“Thoughtlessly Consuming” Art in the Age of Social Media

By Molly Johnson


Yesterday, during one of my scrolls through my Twitter feed, an activity which, I am sure, constitutes a part of many millennials’ daily routines, I happened across a tweet from Thebe Kgositsile (professionally known as Earl Sweatshirt) which, in amongst the various Peep Show memes and dog videos seemed oddly profound. The tweet in question reads: “resist being viral if u tryna reserve and promote some humanity yo !! the rapid ascent is answered with a violent nosedive on some laws of nature shit [heart emoji] we can share art and celebrate it without foaming at the mouth and thoughtlessly consuming”. It was the latter part of this tweet, about the thoughtless consumption of art, which struck me, prompting me to put down my phone and just think for a second.

In the age of social media, especially with the prevalence and popularity of platforms such as Instagram, which solely focus on visual images, have we become numb to art? Are we consuming it without proper thought? And more importantly, is this necessarily a bad thing? Young artists such as Earl Sweatshirt and Loyle Carner (who retweeted Thebe) certainly seem to think so. Now I am obviously taking the opinions that young male musicians and rappers have about their field (still a legitimate form of art) and applying them to the visual arts, but the opinions are relevant nonetheless. If social media is promoting the thoughtless consumption of art, how are we supposed to be consuming it? Is there a correct way to consume art?

Obviously one would immediately turn to the institutions of the gallery and the museum, however, as it has been increasingly agued recently, galleries are often sterile spaces which I think often perpetuate the idea that art is for the elite. In his discussion of taste, Pierre Bourdieau argues that cultural institutions such as the museum is first and foremost based on class: museums are spaces which isolate and cultivate. I couldn’t agree more with this argument, I think many people are put off going to galleries and museums, because often it is viewed as “pretentious” and “snobbish”, perpetuating the idea that art is inaccessible for the general population and reserved only for high class individuals.

I am of the opinion that the proliferation of art on social media cannot possibly be a bad thing, as it opens the field up to a wider number of people than a gallery could ever hope to. Banksy’s ‘Canvas of Girl With Balloon’ shredder stunt for example, whilst obviously making headline news as well, was shared all over social media. The video of the shredding in question on his Instagram page has over 14.5 million views, and I just can’t accept that this can be a negative thing. Admittedly many people will have negated to appreciate the aesthetic value of the artwork itself, however this one video alone will have been viewed by far more people on social media than would visit a gallery exhibition, and therefore I think that social media cannot possibly hinder the arts, even if it means we are consuming it “thoughtlessly”.

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