Art Criticism through Animated GIFs

CRIT ED(?) through Internet Memes (?)

The beginning of a proposal for a case of Practice-Based Reasearch

(to be presented as part of ARE 695a on 11.16.11)


memes–>genes for culture–>minimum units of cultural information–>nuggets of culture–> internet memes–>amplified nuggets of culture–>animated GIFs as (potential) internet memes

animated GIFs–>packets of information–>information tightly packed–>small sequential files–>packets that unpack themselves–>content as form(?)–>aesthetic information(?)

Master Narratives in Pop Culture (The Aesthetic Experience)


The Foucault, Galub, Galindo, Tripoli, Occupy Wall Street and Mexico’s (drug) war on drugs case.

The three last names brought into one single packet of information that unpacks itself.

What about the three situations? How to create a context and propagate the packet?

Tweets as linguistic Animated GIFs–>140 char limitation similar to frame rate:file size limitations–>small packet that can contain large amounts of information.

Other cases

These Ignited Estates #Libya #Mexico #US #Italy #Greece #Spain #Congo #Chile #Afghanistan #Iran #Everywhere #World
#Occupy urself. Ur #99Percent is still our #1Percent. #FirstWorld #ThirdWorld Bigger?
Do you look/smile like a #consumer? I LUV #OLPC but some questions can still be asked
Nothing intimidates me more than #feminism. I've nothing intelligent to add. #femiNAZism #machSEXism #apoloJUDGism
the passion of the pissCHRIST to #worship is to #deface #urine is #sterile, #blood is #fertile


  • do these constitute cases of practice-based art criticism?

  • could they be incorporated in the practice of critical education?

  • possible paths in search of answers

    • more theory on memes (internet & otherwise) as educational tools

    • more theory on cognitive aspects of animated GIF’s

    • implementation of social media in educational practices

    • integration into education within institutions

    • educational practices without institutions

  • possible frameworks

    • pedagogy (& theatre) of the oppressed (Friere & Boal)

    • rhizomatic theory (Deleuze & Guatari)

    • remix theory (Amerika & Lessig)

    • media & hacker theory (McLuhan, Wark & McKay)

    • meme theory (Blackmore & Stryker)

    • aestheticism (Gaut)

  • possible methods

    • practice based research

    • auto ethnography

    • fieldwork research (online communities)

    • action research (college art classes)

one final question:

can abstractions constitute research and education?


6 thoughts on “Art Criticism through Animated GIFs

  1. Shana’s response:

    Creation vs. Experience & Free Knowledge

    I found Leon’s presentation and discussion of the possibility of animated gif’s as a method of art criticism incredibly interesting. I think that this research has much potential for the field of art education, especially because it has the possibility to engage students in a method of responding to and understanding art within the context of the Internet. As Stryker (2011) notes, “a lot of younger people feel like they are living their lives online,” and, as an educator who constantly attempts to incorporate students lives, interests, and experiences into the classroom, I see this as an increasingly valuable opportunity.

    Within his presentation, Leon discussed the notion that viewing animated gifs might function as a form of art criticism. He argued that by merging contemporary artworks/artists and images based on or taken directly from global events, students would have the opportunity to see how the “world” and the “art world” come together and influence one another. While I think that there is great potential in teaching students how to “unpack” these gifs (and enticing them to do so), there is also much potential in asking them to create ones themselves. I believe that Amy’s question about creation of gifs vs. experience of viewing and unpacking gifs is an important one to consider.

    While I might argue that creation is just as valuable as viewing/unpacking, I find the space in which both of these occur an incredibly valuable one for contemporary art educators to consider. And I thank Leon for bringing it to my attention, because I can’t say that Twitter has even been a site through which I regarded as having educational value. I really like the idea of Twitter as a space in which conversations can exist, and for ideas to be perpetuated. Wark (2004) writes, “Hacker knowledge implies, in its practice, a politics of free information, free learning, the gift of the result in a peer-to-peer network.” I think that when used in the way Leon discussed, the exchange of animated gifs through sites like Twitter have the potential for connections to be made, and to expand the idea of free learning and information, which I find to be exciting.

    My final thoughts focus on my own ignorance. I have never heard of many of the sites that were discussed in Stryker’s article, and so, in order to “educate” myself, I visited some. When browsing, I found many explicit and sexually graphic images and content, which was fine. But I couldn’t help but wonder how to decipher these sites to uncover the possibilities that they hold. I had previously thought of myself as someone who was internet savvy in some sense, but now feel that I have much to learn, which is also fine, but where do I go from here? How do I learn how to visually read and unpack these sites so that I can use them in ways that pose the greatest benefit for me, and those whom I educate?

    I’m very interested in how this research progresses for you, Leon. I think that it has great possibilities, and can’t wait to learn from your experiences!

    1. 😀 Just wanted to let you know that I will address some of your questions/concerns as soon as I am done with class papers.

      1. Memes and More! Hi Leon; I’m attaching my reply to Shana’s here as I’ve unsuccessfully figured out where to put an original reply. Bj Bergstrom

        Not considering myself much of a computer wizard, I appreciate presentations such as Leon’s and their pop/visual culture relevance. Especially, in this case, where we had the opportunity to learn, in depth, about memes. This topic was novel for me. Though not new in their purpose of transmitting information, memes seem to have come to life in our contemporary Internet age. That said, however, I appreciate the literature Leon shared addressing how abundant memes are in our world already though fads, music, fashion, art, religions, and more. Again, this presentation was particularly informational regarding the study and concept of imitative memetics. (Admittedly, I have not heard about LOLCATS or Antoine Dodson; and now, I’m very curious about the “Encyclopedia Dramatica”.)

