Man Bartlett

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My Beef with the Animated Gif


Animated Beef, 2010

Over the past year I’ve stayed mostly silent when it comes to critical writing. Some of this has been due to lack of time. Some of it to a hesitancy to speak critically of those who are or may be peers. Lastly, some of the most vocal folks are exhausting in their epic word counts! But I’ve been thinking a lot, and have decided that a) I want to write more and b.) I won’t stand by while those with more critically rigorous but divergent views and practices sculpt the terms by which we think of Art, Net Art, and especially the burgeoning field of Social Media Art.

The distinction between Net Art and Social Media Art is important, and will be outlined in a future post. Further, I do not identify as a Net Artist (or a Social Media Artist, for that matter). However they often occupy the same sentence in the conversation. My interest in this series is specific to my practice, but my practice is also driven by what I want the future to look like for art appreciators of all varieties.

By setting out to describe this future, I want to first pause to express my concerns with the present. Specifically, with animated GIF art. On the whole, it is depressingly vapid! Worse, its vapidity has been fetishized by those seeking to define and contextualize this next wave of Internet artists. Over the years I’ve seen thousands of animated gifs. I’ve spent countless minutes waiting for them to cycle through their frames so they can be experienced “appropriately.”

One recent example that comes to mind is the Unknown Pleasures meets Matrix-green animated gif that Paddy Johnson highlighted in her Year Of The Animated Gif post. Beyond occasionally witty one-liners, most of these images do nothing to push how we think. Rather they tend to engage in a sort of post-hipster language. They’re stylized, abstract, and, in my opinion, just plain weak images. Of the non-abstract variety exists an Internet kitsch aesthetic which tend to be ironic, cynical and intentionally crude. Both of these varieties remind me of an article I read in New York Magazine a few months back that described Hipsters as smart consumers but whose cultural contributions were few. Or sloppy, lazy, etc. I would put 95% of animated gifs in this category. Granted the culture is arguable larger/more important than the “product,” however, the product usually leaves me with much to be desired.

Needless to say this is not the type of work I want to make. While some of it is certainly entertaining, I am attempting to make work that is both accessible, challenging, subversive, and most importantly authentic.

I believe that the medium must serve the work, and that the work must have something to say, regardless of what medium that is (gif, oil paint, collage, etc). Aesthetics alone, however well stylized or unique, are never enough to carry a great work. A work that transcends its form. While I can’t speak to anyone else’s intentions I can say that I don’t want to spend my time framing images that offer limited cultural capital. I by no means claim that my work always transcends, rather it is an ideal that I am continually striving towards.

To be continued! 

Props to @VAJIAJIA for linking me to this post which in term led me to one of the more dynamic gifs I’ve seen.

Further Reading:
Tom Moody
Art & Education
Art Fag City 

@AmyLMuller pointed out this flaccid Koons balloon which I had seen the other day and forgotten about. Totally chuckled over that one.

Man Bartlettanimated gif