some thoughts from an ongoing conversation with fellow tumblr nealrya. (I apologize for my profound lack of skill with regards to written expression)
- ce n’est pas de l’art
TUMBLR is not about ART it is about IMAGE
Magritte’s point in ‘The Treachery of Images’ (above) is simple: the painting is not a pipe; it is an Image of a pipe. When it comes to Tumblr what we (the artists and curators alike) are posting by and large IS NOT ART, but rather IMAGES OF ART. This is an important distinction to be sure because, just as with Magritte’s painting the original maker (in his case, the maker of the pipe) becomes irrelevant and the one doing the presenting (in other words the Artist) and the one viewing (the audience) become the important figures (as they are the one’s now engaged in this visual conversation). The act of interest here is the Artist’s presentation of the pipe. Tumblr functions in the same way, replace the image of a pipe with an image of a work of art, a GIF or any other image culled from the ever increasing visual archive. (I’ve successfully resisted the temptation to bring in thoughts from Plato, Descartes and Baudrillard but they all have some relevance here)
- TUMBLR has democratized the act of expression through the presentation of images (notice I didn’t use the word Art there?)
Previously this act of presenting images WAS relegated solely to the visual artist, tumblr puts this power in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and allows them to use as their raw material the entire visual history of the human race— every image ever produced along with the added ability to produce and share new images by any means: from the more traditional art making endeavors to the act of appropriation and manipulation of other’s work that can be traced back to it’s art roots, DaDa or Duchamp. In addition to transferring the ability to express ones self through the presentation of image, TUMBLR further democratizes art in that my blurry, scribbled image of a random page from my sketchbook can be placed right next to an iconic work from art history with equal visual weight.
- I blame (or credit) ANDY WARHOL
Mr. Warhol postulated that “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” and later refined this thought to: “I’m bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is: In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.” Warhol then proceeded to make a career out of presenting the world with images, celebrities, world figures and objects from peoples daily lives— images that everyone was familiar with and had access to. Warhol was making work that was unapologetically exploiting of the commonplace and in celebration of the commercial. In his life time Warhol saw the value of his presentations/prints and paintings of 69¢ soup cans become exponentially more valuable than the objects they represented. Warhol watered and fertilized the seeds planted by Magritte and Duchamp creating the rise of the art-star. Warhol helped to further establish the value of the image (and by natural association the image-maker / artist) but he also cemented our desire for fame and our willingness to exploit the commonplace in celebration of the commercial. That last bit (exploitation of the common, celebration of the commercial) has become a staple of our viewing habits world wide with reality TV dominating the marketplace. Reality TV is the first place where all of Warhol’s ideas could come together: giving the average everyday man/woman on the street their 15 minutes of fame intercut with commercials and co-sponsored by a corporation. In this model we get to be the soup can. The networks don’t need to be, or want to be the star they are content to be associated with or connected to the reality show and the reality TV ‘star’ is willing to have their image used to sell goods in trade for the exposure.
- Images (including, but not limited to visual art) have become commodities
By definition a commodity is any marketable item that satisfies a need or a specific class of goods for which there is demand. Wheat is a commodity, and from the taste of a single grain of wheat alone it is impossible to tell who produced it— a Russian serf, a French peasant or an American Capitalist. So it has become with our relationship to images, to some degree the producer/artist, author is irrelevant and quite often indiscernible. Some distinctions need to be made however, when looking at image we can discern to a certain degree its quality, but the larger point being made here is that like wheat, image (including images of art) have become ingredients in a larger recipe or good/product. If this analogy is to hold up in the Tumblr-sphere, the logical next question becomes: If art (representations of art, or more broadly image) is an ingredient in a good that satisfies a need, what is the need? The Need is an old one, self expression. Re-tooled for the current generation the presentation of (other peoples) images (and art) has become a means of individual expression. Our TUMBLR pages function as a kind of clothing for our consciousness. With each TUMBLR we create we get to play dress up to a certain extent, indulging and parsing out individual facets of our personalities then wrapping them in the images that that we want to be associated with. In this new model we are all exercising our ability to express ourselves through the presentation of images and using it as a means of projecting our personalities into cyberspace. The thing that makes all of this possible is the relative easy access to a vast supply of ready made images. (Did you notice the intentional Duchamp allusion?)
