Earlier this week, ARTnews reported that Instagram had convened a roundtable of artists and museum leaders as part of its ongoing efforts to receive feedback from its users. The main topic of conversation was the image-sharing platform’s policies about pictures featuring nudity, specifically when it comes to artworks. Many of the invited guests, among them artists Marilyn Minter, Micol Hebron, Joanne Leah, and Siddhant Talwar, had previously had their posts or accounts temporarily deleted or rendered almost unfindable.
The artists’ main point of contention is Instagram’s ban against female-perceived nipples in artworks. Currently, Instagram allows for nudity in painting and sculpture, but not photography, video, and documentation of performance art. Many of the artists also decried the app’s decision to assign a gender to imagery of people’s nipples without that person’s consent, which can be harmful to non-binary and gender non-conforming users. While Instagram did not announce any next steps, a spokesperson told ARTnews that the day’s proceedings felt like “the start of a conversation between us and the art community.” And Minter said she left feeling like the situation was “a work in progress.”
One artist who was invited to the roundtable, however, was unable to attend. The Instagram account of painter Betty Tompkins, who is best-known for her groundbreaking and controversial “Fuck Paintings” series, made between 1969 and 1974, was deleted in April after she posted the layout of an exhibition catalogue that included a black-and-white reproduction of one of her works showing heterosexual penetration. Though her account was later restored, Tompkins told ARTnews that she found the entire experience “extraordinarily stressful,” and she asked that a statement on Instagram’s nudity policy be read in her absence at this week’s meeting. Tompkins’s statement follows in full below.
I started posting my paintings and drawings on Instagram on October 22, 2015. In the four years since then, I have had over a dozen pieces removed with the community guidelines warning. My entire account was taken down over a catalog spread featuring text alongside a historically significant painting of mine that is in the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This account, minus that catalog page, was subsequently restored due to a tremendous outpouring of support for my work from the art community (critics, curators, artists, and dealers alike). Despite my account being restored and my posts clearly indicating the materials I use, pieces continue to be removed with no warning at all. They are just gone.
I am not the only one. I have heard from numerous artists who have suffered the same fate or feel they are about to lose their accounts. So clearly, Instagram has a problem and I think I know what it is. Instagram does NOT follow its own guidelines which are very clear: “Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.” There are no qualifiers here. They are “OK.” Period. By Instagram’s own subjective guidelines, none of my work should have been taken down. If an individual complains, why are they simply not blocked from following my account? If an algorithm is taking it down, why don’t I have the right to appeal this decision to a human being? As it is currently, the system is arbitrary and discouraging for any artist whose work is challenging or thought provoking.
Follow your own rules. Do it better.