Student-run art history profile gains national followingBy Ellen Johnson | 02/14/2018 11:09pm
Unlike most schools, Taylor Murray’s high school didn’t offer art classes – not even a humanities course. But a lack of art courses at Murray’s Wicksburg, Alabama high school didn’t deter him from pursuing his passion for art history. He focused his attention to schooling himself on art history facts for competing in academic trivia tournaments. Upon arriving at UA orientation before his freshman year, Murray discovered that he needed to add a minor to his advertising major. Art history immediately jumped out at him from the list.
“They said I had to pick a minor, so I looked through the list and I said, ‘Oh there’s art history, I’ve always loved art history,’ said Murray, now a senior. “So I made that my minor and eventually upped it to a double major. I became more and more interested.”
Art history is more than Murray’s major – it’s a dedicated and time-consuming hobby. Two years ago, on Feb. 8, 2016, to be exact, Murray decided to start an art history appreciation account on Instagram. A week later, he had 1,000 followers. A year later, he had 50,000 followers. Today, @arthistoryfeed has more than 85,000 followers, and Murray projects that it will reach 100,000 by June 12.
“I’d been wanting to find a way to sort of put my majors together, advertising and art history,” Murray said. “I thought social media would be a great way to do it. I could never find the right account that I liked for art. They weren’t consistent enough – they posted too much or too little – so I wanted to sort of make the account that I would want to follow.”
Not only is Art History Feed Murray’s ideal art account, but it’s also adored by art fans from all 50 states and 170 countries around the world. It reaches beyond art aficionados to famous faces, too: Actress Brie Larson, musician Florence Welch and actor Ben Savage are all Art History Feed followers, contributing to the overall count.
There are substantial art accounts that post in a feature model similar to Murray’s, but he never expected Art History Feed to expand in the way, and rate, that it did.
“It doesn’t surprise me, but it does,” Murray said. “I post consistently and it’s the greatest content in the world, like there’s nothing better than art so it deserves this kind of attention.”
Art fans in the UA community follow his account, too.
“Taylor’s account is consistent and highly focused on accuracy,” said Becky Teague, a graduate student in art history. “He is very responsive to questions on his feed no matter how many he has. If he doesn’t know the answer, he finds someone qualified who can provide it for him, so you can really tell the amount of effort and care he puts into his work with the account.”
Murray, who chooses paintings based on his general knowledge of art history garnered from class and a collection of art reference books, posts to the account three times a day, every day. He does so autonomously of any external talking heads or scheduling softwares.
The keys to managing his vast content wheelhouse are a rotating list of artists plus a log of every painting he’s ever posted, organized by artist. When Murray first started the account, the list contained about 40 artists. Now, the rotating list contains 38 days worth of content. He tries not to repeat artists too often, but sometimes, when presented with an artist like Johannes Vermeer, who only has about 38 paintings in existence, there are exclusions to the rule.
“Having that looping list ensures that I give fair treatment to the lesser known artists,” Murray said. “I put a lot of work into that list, making sure I represent different art movements, different time periods and then the big artists and the small artists together, because it can be really easy to fall into a pattern of you know, ‘I’m just gonna post Van Gogh this week.’ Having that list predestined makes sure you get a nice shuffle of content every day.”
Last summer, Murray interned at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, an off-kilter museum that organizes art in exhibits by color or subject matter, rather than by artist or time period. He combined his two majors for the internship, where he did graphic design. While art history will always be one of Murray’s hobbies, he hopes to work in the art landscape professionally, too.
"It will always be a hobby for fun, but I would love to work in the field one day,” Murray said.
Like any art enthusiast, Murray has his favorites. He has wide taste, he said, but has a special affinity for modern art like that of Mark Rothko and art from the 1960s color field and abstract expressionism movements. His favorite painting is “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt. The painting was looted by Nazis during World War II before being returned to its rightful owner.
“So [the painting] kind of had like a big story, but it’s also really beautiful art nouveau painting,” Murray said. “It was a really decorative time period, lots of gold and interflowing lines. It’s a really beautiful painting.”
Has he ever posted the Klimt painting to Art History Feed?
“Of course I have,” he said.