tirsdag den 9. april 2013

Why Instagram? - in a world of so many advanced digital platforms

These days I’m celebrating my one year anniversary on Instagram (IG). The number of photos I’ve posted throughout the past year speaks for itself. I’ve posted nearly 1800 photos, so obviously I’m a fan of IG. I’ve asked myself what makes IG so special compared to other virtual platforms and a couple of months back I realised that the best way to find an answer to this would be to ask my IG-friends and followers. My personal use of IG is mostly art-related, I follow a lot of professional artists, amateur artists and aspiring artists. So a lot of the comments and feedback I’ve gotten on this ‘Why IG?’ question is related to art.

What is Instagram?

First a short introduction to IG for those who do not know how it works. It’s an app, designed for smart phones but can also be accessed from tablets and computers too. Once you’re on, you can upload photos of whatever you like: photography, art, food, fashion, animals, children etc.
You can hashtag your photos with relevant tags so people can find your photos/profile. And you can use the hashtags to find relevant profiles you want to follow.

You can ‘follow’ other people and others can ‘follow’ you. Unlike LinkedIn or Facebook you're not 'connected' or 'friends'. If a profile is open, you just press ‘follow’. If it’s private you have to send a request. If you loose interest in a persons updates you press ‘unfollow’. The settings of IG are far more simple than for example Facebook and LinkedIn. What you see is what you get.
So why Instagram in a world of advanced digital platforms?
I got a lot of really interesting comments and feedback to this question. Comments coming from: Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Hawaii, Australia and India.

Inspiration

A word that is often mentioned in a lot of the comments is ‘inspiration’. People use IG for inspiration. Inspiration as in: sharing ideas, supporting one another, admiration, art swaps etc. Wendy with the IG-name Wenal writes that IG gives her an opportunety to learn and be inspired by people she would never approach in real life. She adds that she get’s great pleasure out of being accepted as ‘plain old me’ in a world where a lot of people seem to be faking who they are in the physical world. 

Artwork by Wendy Allan (Australia). Wendy loves zendoodling. All rights reserved.

Community

Meg with the IG-name Megartdrawings writes that ‘it’s inspiring to me how we share our stories via our art and comments’. This aspect of storytelling seems essential and I’ll get back to that later in the blogpost. Quite a few seem to have gotten back in touch with their creativity due to IG. And IG helps them stay motivated. Matthew with the IG-name Fructoseface treats art like hygeine in his own words. He compares it with brushing your teeth, something you need to do on a daily basis to take care of your mental health so to speak. 


Artwork by Matthew Steidley. Matthew describes his work as: 'using red pen is my way of bloodletting'. All rights reserved. See more: www.fructoseface.wordpress.com

Matthew describes how he went through a difficult time in his life that led him back to creating art. He adds ‘it gives me more reason to produce because I know other people will see it’. For Nicole with the IG-name Nicolehadder IG is the only social media she uses and it keeps her attention daily. She used to think her art was insignificant and pointless, but IG has made her gain confidence. 


Artwork by Nicole MacDonald (USA). Nicole likes to draw people/animals she knows plus things in her surroundings. All rights reserved.

I'm thinking art needs an audience to make some sort of sense. At least for the one that creates it. Emily with the IG-name Emilylagore sums it up as: ‘community’. IG is a community that is easy to access and use unlike personal blogs. And anyone can join in. You don't have to be an artist to follow artists.

Artwork by Emily Lagore (Canada). Emily creates mandalas and she is art journaling. All rights reserved.

Illnesses
I feel like adding an aspect to this community thought: The more you give, the more you recieve. That’s my personal experience. What surprised me about the comments to my question was the level of honesty. Maybe the level of honesty was possible because of this already well established community. 
Quite a few of the comments has to do with invisible or cronical illnesses and a feeling of loneliness because of these illnesses. People mention cronical or invisible illnesses such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, whiplash, depression, Fibromyalgia etc. They describe how these illnesses keeps them isolated from taking part in the physical life around them, from feeling ‘normal’.  