        Brainstorming possible memes that I’ve participated with, I think of my days as a middle and high school student in the 70’s and 80’s. As tokens of a crush to a cute boy or the promise of undying devotion to friendship with a classmate, we exchanged cassette tapes with reel-to-reel mixes of thematic lyrical messages to each other. How funny; today, the idea makes me chuckle. Indeed, this was a unique use for and representation of specific ephemera that assists the sing-along that my former classmates and I (still in those continued, undying, devoted friendships) now enjoy in our 40’s.

        This experience of reading about “shared nuggets of cultural currency” and seeing Leon’s art, I find myself more open than ever regarding communication via blogging. I am anxious to check out Boing boing, Waxy, and Laughing Squid with my new perspective and understanding how “internet ephemera” has achieved popularity via word of mouth.

        Just this weekend at The University of Arizona bookstore, I came across a picture book about Maru, a Japanese cat. Now so famous as to be the subject of a picture book, Maru’s internet YouTube videos endear and highlight his playful kitty antics. I, of course, first met Maru once having searched for kitten footage on YouTube. Yes, I admit it. Watching playful kittens cheers me up from time to time.

        I have to spend more time with Wark’s “A Hacker Manifesto”. Lofty in it’s wording, I know I’d gain more from the article after reading it a couple more times. What has peeked my curiosity at this point, however, is his ideas on education as slavery, transformation, and philosophers “claiming” knowledge as property.

        Leon’s presentation was a joy to listen to. His passion for the potential of communicating via animated gifs was energizing. I was struck by the sophisticated graphics of his artistry and their mysterious “comment” within blog-like conversations on-line. Frankly, I’ve never been much interested in participating in blogs; I’ve done so with a handful of my classes and often felt that the conversations are much more meaningful in person. That said, I believe that I would be more apt to pursue on-line conversations using visuals rather than text. I embrace the idea of interpreting visual responses, reaching to more imagery for feedback, and watching the degree of unique engagement for participants.

        I’ll close with sharing a project I was once a part of. Several years ago, I had a “conversation” using only imagery (or “visual vernacular”) via a postcard exchange. Jessica and I would respond to each other, on a single postcard sent through the U.S. mail, using only visuals taking into account texture, color, medium, etc. With no language or text as part of our “messages”, we had to mindfully observe and surmise the meaning of each detail within every exchange.

        I brought this idea up to Leon in our symposium. I think it’d be very interesting to blog visually. I want to know how other bloggers respond visually to Leon’s posts. Would such imagery add richness to the conversation? Or, perhaps just confuse an already impassioned discussion? Hmmm.

  2. The ideas that Leon presented to us through his assigned readings and subsequent presentation were extremely thought provoking in terms of introducing us to how prominent internet-based media and their context can potentially foster critical education and art criticism. The first idea that I would like to address corresponds to the interesting connections that I found between Leon’s two assigned articles. More specifically the connection that can be made between Wark’s explanation of Hacker knowledge as implying “a politics of free information, free learning,” that is “the gift of a result in a peer-to-peer network,” and Stryker’s exploration of memes as being widespread sources for sharing ideas and situating them in the currency of our culture (Wark, p.70; Stryker, 2004). What I find interesting is the seemingly contradictory relationship that a meme might have to the idea of hacker knowledge because of the fact that many memes (as discussed in the Stryker article) come from a somewhat ‘dumbed-down,’ instantaneous, entertainment driven place, in which critical knowledge is often not the intention and thus often not the outcome. That is not to say that I do not think animated GIFFs or other meme forms can function in such a way as to create critical discourse, but there seems to be an established expectation and thus interaction that occurs with such media.
    Based on this I come to the next idea that I want to explore and that relates to the importance of context in this case. While it seems relevant to ask students to create such GIFFs in order to criticize larger ideologies (connected to art criticism or otherwise) I think it is equally important to discuss the significance of context. A great deal could be gained by students if conversations pertaining to context were to be a part of the creative process. More specifically, it seems pertinent to understand how posting GIFFs on twitter sites/facebook sites/blogs, which can be marked to a particular world event, social cause, or socially invested on-line conversation, is much different than merely posting the GIFF to these same sites casually. The distinctively defined contexts would (I assume) reach an audience that is at least somewhat interested in socially invested causes and critical analysis of current events. Having students recognize and explore the ways in which art functions on the internet would have invaluable affects on their education and their use of GIFFs in such a context. Context also seems important to the viewer in the sense that the somewhat quick-to-change, abstract nature of the GIFFs as a visual representation of an idea could be clarified based on the associated on-line conversation.
    Lastly, as I mentioned in class and as was mentioned in the Stryker article, I am excited about the research proposed out of my own experience and perception about twitter, facebook, youtube sites, which is honestly somewhat cynical. I think it is important to have students utilize such socially driven sites as a place to engage larger social and political ideals…empowering them to move beyond the ‘surface’ exchanges that dominate the interactions on such sites.

    1. 😀 Just wanted to let you know that I will address some of your questions/concerns as soon as I am done with class papers. Thanks for posting your response!

  3. Dear León
    Your presentation in ARE 695A was outstanding. Your website is wonderful. I look forward to seeing how your research unfolds. Best wishes, Lynn Beudert

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