A Critical Assessment of the “Twitter Art” Bandwagon

From the archives of when Chicago Art Magazine’s Founder and Publisher Kathryn Born was at the helm of the Chicago Now blog. This post was originally published on September 30th, 2009.

Critical Inquiry performed by Candice Weber

A recent portrait of the former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin brought together images of fluffy clouds, rainbows, cute animals, and a perplexing shot of a Menorah. The artist credited with such a likeness: Portwiture, one of many new Twitter “mash-up” websites creating a portrait of any Twitter-user by mashing up their most frequently tweeted words with images pulled from the popular photo site Flickr. The obnoxiously-named Twyric takes advantage of poets on Twitter to match haiku with Flickr photos. The results are a bit confusing, like seeing a poet “tweet in” beside a bizarre invitation to a two-year-old’s birthday party – the site definitely achieves its goal of creating a contemplative, though not quite meditative, online experience.

These works of so-called Twitter art lack that certain spark of genuine creativity, being computer generated and all – something very puzzling considering Twitter is nothing but the murmurings of a sea of diverse humanity. Portwiture’s (and other Twitter ‘mash-up sites’) reliance on perfectly composed stock photography is overly sentimental and flattens more than it emphasizes the Twitter-er’s individuality. Overall, the ability to pair the keyword “tree” with a picture of a tree isn’t all that impressive.


These kinds of projects are at best a kind of novelty art form akin to any Facebook personality quiz. Some, like Twitter Mosaic, quite appropriately offer to broadcast your Twitter friends and followers on your very own mug or t-shirt.

However, Twitter’s and Flickr’s ability to unfailingly bombard you with a stream of random images ranging from the sublime to the utterly inappropriate has some major appeal, and the coolest works of Twitter art have tapped into this feature. TimeTweets follows the simple format of a clock that updates in real-time with a parade of Twitters by-the-numbers: blasts of birthday wishes, concert dates, and other milestones create an experience that can be a bit humbling, until the quiet 9 o’clock hour is interrupted by mandybaby011’s urgent message about just how beautiful the new (two story!) Forever 21 store is at the mall. Twistori is similarly mesmerizing as it constantly scrolls Tweets containing words like love, hate, and wish (things Twitter folk love: According to Jim, pumpkin spice latte, Craigslist, and the blues. Things Twitter folk hate: their life, you, this song, and the Eastern Hills mall).


I suppose at one point in time many scoffed at the potential of audio sampling and musical mash-ups, a genre becoming more popular all the time. Maybe someday I’ll look back and kick myself for scoffing at the Twitter art bandwagon. So, while the sprawling, collective crying-out from the mundane human experience that is the essence of Twitter is fascinating in and of itself, the day Twitter art becomes the next big thing, I’ll eat my hat.

(Kathryn’s Note: Thank you to Mashable.com for the original Twitter Art roundup.)

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