Vincent Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night is one of the most famous images of all time, and his expressive brushstrokes have inspired countless aspiring artists. But anyone familiar with Van Gogh’s biography knows how dark his path to notoriety was – he lived tumultuously, sold only one painting in his lifetime and was underappreciated as an artist until years after his death.
While most artists’ stories don’t necessarily reach Van Gogh-levels of melancholy, gaining a foothold in the art world is still notoriously difficult. However, there is a new sense of democracy in the art community – and it’s coming from an unexpected source.
From fashion to fitness, from marketing to make-up, the social media phenomenon of Instagram has already revolutionised a number of industries. Anyone with a smartphone and a particular passion can become an influencer and have their voice heard, and people whose interests may have isolated them in the past are able to form strong, vibrant relationships with like-minded users.
For the art community, the advent of influencers and the formation of Instagram communities scratches the surface of a much deeper movement toward democratisation, transforming the art world with new levels of accessibility from every angle.
One of the frontrunners of this new artistic democracy is Jean-David Malat, a Paris-born, London-based curator and art dealer. Malat is widely known in the industry and has gained expertise at a variety of international galleries. Though he works with established artists and meets new ones through traditional methods such as art fairs and exhibitions, he’s also become known for discovering fresh talent through everyone’s favourite app.
‘Scrolling through related hashtags and exploring new accounts on Instagram has allowed me to find incredible up-and-coming artists,’ remarks Malat. ‘It’s my privilege to bring them to the world’s attention.’
Malat is making great efforts to provide a platform for these newcomers, reposting them on his own Instagram account, introducing them to the media and sharing their works with interested art collectors. In June, he’s taking this mission a step further with the opening of the JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair.
In addition to works by established artists, JD Malat Gallery is launching with a 17-piece collection by Henrik Uldalen, a self-taught painter who Malat discovered on Instagram. After studying the young artist’s work and watching his evolution, Malat connected with him in person. Since then, Uldalen has generated massive attention on social media – and IRL.
‘Even in the tiny squares of Instagram, Henrik’s paintings are captivating. Showing them in the gallery will allow people to see his meticulousness, his breathtaking attention to detail. I’m excited that the public will have a chance to see his work in person,’ Malat explains.
Indeed, Instagram has given little-known artists the opportunity to reach wider audiences and make names for themselves, but it has also exposed new audiences to fine art. More people than ever are gaining an appreciation of painting (or photography, or drawing, or sculpting…) through the app, and then taking this passion offline and into their local galleries and museums. The Instagram-induced shift is not limited to artists, or art dealers, or art collectors; it affects our entire culture of artistic appreciation.
Though the ‘tortured artist’ archetype isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, social media is making sure that any Van Gogh-like inner artistic turmoil isn’t due to lack of recognition – just as long as you have an Instagram handle.