Is it art or is it spam?

So we had a lovely hangout for CT101 this week.

(I am at the limit of what media I can add here and I am not used to that. I pay for the media pack on my blog and never run out of space to gif there. So just links here from now on)

We had many technical issues but Prof. Michael drew on his tech support past and we managed to overcome them all. I have not watched it again yet, but wanted to write this post now to note some key insights I had as we talked. It was such a rich conversation, I want to go back and review it again soon.

For now, what stuck?

  • Bebo saying we must connect to something we love deeply to find inspiration. All the more meaningful coming from a young person who is starting out as an artist and seems determined to hang on the joy of creating.
  • Prof Ryan talking about how we have preconceptions about what art is that are unexamined. Such as who counts as an artist. Leonardo and Michelangelo may be, but modern artists? Meh.  Ryan explored this to show us how limited our conception of what is an artist can be. I suddenly realised that what stops me from saying I am an artist is precisely this same preconception. An artist belongs in the Uffizi not on Tumblr. Change that belief now!
  • Michael saying that when he started out the people whose judgement he feared the most were those who were close to him. I had not consciously thought about this before. Yet, I reflect that only recently I started to say ‘I make digital art as a hobby, so I made you this’. I only ever thought about sharing what I make with my close friends and family weeks ago. It suddenly occurred to me I can save a heap of money on presents making art for friends 🙂
  • Stefanie tried so hard to join us and it was so lovely when she did. I have known her for most of my DS106 life. She has been a great guide to me, challenging me in the most kind and caring way to call myself an artist. She said that now I had spent an hour talking about what art is, I had not escape but to call myself an artist!
  • Stefanie also said that artists do not just create for fun but that they have a drive to create. They have to make art. I was reminded about what I always say about writing books: “I pray I will not get another idea. Writing books is hard, but once i get the idea I must write the book.”
  • So far I have only talked about the meaningful asides. The core of the conversation was to explore how we get over our fears to show our work. I requested this topic because I realised that one of the things that stops me from calling myself an artist is my fear that people with say ‘I hate it’.
  • Ryan ( Zen master like) said that all this talk about evaluation and emotional attachment to outcome was just the ego talking. Yeap. True that.
  • I went down this route because of a task Ryan had set for me to learn. Publish a post of art I love and art I hate. I realised that in doing this I would have to go public on my emotional responses to art. This was at the edge of my comfort. What if I lost all my friends when I told them I hate Constable for example?
  • I reflected that engaging with the idea of being an artist is a powerful was of developing one’s emotional intelligence.
  • Defining myself at the identity level as an artist, the way I say ‘I am a psychologist’ or ‘I am a writer’ means profound personal change. To me ‘I am an artist’ feels as risky as ‘I am a poet’. I confessed on the hangout that I have a lot writing that I label ‘ramblings’ but that others might call poetry and that I never publish that.
  • Since starting DS106 I have published some creative writing as a means to tell a story. This now feels pretty okay. Mostly, people value the way I put words together.
  • We talked about the process of liking on Tumblr and other platforms. I said that I do not attach a lot of value to this. On reflection this is not, strictly speaking, true. As a flip-side of fearing those I care about hating my work, I put a lot of value on a ‘like’ from people I respect. I am less concerned about accumulating quantities of likes from people I do not know.  I think it is true, as Michael says, that the process of curating art can teach us a lot about where our passion (our vocabulary) for making art lies. I had not considered this before I started playing with CT101.
  • Ryan suggested an another task: your favourites on Twitter contain a mine of information about constructs that matter to you emotionally and that can form a purposeful part of your inner ‘artistic mindscape’. Off looking there next.
  • We talked about John Johnston. A fellow DS106 traveller who also wonders if his work is that of an artist. Stefanie mentioned how he tends to focus on the technical aspects and minimise the artistic elements. We all went ‘his gifs are something else, man’. Definitely art and (Shhh…. he might hear :)) he is definitely an artist.
  • Ryan disagreed with me when I said that may be he could not understand our fears as he had always been supported as an artist. He told the story of going to art school and feeling a passion for Graffiti Art and how the powers that be in art school kept suggesting he might try a different type of art. He kept coming back to his love for graffiti art.
  • Is it art or is it spam? Could it be that, like so many things in our personal growth, it is what I believe it is?

