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TikToks: is it art?

Written by Arts

Every micro-generation has it’s one video app it grows to love and then watch be put down like a dog.

Youtube (it may not have died, but it changed), Vine, and now Tik-Tok. The latest flouted sanction on the Chinese App Tik-Tok may signal the end of Tiktok as we know it, and what better time to reflect on the artistic value of this latest part of internet culture than now, as the bell tolls.

As abstract and hard to capture “artistic value” is, it’s fairly well established that videos can be art. Films are art, and what is a video if not a short film? Extend this line of reasoning a tiny bit further and one could say that there is enough basis to seriously consider whether Tiktoks can be ‘art’.

I say TikTok’s are art. Not just that they can be art, but every single TikTok is technically art. There’s good art and bad art, and I’m sure even readers not big on Tiktok will have seen a few that they, in some form, enjoyed or appreciated. You may also have seen the countless droves of lip-syncing videos, dance trends or other filler content.

It is regularly forgotten within the discussion of artistic value that bad art exists. That’s most art, or in this case, most TikToks. But pretty much everyone will have seen a TikTok or two that perfectly captured something for them, be it a feeling or a thought. Or one that made you think, which is by some definitions what ‘Art’ is.

It is regularly forgotten within the discussion of artistic value that bad art exists. That’s most art, or in this case, most TikToks.

So really, what people forget is that a TikTok is really what a Vine was, or what a youtube video or a film is. Video. A TikTok is just that, another shortened or chopped up version of Video, which is in turn just another way to convey thoughts.

Yes, TikToks are art.

Muslim Taseer

Security concerns, the erosion of attention spans, Michael Gove’s daughter, and the reduction of culture to a series of annoying noises: we can all agree that TikTok is bad. But is it art? No.

Merriam-Webster defines art as “The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” In a preliminary scroll through TikTok I saw a man hitting himself with a variety of objects, someone dressed as Pennywise dancing to Taylor Swift, and comedian and actor Kevin Hart throwing water at someone (2.1 million likes). “Skill”, “imagination”.

Daedalus, the craftsman who built the Labyrinth and constructed wings for him and his son Icarus to fly, is often perceived as the archetypal artist. The most liked video on TikTok is a man dancing on an escalator (25 million likes). Perhaps his ascension is supposed to echo that of Icarus, but now on the electronic wings of technology, or perhaps our brains are being rotted to the point where society is driven primarily by the dopamine released as a Pavlovian response to hearing Doja Cat.

Of course, if an art gallery showed TikToks in a dark room while viewers tilted their heads and stroked their chins it could be art, but so could a urinal. There is much to be said for the concept of art as a verb, a way of seeing which can be applied to anything. Scrolling through a stream of incomprehensible noises and dances, I found the absurdity and complete meaninglessness reminiscent of Dada, but the fundamental difference is that TikTok isn’t made to be viewed in this way.

There is much to be said for the concept of art as a verb, a way of seeing which can be applied to anything.

The intention of the ‘author’ of TikTok, the Chinese tech company ByteDance, is to gain advertising revenue by encouraging consumers to keep scrolling and consuming as much content as possible. It’s naïve to think you can Death-of-the-Author it and abstract TikTok from this initial purpose, because it is inherent in the structure of the app and all the content on it; the length restriction, the layout, and the content which evolves in that environment all derive from and work towards that end. Even supposedly subversive videos criticising the Chinese government’s internment of Uyghur Muslims are immediately recuperated into content driving ad revenue for ByteDance.

Online video art does exist, and it is a hugely exciting field, but to be art rather than content, it needs to be independent of commercial interests. At present, TikTok is anything but.

Peter Bath

Featured Image: Pixabay

Last modified: 20th September 2020

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