I follow a lot of artists on Instagram and I use the “discover” feature regularly to find more. Unless I’m missing out, I don’t think that artists are deliberately using Instagram as a medium itself. It looks like artists are using Instagram strictly as a social image network - to share and promote their work. This is fine of course - Instagram is a tool and users should use that tool how you see fit (or not). Traditional painters will post a gallery of detail shots of their most current work - or perhaps they’ll share photos of work in process in their studio.
I don’t think that it’s a stretch to claim that most people who use social media publicly treat it like a performance. People perform as their best selves living their best lives. Artists perform their best version of being an artist. Artists don’t share photos of their day job, pictures with their accountant, or buying materials at the art store. I don’t think this is negative - art is never not a business and artists are never not business-people.
But, I think there’s some creative potential in thinking of Instagram as a visual medium outside of the performative and promotional.
Navigating time and space on Instagram
First there’s the obligatory joke about how social media is a black hole and sucks up all of your time.
But after that, ignoring Facebook’s shitty algorithmic feed (everyone hates you Facebook; no one likes you) Instagram captures visual moments in time ordered from the recent to the past. Scroll through your own profile page and you get a sense of your own shared history with others. This is the first dimension of Instagram - time.
Of course the primary interface for browsing Instagram is the vertical timeline scroll. Up and down - but mostly down - Instagram has a sense of gravity pulling you down the feed. This is the second dimension of Instagram - height.
Secondarily, Instagram has a grid interface - the 3 x 3 layout of images on a profile or a search tab. There are clever tools which allow spreading a large photo across these grid views so you can get a linear presentation of details and a wider “full size” view of the big idea on a profile page. This is the 3rd dimension of Instagram - width.
Finally, stories and galleries present content in “stacks” - when you tap into a story or swipe left and right on a gallery - you push deeper and deeper into an idea. This is the 4th dimension of Instagram - depth.
On Instagram time is the first dimension. Time, or timeliness, is the most important. In my own experiments regular posting on a schedule yields more views and more quote-unquote engagement. This is what the mysterious, shrouded algorithm appears to prefer.
Starting at the end
Creative work intended for Instagram take two directions. Each post can be a singular moment at a time - the traditional approach to social media. Each post builds upon the last creating a broad theme or idea (or maybe a brand). Alternately - one can use the many dimensions of Instagram to build multidirectional ideas.
If you wanted to post a linear narrative on Instagram - you’d have to start at the end - your first post is the punchline. Each subsequent post leads up to this punchline but must be captivating. Your last post is the first post in the narrative. In this example your followers would follow each post (missing a few because algorithms) and then find themselves at the beginning of a narrative. If they are curious - they can now view your profile and read the timeline in reverse order.
Alternately - individual images may stand alone - but viewed together on a grid on a profile page becomes something together different. Or further, each post is a gallery - a cave to be dived - but again can grow in context when viewed on a profile page or contributes to a them viewed linearly.