For some reason, there seems to be a separation between social media and art. Perhaps it’s the connotation that art is in some sense fine, something of both the classics and genius modern artists. Social media, despite its variance, is seen as something that can’t penetrate the realm of art, save for actual digital artists.
I can’t help but argue against that assumption. Well, now I argue against it, but a few months ago I agreed with it. But in taking a class in media forms, a rather interesting and hefty lecture involved social media as art, and how it reaches different audiences. There was so much to say about artistic involvement through social media as a form of unconventional means, and yet there is almost no academic research about it. When you look into it, social media is a form of affecting society on its own, and not through art. To make matters worse, almost all books on the subject are just self-helps on how to use social media wisely. Nothing on the discourse of social media and art.
Why is this the case? Maybe because social media isn’t quite taken seriously as an art form. For marketing, yes, for social movements, possibly. But art? No way.
I think that social media, when used correctly, can be both a bizarre and powerful medium for artwork and social commentary. And I think the most powerful example of that are memes, and the trend known as vapor wave.
How can memes possibly be art? Not conventionally. Modern art is all about the unconventional, challenging the status quo in order to point out the irony and hypocrisy of something going on. Although I heavily question a good portion of modern art and feel that modern artists in themselves are hypocritical/pretentious, I have to admit that there are ones that are insanely clever, particularly ones that are participatory (the audience can interact with the piece). This opens the space for memes to come in.
Memes, despite their apparent stupidity, are participatory forms of art in their essence. They’re images that are edited, via text post or some other form, to whatever the editor dictates. This in turn can cause more people to edit these images, creating a vast network of repetition, solidifying the original image (or figure, artwork, anything really), as a meme. And memes dwell in the world of social media, shared with and by thousands of people. Meme trends are created, and ultimately are archived for anyone who wants to find it.
Memes also, are often very political. They make fun of the current political climate, a particular figure (George Bush, Ted Cruz, etc.), or news that occur. They take the distasteful and turn it on its head for the sake of humor. Memes also can make fun of culture, society, and just about anything, which in itself is a form of art in how creative the variance can get. Memes, despite their ridiculousness, are just pieces of modern art, baby.
Now, what about vapor wave? What is vapor wave? Well, vapor wave was and is a phenomenon where images are layered in a way that appears like a pseudo-meme (the trend did have an origin in memes), attempting to be both aesthetically pleasing and humorous. Vapor wave takes much of its style from the Neo-Expressionist movement, which occurred from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. The Neo-Expressionist Movement attempted to be nonsensical but aesthetically pleasing through layer imaging, but rather than being humorous, it leans towards the more seriously critical. Vapor wave is almost just like that, except digital rather than physical, and funny rather than critical.
Social media is a powerful medium for the production and reproduction of participatory art, all of which goes under the radar of the connotation of “art”. People, without realizing it, are creating forms of art, which is not really considered art by “modern art” standards”, which I find to be an interesting paradox.