For many artists, the digital sphere has been a necessary tool in reaching larger audiences and sidestepping possible gatekeeping from institutions. Instagram, with its emphasis on all things visual, has been particularly helpful.
Since the 2018 rollout of a feature that allows users to share other peoples’ posts in their Instagram stories, profiles on the social media platform have become reminiscent of the blogs on LiveJournal or Tumblr, with personal posts placed between music suggestions and images meant to boost an imagined aesthetic. Queued after videos from, say, a hike or a meal, you may catch the work of an unknown artist your old friend or little cousin admires — and find that, after visiting the artist’s profile, you admire them, too.
ALL ARTS has always been a platform meant to bolster the work of artists through a supportive community that transcends genre, and the ALL ARTS Instagram is no different. Every week, we feature posts from creators in the digital space on our Instagram stories. And now, with the aim to foster our arts community, we’re talking with a new artist every week in our new series: Artists of Instagram.
Meet Taylor Yingshi Wang (@yingshiart), a 17-year-old emerging 2D artist based in Seattle, Washington. Though art wasn’t totally accepted as a “safe” career path in the “strict” Chinese community she was raised in, Wang committed to an art career when she fully realized her passion for it in high school. On track to major in art when she attends college, she has already dived deep into the arts community through her Instagram page and “Student Art Spaces,” a nonprofit co-founded by Wang and Alice Mao in hopes to amplify the work and voices of young artists.
We spoke to Wang about her pieces, her inspirations and what art means to her.
What does art mean to you? How does it fit in your story?
Art is such a powerful tool when it comes to reclaiming your voice. As somebody who struggled with my sexuality and racial identity growing up, I learned to channel my feelings of shame into something beautiful through art. It’s no secret that art can be pivotal to good mental health, but I also think it can be transformative for people who are struggling to come to terms with their identity. With that being said, it can also be very expensive at times.
When I was 15, I recognized that I was in the position to elevate those who had less resources than me and break down financial barriers preventing young people from accessing museums and galleries. That’s when I teamed up with a fellow Asian American to found Student Art Spaces, a nonprofit organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of under-heard, young artists. With no resources and no adults to assist us, we built the initiative from the ground up. From two teens working out of a Starbucks to a global movement of volunteers with 10 chapters, we’ve come so far, and I’m endlessly proud of this initiative.
How would you describe the type of art that you create?
If I had to describe my art with one word, it would be “introspection.”
My art is an amalgamation of the experiences I have had as a queer Gen-Z Chinese American — feeling nervous about a first kiss, coming out to a friend at 3 a.m. over text, being terrified of the future. I want to use my art as a vessel to express the uncertainty of growing up as part of an interconnected, socially-conscious generation. Whether it’s a painting [about] the looming fear of climate change or a digital piece on the self-esteem issues that stem from Instagram, the art is my take on the story of this generation. As an artist working primarily in 2D, my favorite mediums are oil paint and Photoshop — perhaps a parallel to my fascination with the border between old and new.
How has social media and the digital sphere helped you with your art career?
Nowadays, artists can achieve international fame by simply sharing their work on Instagram and Twitter. Like any field, the digital sphere has helped me share my work and find commissioners in a much easier way, and I am grateful to live in a time when pursuing an art career is more accessible than ever.
I have found some of my biggest art inspirations through social media, but I have also experienced some intense jealousy as I find myself comparing my art with other artists on these platforms. I know I’m not the only one who feels a sense of inadequacy when I stalk profiles of artists who seem so much more productive and talented than me. For young creatives, the convenience and accessibility of social media is both a blessing and a curse. I think it’s important to recognize when social media has begun to cause more harm than good for you — no matter how many likes or reshares you get, your mental health matters above all.
How has the current global climate (and isolation) affected your art?
It’s given me more time to work on my art without feeling rushed. I’m usually juggling schoolwork, internships, jobs and painting in a delicate and stress-inducing balance, but now that the days have slowed down, I can work at a pace that feels normal. My heart goes out to all healthcare workers and essential employees during this crisis; I feel lucky to have the ability to stay at home.
I am worried about the future of the art industry — three of my galleries were canceled due to COVID-19 closures, and I know countless other artists had crucial events and job offers retracted. In a post-coronavirus world, everything we considered normal before is gone. There will be a new “normal” for us to adjust to, and the thought of this drastic change is mystifying.
How do you find inspiration?
I find much of my inspiration in everyday experiences. One of my favorite poems is “The Orange” by Wendy Cope, and it sums up how I feel about taking inspiration for art.
In our rapid-fire, hyperconnected world, learning to appreciate beauty in the mundane is a skill that is hard to learn but very rewarding. I’m the type of person who has trouble slowing down — I have to be moving my hands and hustling all the time or else I feel unfulfilled. However, this habit is unsustainable and it drains a person quickly. By forcing myself to take a break and simply appreciate what is around me, I have definitely found inspiration in the unassuming.
What other artists inspire you?
I feel inspired by other young artists breaking barriers in the art world. Ameya Okamoto and Sanna Legan are two huge inspirations of mine, and they are both digital-based protest artists whose work is heavily political-centered. Digital mediums are so powerful because they are accessible to anyone who can get their hands on a cheap tablet, or even a mobile drawing tool.
I love artists who incorporate distortion into their paintings as well — Will Yu, Adam Lupton and Jane Koluga, to name a few. Social media connected me with each of these artists, which goes to show how integral it can be to finding inspiration.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If you are a young person considering entering the arts, do not let anything stop you. Whether it’s cultural or financial barriers, the art world can feel like an elitist bubble at times. It’s so important to have those diverse narratives in museums and galleries. If you feel like you aren’t getting included in the conversation, start a new one!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Top Image: Courtesy of Courtesy Taylor Yingshi Wang