Investigating the Psychology of the Glitch Aesthetic and Looking at how the “Error” has Become Most Desirable
Fragments of Loss, 2022, digital image by Culturehacker
Imagine a world where, as you are reading these words, you are a child once again and your mind is flooded with wonder and awe. And free of the feelings of compulsion or being tethered to any need, you ask yourself the question: what is failure?
Now, failure, especially when actively engaged with, can be caused by many things — faults, glitches, mistakes, errors, etc. etc., but the spirit of the question being the same, it wouldn’t take long to arrive at an idea that is inherently associated with a desired outcome, A.k.a. desire — human desire.
In other words, errors that cause failure are errors only in the context to a desired outcome; remove the desired outcome or, better still, change it or forget what it is while on the path to meeting it and your definition of what a failure is changes altogether.
Kodak Moment, 2013, sample animation, the actress is Mae Murray, and the source film is a Kodachrome test from 1922. Animated example of what a glitched video can look like by Michael Betancourt
So, what is it that can cause the shifting of desire, especially in the context of aesthetics? (since we are dealing with art)
I would propose that it is our inherent ability as human beings to perceive and be moved by beauty.
The ability of the human eye (really the mind) to perceive patterns (whether they, in fact, exist or not) in the most unlikely of places, is what shifts the goalpost of desire.
Going a step further deeper, layer that with individual sensibilities, tastes, beliefs and perhaps even collectivistic tendencies like cultural values and the ebbing and flowing pressures of social “trends” and the “goalpost” can be nudged further still.
That is exactly what seems to be the case with the Glitch art and the error aesthetic.
The inter-webs define Glitch art as the practice of using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes by either corrupting digital data or physically manipulating electronic devices.
The term glitch itself is defined as a short-lived fault in a system, such as a transient fault that corrects itself, sometimes making it difficult to troubleshoot. Originating particularly in computing and electronic circles, in circuit bending, as well as among players of video games, it refers to slight, temporary problems that cause unintended or undesired manipulations in output.
Today the term is colloquially synonymous with other words like errors, defects, mistakes, bugs etc.
And more generally, all types of systems including human organizations and nature experience ‘glitches’.
Daala Rainbow Vomit Tiger: Picture of a white tiger with a heavy encoding glitch that is being used in place of a logo for the Daala video coding format — Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
The glitch aesthetic, as is popularly accepted today, came to prominence in the late seventies in movies and music videos made in the west and has only recently exploded into a full-blown artistic style over the last few decades manifesting in new forms of art that almost totally depend on technology to exist in the form of digital art, generative art, AI art, net art and the like.
But here’s my argument: the origin, popularity AND social acceptance of the glitch aesthetic isn’t really constrained to technological circles. And it isn’t really new. In fact, one could propose that it is at least a century-and-a-half old and began way before the advent of the electronic age. My argument is that, not only from the standpoint of artist but also from the standpoint of the media/art-consuming-public, the acceptance and popularity of the glitch aesthetic really runs parallel to collective changes in society and global shifts in science, technology, industrialization, modernisation, democracy, conflict and perhaps even war, over the last 100 - 200 odd years.
Let’s look at this in the historical context.
Conceptually every work of art (or object, or idea for that matter) exists in a triadic relationship, and holds in its own existence two viewpoints: that of the creator (artist) and another of the viewer.
From the point of the artist or creator, every mark made by a paint brush, pencil or other device is, in-fact, abstract.
Detail of the Portrait of the Eight-Year-Old Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress, 1659, by Diego Velázquez. Velasquez was probably one of the first artists who blatantly allowed his brushstrokes to be revealed in dabs, flecks and solitary squiggles while indicating accessories, fabric, hair and the like, instead of depicting reality more "realistically" as was the convention up-until then. Connoisseurs of art, saw (and see) this as masterful, expressive and an indication of virtuosity. But from the standpoint of the viewer, I can imagine more than just a few layfolk (speaking strictly in terms of artistic and creative inclinations, of course) who would have got a chance to view this section of the work up close branding it brash, brutish or perhaps even a mistake.
The whole painting artwork: Portrait of the eight-year-old Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress, 1659, 127 x 107 cm, oil on canvas, by Diego Velázquez.
