Twitter is hell
I hope you log off, I hope we both log off
If you are one of the over 300 million people who is active on Twitter, you know that Twitter is hell.
The constant churning of the news cycle, the political blustering and infighting, the insanity of the modern world, prove there is always something new to be enraged and distraught about, and people regularly banter about how miserable the Twitter feed makes them in their daily life.
Larissa Pham (@lrsphm), a writer from Brooklyn, put it best in a Tweet that went viral in September with over 115,000 likes:
However, we don't go offline. We are in hell and for some reason we stay there, commiserating.
But there is some beauty in this place of great pain.
According to a recent study, 48 million, or about 15 percent of Twitter users are bots.
While some of them are bot swarms deployed for nefarious, propagandistic purposes, other bots make art.
Some of them are even trying to provide a respite from the madness.
One family of glitch art Twitter bots has been produced by poet B.J. Best (@bjbest60). On his personal website he has written what he calls a "manifesto / explanation / exploration of art bots and the ArtyBot family" called The Art of the Bot.
A bot never tires. A bot never sleeps. A bot never runs out of paint or ideas. And, most importantly: a bot can’t be threatened, bullied, or censored into not making art.
Having a desire to create art, but not satisfied with his artistic skill level, he has created a group of bots that generate and manipulate images amongst themselves. @ArtyBots is the ringleader but also, "a glorified mailman. It will invent and paint a fairly simple picture based on random equations, and then randomly choose another bot to receive it."
ArtyCurve makes them curvy, ArtyFractals imposes fractal-esque patterns. ArtyMash mashes together images pulled randomly from Flickr, and ArtyNegative inverts the colors of whatever it's given.
ArtyPetals creates kaleidoscopic blooming abstracts with a "drunkard's walk" through the pixels, ArtyShapes adds randomly colored shapes, and ArtyWinds "scatter[s] its pixels in a certain direction, as if wind was blown across the image and the pixels were grains of sand."
@ArtyOriginals retweets work by all of the Arty Bots, allowing a follower to see the end result of their collaboration without a bunch of half-processed images clogging up their feed.
B.J. answers some common questions in The Art of the Bot, such as "Are the images your bots create art?" To which he replies, "Yes. Simply, yes."
And when asked "What can bots do that human artists can't?" he emphasizes that the bots work tirelessly, and that there is some political statement formed by their relentless creativity:
"A bot never tires. A bot never sleeps. A bot never runs out of paint or ideas. And, most importantly: a bot can’t be threatened, bullied, or censored into not making art. Thus, an art bot has a whiff of political protest in it. We live in a world where we are daily told that beauty doesn’t matter. This is reaffirmed by politicians, newsmakers, and those inhabiting Internet comment sections... An art bot is indefatigable. It, and by extension its creator, will continue to attempt to create something beautiful every hour, every day, regardless of political sentiment or regime."
There are tons of other bots making art by similar methods of algorithmic re-composition. One notable bot creator is Way Spurr-Chen, (@wayspurrchen), creator of PixelSorter and curator of Glitchet, a weekly email newsletter about futuristic technology and resource for glitch artists.
In 2014, PixelSorter entered into conversation with Quilt Bot (@a_quilt_bot) and several news outlets (including Vice's Creators) took notice. It seemed that their exchange of images would go on forever, eventually culminating in the ultimate work of glitch art. Sadly, their streak was ended when another bot creator (@jleedev) attempted to introduce a third bot (@badpng) into the conversation.
For more images based on bot exchanges, there's also a bot for that: @imgconvos creates GIFs based on conversations between bots where you can see the progression of image degradation. Incidentally, this bot was also created by @thricedotted, real name unknown, who co-created @badpngbot, the harbinger of the end of the previously mentioned famous bot exchange.
Because of the different algorithms that these art bots use to create and manipulate images, no two bot-generated artworks are alike. They vary in levels of human-likeness and human intervention, and some (like @tweegeemee) keep track of how well their images perform in terms of likes and retweets, and use that feedback to create more images like them.