I started calling what I learnt to make in DS106, artefacts. I too would have said it was the technical elements that appealed. I have never focussed too much on the story telling element of it. I got hooked on making animated gifs. Why? Who knows? I love animated gifs. Full Stop. I love them. Art or spam? They can be both. I have made some I am now proud to call art and have currently settled for ‘makes’ to describe what i do.

Animated gif by @gifadog. “Slaying our inner MOOC monsters” for the HEA conference 2014.











On another note, I keep telling myself I ‘should’ learn photography. I never get around to it. Don’t get me wrong I love photography. Yet, I never get around to taking photos. What do I find myself ‘having’ to do? Looking for photos others have taken and doing creative edits of them. I normally say that is just for fun. It is fun. But you know what? I feel passionate about salvage. Recycling digital content is another theme I notice runs through that space where I notice what I ‘deeply love’. As far back as the start of this year I was preoccupied with this thing I called ‘digital landfills‘. I risked disagreement from those whose views I respect stating my view that may be, just may be, we needed environmental awareness for the digital as well as the physical:

Sell-by dates for data? Digital Literacies that include a sense of guardianship for what we produce? Questioning our god-given right to keep hoarding content just because it is virtual? Let’s keep the ideas coming without changing the conversation to ‘But, we have the right to create!’ We do. Yet,  if we stop to reflect, we may also see unintended and unwanted consequences in our creating?

How aligned is that with my passion to look for existing stuff and remix it? Mind has ordering principles if only we listened more often.

Thank you guys for such an enlightening conversation, I will be pondering on all these nuggets for a long time and am definitely on my way to being an artist!


  1. Bebo says:

    Yeahhh… Great blog for me to look back and remind what I have learned from all of you. I love hangouts. Thank you all for sharing you experience. I really appreciate it.

  2. Hi Mariana – I have really enjoyed reading this post and now wish I had been able to join the Hangout.

    There is so much I could respond to in your post that I don’t quite know where to begin – but I’ll give it a go.

    I agree with Bebo that we must connect deeply to something to find inspiration, but I don’t think we necessarily have to love it. Hate, despair, grief, anxiety and so on can all be powerful sources of inspiration – anything that disturbs your usual way of thinking – which could be love, but may not be.

    I also completely agree with Prof Ryan that we have preconceptions about what art is. We only have to consider this week’s results of the Turner prize to see that. Personally I think everyone can be an artist and that art knows no boundaries. For me ‘teaching’ can be a very creative process, but how many people would call it an art. Diana Laurillard thinks it is a design science, not an art. I am sure it can be a design science, but I am also certain that it is an art. Chefs are artists, dancers are artists, authors are artists, gardeners are artists, home-makers are artists… I could go on. “According to Marcel Duchamp, the artist defines art, and it seems increasingly true that nowadays artists also define who and what they are. Definitions by nature are confining and restrictive, while art and its makers seek to be expansive and inclusive: It may be simpler to state what makes an artist a professional than what defines an artist.”

    I think an artist should try not to ‘fear’ judgement. This applies to anyone about anything and everything. Fear is stultifying and paralysing. I think we cannot be immune to the possible ‘hurt’ of judgement, but maybe that can be an inspiration for the creative process. It’s a question of ‘attitude’. Cerebrally I know this, but it is difficult to put in action and live by.

    And I agree with Stefanie that artists have to drive to create. Art, in all its forms is hard work – anything creative is a mixture of hard work and inspiration. We now have enough references to draw on, about the work of renowned artists, to know that this is so.