Artwork by Meg Fischer (Australia). Meg created the hashtag #artfortherapychallenge because she uses art as therapy for dealing with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She also loves trees. All rights reserved.

Art as therapy

I’ve used IG like this too. As I struggled to get through a severe depression the past year I could share my ups and downs with supportive people on IG through my drawings. I did not have the energy to interact with the physical world around me, but I still had a need for socialising in doses. I could create moments of joy for myself even though the rest of the day would be horrible or just without much meaning. A new community has evolved using hashtags like #cronicillness. And lately #artfortherapychallenge too. I don’t use or participate in them myself but I understand the importance of them. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease a decade ago I tried to find support on the website of the Crohn’s organisation. But it was too closed a community for me. It was ‘them and us’ with a focus on the negative aspects. Not what I was looking for to get better. IG is for everyone, including people with cronical ilnesses. The ‘art for therepy’ challenge, created by Megartdrawings, lets everone participate – ill or not. We can all use art as therapy. There’s a weekly new theme and anyone can tag their artwork #artfortherapychallenge and be part of this community. 


An example of the #artfortherapychallenge

The real world vs the virtual world?

This may not solve how to cope with life in the physical world, but I do believe finding strength in the virtual world can create strength that can be taken into the physical world. Notice I do not use the words ‘real world’ and ‘vitual world’. Both worlds are real to me, it’s important not to ‘get lost’ in the virtual world though. This is something I’ve been aware of throughout the past year. Get involved, but do not get absorbed by IG. There’s definitely a risk here as with any other thing we feel passionate about.

Being an artist

A lot of the IG’ers I follow refer to themselves as artists, eventhough they have fulltime jobs doing something completely different not related to art. This ‘courage’ has fascinated me. On a personal level I’ve always had this view on the title ‘artist’ as something nearly sacred, for the chosen few, the educated, the incrowd. It’s been quite a struggle for me throughout the past year to call myself ‘an artist’ eventhough I feel artistic blood running all through my veins. 

Life coach Cherie Healey (USA) recently wrote to me that she believes we are all born artists. That made me think. At first I thought it was slightly naive, but then I decided – or realised - she was right. ‘Artist’ is not a protected title like lawyer or doctor. Artist is something you are in your heart. It's a birth right but so many of us seem to give up on this as we grow up. 

Then there’s professional artists and that’s something else. It's a profession. I do call myself an artist now. But I’m not a professional artist (yet...)
In a time of a global crisis where people loose their jobs and potentially their identities there’s still something left for them to identify themselves as. If they’re creative. they’re artists. If they start creating they discover their inner artist. We may not all walk around in the physical world and call ourselves artists, simply because it's not our profession and as a modern society we measure everything in what we do for a living. But within a space like IG there’s room for sharing vulnerable artistic thoughts and ideas.




I recently posted this drawing which to me is about my inner monster, about me not being in balance - but at least I have a way of dealing with this: I draw.

A platform for storytelling

This leads me to my overall reflections on the many comments I got to my question: ‘Why Instagram?’ IG is indeed a place for our personal storytelling. Not through linking to things we find funny, important or cool, that can make us look more interesting in our own eyes or other peoples eyes. But because of our very own stories. Often through our art.

New friendships

IG broadens our horizons, which is something that is mentioned in several of the comments. We get to see our differences and our similarities despite our geographical and cultural differences. On a personal level my family and I had the privilege to get a visit from Russia in January. Because of IG. And this became without doubt the beginning of a lifelong friendship with two art loving russians. Funny things is: I used to be scared of Russia. I used to think it was all about vodka and the mafia and corruption. And the russians looked so angry and sounded so harsh. That is how mass media depicts Russia. Now I want to visit the country some day in the future because I’ve opened my eyes for the beauty of the russian culture. The folklore, the people, the art. 
I’m definitely not the only one developing new friendships through IG. The ‘new friendships’ part is mentioned in several of the comments. 

I recently found these russian dolls on the internet, created for Russian Vogue by russian artists. I think they are a cool way of redefining traditional russian art. I probably would not even have searched for russian dolls if it had not been for my new russian friends from IG. 

