The Digital Art Industry: How Instagram Is Creating Opportunities For Female Artists


Amid the selfies, fitness videos and Boomerangs that have come to dominate our Instagram feeds, a digital platform has emerged to showcase the work of tech-savvy artists. The Instagram that debuted in 2010 (a feed of blurry iPhone 4s photos all with the same orange, retro filter), hardly resembles the compilation of influencers and artists that now attract millions to the platform.

Seeing the opportunity posed by the incredibly visual and experiential app, budding artists have shifted their energy from impressing gallery owners, to posting daily updates for their follows. Instagram has changed the way we value art by rejecting the standards determined by a privileged and select few, and instead provided a space for the representation of artists who have otherwise been marginalized in the industry.

However, there is no denying that the app has changed. Due to Instagram's success artists are now subjected to covert algorithms used to monetize the platform and pressured to buy ads. The Instagram of the present has lost the impression of creating intimate and personal connections through shared profiles and has instead become a mass market. No one feels this pressure more than artists, including those who have used the platform for years and those just making their introduction to digital promotion.

SWAAY interviewed both Elizabeth Sutton, a millennial “mom-prenuer" who began her art career on Instagram and whose art has been featured in NYDesigns' 2016 incubator program, on Bravo's “Million Dollar Listing," as well as in The New York Post; and Samantha Roseland, an artist in her early twenties who recently began using Instagram to share her paintings and illustrations. We got the inside scope on their experience with Instagram, their journey as artists and their opinions on the evolving industry of art.

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Sutton

Instagram: @ElizabethSuttonCollection

1. Did you go through a period trying to showcase your work in other ways before you turned to Instagram?

I did not because I never really intended for art to become my career. Only one time did I ever showcase my artwork, prior to really selling it through Instagram, which was unintentional. I was doing art as a craft for my home and one day my framer said, “why don't you make me an artwork, I can frame it and put it in my storefront and if it sells we'll split it?" And it's funny, come to think of it, he is my oldest business contact because he is now the person who is printing and framing my limited-edition prints.

2. Do you still try to get in galleries, or is Instagram where you solely showcase your work?

I actually never really tried to get in galleries. When I first started, in the early stages of my career I had an opportunity with a gallery and it was my first experience with one. Long story short, one partner basically had asked me to create an entire body of work for them and then the other discriminated against me, by literally calling the potential buyers from my local community “undesirable" thus rescinding their exhibition offer. You can imagine how that affected my confidence, and after that I did not want to work with galleries. Being a former retail and fashion professional, I'm business-oriented; my artworks take a lot of time and galleries take fifty percent commissions but don't incubate and develop artists the way patrons in the old world did. Time intensive labor goes into my artwork and I have several assistants who help me create, so the gallery model is not really for me unless there is a ton of added value.

I currently have an opportunity on the table right now which is an opportunity I would never say no to: working with one of if not the best galleries in Aspen, a team with which I've become friendly as well. This gallery represents some of the most successful pop and contemporary artists in the world, so I'm pleased to have the honor of potentially being included. Also, I would consider working with international galleries right now because I am trying to grow my markets. I have a pretty solid foundation built in New York and Miami, but I want people all over the world to have access to my art. I have my first client from Indonesia who is also becoming a good friend. I just want to grow and grow and continue to develop products that are influenced by and feature my art as well.

3. Many assume social media is a space solely for influencers and models, how do you value Instagram and social media as an artist?

I actually think that artists are some of the most fit people for Instagram because our work is completely visual. With a lot of the bloggers and fashionistas on Instagram, their purpose is to take pictures and be a model, so Instagram is kind of like their own editorial. For me, the point is that I can show my process on videos and time lapse, give a peek inside my studio, and my followers can really see just how elaborate and technical my process is. I think I am at a big advantage because, if I do say so myself, watching my art come together is pretty fascinating. People tell me they love my content.

4. How did you generate a following? Did it happen organically, or have you advertised your work in other ways?

I am not going to lie-- Instagram is so frustrating. I wish I had started my career a year earlier before they started messing with the algorithms. Now, they do not share their algorithms with users, they have changed their algorithms to monetize the platform, and they want to force you to have to buy ads— when it used to be organic and according to chronological time. Also, it has gotten much more difficult to grow your following, so I have to be resourceful. I have found that one of the best ways is to participate in loops, which are very large group giveaways. Press is also a great way to grow your following. Engaging and being raw and honest helps, and it is very important to utilize Insta-story.

5. What has been the number one challenge with selling art through social media?

My art is expensive, and it is not an impulse buy. People want to see it in person so, if they are not in New York and they cannot make it into my studio, it is hard to get them to drop thousands of dollars on unseen art. Part of purchasing my art is definitely part of the experience. Entering my studio, seeing my process, so I probably think that is the biggest challenge.

6. How do you think Instagram has changed the art world for young people?

I think Instagram could possibly make the gallery world obsolete within the next two decades. Artists are sick and tired of having galleries take fifty percent of sales. I mean, it is unbelievable. It is also depending how much the galleries are offering the artist. Maybe galleries won't completely go extinct, but the industry is moving towards some type of online gallery. Galleries are already becoming digital and there are already interactive pop-up experiences like The Museum of Ice Cream. Some artists are not good at the business end and they still need representation, but Instagram and social media can take you international without necessitating a retail space.

