Sara Sheldon: Art Criticism is Dead and Instagram Did It

Instagram is a vast terrain of patterns in self-identified groups; one of the biggest countries being “The Poets of Instagram.” After spending almost four years here I’ve gained a lot of perspective on the art of writing and existing, almost exclusively, in a social media world. After digging through the dirt under shallow-planted flowers, I’ve found most of this terrain is a landfill. Outside of its pixelated square, the contents of these posts just seem to crumble to dust in our hands. It takes a little effort as plucking one flower to unveil the hollow façade over the whole land.

“I can only think about him/her” has gone from a teen’s away message on AIM to something regarded with the sacredness of literature. The most thought that goes into these posts seems to be picking out what image to pair it with; either a shadowed, sad-looking beautiful model, a glass of whiskey (to show professional writer credentials), or a picture of a sunset. Saying something about a girl’s wild heart (a go-to favorite of popular poets), and some authoritative voice about loving her isn’t much at face value.  But someone who is projecting something in a positive tone, even if it’s a misunderstood interpretation, doesn’t seem like something to shake your fist at. And if you try to you’ll be met with the usual rhetoric about supporting fellow artists, about how it isn’t your right or your job to knock someone else, about how everyone is “just out here trying to do their thing.” In short, you will be made into an asshole if you try to critique words that have been liked and shared by thousands, sometimes millions, of people.

Of the many things I could discuss around Instagram poetry, my point here is this: art criticism is dead and there are adverse consequences. People say anything can be art, and we as humans don’t have the right to confine what that is. I see this issue causing people to take great offense to doing anything but accepting peoples’ art at face value. We are no longer allowed to have in-depth discussions about meaning by objectively commenting.

If we aren’t allowed to critique how will there a conversation between art pieces and society so we can reach deeper meanings and learn? We completely forgo the idea of “something underneath” and reduce our understandings of the world and ourselves. Self-exploration isn’t possible without the concept of depth. If we can’t say this piece lacks depth, the conversation will end and the price of not hurting someone’s feelings might be erasing depth from art altogether and the shallowing of our minds continues.

Instagram writers, on a whole, reduce the art of poetry to empty-worded clichés, dismantling the altar of literature into commoners’ dumping ground for glorified tweets. The time-window for the good that could have come out of Instagram poetry has long been closed. The good could have been accessibility, taking poetry from the fancy-speak sonnets of Shakespeare to a real voice of modern times. Poetry is not supposed to be elitist, it’s not supposed to be for the upper class of literacy. But through the “anything is art” theory and our inability to judge and discuss works cause a reduction of the definition of poetry and what classifies as poetry. The everyday-ness of social media leaves no clear line where art starts as a departure from random occurrences, therefore, no deeper meaning can be derived from it.

So, what’s the endgame here? Is there any chance of being a writer of depth when the only way to get notoriety is to conform to meaningless, bite-size clichés? I believe it’s an uphill battle as the appreciation of and capacity to understand meaning diminishes, but I think we can start the conversation again. As tensions rise all around the world we will start to turn inward for answers and people eventually reach their limit for tolerating generalized bullshit perpetrated on social media. When we start to feel the emptiness still unfulfilled by empty words we will, once again, set out as people who express and explore themselves through art.

Sara Sheldon is a 25-year-old from Maine. She has one novel published, “Celeste and The Beyond”, and is currently working on the sequel. You can find her work and more information at and @saramichelle91 on Instagram

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