Twitter, Vine and the World of Social Media Art

| March 12, 2013
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Occasionally I find myself defending Twitter from its detractors. I think a great deal of people still think of Twitter as just a place where P. Diddy and Ashton Kutcher post about mundane things like what they had for lunch, and it’s not. It’s also a place where non-celebrities post about what they had for lunch.

Seriously, though, Twitter—along with every other major social media website—has been host to weird, fascinating art and poetry for years. No matter how intrinsically banal a platform may seem, someone in this talented world manages to do something worthwhile with it.

I feel inclined to defend Twitter specifically because of people like John Moe, who I’ve written about here before, as well as Jon Hendren (@fart)—people who have mastered the 140-word joke form.

Others are worth following for what they retweet, such as internet archivist Katie Notopolous, and, if you want to be exposed to the depressing side of Twitter, the user @boring_as_heck, who catalogues pairings of tweets by ignorant conspiracy theorists. A Twitter account like that of @dril could be considered an extended Dadaist performance piece. Many other accounts use similarly absurd humor but frequently break character, often to hint at personal woes or to take stands on politics—a process I’d compare to that of a comedian riffing in front of an audience until he or she finds something funny.

What about Facebook? Isn’t that just where your friends’ moms write long screeds about the need for better gun control in this country, and where bad local bands invite you to come see them? No! It’s also where Princeton professor Jeff Nunokawa posts deep and sometimes moving meditations on literature. If you add him as a friend, you can get these notes on your feed, and he will also wish you a happy birthday on your birthday.

Instagram remains mostly a wasteland of brunches and cats, despite the fact that photography is definitely a legitimate art form and not just a hobby for dads and pretty girls. However, you guys, Ai Weiwei, an artist famous for being persecuted by the Chinese government, is now on Instagram at @aiww. The account is decidedly non-controversial—it’s mostly starkly beautiful images of people around him, his cats, and even the occasional selfie. His technical skill and his backstory are what make the images poignant.

You should also check out The New Yorker Instagram feed at @newyorkermag, where New Yorker photographers post images while on assignment—right now they’re documenting the 55thannual Rattlesnake Round-Up in Sweetwater, Texas.

Recently Twitter unveiled Vine, an app that allows users to post and share six-second looping videos. I’m interested in this app because it is one of the first social networking platforms (can I say “social networking platforms” enough times in this article to make people jump off the Golden Gate Bridge?) made expressly for the purpose of making art, (with the exception of Instagram, which is photography, and photography is totally art). Not only art, but an art form on which people spend years and millions of dollars: the movies!

It’s already been established that while Twitter great John Moe is only decent at Vine, actor James Urbaniak—who is only decent at coming up with funny jokes on Twitter—is an absolute champion on Vine. His six-second videos are short films with beginnings, middles, ends, special effects, and costumes:

Oscar Party ’76

Bowie at Home

Is art still best left to the pros, even when it’s free online or on an app? Twitter is telling me no, but Vine is telling me yes. Who else is great that I’ve left out?

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About the Author ()

Nate Waggoner's writing has appeared on SFWeekly.com, thefanzine.com, and in Sparkle & Blink. He has read at KQED’s New Kids on the Block Litcrawl event, Quiet Lightning, Bang Out, 851, and Write Club SF. He and his ex-girlfriend host a podcast called “Invitation to Love,” which is available on iTunes. He is the author of a comic book called "A Lifetime of Free Haircuts." He is an MFA candidate in Fiction at San Francisco State University.

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