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Social Media and Art Part II

June 17, 2012

Part two of a two-part series investigating the role, purpose and benefits of social media to artists and art appreciators.

Social media in itself can also be an art form and facilitate collaboration and create new methods and modes of art. It can also affect the amount of people or amount of time those people engage in an artistic endeavor. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) conducted a study in 2010 called “Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation” in conjunction with the US Census that investigated all forms of electronic media and how artists and art appreciators interacted with the arts (collaboratively, individually, virtually) using technology. (

This study found that people who participated in the arts through electronic media were almost three times more likely to attend a live event then those that did not interact with electronic media. It also found that for many people, including those that are older, are in lower socio-economic groups and those that live in rural areas, engaging in arts electronically was the only way they were able to participate. Many people (more than 20%) regularly use the internet to view a music, dance or theater performance and similar numbers obtained information about the arts online.

Social media and online resources absolutely contribute to an increased participation in the arts and can be the only access a person has to the to arts, but social media can be art-end product unto itself.

One of the first experiments in online-art was in 2001 when a New York-based performance artist Michael Mandiberg created an e-commerce website where he sold all his possessions including his trash as a commentary on “selling out,” engaging and including hundreds of people in his performance.

Several collaborative and performance-based pieces (with artists and non-artists alike) followed as artists began to interpret every online or social media (before the term was coined) space as a different medium to be exploited and experimented.

In 2008, the Brooklyn Museum became the first museum to create social media initiatives and the first to commission social media art with artist An Xiao. This concept expanded with several new artists exploring the ideas of private versus personal, posting and sharing information about themselves. More, well-known artists at this time started to use social media to interact through photo sharing sites and Twitter engaging in a bi-lateral conversation with art appreciators.

Now, artists are continuing with this earlier theme of public versus private by engaging in a blend of online and real life and one day, potentially a seamless blend of “augmented reality.” Artist Nic Rad created a portrait project show in a New York gallery where all portraits were given away for free to reflect the internet’s “culture of free” and engaged with fans of his work to debate why they should receive a free piece.  Lauren McCarthy created a Wiki-type website where anyone could edit the content of her life script – things she would do or say during the day – creating a ‘crowd-sourced’ concept of day-to-day existence, something that had previously be used to create low-cost commercial design (such as logos).

Social media artist An Xiao, in collaboration with some of the other artists noted above offers four ways of defining this constantly emerging field of art:

1. The web plays a key role not just in the marketing or sourcing of the art but the *expression* of the art.

2. The art involves the audience in some fashion; it is inherently a social medium.

3. The art is accessible beyond a “typical” art world audience while still being conceptually rich.

4. The bottom line: it’s all about the artist’s intent.

The traditional and established art world is a bit dubious as to the importance and validity of these new forms of art, as Ben Davis the associate editor of Artnet Magazine posits: “The paradigm of collaborative, ‘social’ art projects seems to me to be a rich territory to explore. However, mass authorship and amateur participation both go against art-world norms (for reasons that are constitutive of the field of the visual arts as a sphere trading in luxury goods and based on intellectual prestige).” (

While some art museums and galleries are ignoring social media as an art form in itself, many are exploring social media ways to connect with their patrons. The Corcoran Gallery of Art created a micro-site, a website branded separately from its main website, for the exhibition “30 Americans” where they included not merely ‘brochure-type’ information (such as parking information and images a patron would see at the museum) about the exhibition but engaged patrons with their “Say It Loud” campaign. The campaign was a combination of live discussions on web forums, a specific Twitter hashtag to frame the dialog, and an option to record a video or hand write a card while at the gallery that was then uploaded to the micro-site to be shared. This community involvement created not only a deeper connection to the material viewed in a traditional museum setting, it also created a media buzz generating more interest to encourage other people to visit the museum and finally the website remains live months after the exhibition closed as a social work of art in and of itself: (

Art is hard to classify even using more traditional artistic concepts and mediums as the baseline, so art in the social media concept is extremely difficult to fully define. I offer this definition: Art, broadly, is anything that evokes a response; art is never apathetic and it is always evolving as artists respond to the changing world around them.

What types of social media art are you creating? How are you engaging with your community in a way that evokes or even provokes a response? Please share in the comments below.

By Colleen Jolly, CHAW Board Member and Previous Past President