    I so agree with Ryan about the problem of ‘ego’. I know that artists as professionals have to ‘show’. They can’t make their living otherwise. But that is not why they do what they do. This week I went to see, at a local cinema in Ambleside, the Rembrandt Late Works exhibition live streamed from the National Gallery. Rembrandt over the course of his life painted a series of absolutely wonderful self-portraits. These were not commissioned. They were painted for himself. In doing them he was experimenting with colour, light, application of paint, form, figure and so on. In addition, Rembrandt defied convention in how he painted his portraits. He was fortunate that he had a spell when he was in favour and received commissions, but he also fell out of favour, just as Turner fell out of favour when the pre-Raphaelites started to exhibit. This doesn’t mean that his, or Turner’s work as an artist was less worthwhile, of less value, or that they could no longer call themselves artists. The word ‘artist’ is only a label. Does a label have to be applied? Not often – but perhaps on your passport.

    I am interested in the idea of ‘hating’ art. I would think that for an artist this would be as equal an achievement as someone ‘loving’ their art. At least the piece of work has evoked a response. The worst situation must be indifference. I don’t really understand why you would lose friends because you hate Constable. Art cannot be uniformly liked or disliked. I now know that if I came to London to see a Constable exhibition (which I wouldn’t, although I am really sorry that I won’t be able to get to London for the Anselm Kiefer exhibition), then I couldn’t invite you to join me, but it would take more than that to negate a friendship.

    Finally, I think my overall feeling in response to your post Mariana is that I don’t think art is helped by being too cerebral about it. For me the artists that I can really relate to work in an embodied way. They work not to be called artists, but because they simply can’t live any other way.

    And finally, finally – I envy your creative ability 🙂

  3. Nick Kearney says:

    Thought provoking post.
    While I can see the value of working out loud, the sense of risk involved in asserting (by publishing the work in progress) that I am a poet, is actually something I have found conditions the work. I tried to do something like this, started to blog about the writing process a few years ago, and soon found I was writing for the imagined, rather than writing out of myself. It became a performance, which is fine, perhaps, but that was not my intention. So I stopped. This post makes me think again. Thanks, Mariana.

  4. Ronald says:

    Read this just now (as part of TDC1625), 2 years after you wrote it.

    Meanwhile we’ve had our little conversations on “what’s art, what’s not art”.
    I use the following definition: “Art is something made by humans, which has the intention to trigger an emotion in other humans”.

    Kinda made this definition after a cousin of mine, an official artist/painter/conservator, said “art is about emotions” while wiping away the tears on her cheeks after watching a autorun PowerPoint-with-Music which I made for my dad and mum on their 50th wedding anniversary.

    Sometimes I make a drawing on my iPad of a photo of people I “know” on FaceBook for some time.
    I’m surprised how emotional (in positive sense) their reactions often are when I send them what I made.

    Does that make me an artist?
    … my thoughts … who the heck cares?

    It’s not about definitions nor about labels.
    It’s connecting on an emotional level to other humans what counts for me.
    I really don’t care whether I’m “an artist” or not, or whether what I make is “art” or not.
    I don’t have to pay my bread/butter/mortgage by selling my artifacts.

    As said earlier, if it produces 1 smile on a face, that’s enough already.

    • Mariana Funes says:

      Hi, Ron. You know I am always pursuing this question! It interests me.

      Is making a living from what you make what makes one an ‘artist’ in your view? It seems implied in what you say. The emotion element is in many definitions by experts in art appreciation, not really revealing anything new to me or helping me assess the quality of what I make. This matters to me and I am not able to say ‘who cares?’. I do care. I want to know quality to aspire to quality. Else, how do we improve? Just on the basis of how many ‘likes’ I get? Not wanting to join ‘The Circle’ 😉

      The reason I posted this for my daily today was more to do with the idea of ‘dead domains’ and digital landfills where good art, bad art, good domains and bad domains go to die. This matters to me too. I do not see an easy way to clean up after myself on the web and I think the clever tech heads weaving the web should make it a lot easier to clean up after ourselves. I see the issue of quality as mattering because it may help me know what I want to get rid of. Still, technically no easy way – I delete this post and the links to it die. I leave it here, the domain lapses and the ‘vultures’ the daily create talks about take it over…

      What fascinates me is that nobody seems to think this is an issue beyond archiving and link rot. It seems all that is left is to archive and preserve and look after everything you ever made on the web until…you die. And then what? Just as we look at the environment ‘out there’ and try to clean up our rubbish, why not have a habit of cleaning up digitally?

