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Creative Disruption: Deconstructing Tumblr as Art

The World’s First Tumblr Art  Symposium, curated by art blog Hyperallergic and supported by Tumblr offered this lesson to creatives of all types: To innovate, one must be willing to disrupt.

The March 8 symposium in New York was organized after Hyperallergic writer Ben Valentine penned “Tumblr As Art” last June and caught the attention of Tumblr arts evangelist Annie Werner. Werner said that she hoped the symposium would shed light on the artistic community that exists on Tumblr and help it to grow.

The event featured disruptions of various types — vocal audience members, chaos when a very NSFW Tumblr was projected and live streamed, and members of the panels who were unapologetic about taking Instagram photos of one another. As Tumblr artist Brad Troemel said, during a Q&A session, “Artists should be defining visual culture, not advertisers.”

Sociologist Tricia Wang, in her presentation, “Tumblring Our Elastic Selves,” said the reason Tumblr users gravitate toward the platform was because it was an “unbound” experience that allows for expression and allows oneself to be “elastic.” Wang’s description of elasticity as a means of identity means being able to create as many accounts – and identities – as possible.

Before her presentation, Wang shared her mantra that “you have to go to the edges to get what is really happening.” If content marketers want to know what is “next” for content, perhaps they should look to the artists who have made Tumblr fit their calling.

The common sentiment from panelists and audience members was that the more corporations try to “monoplozie and monetize” content and art, the more creators will rebel and try to disrupt the system, whether its the marketing system or architecture of Tumblr itself.

“Artists should be defining visual culture, not advertisers.”

San Francisco-based net artist Ian Aleksander Adams said during an open panel session that his project Friendster Friday was inspired out of the experience of having his friends becoming angry at him for trying to “tumblr” on Facebook, crowding their newsfeeds, and breaking the natural order.

Christiane Paul, professor of visual arts at The New School, was asked to define Tumblr Art during the first panel, “Past, Present, Future: Why Should I Reblog This?” She said it was a “corporate art form, not an art medium.” Tumblr is a platform that many artists share their work through, but the collection of collages, video art, engagements and reblogs are not a united art form, she said.

A few possible content strategy lessons from the Tumblr Art Symposium: The platform from which you post your content does not make your content, more people will engage and react to content more “unbound” it feels , and you will get more attention the more you want to “break” something.

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