“Via” Culture on Tumblr: Forsaking the Creator for the Curator

The line separating novelty and innovation is a thin one. Whether Tumblr will leave an indelible mark on art remains to be seen. However, there is a trend that is unlikely to recede back into the digital pool of microblogging anytime soon: disappearing authorship.

The line separating novelty and innovation is a thin one.  Whether Tumblr will leave an indelible mark on art remains to be seen.  However, there is a trend that is unlikely to recede back into the digital pool of microblogging anytime soon: disappearing authorship.

Galleries tend to stick to a strict ritual of crediting an artist: wall texts and labels, 200 word bios, artists’ statements, press releases.  However, these are all functions that are virtually meaningless in Tumblr.

I realize I’m far from the first person to point this out.  In fact, of the many words written about art and Tumblr this loss of authorship is consistently a primary concern.  I wonder, though: is this ‘loss of authorship’ perhaps actually a transfer of authorship? Is curating the new creating?

This tendency to separate the art from the artist is primarily due to the way Tumblr mediates the way we view images.  Tumblr is used for text-heavy posts the way marijuana is used for medicinal purposes: I suppose it happens sometimes.   Really, the vast majority of posts are simply images.  The posts from various tumblogs pile up on a user’s “dashboard” as an endless procession of images.  It’s easy to see how the artist behind a piece could get lost in the infinite scroll.

For example, in his essay for Hyperallergic Ben Valentine writes, “This quick and easy dissemination of content is great, but it creates an issue: sustained attention on a single work is hard to come by, therefore deemphasizing authorship.”

Beyond being buried in a mass of images, an artist’s credit is lost further by the way Tumblr favors bloggers over the blogged.  In Tumblr’s art world, the sought after skill isn’t so much rooted in creating art as it is in finding art.  This is especially conspicuous in reblogged images where an artist’s credit is often missing but a bloggers “via” credit is rarely left out.  Thus, Valentine goes on to warn that for some, “Given these reasons, it would make sense for artists to be wary of putting their work on Tumblr.”

However, rather than avoiding the site, some artists are changing the way they work with it.  For example, artist Carlos Sáez’ tumblog project Cloaque, a self-described “digital landfill”, is essentially an exercise based in creative curation.  On Cloaque, the content itself is not as exceptional as the way it has been collected.  Further, while Cloaque is rare among tumblogs, it’s the beginning of an arts trend.

After all, favoring the blogger over the blogged isn’t the creation of Tumblr but a reflection of its users. Tumblr artists are often of a generation that works from within the internet, rather than adding to it from without.

artatbay.tumblr.com
The Art at Bay tumblog

The idea of the artist as a mediator of images has existed and been accepted since the days of Andy Warhol.  Thus it’s surprising that its praxis on Tumblr can be so troubling to some.  As popular as appropriation is, exceptionally few are comfortable with the prospect of actually having their work appropriated.

The Tumblr shift from artist-as-author toward artist-as-editor will most certainly stick around within a social media context.  What is of special interest, though, is how this would eventually translate within a gallery setting.  How willing will we be to ease our conceptual grip on the idea of the artist-genius, to start wrangling the mountains of information instead of adding to it, and relinquishing owner over images?

Written by Danny Olda, Editor of Art at Bay

Tumbling Culture by Sishirprithvi Bommakanti

The wide accessibility of creative mediums and outlets in the 21st century has led to a disillusionment of content and dominance of vanity. There’s a wide level of appropriation without any context.

by Sishirprithvi Bommakanti

[Co-Written with Craig Smith] The wide accessibility of creative mediums and outlets in the 21st century has led to a disillusionment of content and dominance of vanity. There’s a wide level of appropriation without any context. This has been an ongoing trend that can be seen in communication outlets like tumblr and pintrest, where it becomes less about the idea and more about the appeal. As an artist we should always step back from our idea or the visual concept we are working on to make sure that it’s very much derived from the self.

You see a lot of it out there, but a lot of it is kinda empty. The work is empty, because it’s either removed from its original content, or it was created without any real context in mind, other than appeal (essentially to look cool). Taste as identification is an ongoing trend in social media and parallels the phenomena of reblogging. Much of the visual imagery in these reblogging sites is far removed from its original content.

We have no idea where the image comes from, or of the artists original intent or the context in which the work was made (unless you instantly recognize it). It’s the idea of creating more exposure, but at the same time you’re removing any sort of personal identity in the piece. The image in essence becomes a reoccurring visual, separated from the rest of the body of work. It not only demeans the piece itself, but becomes something completely different from the work. This happens a lot in visual design, because a design is a collaborative effort that reflects the intentions of the client, and the designer themself becomes less visible. The act of reblogging content, outside of its context devalues the idea of the visual piece.

Sishirprithvi Bommakanti
Monotype 13 by Sishirprithvi Bommakanti

Because of the availability of editing software, people are able to create “finished images” with less personal trial and error. Most of the time it doesn’t carry any original idea, or the idea is lost within its content.

The concern that rises is that you have people who are replicating what they see, without any desire to know how it was made or what its original intent was. Essentially creating an image to get the highest amount of hits.

Our responsibility as a visual artist is to constantly look back at the experiences in your life to see why you’re drawn to certain aesthetics. This will give the artist a more meaningful source for ideas, as opposed to reflecting what they see en masse. An artist should constantly build upon their experiences, and derive genuine inspiration. A deeper understanding of the self provides more original content, giving more substance to your work which is more valuable than finding an original aesthetic.

In conclusion, if you find yourself getting lost in a trend or following a bandwagon, reflect inward on your personal experiences, which will help distinguish you as an artist.


Sishirprithvi Bommakanti (born in India 1990) is a freelance illustrator, designer, and painter. His latest body of work combines conceptual compositions, figurative narratives, abstract geometry, and glitched imagery. According to the artist, the works serve to communicate and inquire. “Everything I do is carefully thought out,” says Sishir, “Nothing is guesswork.”