Instagram is one of those social media apps that took the world by storm, but the speed at which it grew never gave us the opportunity to look back and ask ourselves: “Is Instagram really worth it? Is it good for artists to be on Instagram? Why all the prep work if you can’t guarantee a stable income? Can Instagram make artists real money or is it just a fable?”

At this point in time, all of these questions are left half-answered. That’s because making money through Instagram has become much more of a push towards feeding the almighty algorithm instead of creating art that truly embodies the artist.

With that said, online art sales trends from the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2019 show that Instagram drives well-over 65% of the art-related purchases in the global community. 

So, Instagram is very relevant to artists, but it can be hit-or-miss. Let’s dive into the reasons why this platform is both so good and, at the same time, so bad at helping artists grow.

The Culture of Self-Promotion and The Impact on Artists’ Lives

There’s no doubt that everybody has to promote themselves in some form or another nowadays, and this is especially true of artists. It’s easier than ever today to post a photo or a scan of your art on Instagram and call it a day, yet it’s extremely hard to make every single piece stand out. There’s just too much noise out there.

The problem with this trend is that most artists feel forced to get into a niche they don’t particularly love just because that’s their only chance to stand out. If an artist loves to do sculpture, they can only really work with tiny samples before they can land a proper client project. That’s how Instagram gets its value from artists and users alike.

The good news is that while you do give out a lot for free, people actively engage with your content on Instagram. If a client stumbles upon your profile and happens to love your style, that’s great… but the expectations are usually different at that point. The client might be more of a casual one rather than someone who’s looking for more refined work. 

Certainly, insistent self-promotion takes a toll on most artists’ lives, especially because it guarantees no return and it doesn’t usually equal to more opportunities the more content you create for Instagram. It’s a vicious cycle, and there are generally two things you can do:

  1. Accept the fact that art on Instagram isn’t necessarily about talent but rather repeated, consistent output regarding small projects that will yield some results but probably take you out of the “art” lane and more into the “day-job” lane;
  2. Follow your own sense of style with minimal niche-building, marketing, and trend researching and risk not being discovered at all (and find success after years… maybe?). After all, Instagram is a platform almost completely driven by trends.

If any of those two options appeal to you, then you can keep using Instagram and get your art on there daily, weekly or monthly (not recommended). However, we suggest a better way to start the grind: get your own website going, build your content on your own premises and pay particular attention to social media platforms promising everything.

As artists, we all have to work 4x as hard just to sell one of our pieces, and it’s not pretty when your entire livelihood depends on one platform like Instagram, where trends can ruin your whole career. It doesn’t really make sense to solely rely on social media.

Things Instagram Is Good At For Artists…

There are a few reasons why Instagram is good for artists, and most have to do with the market reach that it has compared to slightly more involved techniques like building your own website (which takes much longer to market and get done well) or using specific platforms such as Dribbble or Behance. Let’s go through some of the benefits:

  1. If you have the energy, time, and creativity to post something new daily, the algorithm will definitely reward you for it and you’ll get to grow pretty fast;
  2. The platform connects you with small artists from all around the world, and you can form real alliances once you get to know each other’s artwork better;
  3. Many times, it really is a one-stop shop for people who are looking to buy art, which is also why we recommend connecting your own shop directly onto your profile.

That’s pretty much it. Your Instagram strategy can be as complex and varied as possible, but at the end of the day it always boils down to creating a niche for yourself, consistently releasing things to make the algorithm happy (seriously), and follower counts.

…and Things Instagram Is Terrible At For Artists

On the other side of the coin, Instagram leaves a lot to be desired. It might feel like a platform where you can jump in and have the best time of your life sharing your best work, but most artists soon realize that a lot of the traditional scammers found on the internet have adapted their strategy to Instagram as well:

  • Asking you to get featured on their “incredible” art feed with 40K+ followers for a “small” fee of $35… you’ll get a lot of these direct messages;
  • Continuously following and unfollowing you to bait you into looking at their profile and hope for some kind of transactional interaction through their links;
  • Commenting on your pictures with proposals of collaboration where you have to join mysterious programs that always end with scammy paywalls.

But apart from the scammers, Instagram is not great at helping you find your voice either, certainly today more than ever. Popularity trumps everything on Instagram, no matter what you do. You will constantly hear about that one influencer who made $10K+ with a post even if you don’t want to, and you’ll have to endure a lot of the mind-numbing stories that people churn out at ridiculous rates… it’s a lot of time spent on nothing.

And that’s exactly the worst part of Instagram—time. If you start using it for artistic and professional purposes, you’ll eventually get sucked into the toxic culture of chasing algorithms and pushing out content for the sake of it, spending a whole lot of time doing exactly the opposite of what you originally wanted to do with your career. Instagram can be truly terrible for artists because:

  1. It literally asks you to work on its behalf with no guaranteed return, meaning that you not only lose time trying to perfect your strategy, but also spend time crafting art that might end up doing nothing at all to further your development;
  2. Feedback is terrible. All you get is a “nice picture!” from random bots or friends shaming you for trying too hard. Genuine comments are rare, and even when you get to the point where you have a nice following, it’s still hit-or-miss;
  3. It often defeats the purpose of the creative process by asking to continuously churn out things without end. There’s plenty of evidence that Instagram fosters anxiety and prevents people from actually improving in their own personal lives due to this.

Can Instagram Make You Money As an Artist?

The short answer is… no, not directly at least. Instagram doesn’t offer the kind of transparency that a platform like YouTube does income-wise. On YouTube, you get to see your ad pay, and you know more or less what to expect for each new video that you publish. 

On Instagram instead, everything is up for grabs. You’ll have to negotiate a lot. That is, if you’re even able to build a following in the first place.

Most successful artists on Instagram are usually forced to plug mass-produced merch or re-prints of their art in order to make a living out of it. This is not to say that merch is bad, far from that. It’s just that there’s a kind of involvement with an Instagram profile that is much wider than most artists think and therefore you need to be prepared before you start your journey on this social media platform, otherwise it’ll catch you by surprise.

Interested in a Better Way to Share and Receive Feedback?

Meet Greyt.me, the feedback platform for artists who want to be directly involved in the creative process. No more guesswork, no more looking around to pitch your work to the best influencers out there. Share your work with a private community of artists and give feedback anonymously to help others while improving your own skills.

Not convinced? What if we told you that you don’t need an account to play around? That’s the beauty of our newsfeed. You get to share and comment on other people’s work without the commitment of platforms like Instagram. Here you can find all kinds of mini-games to foster your creativity and that of your peers. Join us now!

Posted by:Frank Gerhardt

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