7. As a woman, do you think Instagram has provided you with more opportunities and given you a space to represent yourself authentically?

I do not think it provided me with any more opportunities than it provides a man. I think that social media is an equal opportunity platform. I will say, I am not going to lie, I've definitely warmed up to the idea of taking advantage of my assets. I used to actually try and keep myself and my appearance off my Instagram, because I did not want people to follow me for shallow reasons. I wanted people to follow me for my talent. I was very self-conscious about that until I met with a very successful tech investor who said to me, “Liz don't be stupid, utilize all your assets. You need to hustle, you need to feed your kids and make money. You are a pretty girl, sex sells, use it. Don't sell sex necessarily but play on the fact that you are pretty." The truth of the matter is, unfortunately I am just following the rules that are existing in the world, I am not creating them.

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Sutton

8. What is your advice to up and coming artists looking to gain exposure?

Hustle, hustle, hustle. Network and reach out to other artists. Put your art up in spaces, even non-traditional ones, utilize social media. Have a thick skin and don't close yourself off if someone says they do not like your art or it is not the right fit. It may not be the right fit for them, but art is subjective, so it might be the right fit for somebody else. Don't take anything too much to heart and don't be insulted by an opinion.

Instagram: @samanth_jr and @samanth_junior

1. Did you go through a period trying to showcase your work in other ways before you turned to Instagram? Do you still try to get in galleries, or is Instagram where you solely showcase your work?

I have generally always been too nervous to show my work anywhere. Whether it be in galleries or online, putting myself out there in that way always seemed daunting and anxiety-producing. Instagram was a good conduit into the realm of showcasing myself. The digital distance felt safer, and slowly I gained the confidence to show my work in real life too. Tomore directly answer the question, Instagram definitely preceded any other sort of showcasing of my work, but I am now pursuing both online and in real life exhibitions of my art.

"Maybe She's Born With it, maybe it's Make-Believe" Photo Courtesy of Samantha Rosenwald

2. Many assume social media is a space solely for influencers and models, how do you value Instagram and social media as an artist?

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a social media artist. I am an artist who happens to use Instagram as a tool. In that regard, Instagram is great (especially in theory). As a free, relatively democratic platform for any and all content, Instagram is able to kick down some of the boundaries of the art world's ivory tower. It has proven to be instrumental in representing the work of those who would otherwise be marginalized or excluded from the old white man art canon. Instagram, though, definitely peaked maybe five years ago in terms of performing as a transparent, neutral artistic arena. The ads, manipulated algorithms, and sheer user oversaturation on the site has tainted some of that initial purity. But all in all, I'm pretty pro-Instagram.

3. How did you generate a following? Did it happen organically,or have you advertised your work in other ways?

I never advertised my work, no. That seemed so embarrassing and shameless. Maybe someday I'll grow a pair and start really promoting myself. At first, I just followed my friends and family, but eventually, my Instagram reached my good buddy Grace (@frigidartbitch) who already had a pretty substantial following, and she promoted the heck out of me. She got the digital ball rolling.

4. What has been the number one challenge with selling art through social media?

My number one challenge selling art through social media has been that I'm too nice. I have made a lot of work for friends or friends-of-friends for free because I was too shy or uncomfortable to value my art. Now, however, I push myself to not sell myself or my work short.

5. How do you think Instagram has changed the art world for young people?

Positively and negatively, in short. Free access to art (in whatever form) from any smartphone or computer is both powerful and revolutionary. The post-digital liquidity of time and space and the enmeshment of reality and the digital plays heavy in art accessibility. You can be anywhere in the world and see work from any artist or gallery you want. But with this plus comes a big minus. Instagram gives us a false sense of presence – especially for young people who are digitally native. Sometimes there is just nothing like standing in front of a piece of art in person.

6. As a woman, do you think Instagram has provided you with more opportunities and given you a space to represent yourself authentically?

Yes, I do. I actually wrote my undergrad thesis on this very topic! Instagram is radical for broadcasting the voices of underrepresented groups (including but not limited to people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, people with disabilities, and women, especially women who identify with any or all of these other identities). Especially in the art world, where women have been heavily sequestered to the role of the fetishized or aestheticized subject, Instagram allows them to subvert that age-old dogma and reciprocate the male gaze with self-authored art and self-authored portraits (i.e. selfies). Women can totally still be the subject of others' and their own work, but they also now have the leverage to simultaneously be the subject, maker, and the curator of their bodies and bodies of work. Pretty powerful.

Photo Courtesy of Samantha Rosenwald

7. What is your advice to up and coming artists looking to gain exposure?

Don't be too shy to post your work online and to keep posting your work regularly. If you don't have the confidence or self-assuredness, definitely fake it. People will take you seriously if you seem like you take yourself seriously. Also, don't give your art away for free. Value yourself and put some mf price tags on your labor. Though Instagram is a great platform, I would also highly encourage stepping off the 'gram and into the real world. Meet people, talk to strangers at openings, put yourself out there – both digitally and in person.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."