Instagram is making it hard for classical art to continue to thrive, and here’s why

We used to think that classical art typically sold for WAY more than contemporary art at auctions, but apparently, this isn’t the case anymore. The New York Times reports that the demand for older, more traditional art has fallen greatly, with only 25 percent of overall auction sales from 2016 coming from pieces by artists born before 1875. What?! Crazy. They highlight a specific painting in particular called “Bathsheba” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, which recently sold for a third of what it sold for just 27 years ago. Bathsheba pulled in $2.2 million in 1990 and $631,000 this past week.

What’s contributing to this change in the art world? Possibly Instagram.

W Magazine explains:

“In recent years artists in their 20s like Lucien Smith and Oscar Murillo were grabbing headlines for their glamorous parties and skyrocketing prices. All this was part of a semi-manufactured bubble for young art that was very trendy and for some people profitable. In 2013, for example, prices for Murillo increased tenfold.”

W also suspects that living artists can create work which they know will catch like wildfire and spread across Instagram in a way that classical works do not.


In the New York Times, art adviser Wendy Goldsmith explains that the type of material buyers are interested in has also changed. “The issue is that this period is just not sexy anymore.”

While we think it’s a shame that classic art isn’t selling nearly as well as it once was, it makes sense. On places like Instagram, we’re inundated with images of young, trendy artists doing interesting things, although, of course, it’s often unclear whether what they’re doing is actually new and interesting or if it’s just packaged to us as such. And while new artists have an open, continuous online forum, our education of classical art mainly took place in AP art history or while backpacking through Europe.

We hope that more traditional art can find its way back into the spotlight soon. Because we can’t imagine a future where all art is just diving into a pool of sprinkles at the Museum of Ice Cream.

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