“Image Anarchism” in Digital Curatorship

By Esther Vincent


Undoubtedly, the democratic and accessible facets of internet platforms tend to appeal to both artists and consumers alike. Particularly when regarding the rise of content sharing platforms such as Tumblr, internet users are increasingly sharing visual content as a way of constructing their own identity. This raises its own series of contentious questions – if anyone can be a curator, what does this mean for the influence of traditional art institutions? In a digital space where art can be consumed at a rapid rate with the click of a button, what are the implications for artists in terms of selling their work and controlling its dispersal?


For Danny Birchall, internet curatorship in the form of sideline tumblr pages where individuals ‘reblog’ content that fits with their own identity or ‘aesthetic’ (e.g. http://reino.tumblr.com/ – “I would call myself a curator which makes this my museum.”) is a process of selection rather than curation. Indeed, critics have found the very concept of this free selection and appropriation problematic; in his essay “The Accidental Audience’, Brad Troemel describes tumblr’s ‘reblog’ feature as “simultaneously a form of viewership and a mode of display”. Although this straddles an interesting line from an anthropological perspective, Troemel’s concern is that this may lead to “an increased likelihood that art images will be stripped of their status as art.” He refers to this phenomenon as ‘image anarchism’: the ‘aggressive’ divorce between images and their context, particularly regarding matters of meaning and ownership.


The tracing of intellectual property is especially difficult within a digital space, as either images initially intended as art can easily be stripped of their artistic context, or vice versa, inscribed with unintentional artistic meaning through the process of being shared and commented on. Troemel created his own tumblr, Jogging, as a way of highlighting the potential dissonance of digital content as popularity increases.


Nevertheless, the appeal of contemporary digital production for artists is clear. These platforms allow room for so much more than traditional artistic content – that of a painting on a canvas, for example. Technology has the capacity to combine different aspects of media – such as image, collage, music, animation, etc – to enhance one’s own creative meaning. A notable example of this would be Teju Cole’s tumblr page, set up as a kind of collographic accompaniment to his novel, Open City. Here photographs, quotations and snippets of literature are used in tandem, not to explicitly support the novel, but to provide extraneous lines of thought for the viewer to engage with in their own way. Indeed, Groys highlights one feature of online documentation as a facilitator for the process of creative production to become the art itself. This opens up the creative process for both the startup artist and the consumer.


Although the degree to which digital platforms allow the unmoderated spread of content may be regarded as a cause for concern – particularly for those who view the dilution of the title of ‘curator’ as a risk – it is headed upon an uncontrollable (and unpredictable) trajectory which the art world can only attempt to adapt to.


Featured Image: reino.tumblr.com


Birchall, Danny. “What Curation Means on the Internet”, The Art and Science of Curation, http://www.artandscienceofcuration.org.uk/what-curation-means-on-the-internet/

Boris Groys, “Art Workers Between Utopia and the Archive” E-Flux, No.45, May 2013


Troemel, Brad. “The Accidental Audience.” , The New Inquiry, March 2013



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