At Two Swords’ Length: Should You Instagram?
Written by Bwog Staff
The September issue of The Blue & White is now on campus! Here on Bwog we’ll be posting juicy bits of the issue for those of you whose eyes no longer process anything that isn’t a backlit LED display. Appropriately, to kick things off, below you can read Allie Curry and Matthew Schantz debate the value of Instagram.
Affirmative, by Allie Curry
Next time you Instagram a pic of those mouthwatering fish tacos with the subtly precious garnish on Mercer, imagine your photograph as a little whisper in the ear of every one of your followers (who vary wildly in terms of their real-world emotional proximity to you).
“Not you too!” you gush. But really you’re saying, “I knew you’d be here because your stubble and studded Docs look too good through that sepia lens and no, you should never apologize for A.P.C.” Yeah, it’s just the two of you and over 50 million other people—hold it, five million more just joined the ranks—at the dankest international party in town, thrown by 2011’s best-looking 20-whatevers every week. Guilty as charged, I suppose. But frankly, my dear, should we give a damn?
Sure, on its surface a social networking application that distorts and discolors photos may not be a medium for breathtaking creativity. But does it merit such sharp critique? Instagram cloaks you in false creativity and bougie pretension the way certain “recessionistas” cloaked themselves in “Missoni for Target” in the heady days of 2011, and did anyone bemoan them for their high-low fashion appropriation? I mean, this is a recession. Is it even P.C. to criticize someone for rolling low-budget these days?
Instagram emulates real chemical processes and it does so in a few seconds when so-called real, reverse commodities fetishisizing—actually nostalgic, I’ll add—“artists” used to take hours. Is it really that much worse to carefully select a “Valencia” filter to highlight the delightful sunset or protrusive cheekbones you just captured than it is to purchase one of those knock-off Polaroids from Urban Outfitters? Is it even that much more despicable than our grandparents’ Polaroids—which, matter-of-fact—produced photographs of rather shitty quality authentically? Of course it’s not.
Matt proposes that we turn to netart. That we ironize and reclaim the .gif in all its original, late ’90s, candle-flickering glory. That we endure ten-minute videos of people who remind us of our angry, facially pierced peers who attend Sarah Lawrence and Brown. Because this is somehow more enlightened, more obscure. Next time you reblog a neon Lisa Frank dolphin leaping in cyclical arcs to your epilepsy-inducing Tumblr, imagine sharing with your two followers a little clove cigarette wheeze that says, “Look at me. Using technology ten years old when I could be using my iPhone. All in the name of an ‘art’ ‘move- ment’-cum-lazy-search-term co-opted not least”—you cough—“by M.I.A. and the extremely non-independent record companies backing her.” But meta-commentary on Slime Time Live and O.J. Simpson memes does not a thoughtful critic make. Since when is deliberate stupidity valid dissent?
But I digress. Call it what you want; if you apply enough critical self-awareness to anything these days, it’s art. Alternatively, consciously not applying sufficient critical self-awareness seems to produce art too. In any case, it’s art. Get over yourself. Remember that you, too, unironcally once had a Myspace. You probably still—albeit, involuntarily—do have that Myspace. Now you have an Instagram profile. Should you Instagram? Maybe not. But Should You Allow the Creativity Police to Dictate Just Exactly What You Should Do and Share With Technology? Absolutely not. And, come on. Robert Frost probably would have seen the proverbial pixelated woods here for the trees.
Negative, by Matthew Schantz
Next time you snap a shot with Instagram, imagine your photograph as a little whisper in the ear of every one of your followers.
“Psst—look at these fish tacos I’m eating in Soho,” you say into the ear of your fourth closest friend, your ex, several half-acquaintances, and a stranger.
Now imagine the filters as pretentious ways of masquerading as creative. Your picture, edges toasted with the Earlybird filter, thus translates: “Madame, would you care to gander at a picture of the tacos for which my boisterous buddies and i paid too much for yonder evening?” spoken in a velvety faux Castilian lisp, the smell of rosewater and lime heavy on your breath. nobody would “like” that in real life.
The filters available in Instagram emulate real chemical processes, the results of a hundred year’s worth of tinkering in darkrooms with chemicals, cameras, and film. Each developed photograph was an irreversible labor of love. I’m not saying you have to ditch the smartphone for a real camera (although the economic restraints of real film and darkroom time might make you think twice before taking a picture of a decaying building or bougie cupcakes or whatever you feel like “capturing” with your “artist’s eye”), I’m saying you should get more creative with the technology your epoch handed you. and you should do that by becoming an Internet artist.
For those who aren’t initiated, search #netart on Tumblr. Before you hit search, make sure you’re wearing close-toed shoes, because you’re about to have your assumptions shattered, and the little shards of your former world view are gonna hurt to walk on. Internet art is art that utilizes the internet as a medium, often to comment on our digitalized lives. internet art is the geocities-era .gif embodiment of every big word you never understood and the most transgressive Mean Girls meme you’ve ever read. It’s a ten-minute video of a 26-year-old liberal arts graduate with a nose ring filming herself staring at the built-in cam of her Macbook while scrolling through custom Photobooth filters, forcing you to think—really, critically think—about what it means to be a 26-year-old liberal arts graduate with a nose ring who stares at your Macbook while scrolling through custom Photobooth filters for ten minutes.
Most importantly, netart doesn’t shy away from the questions Instagram is too afraid to ask. To return to my previous example, while Instagram asks “would these shrimp tacos look cooler in sepiatone?” Internet art, presenting a picture of shrimp tacos stolen from a stock photography website with the watermark still showing framed by two gifs of flickering candles stolen from a Super nintendo game, asks, “what does it mean to look at pictures of shrimp on the internet?” and those are the questions we should be whispering in strangers’ ears.
Shen it comes down to it, Instagram is a lame use of technology that everybody knows about, while netart is a deliberately lame use of technology that nobody knows about. And, as robert Frost would have said in 3-D text on a screencapture of a Microsoft word document if he were a netartist, “& tht makes all the diff.”