What is Threads' potential as a new artistic space online?


There’s a new app on the block [what, again?] and we’re all watching anxiously to see whether it will have a lasting place in the social media landscape, or fade into the background just as quickly as it shot to popularity, like so many of its forebears [RIP Clubhouse]. Artists have been antagonised by social media for years, buffeted by the whims of ever-changing algorithms and feeling like it’s a game they can’t afford not to play, but will Threads be any different? 

Within its first five days, over 100 million users signed up to Threads, the latest release from tech giant Meta. For comparison, Twitter has over 450 million monthly active users and launched in 2006. Many people’s first question was whether Threads offers anything different to Twitter, and no one was questioning that more than Elon Musk, who has now threatened to sue. Head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri used his first Threads post to make what some are calling a passive aggressive comment about the state of Twitter––on which the use of slurs has reportedly soared since Musk’s acquisition of the site last year––stating that Threads was ‘looking to build an open, civil space for people to have conversations’. 

On its first full day since launching, Thursday 6 July, many brands and institutions dipped their toes with a tongue-in-cheek first post about the new platform. Channel 4 went with, ‘The best thing about Threads at the moment is that no one knows what’s going on and everyone is just panicking, so it feels like real life really’, retailer Lazyoaf opted for, ‘Not another one ????’, and the National Gallery took an opportunity to show off their collection with, ‘Me picking up the threads,’ accompanied by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting Anne, 2nd Countess of Albemarle [1759], who holds a ball of yarn … geddit? 

What is Threads' potential as a new artistic space online? | Verity Babbs | Darklight Digital
Anne, 2nd Countess of Albemarle, Sir Joshua Reynolds [1759]

Via a linked Instagram account, Threads allows people to post text [of up to 500 characters in comparison to Twitter’s 280], videos [of up to five minutes against Twitter’s two minutes 20 seconds], and images [which won’t get cropped]. Threads has been praised for its early-doors sense of community and good vibes, with art critic duo The White Pube posting:

I only really use this kind of shit to let people know when there’s a new thing on the website they can read. But it IS nice when there’s a dog on the schoolyard moment. People seem happy ??? We like dogs.

So far there is no sense that anyone is on Threads in order to go viral or ‘become big’ on the app, and there is a real authenticity to how people are expressing themselves in their posts.

So, what does this app offer to artists? The most common praise I’ve heard of the app so far is its ability to foster meaningful conversations between artists, institutions, and critics. Mosseri posted on his account about the difference between posting on Threads versus on Instagram, saying:

It’s less about text versus photos and videos and more about what public conversations you want to have. Do you want to engage in more of a back and forth, Threads makes sense. If not, great, probably Instagram …

Artists have been using Threads as an opportunity to get feedback in real-time. For example, the illustrator Tamara Alexander asked her followers, ‘Which pattern combo is your favourite?? I made this weeks ago and still can’t decide which to offer as print,’ accompanied by a carousel of five images which could be easily swiped through; already Threads’ sleek design does feel less clunky than the Instagram feed. Threads offers artists the opportunity to present unfinished work and behind-the-scenes images, rather than only presenting their best pieces to a highly curated Instagram portfolio. Users are also questioning whether Threads will have a more progressive policy around nudity in images than Instagram, which can be stifling for artists. Illustrator Bobbi Rae posted an illustration of a figure with exposed nipples, asking, ‘I don’t know who is in charge here, but is this allowed?’

What is Threads' potential as a new artistic space online? | Verity Babbs | Darklight Digital
Via Bobbi Rae

Threads has the potential to connect artists with industry professionals, and gives creatives the chance to share their authentic voice. When an image post is shared, the text appears above the picture, making it much more likely for viewers to read and engage with that caption. Artists have a new opportunity to express the thoughts behind their artwork. Artist [and Darklight alumna] Jess Cochrane posted, ‘This app surely will work better for artists because there’s space allowed for words and thoughts to accompany visuals. Do you agree?’ Posing a question for your followers seems to be a good tactic so far for encouraging engagement.