- QUEUE the rise of the curator
In an environment where we are all empowered to express ourselves through images those who do this (image curation) the best, with the most consistency or with the most universal appeal rise to the top, and ultimately become the most sought after. The TUMBLR model highlights the CURATOR AS CREATOR and what they create is context. Through collection, presentation, association and juxtaposition, content creators create new relationships to and readings of a given image (including art). In this Model the individual image creator does not matter any more than the individual producer of wheat. We (the users of TUMBLR) are using the models we’ve been raised on: presenting the images that surround us exploiting the common place images that surround us (this now includes the entirety of art history as well as contemporary art) in order to realize our 15 minutes of fame, in order to fabricate the image we desire in a world where our thoughts and personality have the ability to exist independent of our physical being. We are the producers of sorts of our own reality TV-esque self presentation through association with these images.
- IS IT ALL WORTH IT? (I say yes)
The oxpecker and the rhino — TUMBLR as mutualistic relationship
The relationship between the oxpecker and the rhinoceros is a type of symbiosis, a close association between two organisms in which both of them benefit, called mutualism. The rhinoceros gets relief from of its ticks and the bird gets to eat. In addition, the oxpecker, having much better eyesight than the nearsighted rhinoceros, alerts its host with its shrill cries and flight when danger approaches.
From the individual content creator/ artist, to the average tumblr user/curator to the mega-curators and tag editors we all work for free to help perpetuate this largely image based system of self expression because we all benefit. The tag curators earn self exposure, validation and have the added satisfaction of being tastemakers and exerting a sphere of influence (and acquiring a skill set that has cache outside of the tumblr-sphere). The average user creates a means of maintaining and asserting her/his identity in an increasingly digital society and the content creators and artists gain exposure and benefit from the context created by the average user, mega-curator and tag editor alike by having their work seen alongside of other works that create opportunities for new readings or understandings. Not to mention the sub-culture and cyber-community building that is taking place all over TUMBLR. We all get something out of this exchange and are willing to ‘work’ for free because we value our piece in the system however large or small. Although I do think we’re more akin to the oxpecker than the rhino in this relationship.
- There ARE some sacrifices and costs to participating in this system
- As creators of content (be it photographs, GIFs, paintings, drawings, installations, music, etc) who share their work via this medium we must acknowledge that this system may benefit us but is not designed with our benefit in mind. This system may yield exposure to our work but that exposure will not necessarily be credited or readily connected back to us and we have to be okay with that to a certain degree. To use my earlier analogy the individual wheat producer is often anonymous, but you need wheat to make bread and bread is good.
- it is also necessary to acknowledge that TUMBLR is a media delivery system and like all other media delivery systems it is a commercial enterprise. And like other media delivery systems advertising does play a roll in the larger picture. We’ve come to accept that when we watch TV, read magazines, newspapers and websites that we will be presented with advertisements so in this regard TUMBLR is not any different. We now see sponsored Radar posts as well as the ability to advertise for ourselves (for a fee) with the new post highlighting options. (I like this model a lot, because it furthers the mutualism analogy: TUMBLR profits and we get increased exposure to our cultivated audiences) We must also acknowledge that there are larger forces at work here too— we are evolving visual communication and quantifying its results. TUMBLR has become a rich field of research and data that can all be mined and potentially sold off to advertisers as happened recently with twitter
Art is still very much intertwined with all things TUMBLR, In many ways Art on TUMBLR is being used to gentrify the web the way it has previously been used to gentrify neighborhoods. see: the village, SOHO, Chelsea, Williamsburg etc…
for the record, Tumblr IS being used in many more (interesting) ways than I have mentioned here…
thanks for taking the time to read this