The Grim Repost: How the Internet is Hurting Art

While social media has been a boon to visual artists, all too often their work is defaced, hijacked and plagiarised on it. The Galleon’s Anna Ryan explains.

Digital media helps artists promote their work instantly to a global audience, a luxury unavailable to the great masters of old. Countless Instagram accounts are dedicated to reposting art – amongst them @artist_features and @art_spotlight – earning its creators thousands, sometimes millions, of followers.

But for some creatives, the very mention of the word ‘repost’ is enough to make them shrink back into their studio, cradle a strong drink and beg the Muse to save them. Amber, known on Twitter as @RollyJogerJones, is irritated that her paintings and graphic designs have been reposted by people who ‘manipulated or edited my work and claimed it to be theirs.’

In this age of digital reproduction, the lines between homage, citation and sheer plagiarism are confusingly blurred. There is also an assumption amongst many social media users that they can do whatever they want with – or to – fan art based on popular book, TV and movie franchises such as Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter.

Dan Wolfe (aka @DoodleDojo) was concerned when one of his pictures was reposted after being modified using a filter technique. ‘It was flattering that they liked the design,’ he said, ‘but adjusting the colour was annoying. The colour scheme and design were based on a classic movie poster for Metropolis. I think the person posting just thought they were giving it more impact. But the colours are part of the design process and redoing them doesn’t show much respect for the work I have done.’

It can be even more frustrating for artists when the repost garners more followers than the original post. The work is being shown to swathes of new people, except none of them know who made it. When complimentary comments appear on the reposter’s account, he or she will often take the credit for the creation.

Some reposters will either crop out the watermark (which reveals who owns the copyright to the artefact) or cheekily add in their own. Others are at least gracious enough to state that they don’t know who made the art in the first place, although this doesn’t stop them enjoying all the traffic generated by the repost.

Sometimes there are huge profits to be made from stealing work in this way. In 2015, American artist Richard Prince found a photograph on Instagram, included it in a New York exhibition and then sold it for a cool US$90,000 (£64,900).

According to Amber, the irresponsible reposter doesn’t grasp the sheer amount of hard work artists put in. Her pictures ‘will take anywhere between 6-8 hours. If it’s coloured, 9-13 hours, though a portrait with more than one person tends to take a bit longer.’ Her longest piece took ‘likely 50 hours, give or take.’ Dan Wolfe has been developing his craft for 39 years. ‘I used to draw x-wing fighters … in my school exercise books, and get told off for it.’

Reposting is just one element of a much bigger predicament in our culture: the lack of respect for artists and their work. I wonder if we’d know who Van Gogh was today if Instagram had been around in his time.