Years In Glitch: Procrastination As An Art Form
You don’t have to be an artist any more.
I stopped painting and drawing a long time ago. I cannot remember when I last picked up a paint brush and mixed oils. I think I used to be good.
Good enough, anyway. Good enough to have to ignore encouragement by others to pursue further it in some way.
Recently I have been having fun with composition and colour again though — through these throwaway “glitch” pieces.
They’re very simple to create, and don’t require much input beyond a digit, and being trigger-happy enough to have raw material to process.
I would like to explore this strange involvement in glitched, layered, obscured art I began creating — and a little bit of the why as well.
You don’t have to be good at art to make something that feels valid with these things, you just have to be good enough at knowing what you like.
These “glitches” are never going to be as wonderful as paining a Rothko, but then, why would you want to make a Rothko in the first place? It has been done. You can’t do abstract expressionism on a train anyway, or in a few moments before a meeting. I feel you might have to mean it more.
One of the reactions to my father’s death was to begin to take a lot of pictures. I think this is probably a cliché I put a great many patient people, who loved me very much, through. Sorry about that if you’re reading!
My weapon of choice for this was the terrible camera built into my phone at the time. It was 3 megapixels at best, but likely 1.3 megapixels.
It doesn’t take you long to learn to love the abstraction that come out of that kind of terrible piece of technology.
Later, at university, I snuck into the photo labs (it wasn’t my department, they weren’t my resources to use) and started developing medium format pictures taken in a box brownie camera. I found that you could mix images together during development, exposing the paper, swapping the film, covering and exposing again. It was obviously a bit kitsch — but also sometimes quite fun to break an image I’d taken of a place or person I love.
It is interesting how the original goal of recording everything as a direct action of losing something, mutated to being about breaking recordings of the things I love.
That degradation in image, that real glitch in a game, that rush of complete abstraction that is entirely from something 100% solid and real to you. It’s probably a bit of a perversion.
Pure abstract thought isn’t about the things of the world. It’s just a certain fetished form of wishthinking. Taking something you love and stretching it until it no longer fits within its original constraints (which might include agreed perception and reality) through ritualized reworking has a higher/more expensive to extract, intrinsic value.
I used that shitty (brilliant) camera phone to take pictures to help me remember although, of course, it was too late. Maybe I took them to never forget again. Or something.
Anyway, as I grow older and further away from the sources of my melancholy I find that remembering is the same as playing a tape over a million time, you start to break your memories. They go fuzzy, with crackle that starts as endearing, and soon become alarming as the real noise of loss.
There’s something satisfying about removing the craft from the creation of art. You can focus instead on the process of picking the good versions generated by machines, or select an abstract degree of degradation.
You’re part of the process, adding something in like “taste” or at very least “preference”. The addition of your time to the process makes it slightly more valuable.
Your value in the process is only that you’re giving your time to it. Because your time can always be quantified into cash, there is an economic value too.
So, when we procrastinate we’re always burning cash as much as we’re burning valuable minutes of our lives. But, then, maybe they’re not valuable at all.
This means there is a higher cost of creation and abstraction on either side — from the viewer who has to work harder to find meaning, interest, joy, etc — and from the “artist” who has to accept that there will be a number of failures (and failed, non-craft minutes) before achieving a pleasing work.
This is probably the grossest way to quantify art.
It’s possible you’re interested in making these kind of “glitch” pictures yourself. Here’s my fool-proof guide to making this junk.
How I make glitch art
- Take a picture, or several.
- Run it through a series of “glitch” apps, photo manipulation apps and the occasional twitter bot. These are on my phone, it’s not even a great phone.
- Choose the good first process information.
- Layer up, collage, throw together. Reapply stage 2 if you like.
- Repeat until something aesthetically interesting turns up
Really, it’s less of a skill and more of a meditative processing activity.
It usually happens somewhere boring: while the kettle is boiling in the work kitchen, while I’m running a bath, waiting for someone to do something or if I turn up a bit early and waiting in the car is the only appropriate thing.
It does feel like I’m getting better. And when I find a new shit photo filter/manipulation app for my phone, I get a bit excited. Usually the really naff ones are the ones which can abused to degrade the images the most.
I get better at it in the sense that I think some of these are actually good? — and it takes me less time to process through them.
The stuff that works best, in my opinion, is the stuff with clear relics in them from the original works. They’re the shapes and objects with some symbolism and meaning that you can react to when you run your eyes of them.
And you do, mostly, run your eyes over them and shrug. You can spend some time with them if you like, but I don’t expect much more than a shuffle of the shoulder and maybe hitting the share button.
Dynamic shapes sees to give better composition. These are often developed with the rougher and more distortion orientated apps.
