After much deliberation and internal conflict, I finally gave in earlier this week to another facet of the Internet revolution: Instagram. Long had I held out against what I deemed a shallow and narcissistic attempt to be hipster and artistic. How could the fixed-length lens of an iPhone combined with a bunch of fancy filters possibly be more substantial than my own expensive and complicated camera?
The last thing I wanted was to sacrifice real photography and artistic expression for another social media platform seeking to fill my already limited attention span with latte art patterns.
This was my position and I managed to hold it for a very long time. Arrogant? Perhaps. Ignorant? Time will tell. Cynical? Most definitely.
I repeatedly made fun of my best friend and younger sister alike for their insistent usage of the service. Then something changed. I don’t think my heart was two sizes too small or anything, but my perspective certainly shifted.
My motives, I’ll be honest, may not have been entirely pure. More and more college friends were posting pictures I was never able to see. Memories contained in these little square frames were completely invisible to me. This fear-of-missing-out (FOMO, as we call it) can be quite the motivating factor, and one that is certainly not healthy. But I’d like to think my change in heart is at least partly based in something deeper than my own insecurities.
Is there a chance, however small, that Instagram can indeed be art?
Long have I thought about the human story and the interconnected narratives of our lives. We are created to share, experience and enjoy life with those who also travel alongside us in the currents of this world. We are not alone in telling our stories. Certain themes prevail most strongly throughout this great tapestry: love, beauty, sacrifice, and redemption.
Great art is created by realizing the implications these ideas have on the ordinary life and working to make them understandable by all. As John Steinbeck once said, “If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And here I make a rule — a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.”
I don’t propose that all Instagram shots are pieces of artwork worthy of immortalization in the Louvre, but the Internet has created a revolution in storytelling. The images of an Instagram feed are capable of capturing life as a different form of artistic expression.
Our art often tends to focus on the bigger picture: books tell stories that encompass decades; paintings freeze a scene carefully selected and interpreted through hours on a canvas.
But Instagram is capable of capturing life in its mundane details. A coffee, a basketball game and a small getaway cottage all make their way into my feed of images accompanied by a small caption. These captions can then be merged in such a way that a seemingly random web of individuals is connected through the everyday occurrences of what it means to be alive.
Are the sunsets sometimes cheesy? Is the old-timey filter overused? Of course. But I don’t think this should take away from the fact that humans are desperate to tell their story, and sometimes it is important we listen and participate.
Those of my generation are quick to jump to cynicism. And considering the sheer amount of information we are thrown every single day, this isn’t surprising. It can be overwhelming to sift through everything and still retain a proper sense of art and beauty.
Perhaps I will eventually reject Instagram as a shallow and narcissistic attempt at self-promotion. I have yet to post a picture myself, nor do I ever wish to succumb to the #tagsforlikes phenomena. Pride and selfishness is nothing new in the creative world. Even though art has long suffered from humanity’s brokenness, this doesn’t mean we should abandon our pursuit of beauty or forget the snippets of perfection visible in our daily lives.
Just for a moment I would like to abandon the cynicism and negativity that often accompanies the social media revolution. I want to hope that when millions are given access to simple cameras and asked to record those mundane and un-fantastic moments of their lives, we can indeed create something beautiful, something that speaks to who we are as people, and something that will be enjoyed and appreciated by those who also walk alongside us in this adventure named life.
Photo by Kolin Toney, Flickr (cc)