Art bots have transformed my relationship with art. My curiosity about art on Twitter started when a friend shared the Canadian Paintings account. Finding beautiful art in my feed, most of which I had never seen before, was delightful. I wanted more.
I jumped in and followed a handful of favorite artists and my feed was now filled with art. Unfortunately, a little too much art. The bots are chatty and my previously manageable Twitter feed was hard to keep up with. I started unfollowing some artists and turning off retweets for the others, but realized that was counter-productive. I wanted to expand my exposure to art, not limit myself to a few artists whose work I already enjoyed.
Twitter Lists were the perfect solution, providing a river of art that I can dip into anytime. You can't turn off retweets on Lists, which turned out to be the missing piece. The bots have been trained to retweet paintings by similar artists and are impressively accurate. They've introduced me to many artists and new favorites. The bots even retweet recent articles and exhibits tied to the artists. By favoriting art tweets, I've also created an online gallery of works I love.
I feel like I've taken an art appreciation course over the past year. I've seen thousands of paintings I never would've seen otherwise. Since paintings are often repeated, the bots are in effect training me—I'm amazed at how many artists and paintings I now know at a glance. Visiting art museums has the added thrill of seeing art in person that I first marveled at on my screen. I sought out this Bridget Riley exhibit because of the art bots.
Digital and physical are very different experiences, of course. A digital image of a painting, especially one tucked into a Twitter feed, doesn't do it justice. There's no sense of scale. The thickness of the paint and the flow of the brushstrokes are lost in translation. Digital is a lesser experience, but one made better by being multiplied a thousand times over. And an image can still make you catch your breath and shift your perspective.
I recently discovered the Literary Friction podcast. My favorite episode so far is Obligatory Note of Hope from April 2020, which includes an interview with Jenny Offill. Near the end, co-host Carrie Plitt spoke so eloquently about the power of art that I had to stop the episode just to let the words sink in.
I’ve always thought of all reading as very hopeful. That’s partly because fiction in general is about the human condition and I am an optimist when it comes to humans. I believe in humanity. I believe in people with all their shortcomings and foibles and I think that’s part of the reason why humans are so beautiful. And partly because beautiful art makes me hopeful about the world.
We talk a lot about doom scrolling. The art bots are, for me, an antidote, a counterbalance—our most timeless works intertwined with our most ephemeral. The tide of conflict, suffering, and fear washes over us throughout the day, but hour by hour, the art bots quietly remind us that we humans are capable of breathtaking work that challenges and confounds, mesmerizes and mystifies.
Beautiful art makes me hopeful about the world.
If you'd like to add some art to your day, you might enjoy my Twitter list of 101 art bots. (If you're scrolling in a coffee shop, keep in mind that with art, comes nudity.) The full list of bots can be found here and here, so you can also follow your favorites. I hear the bots are active on Facebook and Tumblr, too, if those are a better fit for you.