culture/arts-entertainment/article/2074306/social-media-killing-art-or-bringing-it-people
Williams, H. (2016, July 14). Art for Instagram — is social media ruining art? The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/art-for-instagram-is-social-media-ruining-art-a7136406.html