Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Digital Media as Folk Art

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First, a definition:

Folk art encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic.[1] Folk Art is characterized by a naive style, in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed. Closely related terms are Outsider Art, Self-Taught Art and Naïve art.[2]

“As a phenomenon that can chronicle a move towards civilization yet rapidly diminish with modernity, industrialization, or outside influence, the nature of folk art is specific to its particular culture.”

We were talking today about the evolution of social media as a means of capturing hyperspecific memes and ‘inside jokes’ that have created a new notion of the self-via-the-selfie:

From 2006 to 2009, the term “MySpace pic” described an amateurish, flash-blinded self-portrait, often taken in front of a bathroom mirror. Self-portraits shot with cell phones, or “selfies”—cheap-looking, evoking the MySpace era—became a sign of bad taste.

Part of the élitist frisson of Facebook, launched in 2004, was that many users found it superior to MySpace as a matter of both technology and taste. If one of the defining forms of self-representation on MySpace was the blurry bathroom selfie, set against a page decorated with graffiti and flashing graphics, Facebook profile photos—on a starched-white and Ralph Lauren-blue background—announced a clean, well-lit model of orderly selfhood. The MySpace selfie suggested a striptease (many men posed with their shirts off, directing attention to their torso); Facebook profile photos were generally proper—even preppy—in focus, and well lit.

From MySpace to Facebook, social media these days have taken the selfie from Instagram, and onto Vine:

New software has also contributed to the selfie renaissance. For teen-age social-media users, who generally prefer on-the-go mobile applications, like Instagram and Snapchat, the self is the message and the selfie is the medium. The Instagram selfie, with its soft, artfully faded tones, has replaced the stern, harshly lit mug-shot style of years past. The small, square photo, displayed on one’s phone, invites the photographer and the viewer to form a personal connection. There is little space on Instagram for delivering context or depicting a large group of people; the confines of the app make single subjects more legible than complex scenes. A face in an Instagram photograph, filtered to eliminate any glare or unflattering light, appears star-like, as if captured by a deft paparazzo.

The newest, most popular modern form of mobile representation is Vine, an application from Twitter that allows users to record and post six-second video montages on an infinite loop. These clips are long enough to depict motion, but too short to reveal much beyond the video’s central subject. A new version of Vine, launched this past April, included a self-facing video setting. It was heavily promoted by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first Vine selfies, which have become a semi-iconic, persistent series. In Dorsey’s videos, he stands still while the world moves behind him, captured in infinite loop. Wearing sunglasses and headphones, he appears at once immediately present, filling half the frame, and distant, absorbed in filming, like an auteur in control of the picture.

Dorsey’s Vines suggest that the selfie has come full circle, from a sign of the subject’s marginality to a sign of his or her social-media importance. In these videos, Dorsey is the center of the universe. Isn’t that, perhaps, what social media has been saying to us all along?

The villain that has emerged in this medium is the hipster

…the essence of the hipster is his or her (but mostly his) fascination with, or curation of, subculture arcana. There are many ‘types’ of hipster that tend to get lumped together when people talk about hipsters […] [b]ut one of the things they all have in common is the desire for a special kind of cultural knowledge, and a fierce protection of this knowledge once it’s obtained.


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