This book, and the Paintguide exhibition that accompanies it, are the product of Henrik Uldalen’s Paintguide account on Instagram, the photo and video-sharing platform launched in 2010. They celebrate painting – a traditional artistic medium, and one of the oldest forms of communication – in a conventional way, yet they exist entirely because of recent technologies.
Uldalen began using Instagram in 2014 to share images of his own paintings and those of others that inspired him. Soon, he began to invite artists he admired to do the same, and take-over the account for a week at a time. Although largely gurative, the pictures featured on Paintguide are therefore of great variety. One post might be of a painting that is hundreds of years old, while the next was created yesterday. Some might be familiar to the follower; others will be revelatory.
At time of writing Paintguide has 194,000 followers on Instagram from across the world. That number swells by thousands each week. Each post on Paintguide gets an average of 3000-6000 ‘likes’, and dozens of comments. It has been transformative
for Uldalen, who now makes a living from selling paintings (when he set up the account he was a primary school teacher). He is represented by galleries inthree countries, and has 213,000 followers on his personal account, @henrikaau. He is the curator of an internationally touring, sell-out exhibition, and has produced this book, crowd-funded in large part by his Instagram followers.
The impact that Paintguide has had on Uldalen’s career illustrates how social media like Instagram promote discoveries, create social relationships and facilitate real experiences. For many in the art world, Instagram has become a key forum. Their industry is chiefly visual; scrolling through their Instagram feeds – usually comprised of an eclectic mix of professional and personal interests - is like reading the news.
But images of art have to take their place on a follower’s constantly updating Instagram feed, integrating into a muddle of wider curiosities. High art is placed on the same platform as popular culture. On Instagram, museums showing-o artworks from their collection jostle for attention with student work completed moments before. Di erences between a Klimt, a Kardashian and a cronut start to dissolve when seen seconds after each other, cropped to the same size, liked or dismissed with a casual swipe of a thumb.
Social media’s leveling quality has made it easier for those who might never have set foot in a gallery to chance upon an artwork that holds their attention. ArtTactic’s 2015 Online Art Trade Report found that 74 per cent of new art buyers said the social media posts of other collectors had influenced theirpurchases. And a recent survey of collectors conducted by Artsy, the online art resource, found that more than half of respondents had purchased work they had found through Instagram.
But although discovering paintings through their quickly manufactured reproductions is nothing new, we are still suspicious of them: can a photograph accurately relay subtleties of scale, texture, colour and depth?
Interactions with the artworks on Paintguide therefore do not just happen virtually; sharing something online frequently leads to it being seen in the flesh. However quality digital imagery can be, glimpsing an object on the small screen of a phone is not the same as standing in front of it. Many of the commentsposted beneath the images reveal appetites that only physical encounters will satisfy: “I would love art like this in my house”’; “Unless you see them in the flesh you have no idea of what these paintings are like, incredible!!”; “WOW. When’s his next show?”
As Uldalen and many others featured in this book have discovered, artists are able to use social media as an accessible way
of getting people to see their work and understand their creative process. It can be so e ective that it is beginning to bypass traditional art trade channels, cutting out the gallery as a sales middleman. But often, as with the Paintguide exhibition at Unit London, connections and interactions with other artists, collectors, curators and gallerists that begin online materialise in exhibitions, collaborations and gallery representation. As this book and exhibition demonstrate, it seems that instant image sharing is creating more opportunities for us to look at an artwork for longer, slowly and deeply.Lily Le Brun, November 2015 Art writer and critic
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