How Tech has Transformed the World of Art Collecting

Artwork Archive | December 21, 2016 (Updated April 12, 2021)

What does it mean to be introduced to the art world through Instagram? How will you display an artist's 50-year retrospective when their 2016 exhibition is a series of GIFs, contained on a thumb drive?

Technology is forcing the art world to grapple with questions like these, and young art collectors have the answers. We spoke with art world insiders to examine how emerging trends in the art world are shaped by technology. Here’s what they had to say:

Social media fuels engagement in the arts

“Facebook in Detroit is huge. It’s the number one way that people are able to find out what’s happening in the city." - Paulina Petkoski, Co-Founder, Playground Detroit.

Facebook is now 12 years old and has 1.8 billion active users. The likes of Instagram and Snapchat are even younger. These platforms have altered the way we communicate, and they connect artists and collectors like never before. They’re disrupting the traditional gatekeepers of the art world and creating opportunities for new players.

Technology is opening the art world to new people

“Instagram is one way that people are learning a lot about art. Even Detroit contemporary art.” - Augusta Morrison, Education Associate, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Two of those new players are Paulina Petkoski and Samantha Banks, founders of Playground Detroit. They’ve found a sweet spot by using social media and local engagement to drive involvement in the arts. Young collectors gravitate towards this scene and they’ve gained a considerable following by connecting emerging artists with collectors and resources. The scope of their influence is fast eclipsing traditional galleries and dealers.

Traditional gallery roles are changing

“Artists don’t necessarily need a gallery to put them on a pedestal because they can find their own following and be their own face to the world.” - Augusta Morrison, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Getting into a gallery can be a career boost for artists starting out. It means they’ll meet collectors, dealers, and influential players in the art market. However, being featured on the right blog or social media feed can leapfrog an artist beyond these tenuous first steps and make them into an overnight sensation.

Careers can be launched virally

“If there’s an artist highlighted on a popular art blog one day, the following week they’re inundated with requests. Everyone goes to an artist’s site and crashes the website.” - Thad Mighell, Assistant Chief Animator, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

In the past, a new art phenomenon would percolate slowly into the collecting scene, sometimes only emerging long after the artist was deceased. Now, artistic renown can begin at the tip of someone’s finger—as they double tap a picture on Instagram.

So what drives these waves of viral interest online? Imagine if you could try every food in the world on demand. Your tastes might become daring as you sought out new flavor combinations and textures. If a lot of your friends discovered a new delicious food, chances are you’d want in.

Collectors are becoming more adventurous

“Another habit of millennials driving art collection is that they’re not afraid to search on the internet and discover new things. They use non-traditional ways of discovering art and it's exciting to find an artist no one has heard about it.” - Thad Mighell, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

The internet offers a limitless buffet for tech-savvy art enthusiasts. Collector’s today have access to more artistic content than any prior generation, and in an effort to try something new and discover a fresh artist or trend, they’re willing to push boundaries.

Thanks to the combination of an adventurous spirit in young collectors and an unprecedented, endlessly scrollable, stream of art—unheard of trends can emerge overnight.

Young collectors are pushing boundaries

“Maybe they don’t really like Picasso but really love this video game designer and have the capability to promote that artist. Their confidence is helping shift the idea of what art is” - Kristin Bueb, Culturehaus (young art patrons group), Denver Art Museum.

Collectors as tastemakers are increasingly expansive in what they consider collectible art. They’re validating new forms of art based on their personal interests instead of collecting within prescribed lines.

Art patrons are seeking the unusual

“Social media artists are thinking in really poppy images. Emojis, video games, and digital art is becoming an interesting thing that people are collecting. Young collectors are not so much interested in the more accessible stuff. I know a lot of people that want the weird. They seek out the edgy and the weird.” - Augusta Morrison, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

In a gallery, a collector lingers near art, but the same is not true for Instagram. Art that is unexpected and unusual is more likely to catch the content-saturated eye of collectors in the digital realm. The desire to capture the fleeting attention of an online audience shapes what kind of art is discovered and elevated by young collectors.

A personal touch still matters

“I think the fact that people are getting to know the person behind the artwork is one of the best reasons to collect something.” - Kristin Bueb, Culturehaus

Another way young artists and collectors break through the scroll cycle is by leveraging social media to form a deeper connection. Through social media, collectors can tour a studio they might not otherwise be able to visit. These behind-the-scenes glimpses into the artist’s world are a driving force behind engaging collectors.

Authenticity and experiencing the story behind art is a huge draw for today’s collectors. Many buy art because they want to support artists and foster a connection with the arts. Collectors and artists on these platforms are part of an extended network online.

An art community is being built through apps

“Certain people treat Instagram as a gallery. It’s a virtual extension of that community that they’re part of.” - Thad Mighell, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

Young collectors are not only expanding the boundaries of what is considered art, they’re changing what it means to be part of an arts community. On platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, they’re forming communities that share ideas, create trends, and shape the market. These forces are part of an exploratory and democratizing force in the art world, spearheaded by young collectors.

So, what can we learn from this tech and art intersection?

Don’t write off tech trends as the product of short-term millennial interest, destined to fade. These changes are more seismic and entrenched than passing fads. Many future artists and collectors of the 21st century will have cut their teeth online. Through tech, they discovered their passion for art, acquired their first piece, made their first sale, found a community, and created an entirely different world of art collecting.

21st-century collectors use non-traditional ways to explore the art world and discover new trends. Their other collecting needs are also being met by digital solutions. Instead of stacks of folders, they opt for cloud storage with Artwork Archive.

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