Updated: Mar 29
Gone are the days when one had to go to school to learn how to be an artist. Learning how to draw skeletons and paint still lives no longer counts as the foundation for art education. Instead, all one needs nowadays is an Instagram handle. One need only compare the social media profiles of some of the most well-known artists with the multitudes of newcomers to see that this is no longer a game of skill but popularity.
Everyone and their mother is suddenly an artist and somewhere there are thousands of followers eager to affirm them. While the trained artist labors in self-doubt, hidden in their studio, the social media artist needs only show their face and fashion sense to be taken seriously.
I must admit at first this made me somewhat bitter. Having devoted ten years of my life to better myself as an artist, I was revolted by the social media artist phenomenon. But then I thought of the benefits. Whereas artists were previously at the mercy of prestigious art galleries which are mired by politics and privilege, now it is anyone's game. By removing the power of galleries, the game could be said to be fairer. Of course, there is something to be said about the lopsidedness of algorithms, but still, the opportunity seems open to more people, which is always a good thing.
It is even better though when we see artists who do have an education in the arts thriving in the social media realm. This is not to say that less educated or self-trained artists are not worthy of attention. That would be elitist and unethical. But it is a delight to see that there is some semblance of study in this new digital space. Democracy is good and there is something thrilling about a free for all, but those who truly study art know what a shame it would be to lose that knowledge.
The ideal outcome would be to combine these two worlds. Make it so popularity and legitimacy can go hand in hand and there are some great examples of artists who have achieved this balance. Known for her immaculate beauty and effortless fashion sense, Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo is arguably one of the country’s most well-known bloggers and content creators. Graduating with a BFA from the University of Johannesburg, she has partnered with H&M, Adidas, and Paco Rabanne as a brand ambassador and has amassed more than 100,000 followers on her Instagram account.