Glitch Art

Glitch Art are creative works that involve making use of digital or analog errors with deliberate aesthetic intent or effect. In other words, glitch artists break things on purpose as part of their creative practice. 

glitch art of Salvador Dali created by Vladanland

Or sometimes they curate glitches found in the wild.

Google satellite imagery captured by James Bridle

Why do this? Maybe the artist finds beauty in the broken thing. Maybe they’re interested in exploring the role of digital media in society or our anxieties about malfunctioning technology. 

This activity allows you to try your hand at making some glitch art.

  1. Begin by selecting an image that has some significance. Maybe it represents something important or powerful (like Mickey Mouse or the US flag). Maybe it’s a popular meme, a famous work of art, a famous person or place. Maybe the image has some personal significance. 
  2. Download a JPG of the image to your desktop.
  3. Go into your file management application (on Mac’s, it’s “Finder”) and edit the file extension so that instead of reading “mickey_mouse.jpg”, it reads “mickey_mouse.txt”. This will change the file from an image file to a plain text file.
  4. Open the TXT file with a text editor (like “TextEdit”) and begin adding, deleting, copying and pasting code. You’ll want to avoid the very top and bottom of the code since modifying those sections can often break the file. But otherwise, go to town.
  5. When you’re done messing with the code, save the TXT file.
  6. Return to the file management app and change the file extension from “.txt” back to “.jpg
  7. If you haven’t inadvertently broken the file, when you open the new JPG file, it should be glitchy. (And if you did break it, then start the process over and try again. Breaking things is part of the process with glitch art).
  8. Now that you’ve created some glitch art, use your interpretive skills to analyze your final image. What is the effect on the viewer of seeing Mickey Mouse or the US flag, a specific meme or personal memory glitchy and broken? What might this new image communicate about the subject of your image? 

Here’s an example from one of my students Marshal, who chose to glitch an image of Adolf Hitler as a means of deconstructing hatred and prejudice. 

“<3” by Marshal Davis

In Marshal’s artist statement, he writes 

“I found all instances of the code “h8” (hate) and replaced it with “<3” (heart or love). I also sought out codes like “fr” (fear) or “evl” (evil) and replaced them with other random codes from happy images. The result was a piece that I call “<3”. This method preserved the organic nature of glitch art while allowing me to express something that I felt.”