So I got Instagram

My partner and I were exploring the various options for smartphone apps last night, and after a series of random downloads, I ended up getting Instagram.

I've been thinking a bit about that decision.  I don't have anything against Instagram, but I'm pretty sure the only reason I didn't get it before now is that I'm aware of the substantial negative reaction to it online.  I've been thinking about that because I feel a little guilty for, not actively rejecting it, but sort of dismissing it.

I figured I should try to know what I was talking about, so I googled "Instagram sucks" and read the first article that showed up.  It's called Why Instagram Sucks, by Ryan Pinkard.

Instagram is bad for photography and bad for art.

I will admit—I’m a college-level photography student, I use Instagram recreationally and I was quickly charmed by its accessible allure. As a consequence of my generation’s nostalgia, I like old, flawed images to a degree I can’t quite explain. I understand the success of the app entirely, and still find amazement in how it can improve a lackluster cellphone image to my tastes.

So what’s my issue?

People have called Instagram a democratizing force, empowering anyone to be creative. I have a problem with this—I don’t think it works. Throwing a filter over an otherwise everyday image is not creative, it’s borderline lazy. A hypersaturated picture of your breakfast cereal is still a picture of your breakfast.

This section (and some lines from the following section -- "Whether you tweet it or Instagram it, no one really cares what you had for breakfast. And given this social media aspect, is art also supposed to be a popularity contest where the “likes” determine the image’s success?") helped me figure out why people dislike it, and why those people are wrong.

The short answer is that it's elitist.  The long answer is that it's a particularly toxic kind of elitism that's simultaneously anti-amateur and anti-intellectual.  It's anti-amateur for obvious reasons -- people of limited skill or training are still able to make certain kinds of pictures very well using Instagram that would otherwise require a certain amount of expertise, or at least of having been a certain age and in a certain place (and have owned certain things, and have known better how to use them, and have kept them.)

It's also anti-intellectual, for two reasons.  One, critics presume that the content on Instagram isn't worth serious contemplation.  "No one really cares what you had for breakfast."  John Green criticized this style of dismissal in a Swoodilypoopers video called Why I Like Art:

A frequent criticism of contemporary art is that it isn't really art because 'I could do that' misses the really vital fact that that's something that you say when you aren't paying attention[... .]  That's something you say when you're trying to [dismiss] something intellectually, and [not] think hard.

(To be absolutely clear, John Green was defending professional contemporary art, not Instagram, and I don't know for certain that he would agree with this application of his argument.)

Instagram may not consist of people spending weeks or months of time composing pictures.  It does, however, consist of pictures people choose to take for reasons that are important to them.  You may disagree -- you may think that some photos reflect values you think are wrong.  I think Ayn Rand's philosophy is irrational and insane.  But I don't reject the Fountainhead by claiming it's not art.

Two, it argues for art as a sort of walled garden arena.  Something you have to earn your way into.  I don't know if Ryan Pinkard believes this, but I've heard a lot of artists quote Picasso's line, "Every child is an artist.  The problem is to remain an artist once we grow up."

Media like Instagram let more people than ever before express their sense of art.  It lets more people than ever remain artists.  You certainly don't have to try to consume all the art on Instagram -- it would be impossible, it's impossible to consume all of any media now -- but dismissing it as not-art, sub-art, anti-artistic or degrading is misanthropic, anti-intellectual and elitist.

Ryan Pinkard ultimately recants the premise of his article, so I guess he's not that bad.  It seems like he just found a niche for an angry rant, and found a way to write it then create plausible deniability for himself.