Qu’est-ce Que Art?

This week, we attempt to answer the eternal question: what is art? Also in this edition, the rhetorical query: why do I insist on writing in French when I never learned how to speak it?

The Mind the Gap prompt: “Are animated GIFs the stuff of junior highschool hijinks or, are they the political cartoons of the new millenium? What do you think?” (Let’s choose to disregard the fact that The Daily Post misspelled millennium, shall we? Tsk tsk.)

Once again, there is a poll attached to the prompt, and once again, I do not strictly agree with any of the options:

I chose the first answer because it was the closest, but it seems as if “political cartoons” is haphazardly wedged into the “Art or Not?” bucket. Hell, “Are political cartoons art?” could very well be its own contentious poll. My point is, there is more to the category of art than political cartoons. That said, the third answer could apply as well. When most people think of GIFs, they probably think of a short loop of FAIL, a smiley face waggling its tongue or something equally ridiculous. However, there’s more to GIFs than run of the mill cat videos.

So, what is an animated GIF? It stands for Graphic Interchange Format. It’s one of the oldest file formats, created in 1987. It has been around longer than the internet, but it is the perfect format for it since it supports animation. Those ancient internet logos of spinning globes and shooting stars that you remember from the days of yore? Those are all animated GIFs.

As with most mediums, there’s a trial and error period where a lot of nonsense is created. As the medium is refined over the course of time, it elevates itself, or more often than not, it dies out altogether. The animated GIF is at an interesting point right now. It has moved through trial and error into the beginnings of an artform. There are artists out there who are making some amazing creations with movement. There’s even a new name for one variety: the cinemagraph, which combines still photography with movement. A cinemagraph, at its core, is still an animated GIF, in the same way that a paint by numbers is the same as a Rembrandt. They use the same medium, but that’s where the similarity ends.

As far as I can tell, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg were the first to use this technique. At least, theirs were the first I saw and they are still some of the best I’ve seen.

Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg annstreetstudio.com.

Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg annstreetstudio.com.

But, as with any new thing, everyone has to try it. A lot of cinemagraphs are ripped right from films, which makes sense since film is perfect for the format. This particularly creepy one was stolen from Kubrick’s The Shining:

Image from iwdrm

My favorites are the ones where the movement is so subtle that you have to really look to see it…

Image from deviantart

…Or where there should be lots of movement, as with people, but there is hardly any.

Image from Gizmodo.

Another of my favorite photography techniques that you’ll find just making its way into GIF format is Tilt Shift. It’s a style of photography that makes everything looks like it’s from a model instead of the real world.

By Gee Willi. Image from andreainspired.

There are artists who are branching out from still photography and creating moving artworks, sometimes intended to convey a social or cultural message. These still use the exact same format, that of GIF, as the base:

‘CARGO Hyperbole 1’ by James Jirat. Image from Juxtapoz.

‘Salvador Tunnel’, Salvador, Brazil, by David Copithorne. Image from designbloom

‘The Wall’ by Kennard Phillipps.

So, if you ask me whether animated GIFs are art, I say, emphatically, yes. If you ask me whether they are the new political cartoons, I might answer in the affirmative depending on the GIF. I don’t expect GIFs to replace the political cartoon anytime soon. The animated GIF has been around for decades, but only now, is it reaching its apex. Only now is it showing what it’s truly capable of. It is proving to all of us that it has a lot to say and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

There are 26 comments

  1. Purnimodo

    Oooh these are a wonderful collection. When I think of animated gif I always had the pony sparkling moving glitter vomit in mind. Didn’t know they could be this artistic. Thanks for sharing!


      1. Kanerva

        It’s an interesting topic. I think GIFs are here to stay, although I’d prefer to see them as an art form and leave the commentary to be less subtle. Time will tell just exactly how they will evolve…


  2. Rotten Ray

    For all the work that is involved in creating GIFs, it makes more sense to use a short video loop. Both video loops and GIFs have one problem. Each iteration becomes more boring and eventually nauseating and after too many cycles will make me vomit. If the GIF/video loop is an ad, I may not want to buy the product. At least with a video loop, it is easier to stretch out the loop so it becomes boring more slowly. GIFs rerun too quickly and annoyingly. The GIFs you displayed are better than many, but they quickly becoming tiring to view and any point they are intended to make are lost.


    1. goldfish

      That is a valid point. In the era of the short attention span precipitated by the internet, staring at a GIF for a few seconds might be all it takes. The people who create these GIFs probably are aware of the short shelf life. Perhaps that’s a social critique in and of itself.


  3. Melanie

    I remembered your graphic design post when I saw this prompt. I’m glad you took advantage of it. What a great group of GIFs. I came across Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg a few months ago, but never went back to find any other examples. Thanks for doing the work for me. :)


  4. marymtf

    If I can just add about Sean Hillen’s Lauren Baccall smoking. Baccall nursed Humphrey Bogart through lung cancer. It weould not have been a pleasant experience. I suspect that if she ever smoked and many people did back then, she would have quit soon after. I don’t care for that image myself.


  5. rafaellezen

    Thanks for teaching me what a GIF really is, I chose immediatly “no, it’s not art” because I have always had in mind that smiley whose jumping (which I like to use, but don’t consider as art) or that sparkling writing, it was really surprising and interesting to read your post and now, if I could, I’d change my answer !

    Thanks again !


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