The concept of network painting is complicit in the economical quantification of increasing aspects of our lives, through its claim to materialise our social networks. This has a significant crossover with life more generally in the digital age when, as Chris Kraus says, ‘youth culture is seized and sold back to itself’1.

Artworks are now being made to satisfy an ‘Instagram aesthetic’, where the physical creating of a painting is ‘a kind of formal preparation for [online circulation]’2. This is a new reality for artists, who make work with the awareness that it will be mostly, perhaps exclusively, seen through a screen. Graw refers to Avery Singer as an artist who uses this to her advantage - her grisaille airbrush paintings look great online. Many of the painters whose work I admire - Jules de Balincourt, Alisa Nisenbaum, Drea Cofield, for example - have a certain decorative sensibility in their use of colour, and they, unlike Singer, use a lot of colour. I have no doubt that the ‘Instagram’ effect is part of this, but I also wonder whether embracing a loud, maximalist colour palette is part of the push-back against ‘Zombie Formalism’ and the perceived insincerity of minimalism. I know that this is where my own colour choices come from: a deep scepticism of the ideas of subtlety, taste and style and an alertness to them being used as subsitutes for meaning. During my studies in Glasgow I remember a professor encouraging us to read an article titled ‘Provisional Painting’ by Raphael Rubenstein. I read it, and was immediately against Rubenstein’s ideas. I felt that provisionalism was insincerity, which I knew wasn’t for me. That was one reason I wanted to get out of the UK: there, at least in art school, at least in my experience, sincerity is deeply uncool.

As well as affecting the aesthetic choices painters make, however, the overwhelmingly digital circulation of artwork makes concrete the economic potential of our social selves. I have seen peers of mine make a career out of having a large following on Instagram, where they showcase their artistic endeavours. Those who get the product right, get the tone right, and get lucky, are able to gain both financial and opportunity rewards for their popularity through selling work directly, having a broad network of contacts, and coming to the attention of people in positions of greater power. Therefore, the adoption of an ‘instagram aesthetic’ is not only a choice about how to interact with contemporary visual culture, it is an economic survival strategy in a time where we are all (not only artists) encouraged to run our lives as optimised one-person businesses. At art school, it was those with cultural capital who got a head start, and after art school it’s those with social capital.

Art is a market. Artists have attempted over the ages to escape the market, in order to avoid their work being governed by market forces. Art dictated by the market becomes decor or a locus for an ideology, whereas art outside the market is free. Happenings, the readymade, and conceptualism all promised an art form free from the corruption of money. I remember in my first year at art school in Glasgow reading Bourdieu’s Relational Aesthetics. We were told: this is the new way that artists escape the market. Relationships between people can’t be monetised and can’t be seen by the market, so this is where art can happen. Eventually, inevitably, the market would of course find a way to monetise our relationships.
1. Chris Kraus, Where Art Belongs, (Semiotext(e), LA: 2011), p122

2. Isabelle Graw, The Love of Painting, (Sternberg Press, Berlin: 2018), p332