For the majority of human history almost all cultures around the world developed their forms of art primarily to record and communicate through pictures — the need always being — to represent reality, and especially for the viewer.
Enter, what we in a modern-post-modern world call figurative art.
The idea that a realistic “image” can be made from a collection of abstract marks is something that prehistoric humans probably realized as soon as they started scraping marks into rock thousands of years ago.
Yet, the popular acceptance of these abstract marks as an end (vs. a means to an end), as “art”, is really a very recent one and came about much later.
A prehistoric painting of rhinoceroses in the Chauvet Cave, France, dated circa 35,000 BP. Note the use of (abstract) lines as the key element in this depiction. None of these lines exist in reality but how useful they are as a tool for the artist in their quest to recreate pictures for others to view and experience.
The need for (and very, very gradual social acceptance of) non-figurative artistic expression was really only spurred on by the development of the camera and the photographic process in the early 1800s AND within the context of a new world that, unbeknownst to the masses of the time, was beginning to be swept away by a “silent” tsunami of industrialization and modernization of life and of liberty.
It was during this time that the need for recording myth, life and capturing likeness was swiftly offset by the need to overtly seek expression of oneself — especially in the mind of the artist.
And this showed through the development of various art movements that started to take form — most notably with Impressionists in the 1860s.
An 1877 color photographic print on paper by Louis Ducos du Hauron, the foremost early French pioneer of color photography. The overlapping yellow, cyan and red subtractive color elements are apparent — visual distortions created by inaccuracies of the photographic process of the times.
It was the artist, especially the impressionists and post-impressionists, who began to first pursue motivations beyond figurative expression, including errors, if you will, in their depiction of reality.
Yet, this was a time when the academics and the public at large rejected this new art.
And social acceptance of the new art form took even longer.
Monet's Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, Claude Monet, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. — note the abstract brush marks, most prominent in the clouds. Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille — students of the academic artist, Charles Gleyre — discovered a shared interest in painting contemporary life rather than historical or mythological scenes. By painting en plein air and making bold use of the new, vivid synthetic pigments that had become available since industrialization, they began to develop a lighter and brighter manner of painting. But during the 1860s, the Salon jury routinely rejected their works in favor of works by artists faithful to the approved style.
Fast forward to the first part of the 1900s and post the initial waves of the industrial revolution and abstraction by itself was beginning to not only be used by more and more artists but was being gradually accepted as art by the general populations of the west.
Primordial Chaos, No. 16, Hilma af Klint, 1906-07. Klint, a Swedish artist began painting in abstract forms as early as 1900s. Her paintings are considered among the first abstract works known in Western art history
In many ways, early abstract art soon developed into futurism and cubism. Can these not be called early predecessors of Glitch art as we know it today?? — and not in the sense of process but more in outcome, and all while playing an important role in laying the groundwork for mass acceptance of the error aesthetic.
Head of a Woman, Pablo Picasso, 1909–10, modeled on Fernande Olivier — Solely an example of cubist sculpture or also an early predecessor of the error aesthetic?
La guitare (Mandora, La Mandore), Georges Braque, 1909–10, oil on canvas, 71.1 x 55.9 cm, Tate Modern, London
And what is Cubism if not Analog Glitch? Is it not the deliberate insertion (and acceptance??) of the error, the mistake, the fault, the failure into that which could otherwise be seen as perfect. Why would an artist do that? And why would a viewer find any solace, or satisfaction or pleasure in viewing such a work?
This is the end of Part 1. In the next part we'll look at postmodern developments in technology, art and social trends that eventually got us to a place where error-based aesthetics are now accepted as creative movements in themselves.
Footnotes and References
Fragments of Loss, 2022, by Culturehacker
Culturehacker is an artist who works with code. Check out their upcoming shows of Where There’s Smoke & Blockchain Fairy Tales
The Kodak Moment by Michael Betancourt, source wikipedia
A pioneer of "Glitch Art," Betancourt has made visually seductive digital art that brings the visionary tradition into the present by glitching still and moving images since 1990. Read more about him:
Color photography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_photography
Book of the dead: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_Dead
Conservation and restoration of photographs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_and_restoration_of_photographs
Color photography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_photography#Storage
Cellulose acetate film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose_acetate_film
Glitch art: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glitch_art
All pictures are copyright of their resepctive owners