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Instagram for Artists?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

By Team IMA

A common frustration we encounter from artists is around social media. Either not having the time, not knowing what to share (or how much), agonising over follower and like numbers, to outright rejection.

For some artists, Instagram seems so effortless, like the platform was specifically built for them to share their art. But we know that isn't the case, but they seem to have cracked the code; have they found the right way to present their work? The right combination of hashtags? the right balance of video to image?

Maybe. Maybe not.

IMA's own Mark Tamer (@unreelcity) cuts through the noise and gets right into the nuts and bolts of Instagram for artists.

Why should artists use Instagram? Well, you don’t have to but you are missing out on a large audience for your work and potential future opportunities.

So are you on Instagram? That question comes up all the time when you meet someone and mention your work. For many, it’s a way to make a quick connection, to see the artist’s work and perhaps a little of their process. For artists, it offers more than an out of date website, or a link to an interview they did last year. It is a changing window onto their work, their interests, their personality. If your goal is to reach more people then this is a good way to do that. If you are uncomfortable showing yourself then make it about the work.


Remember Instagram is social media. You need to be sharing not only your work but your thoughts, your comments etc. You need to be responding to others. It is not a platform for just throwing your work out there as if it were a shop window. People expect a little more than that. If you just post your finished work you are saying look at me but you are not interacting.

This interaction can be viewed as a positive - a chance to engage with others, to build more of a relationship with those that like your work. Like off-line life, online connections are what lead us to opportunities. I’ve been contacted with requests for appearing in festivals and exhibitions as well as for prints and books. I’ve also met up with some Instagram connections in person or gone to see their work. It’s just an extension of the art-world community and one that has become much more important for artists in recent years. Often, it is the first port of call when connecting with an artist’s work.

Posting your work on Instagram and getting a “like” isn’t the same as putting your work in a bricks and mortar gallery and having an audience come and visit. But of course, the work, albeit in a neutered form, potentially reaches many more people than it would on the gallery wall. If getting more eyes on your work is important to you then it’s worth giving some thought to how you use Instagram.

Photo credit: Mark Tamer (@unreelcity)

Here are four things I’ve found when using Instagram:

It’s not a good idea to mix personal and professional.

Some artists, especially social media personalities can do this really well. They give the impression of having it all - a busy lifestyle of work and socialising: there they are at a trendy bar having cocktails, or there they are at a big show hanging out with influential people. Look at their bright, clean and very tidy studio. We don’t see them in their pants covered in biscuit crumbs or having a bad hair day huddled around a gas heater in their freezing cold workspace. Of course, we know it’s a construction, not a lie but a carefully curated version of the truth. And we are all in on the lie. We know it’s not a complete reality but we go along with it. I’m not suggesting you fabricate your life as an artist but I would think carefully what and how you show yourself or your work. Please don’t post pix of your breakfast, your kids, your holiday, your visit to see Mamma Mia. If you must show the world these things put them in a separate personal account.

Don’t buy followers.

Yes, it pumps up your profile but these have no real value. What you want is engagement. Better to have 200 people who love your work than 2000 that don’t. Instagram algorithms favour engagement so you are more likely to get noticed with a smaller dedicated following. Plus buying followers undermines your credibility as an artist.

Share something.

Yes, there’s a photo, but what about giving a bit more context? Why are you showing this? Is it a finished work, work-in-progress, an experiment? What do you think and/or feel about it? Remember it is social media. Socialise. Looking at my Instagram stats I can see that by far the best engagement (comments, likes and saves) is with pictures of my process - of unfinished work in the process of becoming a finished piece. I guess people enjoy insight into how something is created.

Curate your feed.

Here are four things I’ve found when using Instagram: think carefully about how you present this to the world. Don’t throw up a badly composed, poorly lit shot of your work in situ. Take your time with this. Better to have one great photo than ten bad ones. Also, look at your feed as a whole. You might add one image at a time but your feed is often viewed in a grid of three. How do these images work together? What’s the overall impression? Ultimately if you are a visual artist then Instagram should be treated as an extension of your visual style - how you see the world and how you reflect that back to others. The IMA feed is a great example of using the grid system effectively. See here.

IMA Instagram feed

Personally I like to have images that are similar in colour and ratio to bring some form of balance. There are plenty of ways to approach this and it’s a good way to make your work stand out from the crowd.

There are plenty of other things to consider: use of hashtags, when to post, use of Instagram Stories etc, but we can save that for another day.

Like anything that is free there is usually a price to be paid. In this case, it’s giving away some of your data: your likes, your connections, your location, etc. Yes, you provide Instagram with content for free, but in return, you get worldwide access to an audience you would never reach otherwise. So it’s a trade-off. If you feel comfortable with this then go for it. But be aware, Instagram thrives on the never-ending now. It is like a small monster in the basement - it is always hungry and demanding your attention. To keep it satisfied it needs more than a few scraps, it needs regular feeding.

At IMA we encourage artists to share their knowledge with one another. If you’ve discovered a new way of doing something why not let others know. Give a little and the world moves forward. It can be tough ploughing your own furrow, but Instagram is a great way to find a new audience for your work and to connect with others who share your passion and your way of looking at the world.

Team IMA

re-IMAgining the art world

Follow Mark on Instagram here.

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