I have a new Tumblr. It’s about my process and my influences. So: comics, illustration, film, books, writing, and making art. If you like the sorts of things I make, or the sorts of things I used to share on Drawn, you might like it. It’s called The Department of Research and Development.
I think that’s what artists do when we collect and share links and images. We’re attempting to map a particular world, and a culture, and a set of values that we see our own efforts belonging to. It’s a way to say, “these are my people.” It’s another reason why providing context and sources to the things we share is so important: I want my culture—my people—to thrive.
My dashboard is filled with reblogs of hipster food shots, screen captures of TV shows and soft porn, which is all fine, but I feel like I could be getting more value out of Tumblr if I followed more people who use tumblr like you do i. e. sharing stuff they find interesting and adding their thoughts. I hope it's not too much to ask if you could recommend some blogs that fit the description, if you know any? Thanks!
I would be delighted. Here is a by-no-means-complete list of Tumblrs I enjoy that are regularly updated and function the way you describe (I’ve left out great Tumblrs like SlaughterHouse 90210, Fresh Air, and The Paris Review, etc.):
Yeah, I split them in two years ago. My blog is about my work—it almost functions as a portfolio, with new art, events, etc. This tumblr is, as you said, a scrapbook of other people’s stuff. But it’s also a notebook, and a place where I go to form ideas and sort of research in public. For that reason, this Tumblr is probably more interesting than the blog. Funny how that works…
Artists often cling to control of their work and the context of its display, but to interact with Tumblr, they must give up that control. Art on Tumblr might get seen by many people, but 1,000 reblogs doesn’t mean anyone will be looking at your art next week, know that you made it, or be having a critical discussion. Given these reasons, it would make sense for artists to be wary of putting their work on Tumblr. But this isn’t always the case; a younger, more internet-savvy generation has embraced the web 2.0, feeling that the costs outweigh the benefits.
Delighted to see my friend Maris profiled in Brooklyn Magazine. Also wanted to call this out, because it’s something we’ve talked about before:
Kreizman has… worked “in the book industry for my entire career” but says that “it wasn’t until I started my blog that I felt like I was part of a real community (both on- and offline) of writers, editors, booksellers, critics, and readers.”
Slaughterhouse 9021 has long been one of my favorite tumblrs — I see what Maris does as a form of cartooning — the perfect paring of image and word, screenshot and quote together makes for a third thing. Oh, and it just passed 100,000 followers!
Artists don’t usually give satisfying answers to the question of how or why they do what they do, and maybe that’s for the best. Sometimes songs mean more to us when we don’t totally grasp the lyrics. Ocean is acutely aware of this. He knows that, as much as anything, he is selling an idea. “That’s why image is so important,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got to practice brevity when you do interviews like this. I could try to make myself likable to you so you could write a piece that keeps my image in good standing, because I’m still selling this, or I could just say, ‘My art speaks for itself.’ ” He practices brevity in most things. He curates and updates his image on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr deftly and consistently, but he never overshares. “As a writer, as a creator, I’m giving you my experiences,” he said in the GQ interview. “But just take what I give you. You ain’t got to pry beyond that.” To me, he said, “I don’t know if it’s a shield or whatever, but I want to deflect as much as I can onto my work.”
Ocean’s Tumblr is interesting — I love how he’ll post screenshots of his writing instead of actually posting the writing. (As I’ve said before, pictures of writing often spread around the internet faster than writing itself.)
I like this idea of using Tumblr as something more cryptic than outright confession or revelation. Michael Stipe on his:
It’s not confessional at all. I just like to tunnel. Initially the idea was to present a version of myself that might not be the person that people think they know. So it’s a little bit of a play on my being a public figure for as long as I have been…. It might be a bit of an introduction to the way I visually interpret the world. I work visually, and this is essentially an electronic scrapbook, that’s what tumblr’s good for. You know, it’s like a stamp collection, but everyone’s allowed to cull from each other’s collection.
It reminds me of the old Radiohead websites — they were really great at just giving you these little pieces, and you felt like a detective, trying to piece together some picture of what they were working on…
Maybe Robin Sloan said it best: “Work in public. Reveal nothing.”
Jonah Weiner in his piece on the “glorious GIF renaissance,” wrote that while animated GIFs might seem like nostalgic, throwback, internet junk food, “they perform distinct functions that other formats can’t.”
One thing the GIF does well is “the money shot,” or “the payoff,” or the “Did you see that?” moment:
There is an appealing economy to these GIFs. They get to the point instantaneously, and at the exact moment when one feels the impulse to rewind and watch the climax again, the loop restarts right where it should. In the two minutes it might take me to load a viral video and watch it in full, I can watch the money shots of 15 different viral videos. Yes, we’re talking about decadent levels of impatience, inanity, and time-wasting here, but GIFs allow us to waste less time online—or, rather, to waste it more efficiently.
Weiner also writes that GIFs are great at “reliving and exulting in shared experiences, where zero setup is needed because a familiarity with context is assumed on the part of viewers.”
Tufte pointed to this batch of amazing baseball pitches as a perfect use of the medium. (A baseball pitch also contains the two elements above that Weiner wrote about: “the money shot” and a “familiarity with context.”) It got me thinking about ways in which we could use animated GIFs as not just time-wasters, but as explanations or illuminations… (UPDATE:@adamgoucher sent me this fantastic post of animated GIFs showing the physics of World Series baseball swings.)
I was also reminded of this batch of James Brown dance moves where the .gif-maker sampled pieces of a youtube video, added annotations (“funky chicken,” and “The Boogaloo”), and put them into a photoset, providing a fabulous entertainment, yes, but also suddenly giving us a “Small multiples” information display that Tufte is so fond of:
Tufte has said over and over: “To make comparisons, it’s better to have information adjacent in space than stacked in time.” You can stretch this a bit and fit it to the internet, and certainly the Tumblr dashboard. (Witness this animated GIF of a Clayton Cubitt video getting almost 3x as many likes as the original.) Seems like for maximum effect, it’s often better to have information in space period.
GIFs are one of the oldest image formats used on the web. Throughout their history, they have served a huge variety of purposes, from functional to entertainment. Now, 25 years after the first GIF was created, they are experiencing an explosion of interest and innovation that is pushing them into the terrain of art. In this episode of Off Book, we chart their history, explore the hotbed of GIF creativity on Tumblr, and talk to two teams of GIF artists who are evolving the form into powerful new visual experiences.