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Jerry Saltz’s 78 Indispensable Instagram Accounts


Video: New York Magazine

This article originally appeared in Jerry Saltz’s Favorite Things, a new limited-run, subscriber-only newsletter in which our chief art critic writes about the cultural products that have shaped his perspective. To read the full series, click here to sign up for the newsletter.

When it comes to Instagram, I was a last adopter. I had heard of it but was too digitally primitive to understand what it was. I had been all about Facebook (where I have 99,628 followers) and Twitter (560,000). A student signed me up for Instagram in 2012, gave me a user name and a password, and said, “Here.”

One day, on Varick Street, across the street from the old offices of New York Magazine, I got a parking ticket. I took a picture and posted it with a complaining caption. I didn’t think about it for days. When I looked at it again, there were scores of comments. They were both hysterical and snippy, people making jokes and telling me what an idiot I was for getting the ticket.

That’s when I knew: I got this Instagram and I learned how to make it talk.

My whole life, I have disliked the model of art criticism as a pyramid. It has been a top-down practice of a few people speaking, often in language no one can understand. Instagram inverts that model. I don’t delude myself into thinking that Instagram is a venue for traditional art criticism. Rather, it is a hybrid of opinion, criticism, diary, humor, and a little trolling. Do I seek to call attention to myself? Sometimes yes. Other times no. I have my own idiot publishing empire that makes no money and is dependent on nothing but me posting.

I am not sure who does my posting. My Instagram self is like my second self, far more gregarious and out there than my “real” self. My life is beautiful but very limited. I see 25 to 30 art shows a week. Then I go home and worry about writing about them. Then I have to write. I do not go out, except for coffee with a pal or two; I do not go to dinners. I do not cross water for art fairs. Yet my Instagram self can “be” with others without leaving the house. And my Instagram self can say things my real self cannot because my Instagram self’s thoughts fly from my fingers without hesitation.

Usually, I wake up, make a big cup of coffee, and scroll Instagram for a half-hour or so. I enter the group mind. I get ideas, have opinions, stand corrected, get offended, get jealous, laugh. Then I get an idea. I post some pictures with what I call a “thumb essay” (it rhymes with dumb): a short caption tapped out in a state of strange delirium and rushed consciousness. I click post. I do this one or two more times. By then, my writing demons have been lulled. I make another cup of coffee and sit down to try to work.

I do not look at my Instagram again until that night — at which point I seem to travel around a whole world of collective consciousness as I read the comments on my posts. Sometimes commenters tear me a new one. This has made my Instagram audience my greatest teacher. Without this feedback, Instagram is nothing to me. I read every comment on every thread. I am a firm believer in being “ratioed” — I want the comments. They have given me some of my fullest hours.

I have been spanked for using Instagram so much. It is sure to be in the first lines of my obituary, “Instagram critic.” But Instagram changed my life. Every time I take a walk, I am stopped by strangers who feel a need to say hello or to talk about art. I love this.

The platform is changing. It is increasingly dominated by reels, short films that produce a dopamine rush that discourages reading, writing, or even thinking. I enjoy reels (I am even experimenting with one-minute videos of me running around an art show speaking as loud as I can into my iPhone), but reels are a form of sleepwalking. They are very different from the silent pictures with written captions.

I imagine Instagram will soon become antiquated and be as hard to access as MySpace. Instagram in the last hours of its golden age is a very specific form of communication and interior transport. I try to post every day. It is sometimes exhausting. But as an older art critic, it’s all I know how to do. I cannot write if writing is without you.

Give These Accounts a Follow


Jerry Saltz , 2024-05-09 14:00:19

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