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It’s not all cute kittens and avocado smoothies. Instagram offers art lovers a space for aesthetic discovery, creative expression and professional engagement. Marketing Manager Rosie Dawkins, who oversees Sotheby’s Institute of Art’s account, and our Public Programs Manager Martin Williams, a self-declared “Instagram evangelist”,  discuss how they use the platform and share advice about making the most of it with Rachel Segal Hamilton…

On 21 June Instagram hit 500 million users, of whom 300 million post every day. Now that means a lot of pictures of breakfasts and barechested personal trainers, sure. But scroll past the poached eggs and pert pecs and you’ll find a whole world of aesthetes, artists, collectors, curators, sharing beautiful images and exchanging ideas about art.

The most visual of all the major social media, Facebook-owned Instagram has obvious appeal for anyone with an interest in art. “It’s not about telling people how you feel or what you’re doing, it’s about expressing it artistically,” says Marketing Manager Rosie Dawkins, who manages the Sotheby’s Institute of Art account. Instagram is both a creative outlet in terms of what you choose to post and a mine of artistic discovery.

"Instagram offers art lovers a space for aesthetic discovery, creative expression and professional engagement."

By seeking out interesting accounts, you discover new artists, new artworks, but also new ways of looking. As Public Programs Manager Martin Williams - known on Instagram by his alias @Disraeli81 - says, “There is a sense of being granted privileged access to a whole range of visual registers. You are catching a glimpse of what other people are seeing.”

Instagram is also an extremely useful professional tool for researching current trends in the art market, networking and building your brand - as an artist, an institution or an individual operating in any aspect of the art business. It’s a sign of the times that a 2015 survey by Artsy found more than half of collectors had bought work by artists they had initially spotted on Instagram.

So what’s the secret to having an Instagram account that people will want to follow?

Our students admire a work by Qin Yufen at Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong #SIAabroad #sothebysinstitute #HongKong #ABHK #pearllam

A photo posted by Sotheby's Institute of Art (@sothebysinstitute) on

Curate Your World

“You’ve got to have a hook,” says Rosie. “There’s no point in posting the same picture that everyone’s posted from the Louvre. What are you going to do differently? Are you going to do grids? Are you going to take pictures of busts? Or of frames? Find something you are passionate about and can curate.”

The fact Sotheby’s Institute of Art has campuses in the art capitals of the world guides the curation of the official account. Content is fed through from LA, New York and London and images are selected of “public works of art, or great exhibitions in galleries and museums in those cities. [The images] might show students engaging with those spaces or out on trips, learning.” Regramming images from SIA students adds authenticity to the account and also showcases their work to a bigger public.

Martin’s favourite accounts are those run by “people who have a closely curated vision - whether that be a broad vision of a lifestyle or just one element.”, for example, focuses exclusively on Irish country houses, haethaenstat on vintage menswear. His own account is an idiosyncratic blend of art, architecture, interiors and gardens that he personally finds beautiful: “I want it to have a clear narrative thread and no matter what I’m posting a photograph of that it could recognizably be one of mine.”

A shameless #latergram supplied by my darling friend, @kpbeautyed. Our visit to Bulgari, to celebrate the opening of a temporary exhibition showcasing the jewels of the late, great Elizabeth Taylor, saw us enveloped in a miasma of Italian opulence, circa 1963. A shimmering symphony of bronze, gold, peach and dusty apricot, everything was redolent of the glamour and voluptuous sophistication of La Dolce Vita. What with delicious lobster canapés and free-flowing cocktails (Aperol based), I felt as though I'd strayed onto the set of The VIPs or A Single Man. Here I am, waiting to try out my Twist with Consuelo Crespi under the diamond-bright eyes of Monica Vitti and Gina Lollobrigida. #Latergram #MonicaVitti #GinaLollobrigida #MovieStar #LaDolceVita #Italy #1960s #Jewellery #Interior #Decoration #Bulgari #London #England

A photo posted by Disraeli81 (@disraeli81) on

"In museums, people stroll. On Instagram, they scroll. And they scroll fast. To grab their attention, your pictures must be be visually arresting."

Talk to others

Remember that Instagram isn’t a monologue - it’s a conversation. Interact with fellow users with likes, comments and regrams. A concise, smartly-worded caption brings context and personality. “The best accounts are those where you have an incredible picture but you also learn something new - whether that’s discovering a new artist, a new gallery or some quirky detail on the back of a painting,” says Rosie. Martin finds that his followers respond to the tone of his captions as much, if not more than, to his pictures. “I don’t use Instagram as a confessional, I use it to commentate on my life in relation to art and what I’m absorbing visually.”

“Hashtags are absolutely crucial,” adds Martin. Deploy them to organise your images, to encourage people to find your account and to align with relevant communities within Instagram - users interested in contemporary Chinese art or Baroque chairs, perhaps. “Say I went to the National Gallery and saw a picture of Queen Victoria, [I’d use] #queenvictoria, #monarchy #royalty #art #nationalgallery #london,” Martin explains. “They need to be obvious, intuitive.” Sotheby’s Institute of Art uses #sothebysinstitute always, and also #siaabroad and #siasummer to encourage student-generated content. “It’s a good way for us to identify pictures we could repost, but also helps us to spread awareness of Sotheby’s Institute,” says Rosie.

Students from the 15-week intensive Semester Study course 'Art Museums, Galleries and Curating' visited the @nationalportraitgallery in London as part of their studies. Here they are pictured in the Regency Galleries of #NPG, looking at a unique approach to displaying marble busts by the English sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey. #semesterstudy #artmuseumsgalleriesandcurating #15weekcourse #nationalportraitgallery #london #sothebysinstitute

A photo posted by Sotheby's Institute of Art (@sothebysinstitute) on

Share beautiful things

In museums, people stroll. On Instagram, they scroll. And they scroll fast. To grab their attention, your pictures must be be visually arresting. There’s no secret formula, says Rosie. “On our page you see different colours, different styles. We’re regramming people. We’ve got buildings, we’ve got sculpture, we’ve got students looking and learning... It’s a melee of images.” Still, you can up your chances by thinking artistically about what you shoot and what you share. Consider light, colour, composition. Experiment with the editing features on Instagram or download VSCO.

Strive to maintain a regular output and don’t be afraid to sample. “If I haven’t got anything to post that day, I may post a detail of a painting or a still from a movie or a photograph taken by Cecil Beaton.” No matter your niche, your account should be thematic not only in its content but also in its presentation, says Martin. “I’ve gone back, reviewed my entire gallery and removed things retrospectively because I don’t feel they fit with the visual continuum”.

Yesterday students took a tour of West Hollywood and its amazing Public Art program including this mural by @ironeyeretna. Associate Director @sarahconleyodenkirk captured this image of students which features Retna's work and a language he invented himself! #SothebysInstitute #Retna #WeHoArts @wehoarts

A photo posted by Sotheby's Institute of Art (@sothebysinstitute) on

Five Accounts to Check Out:

Ai Wei Wei captures himself, friends, employees and works in progress, invariably letting the pictures speak for themselves.

Artsy’s head of social media serves up exquisitely shot pictures of museums, galleries, studios and, occasionally his dog.

British architectural and interior designer’s beautiful account shows his houses, gardens, dogs, travel, neatly blending the personal and the professional.

Behind-the-scenes peeks at Sotheby’s upcoming auctions, exhibitions and special projects.

Art consultant Jordan Watson uses his popular feed to highlight work he loves by emerging, as well as established, contemporary artists.

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