How many followers would Picasso have had on Instagram? What would Dali’s Tumblr feed have looked like? Warhol would have killed it on snapchat. These are questions I have recently asked myself in an attempt to come to terms with the overabundance of images I’m exposed to on a daily basis.
An emerging trend (this term is used very lightly, let’s say since 2013 maybe) on Tumblr and Instagram—heralded by a new generation of VFX artists, graphic designers, and general 3d-modeling whiz kids—is to produce daily images of either ongoing work, or general graphic experiments. The result, an immense portfolio of tasty plastic, usually surreal, renders, is equal parts mesmerizing (to those unfamiliar with behind-the-scenes 3d graphics knowledge) and problematic (for those who have trouble producing an image in a week, let alone a day). But it is also symptomatic of the acceleration of visual culture, which treats novel work less like a potent objet d’art and more like an expensive cup of coffee: stimulating, enjoyable, yet ultimately disposable.
The fad (another problematic term) understandably began as an exercise to loosen the creative muscles and stimulate the inspirational funny-bone. This, of course, is nothing new. Most artists would agree that daily production, even if it is just a scribbled sentence on a post-it, is a valuable technique to prevent the dreaded blockage of creativity. Yet the everyday image should be counted separate from the technique of iteration: the process of re-making a work so as to perfect or achieve an ultimate composition. Iteration is a means to a final form, whereas the daily image—let’s just call it a “daily”—is more of a sampling of a continual body of work. The daily exists as a means to a stylistic end, a testing ground for new processes/workflows, and a way of gaining followers on various social media platforms.
What I find most fascinating about these images is the quality of the work produced. Though they could be conceptually categorized as “sketches” or works-in-progress, there is a certain finality to them that goes beyond the incomplete; they are very much finished works. One of my favorite daily artists working in this way is called Beeple. Beeple, or Mike Winkelmann, has been producing an image a day for 3342 consecutive days (as of the time of this writing), and works as a freelance 3d media artist. His website features dailies, video clips, and more curated animations. On the page that features his dailies, he states:
“The purpose of this project is to help me get better at different things. By posting the results online, I’m “less” likely to throw down a big pile of ass-shit even though most of the time I still do because I suck ass.”
Now, if you see the imagery he’s producing, it’s quite evident that he does not, in fact, “suck ass.” The work looks complex, composed, and intricate. Some even appear as a cohesive series of illustrations. While I’m sure he wrote that mission statement in the early days of his experiments, the blatant insecurity has evolved into an ironic quip of self-opprobrium. It is hard to believe that he still perceives his work as “ass-shit.”
Beeple’s ongoing nine-year project inevitably engendered a series of copy-cats, each with his/her own reasoning for daily production. It’s very easy to recognize his followers, as they follow similar compositional rules (square resolution, centered objects, intricate textures) and subject matter (science fiction imagery, spaceships, post-apocalyptic landscapes). However, I’m not here to oust any plagiarism; Beeple himself offers some of his images as source files so that anyone can download and replicate them. He remains very much committed to open-source and trial-and-error workflows, thus copy-cats are welcome.
Looking at the development of his work over recent years, there is a sense that it is constantly evolving in complexity, yet he seems to have no problem continuing the daily production. Where there were once simple geometric shapes in barren landscapes, now there are bodies, fragmented edifices, and hyper-real vegetation. This can be attributed to the evolution of plugin suites and object generators which have become widespread, primarily for 3d software packs like Maxon Cinema 4d and Autodesk 3d Studio Max. Take Cinema 4d, for example, which has a number of plugins which instantly generate randomized cities, mountain ranges, and human figures. One does not need to model anything from scratch anymore than one has to build their own website from pure HTML. These suites are incredibly useful for existing designers seeking to add complexity to their scenes; and even more so if you’re looking to generate an image every day.
There is also another dimension to the work being produced under the hashtag “everydays.” Abstraction seems to be the primary strategy for making these compositions; some even border on the surreal. The work of Blake Kathryn, another freelance artist, for example, features fuschia-colored Dali-esque figure studies. Senior 3D Design Lead at Nike, Chad Knight’s dailies are a mix of pop art and the occult; a bizarre combination of skulls and bright colors, yet he somehow makes it work.
To me, these dailies have a lot in common with the surrealist movement. They are instinctively made, quick illustrations of absurd subject matter. Like Dali, Ernst, and their cronies, the work focuses not on criticism, but rather on the instance of production. There’s a mindlessness to it that allows for the immediate transfer of imagery, facilitated by the accelerated mode of digital production. But the problem here is a re-hashing of Clement Greenberg’s critique of surrealism in 1945; that surrealist painting attempted to depress art “to a popular level instead of raising the level of popularity itself.”1 By saturating social media platforms with this disposable digital art, the artists themselves depress the quality—and potential—of the digital medium itself. While some, like Beeple marginalize their work as “crap” from the outset, others try to leverage their ability for followers and perhaps even work. However, one click of the hashtag “everydays” on Tumblr or Instagram reveals a largely flattened landscape of similar work. If the attempt is to stand out, maybe it’s best not to share daily, but less frequently.
I personally have curated my Tumblr/Instagram to feature some of these artists because I find the images to be quite inspiring and fascinating. Yet, the fact that I need not think about it once it scrolls past my screen is a little problematic. Should we feel bad that once we’ve “consumed” that digital artwork, it exits our mind? Or is it okay to move on without a proper reflection because it could very well be the case that it was produced quite quickly and instinctively? I will definitely admit that the seductiveness of the work keeps me coming back, so at least for now, I’ll keep scrolling.