The more abstract final works are those where I have worked with very natural base pictures — reeds, broken branches, grass, moss, texture. This is because I struggle with finding a way to give the mess of nature any form in the messy composition.
Part of the process is reducing a memory into a single picture. I could just take the best picture and stick it on instagram. But it doesn’t seem to carry the condensing aspect, or the abstraction (or corruption) of memory
That might be a bit flimsy. I’ll have to nail it down at some point. But we know we forget things, we know we stretch out the tape every time we replay it and we know that we create false memories all the time.
These are the degraded false memories that I have chosen to curate. I don’t think I’ve nailed it down, it’s still flimsy. Maybe that’s the point I’m making.
Sometimes I like the obvious patterns which lend themselves to abstraction. A carpet in the family home, some strange wallpaper or tiling. You can fold these to form new landscapes.
The important thing is to remember that this isn’t an artistic/craft process. You could probably run code to do what I do manually, and then simply pick your favourites at the end.
That’s why I like the Glitchbots.
These tiny robots who live on twitter can do image processing for you. It’s better than you doing it youself as it’s purposefully unintentional. Here’s a few I have used before.
Badpng is probably one of the best examples of a glitch-bot. It takes a picture in some other file format and sends it through a broken png converter. The result, although intentional, is a series of glitches. Sometimes it’s pretty good.
I like lowpolybot especially. You can give it something like this:
and it will give you something like this back:
Then, you can use both together. Blending them. Because often you’re looking for individual items to “come through” on what might otherwise be a highly blended mess of colour and texture, the #edges that lowpolybot gives you allow you to provide focus and interest in a picture. Cheers robot!
Pixelsorter is also good fun. Here’s what happens when I put the above into Pixelsorter:
And I like it when they talk to each other. Which they do regularly.
I’d like it even better if they’d talk to each other with my images, but they seem to have been created to be non-abusive like that. Good code, bad for lazy processing.
Some of the bots talk to you when you RT them. Like @imgquilt, who gave me this:
Does this belong to me more than the others? Or does it belong to the bot more because I didn’t even supply the original image for it to work with.
Anyway, these processed images can get built into the layers of the glitchwork.
Here’s a few variations of the same image at different stages after passing through glitchbots, and a few edits of my own. Special thanks to @badquantizer for the text. That’s a new bot.
I’m saying this is all about bots, but it’s not really. It’s about code not working as human being expects.
When it comes to code not doing what you’d expect, we can look at game glitches. Often these aren’t quite as artistic, but they can be interesting! Games are such unwieldy things made by so many people with such variety in control inputs that there’s going to be an untested case where a game becomes broken. Especially now that developers expect to patch a game in the first week.
This is a really exciting idea as it shows the lack of agency huge companies like Nintendo, Ubisoft or Capcom have. With play-testing and QA so much part of the system, you’d expect to avoid most glitches in games, and yet, many games can be broken if forced in just the right way.
Is a glitch simply when a process goes wrong, but doesn’t break down entirely? The roots suggest so.
The entomology of “glitch” is unclear — but seems to be related to the computer science of 1960s America: an the unepexted surge of power in a system.
Another theory seems to take it to Yiddish — to slip is “glitshn”, in German “gleiten” is glide and it doesn't take much to slide from one to the other. I have also seen a glitch referenced as a “momentary jiggle” in a system.
A glitch is a short-lived fault in a system. It is often used to describe a transient fault that corrects itself, and is therefore difficult to troubleshoot. The term is particularly common in the computing and electronicsics
That’s what we’re looking for — a momentary jiggle.
So here’s some momentary jiggles I have thrown together over the last year or so. Yes it’s about a craftless creation, and also about a degradation of memory, but also spending some time with that memory before it fade away without effort.
I’d love to do a gallery show of these, or something. What could we do with that? Project them very large? Make you put on a warm helmet which projects this stuff right into your retinas? Maybe just postcards or something. I don’t know if we’d manage to get past the shrug.
Generally, I think these might be a bit useless for helping me remember a place, or a time or a feeling. But I think it helps me think about a place or time while I am creating. I know I am going to forget everything anyway, but at least I made some fun pictures on the way — and thought well about it while I did.
Let me know if you like these at all. Or if you’d like to use them for a project. I can probably find higher quality versions, if you like. All I would need in return is a link to my twitter and my name written out in full.
And this is probably the end. If you like you could sign up for my newsletter, called “Etch To Their Own” in which I discover and discuss rituals, systems and process with cool people, or — failing that — just anyone who will talk to me.
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Peace, negotiated daily. Sharpening teeth. A ritual tool, to write a poem. A long way home, and home sinks day by day…tinyletter.com
I may come back to this in the future an flesh it out a little. I am sure there are better things for me to say on the subject, so maybe I’ll just delete all the words?