Something has changed at ArtStack. Over the holidays, I noticed an uptick of users on the art social network, described by many as “Pinterest for artists.” People “stack” art in much the same way as they might “pin it,” which is to say they add, caption, categorize and reblog images. When I asked artist and ArtStack user Jennifer Chan why a lot of her friends had joined recently, her answer was simple: thanks to the break, “they had the time to hang out.”
That seems straightforward enough, but it doesn’t explain why people are sticking around, especially as the site has some problems. As artist and new user Gizelle Zatonyl pointed out, ArtStack isn’t a very good social network. “Comments are on the artwork information-pages and it discourages users from leaving much more than trivia about the work or artist,” she complained over email. “There isn't a private messaging system or way of communication other than comments. I find this very frustrating; sometimes I just wanna thank someone for uploading something.”
But could these social shortcomings actually have a positive effect? “The detachment aspect does seem to keep it more about the work,” Zatonyl added, noting that the service seems to attract her friends who are most actively seeking art. This proclivity "doesn't convince anyone to look at art, but it does make it easier,” she told me. Lorna Mills, a Toronto-based artist and longtime blogger, concurred. “I can see a lot of artists finding it to be another tool for promo, and why not,” she told me. “Early on in our own blog, Sally [McKay] and I were posting collections of other artists' work, past and present, so it was a chance for me to revive those in another online venue.”
The idea that the site is “more about the work” seems to appeal to the ArtStack community. “Users tend to actually add the default information suggested when filling out upload forms: titles, years, galleries, exhibitions, etc.,” Zatonyl told me, adding, “I love that it groups all artworks by the same artist under the same tag or page; the catalogues keep growing and can be much more efficient than going to the site of whoever represents the artist or Google images. It's surprisingly reliable in this sense.”
These qualities are very appealing to artists and other professionals, so it was not surprising to hear Chan say she initially joined to compare the site to Tumblr as a place to share art, and then noticed a lot of curators and gallerists used the site. In response to the countless “Picassos and Judds in the feed” she started uploading the emerging and mid-career work of her friends. “This is why I’m using it,” she told me. “Hopefully to turn the tables on [what] institutional people think is good taste and contemporary.”
Of the site’s more high-profile names, ArtStack recommends following Phillips de Pury, Serpentine Gallery, and White Cube among others, though none of them appear to be “stackers” themselves. Grazine Subelyte, an ArtStack user and curatorial assistant at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, has more than 17,000 followers, as does Rachel Ropeik, a museum educator at the Brooklyn Museum. As an outsider, I found it difficult to determine the level of their activity, though; the site never notes the date the image was stacked, though it does offer the names of “early stackers.” Neither user stacked much this past week.
This problem, though, won't matter much to most users, relative to the number of redundant images one sees if the people you follow stack the same thing. “I wish there was an image mute option for work I’m sick of seeing or absolutely loathe,” Mills told me, then added, “The real, REAL downside is too much fucking Magritte.”