Aureta Thomollari and Jordan "Watts" Watson first met a few years ago at a mutual friend's party in Los Angeles. At the time, Watson, 36, was building a following with his Instagram account, @love.watts and Thomollari, 34, was doing the same with her personal, @aureta, which was an extension of a blog she started in 2009. They quickly bonded over their love of art, fashion, and design plus a strong hatred of selfies. Eventually, they decided to join forces and today control four separate Instagram accounts that now have a combined following of 1.6 million.
Watson describes his baby, @Love.watts as a "vast mixture of art in all forms; contemporary, low brow, modern, sculpture, photography, digital, performance, and a picture of myself every 100-300 posts." In 2015 they launched the lifestyle-focused account @watts.on, and this year they created @green.couch for interior design, architecture, and landscapes. In three short years, Watson and Thomollari have built and curated an art empire on social media, allowing them to circumnavigate the real life social politics of stuffy art institutions and fairs like Frieze. Here's how they did it.
Occupation: Aureta Thomollari: Global brand consultant and entrepreneur. Jordan Watson: Art consultant.
Define your Instagram aesthetic in three hashtags: Thomollari: #artistic #global #vibrant Watson: #colorful #dark #humorous
Greatest hits: Thomollari: Art videos seem to get the most traction. There's this particular one of a match and a paper melting into each other like two lovers kissing — it's very sweet and poetic. I think that received over 60k likes and 700k views! Watson: Pottery wheel videos. They are very satisfying to watch. And any painting by @granthaffner.
Maximum number of daily posts: Thomollari: I try to keep it between 3 to 6. Watson: At one time 30, but nowadays around 6.
Rules for what to never post: Thomollari: I like all of my posts to be on a straight plane, clearly shot, and look good next to the last picture posted. Totally OCD. Watson: I never post selfies. I never post blurry images. I never post the same artist back to back.
Social media pet peeve: Thomollari: Selfies, party pictures, ignorant comments. Watson: Comments like, "Ew," "My 3 year old can paint that,"and "That's not art."
What was your original mission with your accounts? How has it grown or changed? How have you turned this into a business? In other words, how do you make money, if at all? Thomollari: At the beginning, @aureta was my visual diary. There was no master plan. Over time, sharing my diary everyday became less inspiring to me, and that's when I started to share the works of others. What better thing to share with the world than what actually inspires you? The response that I got from artists and viewers was overwhelming and it made Instagram fun for me. Brands have realized how important an influencer's voice is and that's where the monetization has come into play. Watson: Originally I had no mission. I am a very private person, and in order to remain as such I started posting other peoples' images that resonated with me, instead of myself. Once my following started to take off — I would say somewhere around 10,000 followers — which was huge for me at the time, I started to think: "Hey, maybe I can monetize this somehow." I started taking on small art director gigs, which turned into larger art director gigs. I also established relationships with hundreds of artists internationally and with a huge following of collectors worldwide, so it was a no-brainer that the next step was to sell art. I don't consider myself an art dealer — that title always sounded cheesy to me — so I just say I'm an art consultant.
How has Instagram changed the art world? For better and for worse? Thomollari: I think it's done a great job at making art accessible for most. There is no longer the intimidation factor when confronted with a gallery space. And it's brought talent to all parts of the world. Now someone in Singapore or Uganda can easily access an artist from L.A. Watson: It's so uncomfortable for many people that walk into a gallery and see a $50,000 price tag on the wall to just walk around freely without feeling like they shouldn't be there because they could never afford such artwork. I feel like Instagram took this feeling away. Now you can lay back on your couch, pull your iPhone out, and not worry about anybody snobbing you or trying to sell you something. If you want to buy art nowadays, honestly all you have to really do is just DM the artist. And for the artist sometimes it takes years to get a gallery show; now they can just post some doodles and bam! You got your own solo show.
How has Instagram changed art itself? Thomollari: I hope that artists are not so concerned with everyone's comments and opinions. Art is subjective and an artist should only focus on what they do best. Watson: Some artists are now making art for likes as opposed to making art for themselves. Most art that I really, really love usually gets lower likes. I think this is bad for artists to do; just because it got 30,000 likes doesn't mean it would ever hang on my wall.
What advice do you have for emerging artists who are just starting their social media accounts? Thomollari: Treat your Instagram account like an art gallery. Place your art strategically within a good mixture of what would appear on your mood board. Watson: Depends on what their mission is. If the goal is to sell paintings, just post your artwork and maybe some process shots and some inspiration. Nothing too personal. No bombardment of selfies, dog walks, or random drunk nights. Keep it professional. Keep it clean. Make your feed read like a high-end art magazine.
What are the merits of fairs like Frieze? How can they adapt to the social media age while still maintaining their audience and “status?” Thomollari: Online fairs will soon become as or more important than the current, traditional fairs. The best way to adapt is to understand social media leaders and how they interact and connect with their audiences. They are dictating what's currently relevant and it connects to trends in society and culture at large. Watson: Fairs are whatever. They still cost money. Kids aren't paying 60 bucks to go view art. The real collectors aren't dealing with the crowds. That's why most people rely on @love.watts. It's a free art fair worldwide every day! A post on @love.watts is becoming just as important as a galleries booth at a fair.
How do you approach art fairs on your social media accounts? Thomollari: There is always a glut for the eyes at fairs and museums. Motion is key to understanding the layout and what the curator envisions for its audience, so I think Snapchat, for it's brevity and excitement, is a better medium for that. I look for artists that I've featured but also works that have me scramble for my phone — it's an innate feeling. Watson: I go mainly for Snapchat content. I look for art that I have seen on the internet but never in person. Luckily for me, when I want to view art I usually do studio visits directly with the artist. It's much more personal. I really enjoy connecting with the artists who are rarely at the fairs.
In the future, how will we consume art? Thomollari: Technology will break down the physical barriers of the gallery wall and create a dynamic, enmeshed, global artistic community. Actually, that's my goal. Watson: All mobile everything, VR gallery shows, Snapchat auctions, apps, apps, apps.
5 new favorite accounts to follow: Thomollari: @northsearanger, @templeofleaves, @jasoncampbellstudio, @markwhalen, @granthaffner Watson: @granthaffner, @devintroy, @markwhalen, @rollthis.passthat, @van_minnen.
Your secret to social media success? Thomollari: Stay true to your individuality and be consistent. Watson: Consistency, great taste, and confidence.
How do you unplug? Thomollari: On the plane when no one can reach me. Watson: Long dog walks with no mobile devices.
What would you be doing if Instagram didn’t exist? Thomollari: I went to business school so much of what I'm doing now: investing in and consulting different companies. Watson: Snapchatting.