Working in social media is a pretty awesome job. As the Blanton’s Digital Communications Coordinator, it’s my responsibility to oversee all of our online social media profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and more. In August, we decided to go out on a limb and become one of the first museums to join Snapchat, a popular mobile app where users send pictures and video to each other. But there’s a catch—the image disappears after a set amount of time (at most, 10 seconds).
Why Snapchat? As an image-based network, the fit between Snapchat and art history seemed natural. Buzzfeed listicles with titles like “29 Art History Snapchats That Will Give You Life” had already attracted thousands of views, demonstrating the popularity of this content in spaces beyond just the art world. However, unlike other social networks, Snapchat doesn’t offer a profile page where you can see all the content a user has created. This may seem to undermine all the hard work put into carefully writing tweets, designing images, and coming up with content that I post on our other profiles, but there is a draw: 77% of college students use Snapchat at least once a day. As an art museum on the University of Texas at Austin campus, what if we were able to reach students where they already are—on their phones? Here was my chance, as a proud UT art history major, to prove wrong all those who saw museums as stuffy or boring!
Keeping in mind the idea that many images shared on Snapchat were tongue-in-cheek, and drawing off the art history snaps that had proven so popular on Buzzfeed, I roamed the Blanton’s galleries trying to think of funny or slightly raunchy captions I could add to images of our permanent collection. Drawing on my knowledge of all things meme and tumblr-related, I stood in front of various paintings, trying to figure out how to best explain them in 21st century terms.
Nicolas de Largillière’s Portrait of a Man immediately stood out as the main character in the LMFAO song I’m Sexy and I Know It, while Francesco Guarino da Solofra’s depiction of five female saints became a Mean Girls reference. Bartholomaeus Spranger’s Saint Margaret was afflicted with a troubling phenomenon that many modern women can relate to—resting bitch face—and a portrait of a gentleman in In the Company of Cats and Dogs bore a striking resemblance to Eugene Levy in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Part of the appeal of Snapchat is that it allows museums to poke fun at themselves. Humor is often a less intimidating gateway into more serious subjects, and writing Snapchat captions helps demonstrate that something created 100, 200, or even 300 years ago can still be relevant in today’s world. I’ve received snaps from people all over the world, often in other languages, who are able to interact with the Blanton’s collection and discover an art museum in Texas that they had probably never heard of before. Twitter user (and museum professional) Lindsey Marolt summed it up perfectly:
I hadn't heard of @blantonmuseum a year ago, but between tumblr and their snaps, it's at the top of my to-visit list if I'm ever in Austin
— Lindsey Marolt (@lindseymmarolt) August 22, 2014
For more Blanton snaps, check out the photos below! If you’re a Snapchat enthusiast, make sure to add us: blantonmuseum.
Alie Cline is the Digital Communications Coordinator at the Blanton and holds BAs in Art History and English from the University of Texas at Austin. You can find her online as the voice behind all the Blanton’s social media profiles, or on Twitter at @aliecline.