Artifacts and Art

As we all know, when operating within a certain medium, there are in some cases these (usually unwanted) medium-specific byproducts being generated, popularly referred to as artifacts. Regarding visual arts, artifacts can take a form of distinct glitches on the screen, like a certain type of static or noise, but also – at least in my mind – an overall look that brings forth and in a way reveals the technological deficiency of given medium to handle certain aspects of the imagery.

So, when looking back at the history of technically produced imagery, it’s interesting to notice that it seems to be only a matter of time when artifacts connected to visual fidelity leave the unwanted section, and enter the realm of art direction. Features that at first were considered undesirable “dirt” and an eyesore have turned from time and time again into means for hip and cool in the hands of avantgardists.

Indeed, just like the crackling sound of vinyl bears an unquestionable aesthetic dimension in the modern music-producing scene, there’s a host of visual artifacts that artists tend to use today either ironically and self-awarely, or as an artistic statement, instead of out of technological limitations. Black and white photography must be the most popular (and obvious) case of such a practice that employs arbitrary limitations to attain a certain look and feel, which makes me wonder who was the first one to use black and white imagery by design, and not because he or she had to?

What comes, then, to real-time imagery, the use of visual artifacts is a fairly recent invention, perhaps due to the highly technological nature of the medium. The fact is, real-time graphics has through its existence battled with technical limitations like no other medium in the history, and what’s crucial to address here is that an artifact (i.e. a manifestation of technical limitation) to become a brush for art direction, must involve such a technical problem that’s already been solved to a degree. That’s the reason why, for instance, low frame-rate hasn’t been used so much as an artistic effect, since high and steady frame-rates are still an ongoing struggle within the real-time medium, and as such, an endeavour far from concluded.

As said, the use of oversized pixels (see above Super Soviet Missile Mastar by The Behemoth 2011) made artistically sense only after when screen resolutions in general seized to be so much of an issue anymore. The same goes for now relatively popular low-poly art, since polycount (just like screen resolution) hasn’t really been a major technical constrain for a while. Interestingly, low-poly aesthetic is now being used even outside the real-time context, like in the animations by David OReilly.

Yet another interesting use of artifacts is Jörg M. Colberg’s pieces that utilize heavy but controlled JPEG compression as an aesthetic element. Naturally, the art pieces wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact back in the day when JPEG artifacts were a real problem when compressing images to a reasonable size.

This all makes one think what other technological artifacts there are yet to be employed in an artistic/ironic sense? For instance, it’s interesting to see if rasterized textures, as seen in the late 90s games like MDK (Shiny 1997), with a relatively low color depth will at some point become a stylistic choice for video games and animations. Logically it indeed could be the case somewhere down the line, but we’ll see about that.


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