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A Review of the Book Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics by Michael Betancourt

Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics by Michael Betancourt

Image from the book Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics, Michael Betancourt, The Gunz (1996), a databent JPEG image. Copyright © 1996 by Michael Betancourt / courtesy Artists’ Rights Society

The intersection of technology and creativity has given birth to a myriad of expressive forms. One such genre is Glitch art.

Glitch art is the practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes by either corrupting data or physically manipulating the devices that store and read them.

And at the forefront of theorizing on the genre and its intricacies stands Michael Betancourt. Betancourt is a critical theorist, film theorist, art & film historian, animator and practitioner of visual music.

In one his newer texts, Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics, Betancourt distills more than thirty years of research into using, making, and engaging glitches in, and as, art, and pens down his exploration of this fascinating medium.

Betancourt structures his case into 7 sections (including an Introduction and a Conclusions bit) with each section containing between 4 to 13 subsections.

As with much of his other writings, Betancourt, over the course of a sprawling 185+ pages, lays down ideas from reasoning and theoretical deduction and attempts to answer the question: what do glitches reveal about the normally invisible processes behind our interpretations?

What’s interesting about the author’s method is his constant bringing in of references and examples to illustrate his points from places normally “outside” of the general discussion of art.

For example, included in the section called Intentionality and Poeisis, is a reference to a conversation in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. The author uses this conversation to illustrate the dynamics of the relationship between author and reader — artist and viewer — dictated intent and accepted effect, in art.

And in doing so he is thus not only refereeing to the “art making-art-art enjoying” (or art production - art consumption) process, but, in effect, talks to theory and practical ideas in a number of areas including behavioral psychology, economics, government and indeed the nature of (hu)man and society.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

The author's theoretical framework is comprehensive, providing readers with a robust understanding of the tendencies of glitch art and in many ways provides a way of putting them into context for the student of art and art history.

One of the strengths of Betancourt's work lies in his exploration of the philosophical implications of glitch art. He examines how the imperfections and anomalies in digital systems challenge conventional notions of perfection and order as relates to individuals, but more so, in human contexts.

It is this, what I view as philosophical, inquiry that in many ways elevates glitch art beyond mere visual experimentation.

And in doing so, the author positions it as a critique of the turbulent world we have now come to inhabit.

The book is not merely a theoretical text but also contains visual illustrations of art by various artists, with Betancourt incorporating numerous examples of glitch art throughout its pages. The inclusion of these images enhance the reader's understanding of the concepts discussed, allowing for a broader experience. Betancourt's selection of artworks is also diverse, showcasing the breadth of glitch art and its adaptability across different mediums and styles.

While Betancourt explicitly states that this text is not about human agency, intensions, and the like in the art making process, it nevertheless looks at the glitch art form from a number of similar perspectives.

This wholistic approach (for lack of a better word) is what gives this book its uniqueness and makes it a text that demands attention especially from those interested, not only, in glitch art but also art, in general.

I say this because, in-effect, it puts into context the rapid developing and ever-evolving technological AND creative worlds we are now a part of. To that end this text is valuable to enthusiasts, students, professional practitioners as well as academics interested in the subject of visual communication, visual arts, graphic design and basic visual literacy.

That said, with a Gunning Fog readability index score averaging between 18 and 24 (as with many a research paper, (and this post as well)), each page in the book stands resolute in reminding the reader that it is an academic work.

And that’s where I see warrant for criticism; being a culmination of decades of research and practice by the author, much of the material and views put forth are incredibly valuable, and are in the least thought provoking. Plainly speaking, many more people who are, or even maybe, interested in the arts today deserve to read and know about the ideas laid out in this book.

In conclusion, Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics stands as a compelling and essential contribution to the field of art scholarship.

Through its meticulous exploration of the genre's history, technical aspects, philosophical implications, and cultural significance, the book offers readers a comprehensive understanding of glitch art's multifaceted nature.


Book on Glitch Art called Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics by Michael Betancourt

About the author of Glitch Theory: Art and Semiotics

Michael Betancourt is a contemporary Cuban-American critical theorist, moviemaker, and research artist known for his pioneering work in the fields of Digital Capitalism, Motion Graphics, and Glitch Art. He explores the intersection of technology, culture, and aesthetics in a diverse practice unified by consistent concerns for the poetic potential of images made by errors—both physical and virtual eruptions that are commonly ignored and rejected. Betancourt is also a prolific writer and scholar, with numerous articles and books exploring the history of digital technology, cultural studies, and media art that have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish. His critical writing challenges the limits of the digital medium and offers fresh perspectives on our world and our place within it. His movies, visual art, and critical writing reflect his unwavering dedication to exploring complex ideas and emotions.


All images in this poast are used with permission from the artist/author.


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