An Art Affair: Art and social media |

An Art Affair: Art and social media

Editor’s note: An Art Affair is a new column by Alexis Bohlander, a Summit County art consultant, that will run twice a month on Wednesdays in the Summit Daily News.

Back in the day, famed Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy took on the question, “What is art?” It was, in fact, 1897 and the book is “What is Art?” A loose description of the conclusion Tolstoy reaches in his 200-plus-page treatise is that art is anything that conveys emotion and he actually dismissed aesthetics as a criterion altogether.

In the age of social media, the definition of art is even more difficult to pin down than it was in Tolstoy’s time. The artist Richard Price has made recent headlines for his exhibit of screenshots he took from Instagram posts. Some of these works of art sold for over $100,000. Most of the reviews of the show had the word “’art” and “artist” in quotation marks; just in case the reader needed to be told that it is still open for debate if a picture of your cappuccino with a leaf design in the foam is art. This also calls into question if your barista is an artist and the cappuccino itself a work of art. Price’s contribution to his art is arguably less than that of the barista to your coffee. All he did was to enlarge images to a 48×65 photograph and add a comment on the image. The question isn’t so much whether Price himself is an artist and his appropriation of other people’s work is a column in its own right, but are Instagram posts actually art?

Rizzoli, the publisher of art books including tomes on Picasso, Da Vinci and French Impressionists, published a coffee table book of Kim Kardashian selfies. Is a selfie art? In some cases, it probably is. The right angle, the proper contours and the perfect duck face don’t come naturally. A lot of thought and practice goes into these photos, no matter how much we may believe that apps like Instagram are nothing more than public forums devised for self-adoration. As a new expression for art, it should not be dismissed so easily. While Kardashian herself called her book “silly,” when asked about it on NPR, some art critics took it more seriously and have even labeled Kim and her social media empire as feminist art. This just may be an example of when the art actually eclipses the artist, or she’s an idiot savant. Have we as a society finally embraced social media as a legitimate source of art and culture?

Is art nothing more than a conveyance of emotion as Tolstoy argued, or does it need to be visually pleasing and take time and effort to produce? The original photographers on Instagram probably didn’t consider the selfie they posted to be art, but Richard Price saw something more in it, and his re-visioning comes with a hefty price tag. It’s difficult to compare a Picasso cubist portrait to that of a Warhol Marilyn. Most of us however, would consider Picasso one of the great artists of all time and Warhol has certainly become a stalwart figure of pop art and few question his work of being museum worthy, so maybe social media is just the next progression in art.

If nothing else, the Price show and Kardashian have proven that anyone can be an artist even if we question their work.

All I know is that if Salvador Dali were alive today, I would definitely follow his Instagram lead.

Alexis Bohlander, a Frisco, Colorado, resident, has been having an affair with art her entire life. She has a degree in Art History and is an art lover, collector, and consultant. Alexis is the owner and head consultant of Alexis Paul Art located in Summit County. She can be reached at and found at and of course Instagram and Twitter.

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