Written by: Milo Hill
By now it should come as no surprise that access to viewing art in person has been severely limited as of the last few months. The most up close and personal contact I’ve had with an artwork recently was completing a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night. At the beginning of the pandemic this saddened me a great deal; the joys of living in London include free access to museums and galleries close to hand, and the great sadness of living in London at the moment is that this luxury is useless. On weekends I find myself bored, sitting in my room, longing for the days when I would enjoy going to galleries, dragging along my friends and forcing them to tolerate all of my Fine Art A-Level drivel. I even miss the school trips to the Tate Modern to look at the replica of Duchamp’s Fountain for the umpteenth time. And so, like any bored teenager, I have resorted to social media. Eventually, after tiring of endlessly refreshing my Instagram and Facebook feeds, came the inevitable collapse of my morally superior ego-trip and I downloaded TikTok.
In the news social media sites like Instagram and TikTok get a bad reputation, and admittedly these apps have been the cause of many late nights and unproductive days. However, there is also a bright side to the sudden success of such apps. Being an arts student who had an obsession with Oscar Wilde a couple of years ago, my mission has always been to cultivate an ‘aesthetic’ Instagram feed. This combined with my fortunate stumble into ‘Art History TikTok’ has actually taught me a lot about how social media can educate us and enhance our own understanding of art.
I will start with the obvious: following artists on Instagram. Of course, Instagram is primarily a way of communicating and keeping up to date with my friends and peers, but recently it has become a platform for artists, influencers, businesses, etc. to sell and display their wares. The kind of artists I follow on Instagram are significantly different to the artists whose work you see displayed in the National Gallery. On my Instagram home page digital art, comic book strips and cartoon art takes centre stage. The reason I follow all these Instagram artists is because I am interested in the media they use, because I am invested in the story lines of their characters, simply because I find it cute or relatable, not because a group of old, white men have decided that they were ‘masters’. Art History often focusses on the ‘canon’ and, as an art history student myself, I will admit that Ancient Greek mythology or stories from the Bible can seem a little monotonous at times. When I log in to my Instagram account and the first post I see is a drawing of a ghost telling me that it’s okay to be a little sad sometimes, or it’s a print of a latinx nonbinary person and their transgender girlfriend, I immediately feel a little happier.
Secondly, let me introduce to you the wonderful world of Art History TikTok. Personally I find the format of a 15 or 60 second long video perfect for my lack-of-an-attention-span, you have to believe me when I say TikTok makes learning fun! (This article is not sponsored I promise). Being a subject that hinges on visuals, art history is a perfect niche for TikTok-ers. As well as being able to share an informative, 60-second lowdown of who the Pre-Raphaelites were, creators are able to share entertaining and relatable videos about how the vast majority of celebrated male artists were misogynists. Similar to Instagram, a lot of the art history content on TikTok explores art outside of the western canon and ‘The Old Masters’. I don’t believe that a take on any piece of art can be completely objective and, of course, you can’t quite cite a TikTok as a source in an essay (yet), but TikTok offers a more accessible way of educating people about art that is beyond the well-known mainstream.
Thirdly, and finally, social media sites like Instagram and TikTok have provided me and many others with inspiration to create our own art. Whether it’s seeing a new drawing style and trying it out, or learning about a new artist and wanting to create a response to their work, social media makes the sharing of art much easier and more accessible, and I am incredibly grateful for this.
Just because there is a global pandemic and a national lockdown, does not mean our consumption of art has to stop. If anything, I hope that the increased time on social media encourages us to look at art through a different lens: to appreciate more, and in different ways; to inspire us to create our own art; to prompt us to learn more about the history of art and the stories behind different artists that aren’t so widely known. It’s a difficult time for small artists and business owners, and sharing their work on social media like TikTok and Instagram not only helps them reach a wider audience, but helps people all around the world.
Below is a completely inexhaustive list of Instagram and TikTok artists/art historians that I enjoy!