The resistance to gesture

June 10, 2007

Behold the pixelization of art:

Though one is made of toast and the other is made of post-its, both create their art on the principle of the pixel. Even one recent music video has gotten in on this trend, using dice to form images complete with shadows and highlights:

What strikes me most about the creation of these pieces is how they eliminate the gesture from their creation and execution. Art that is based on the pixel always refers to a plan – a plan usually created with the assistance of computer-based graphics programs. This is of course no surprise, since pixels on a screen themselves refer to the orders of a control unit. The execution of these pieces on a grid, too, leaves room for impromptu changes only of color or shade: placement is wholly determined, and even those variations of color which are permissible are made only for the greater execution of the plan.

The sole pixel is absolutely meaningless, like the only extant word from an otherwise forgotten language. Instead, it forms a relationship with the other pixels such that it always refers to its surroundings for its meaning, just as it lends meaning to those same surroundings. This is illustrated by the fact that pixels can be placed on their grid in any order. Being able to glean a larger picture from the pixelated form depends on looping constantly between pixels, acknowledging their dependencies and their references.

The gesture, though, operates differently. From the very first, it stifles planning through its dependency on skill and each subsequent mark threatens to undo any success by the prior ones. A careful sequentiality is the closest that one can come to planning when dealing with gestures. And gesture is fundamentally expressive in ways that placement onto a grid simply cannot be.

A pixelation of art might be read, then, as a Platonic protest against responsibility. Image exists, the pixel artist maintains, on the level of order, where each individual cannot see the larger effects he makes; the best thing for one to do is therefore to follow the plan and not waggle about too much. It is a hermit ethics, in awe of chaos, abjuring the material in supplication to metaphysical meaning. Stunning for its command of planning processes, pixelated art fits perfectly our age of simultaneously global and microscopic orchestration.


2 Responses to “The resistance to gesture”

  1. madsilence Says:

    Pixels galore. Check out the work of Chuck Close ( I find his mosaic-like apporach dehumanizes the image…indeed, he called his paintings “faces”, not “portraits.” Think of Seurat and his pointillism: Pixelation as a metaphor for modern culture? Maybe. Your metaphor also fits the culture of the WWW & blogging, don’t you think? Hopefully the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

  2. Nathaniel Says:

    MadSilence, Thanks for making your way over here. I’ve enjoyed being introduced to your blog, too.

    Pixelization and blogging go well together, even though I hadn’t thought of them in that light before. The form of the blog is absolutely unresponsive to the words that we type into the forms that wordpress provides. I would like to think, though, that my entries build off of one another – that I don’t draw from a stock of static thoughts that could be written in any order.

    I think it’s interesting and perhaps revealing that one of the Chuck Close quotes on the page you linked to deals with his desire to “achieve perfection.” It seems to me that such a goal is as Platonic and antagonistic to gesture as I’d feared.

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