Threads allows users to automatically follow all accounts they follow on Instagram, meaning you’ll retain a curated feed and stay connected with Instagram contacts. Unfortunately, not all who thrive in the purely-visual arena of Instagram shine in the predominantly text-based world of Threads. Director Elijah Crawford posted within a day of the app launching that: ‘[The] issue I’m discovering with this all early on is: A lot of y’all definitely should’ve just stayed seen and not heard.’ Artists will need to harness their written skills in order to add value to their online presence. Industry professionals are using Threads to connect with artists, and expressing yourself and your practice with impactful will be necessary to make the most of this. Art critic Ruth Millington posted that her hopes for the app are that it will: ‘introduce me to new artists and illustrators, and enable me to start meaningful conversations with them’.

What is Threads' potential as a new artistic space online? | Verity Babbs | Darklight Digital
Via Elijah Crawford

Another nifty feature is that you can easily share a Threads post as an image to your Instagram feed or story, with the Threads branded background built in [long gone are the days of having to screenshot your tweets]. You can also signpost your Threads account through the automatically generated Threads user number which appears above your Instagram bio. Following April’s controversy when Musk made the coveted verified Blue Tick purchasable through the Twitter Blue system, this number may offer some users a similar sense of ‘belonging’ – an automatic signal of being technologically and culturally relevant and up-to-date. As artist Albert Gonzales points out: ‘People paying for blue check mark on Instagram [are] really getting their money’s worth now.’ 

There are many issues with Threads, which range from the mildly irritating to the deeply concerning. You’ll need to log-in and out again if you want to switch Threads accounts, and people have also complained about how many notifications the app will send [unless you manually change your settings]. There are serious accessibility issues, too, with no user-generated alt-text for images, no option to caption videos, and the app not yet being compatible with desktop. The most widely discussed issue is certainly Threads’ privacy policies and users’ fears about data-tracking. Co-founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey tweeted a screenshot of the Threads app’s entry on the App Store, which lists that the app may collect the following data from your device: Health & Fitness, Financial Info, Contact Info, User Content, Browsing History, Usage Data, Diagnostics, Purchases, Location, Contacts, Search History, Identifiers, Sensitive Info, and Other Data. Musk replied to Jack with a curt: ‘Yeah,’ of eye-rolling agreement, in a tweet which has been seen by more than a million users. Privacy concerns seem to be the reason why the app has not yet launched in the EU. The fact that you can only delete a Threads account by deleting your Instagram account, too, is yet another major downside. 

Without sustained effort to improve functionality and keep users interested, Threads runs the risk of becoming another neglected social media site where people post infrequently and out of a sense of obligation, rather than creating content specifically for the app. Artist Laurence M White posted: ‘To my art friends, are we now not using Twitter at all or is it a copy and paste ting?’ However, another possibility is that Threads eclipses both Instagram and Twitter, given that it has, hypothetically, absorbed what is best about both apps. Artist Jade Purple Brown posted,

Am I the only one who hasn’t been checking Instagram or Twitter as much? This app feels so much lighter and I enjoy Instagram with new like minded people who aren’t just self promoting 24/7’

What is Threads' potential as a new artistic space online? | Verity Babbs | Darklight Digital
Via Ed Balls. This is art [IYKYK]

This may be slightly alarming for creatives who have dedicated their time to curating their Instagram feed as an online portfolio, and fear that their impact within that digital network may now dwindle.

Ultimately, it is too early to tell what Threads’ impact for the creative industries will be. For now, it seems to be offering an opportunity for people to share thoughts and images which give depth to their Instagram identities [which previously was the rationale for the stories function]. If you curate your feed correctly you can create an art-focussed microcosm which isn’t corporate, like LinkedIn, but personal and collaborative. Keeping up with social media is a part of maintaining a personal brand online, and whether or not Threads is here to stay, it has certainly got us talking about what matters to us when posting online, where to find opportunities, and how to build better, longer-lasting communities.


Verity Babbs is an art writer and presenter, and hosts the art-themed comedy night ‘Art Laughs’. She graduated with a history of art degree from the University of Oxford and her work focuses on making art spaces and discussions around art more accessible. Follow her on Instagram [and on Threads!]

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