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The Art GIFt Which Keeps on Giving

Just when you thought you’d seen everything, we give you the twerking cow. Yes, you read right. As part of a bid to make the more traditional (read perceivably stuffy, in some quarters) world of art and artists – historically populated by dramatic landscapes, evocative seascapes and ostentatious portraits indicative of 18th and 19th Century past masters – more accessible to those seeking contemporary art kicks, Art UK has overseen a more graphically cutting and thrusting re-imagination of existing classics. Albeit in meme form and function.

GIFs are all the rage in recent years and, let’s face it, love them or loathe them, there’s a line of thought to suggest the animated snapshots are borderline creative in nature and pictorial presentation. And it’s this visual omnipresence which has clearly inspired the philanthropic organisation which is responsible for the curation of digital art archives to, well, get with it, we guess. And to revisit some fascinating works of art in their own right, and subsequently afford them this thoroughly modern twist.

Of course, what has undoubtedly gone down a storm with would-be contemporary art fans out there will have surely irked some of the puritans; who we envisage will be simply aghast at what’s illustratively transpired of late. But we are long-time advocates of change, while also never losing sight of the majesty of the originals incarnations. Yet we deft anyone not to stifle a smile when confronted with bootylicious bovines breaking into impromptu twerking, despite dating back to the mid-1800s. Or maybe it’s just us?!

Art UK argues that a sizeable proportion of its back catalogue rarely sees the cold light of day, due to being secreted away by members – in a digital context – in remote museums, or even forgotten about in the dark recesses of storage. Hence why they’ve collaborated to bring a collection of them right smack, bang up to date to appeal to an altogether fresher audience. Art UK’s Social Media bod, Ferren Gipson told that; “We want more people to interact with art”, going on to add; “And we’re always trying to think of new ways to enhance that mission.”

GIF Aid. Where Laughter is the Cure

GIFs seemed liked the logical platform on which Art UK could convey its message, as essentially they allow a greater expressive range of concepts when compared, say, to other (visual) signs of our times; such as emojis for example. Plus they’re played for laughs and by definition never take themselves too seriously, which if anything is the unique angle Art UK is coming from when attempting to introduce timeless art to the well-publicised attention-span deficit generation. Oh, and to speed up the creation process, the majority of the images of painting held in Art UK’s extensive digital database hold Creative Commons licenses; meaning that as long as credits are flagged up, sharing and remixing is given the commercially-acceptable thumbs up.

So, aside from twerking cows, what other erstwhile images have been on the receiving end of contemporary art make-overs? Well, various LOL-inducing hand gestures, ROFL-inviting eye-rolls and YOLO-celebrating eyebrow-raising have been factored into numerous Impressionistic valued pieces in recent weeks, witnessed by anyone keen to plunder the burgeoning archives of leading GIF-sharing platform, GIPHY; enthusiastically submitted by budding modern artists far and wide.

GIPHY’s Community Operations Manager and Co-Curator, Ari Spool – also in conversation with – made a valid point when explaining the draw, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun. “GIFs made from classic paintings are no different—an emotion is conveyed in the original artwork, and then often another, sometimes more irreverent one, is layered on based on the GIF artists’ interpretation.” She concluded, “You never know—perhaps the next classic painter starts out as a GIF artist!”

Although none of our current stable of critically acclaimed contemporary art exponents have laboured over GIF creation – to the best of our knowledge – they all share the one thing in common. And that’s a talent for pushing the illustrative envelope through the medium of their preferred genres. Everyone from Lhouette and Stuart McAlpine Miller to Temper and Shazia.

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