Beauty and the Virtual Beast

Social media and the fascination with image is more prevalent than ever in today’s society, because of how much access we have to it and how much information is online for us to consume. We have access to the camera phone, proven to be “a revolution in visual culture that has turned us into a population of image addicts. We now take more photographs every minute than we made in the entire 19th Century and spend the average of six hours a day gazing into screens” – Age of the Image (2020), BBC4…

How contemporary artists use social media platforms as a tool in their practice

Everything we know and do has a digital presence in some way, and it feels like a ride that’s only going faster as the years progress. Social media, beauty and art have become a big part of my research as a contemporary artist since my honours year at University, and now during my Master’s at Edinburgh College of Art. Beauty and the influence of social media is a very interesting subject, and by looking at contemporary approaches, we are given an alternate reality to what beauty and the digital age means in the eyes of artists who push the boundaries of the everyday.

Cindy Sherman’s use of social media and alteration of images to twist the way we see her offers insight into the many ways images are changed when using the platform. Her documentary, Cindy Sherman #untitled (available on BBC iPlayer), follows her creative practice and how each persona she depicts in her images becomes real; even though they are all made up for the lens, they have a backstory which is fascinating to see. Her work now focuses on the alteration of image through apps and ways to edit herself into surreal surroundings with a similar effect, one of beauty – but beauty of a new realm. As a keen follower of Sherman’s Instagram account, I have noted that her work here has taken a more extra-terrestrial form by altering her body into something almost completely unrecognisable to that of her own. She completely rejects the platform’s beauty ideals by editing and misshaping herself, and there is something I find very thought provoking in an artist choosing to break away from the beauty element in her art and challenge it head on through Instagram.

Contemporary artists using modern methods to depict beauty by going online is fascinating to us as viewers, because we see the alternative step over to a reality we are familiar with online. With algorithms and accessible platforms for us to access and view and ‘like’, we are ultimately closer to the creatives we admire. Beauty and social media can be a vast realm of many options, but looking at artists that confront the pressures of beauty ideals and turn them into something which gives meaning and a new perspective – that will always be a place to view and learn from.


Rosalind Main, Visual Artwork Editor

Please go also see Rosalind’s latest contributions to the BODIES section for this months theme, ‘BEAUTY’: