Why Instagram is Art

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I love Instagram.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure.

I’m not kidding.

Ryan and I had a big argument about this. He said he felt like a lot of people were on Instagram – including himself – to satiate the human desire to fit in and not be left out. I said it’s because Instagram is art.

Creating is fundamentally part of the human experience. Construction workers report high levels of satisfaction at their jobs (if the project is on time), because they can step back and look and see what they’ve done at the end of the day. And damn, that’s satisfying.

In contrast, a lonely knowledge worker has little to show for herself. Unless you’re a developer, we don’t create much anymore, and we certainly don’t create much with meaning.

But Instagram lets you make art. It’s different, because unlike Facebook or even Flickr where you can mass upload your life, Instagram forces you to make choices, filter, edit. Not all, but most times it makes ugly pretty and pretty ugly. It creates interest and intent.

You make many of the same choices you would in a darkroom. Should you edit the photo? Do you want to crop it? How will you adjust the coloring, the lighting? Do you want to overexpose it? All the principles of art still stand – proportion, balance, rhythm, pattern – you still need those to make a compelling photograph. But Instagram allows you to do so by elevating ordinary life while providing a mechanism to examine life. It accomplishes what street art tried, but never quite achieved: art for the masses.

Instagram helps to define how you see the world, how you move through the world. You begin to realize you have a certain way of seeing and experiencing day-to-day. You develop and refine that. Your collection is there for a reason, to tell a story, a viewpoint, a life.

Art is translating your experience to the world. Instagram is shared experiences. Instagram is art.

It is visceral and short of being there side-by-side with someone it allows you to experience what they experience. This breeds empathy, joy, understanding.

And for those reasons and more, it’s important to note that Instagram’s billion dollar sale to Facebook is not just an investment in a thirty-million person community, but an investment in art. Forget that we may or may not be in a bubble and Instagram has no revenue stream. Forget that everyone thinks Facebook will ruin it. This is a billion investment in our generation’s creative renaissance, plain and simple.

The pictures don’t lie.