      So cool we can have a conversation across time (2 years on) on an site I no longer use – we are making live web art! That was kind of my point in posting it. Thanks for visiting and playing.

      • Ronald says:

        Hi Mariana,

        No, I didn’t mean to say that selling stuff makes you an artist. But not calling yourself an artist AND trying to sell art is kind of hard to do. People have to find you so you can sell your stuff to them.
        If you’re not living of selling it, like I do, it matter less (to me) whether they call me an artist or not.

        Digital cleaning up after me … I don’t care much either.
        I try not to post things that might embarras me or my family now or years after.
        What happens to it after I die … I don’t care much about that too. I won’t be there to be bothered about it any way.

        To me making creations goes deep into me being a human being. Making “art” intentionally is something very specific to humans IMHO. Even if there’s beautiful stuff in nature too, that’s not made with the same intention as art is being made.
        Well at least that’s what I think now. I’m by far not a scholar on this topic.

        Have to think of what to submit for today’s TDC still …

  5. Nick Kearney says:

    I am currently Lewis Hyde’s book “The Gift”. I haven’t finished it so I don’t really feel ready to comment, but it seems pertinent!
    Love this time travel!

  6. Thinking about cleaning up digitally has reminded me that a year or so ago, I cleaned up physically, i.e. I had a ‘purge’ on my house (which I have lived in for 30+ years) and literally threw out years worth of ‘stuff’. I also, at this time, took all my canvases from the attic (in my youth I did a lot of painting and exhibited) and took a Stanley knife to the lot. It felt extremely cathartic.

    There was a time when I almost called myself an artist, but then I realised that not only would I never be able to live up to my own aspirations for being an artist (i.e. I wouldn’t achieve the quality that Mariana writes about) but also that I didn’t particularly want to be. What I did want to be (and still want to be) is ‘creative’ at least to some degree. I now know that this can be expressed in so many ways. And I don’t think I will ever stop feeling the immense pleasure I get from appreciation of other people’s creativity – so I love visiting exhibitions, visiting beautiful gardens, film, music, literature and so on. I agree with Ron that the art I really appreciate evokes an emotional response in me, but when I am ‘creating’ myself, it is not to evoke an emotional response in others, but rather to satisfy some need that I am not able to articulate.

    And like you Mariana, I have wondered about cleaning up after me digitally. I have thought about leaving my children with a list of sites that they should delete after I die. Just like the purge on my house, I think there will need to be a purge on my online presence. My feeling is that anything important will remain in one way or another, but that others will decide this. And I think that this is probably what artists need to do too, i.e. let go.

    Hope all this isn’t too off track 🙂

    • Ronald says:

      Hi Jenny,

      I’m trying to evoke an emotional response in myself too, yet I like it very much if others “like” it too (e.g. by giving a like in FB or Google+).
      I like it even more if someone really likes what I made for him/her.
      Mostly that happens when I make a pen drawing of a photo of someone dear to them (e.g. child, wife, mother).
      I’m not specifically aiming for this effect, but I do like it when it happens and somebody says thank you to me.
      I do pick only photos that have an effect on me. I can’t say what it is in those photos what hits me, I guess it’s something “true” in the photo that comes through.
      E.g. I made this pen drawing using an old photo of the (beautiful) mother of a FB ‘friend’:
      Or this of a FB friend with his then lady friend, now wife:
      I made this one for myself of my dear old dad:

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