But as unique as each individual artwork is, there is something similar about them all. As you may have noticed, the image manipulation techniques tend to produce a lot of TV-static effects, supersaturated rainbow vomit, and creepy melted semi-abstract images (particularly when human faces are part of the source imagery).
David Kraftsow (@dontsave)'s bot @youtubeartifact has recently gotten a lot of attention for its sometimes-disturbing glitch images which take advantage of the YouTube mp4 codec. Engadget called it a "digital impressionist daydream". The bot originally started as its own website in 2009, was turned into a standalone app for digital art anthology and archive Rhizome.org in 2012, and only became an active Twitter bot last year, in 2016. Using datamoshing and his own secret sauce of video curation keywords, Kraftsow's images produced by the bot are close enough to recognizable YouTube stills to be unsettling.
Self-soothing via alternate universe
There is a Bot Bob Ross
We started exploring the world of Twitter bot art to get away from the horrors of the news cycle and ended up in a glitchy hellscape... so let's return to the path of peace with a bot made to emulate the most soothing artist of all time.
That's right, there is a Bot Bob Ross.
According to the bio of the bot @JoyOfBotRoss, "In 1985, Bob Ross labored to bring The Joy of Painting to home computers. A floppy with his code was found in a PBS station and turned to a bot by @R4_Unit."
But unfortunately, the bot's origin is fictitious. On his Bitbucket page, Brent Werness (@R4_Unit) explains how he chose the year of the bot's origin, based on the computer processes he wanted the bot to paint with. Particularly, he expresses a distaste for the overuse of Perlin fractal noise, a type of procedural texture in computer graphics, that he feels is overused in glitch art.
The bot uses text from The Joy of Painting and builds up images the way Bob did - starting with his magic white background, adding little fluffy clouds and happy little trees next, and so on. Werness writes, "If you watch many episodes, you'll see that he worked though intentionally simple means and always in the same general patterns: trees were always a back shadow layer, followed by trunk, followed by leaves. I tried to respect these rules, both since they work quite well, and to try to be authentic to the source. "
Happy Little Painting 605181471-9 pic.twitter.com/svHH9NioIF— Bot Ross (@JoyOfBotRoss) October 16, 2017
There are other bot artists trying to create a peaceful world for us to escape into as well.
In an article with the slug, "the art bots that make Twitter worth looking at again," Ars Technica has highlighted the work of Icelandic artist Michael Christophersson (@madebyflame) whose bot @veilbymist creates dark but playful abstract color fields, and George Buckenham (@v21), who created @softlandscapes.
The soft landscapes consist of pastel and gradient colored mountain ranges and cloud banks that are like macarons for the soul. They're light and pleasant to look at, they melt in the mouth of the mind's eye, and one can imagine roaming through them without a care in the world.
Other tiny alternate universes are being created by Katie Rose Pipkin (@katierosepipkin), a prodigious Twitter artist and bot maker who has created @tiny_star_field, an ASCII-character based bot with over 115,000 followers. There are several other bots creating night sky-scapes, like @C0NSTELLATI0NS, and @daft_stars which creates new heavenly bodies and descriptions of their meanings.
@LofiCloudBot generates cloud banks, while @tinyIsles creates endless fictional tropical paradises from an aerial view. @moon_rise_bot and @SunsetGenerator create calming images depicting the passage of time in vibrant colors. There's a bot to create fields of wildflowers and a bot that generates tiny skylines of cities you can imagine visiting. There is even a bot that makes forests out of tree emojis.
These bots break up the stream of bad vibes with windows into other worlds.
They let you take a tiny mental break, a micro-vacation, from the endless shitstorm of content. Hide from the Hot Takes in a dream forest, relax on the beach of a procedurally generated island, and float away in the clouds.
You may never log off, but remember, the mute button is free. And we all suffer here together, with some people, art bot creators and the bots themselves, who try to make our self-imposed hell a more beautiful place to live.