Connection

I also follow professional artists who use IG slightly different. Some use it for selling or promoting their work, others for connecting with other professional artists, and some for connecting with ‘their fans’. I’ve noticed that if you’re unable to establish a personal relation to the ones your following – through commenting and responses – it’s easier to loose interest. And obviously you can not have a personal relation to everyone you’re following or get followed by. Very much like life in the physical world, really. I often press unfollow to a professional artist, because I’ve ‘seen enough’ and need new inspiration (I try not to follow too many as it gets too time consuming and confusing for me).  
I may not necessarily like or be interested in everything a person posts just as others may not like everything I post, but I don't press unfollow to someone I have regular contact with. It would be like cutting off an ongoing conversation. Very weird.

Faithful followers

I’ve posted more or less my whole artistic process the past year. IG has become my open visual playground and portfolio. For me it’s not about the amount of likes or followers, it’s indeed about that special connection. Sharing my process with likeminded people and having an ongoing dialogue. My photos are not individual stories. I consider my feed like one ongoing story. I treasure the comments and I do love a nice, honest compliment. And this is exactly what I see in all the responses I got to my question. IG is about seeing one another. Beeing seen is fundamental for our wellbeing. It’s my personal belief that when we feel seen by others it’s much easier to see ourselves. 

No artist is an island
Yesterday someone wrote to me that her children loves exploring my doodles. It made me so happy because that’s exactly what I’m hoping for: to make people, young or old, open their eyes, preferably together. This is probably one of the reasons to why I draw the way I draw. Because I believe that play and curiousity helps us open our eyes. I would not have been aware of this without IG. I feel like saying: No artist is an island. We're all connected and we need to feel that connection regularly.

Illustration: My work/ Monica Langelund. All rights reserved.

Just like many others I’ve found the courage to go on with my art indeed because of IG. I have allowed myself to do whatever I feel like, post silly drawings, serious stuff, what inspires me etc. And it’s all part of me. I've 'lost' tons of followers due to this strategy of mine, but it helps me maintain focus on what's important for my artistic process, not how I can please my followers. And it makes me appreciate my faithful followers even more. Those who stick with me even when I'm uninspired or too much. Christina with the IG-name Noordees puts it this way: ‘my artwork has evolved because of the feedback from my followers’. 


Artwork by Christina Arabratt (Sweden). Christina is both drawing and painting and she has a love for fairies and aliens. All rights reserved.

A danish drawing festival

In Denmark, where I’m from, we have an annual national Drawing festival for the youth aged 9-17, created by the head of Horsens Museum Art School Jannik Broz. The 6th festival is about to take place by the end of april. Jannik always talks passionately about how drawing is a lonely thing to do, because you usually sit by yourself, in your own world, at home, unlike musicians, actors etc. Jannik created the festival to put focus on the need for people with drawing skills and to give future designers and artists the courage to enter a world of hard competition. I think a lot of young people stop drawing and give up on their dreams because of that feeling of loneliness and self doubt. ‘Does my work have any significance? Am I good enough?’. 

The future generations 

I see and follow quite a few young people on IG. It makes me so happy seeing how they get to share what would normally only be visible for their family and close friends. Hopefully a new generation will use social platforms like IG for holding on to their passions, in this case art. For establishing art-related friendships they can develop outside IG. For finding courage to take their art into the physical world. For learning that being an introvert in a world of extrovert values is okay and actually not unusual. And for learning not to take it personal that not everyone loves their work. I'm 40 years old and I'm learning all this now. I sometimes wonder what my life would look like now if I had learned this in my youth. Not that I regret anything, it would just be different.

So is IG all perfection? Not at all. There’s a lot of spam, a lot of self promotion, a lot of focus on superficial things and a lot of hidden agendas. Meghana with the IG-name Mvasisht says it so well and I’ll leave that as the final comment of this blog post:
Like all beautiful things IG has it’s evils. But what it is, is ultimately what we make of it and how we choose to use it’. 


Thank you to everyone who had the courage to leave a personal comment to my question ‘Why Instagram?’. The answer seems to be: Why not?