Meet the faceless critic who decides if your tweets are art or not

You don’t decide. They do.

Anonymous operators of novelty Twitter accounts are the unsung heroes of the Internet. They are the men and women who entertain the free world yet never receive the thanks they deserve. All too often do we go about our day without thinking, “Who shed sweat over a hot MacBook to craft this marvelous tweet?”

One such genius is @artdecider. He replies to tweets with no more than a word: “art.” His singular purpose is to identify the words of celebrities, comedians, and nobodies as art. The beauty of an Art Decider tweet is what you, the reader, extrapolate from three letters and a period. Seeing Art Decider call a Kanye West tweet “art” could either be interpreted as validation from a fan or a troll’s attempt to deflate Mr. West’s ego.

I discovered the Art Decider when he publicly decreed one of my tweets to be “art.” At first, I thought Art Decider was a bot—just some code written by a bored programmer who wanted to randomly mess with people. After all, who am I to be singled out as art among the the biggest personalities in modern media? Perhaps this was an acquaintance anonymously curbing my self-aggrandizing nature. It was so brilliant, yet so simple.

I decided to reach out to the Art Decider and see what he had to say for himself and his project. As it turned out, there was quite a bit to cover.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Without giving too much away, who are you?

[Laughs.] I think it’s very telling that your first instinct was to assume that I wanted to remain anonymous. I’ve actually been thinking about it all day. My account works because I’ve created a character, but I never started out with it being some sort of secret, or hiding my identity like Daft Punk or Banksy, but over time I realized how much more powerful a faceless critic comes off. I’m Michael Tannenbaum, nice to meet you, Drew! Sorry that was a long road to get to such a simple and regular response.

That’s OK. I feel it is my duty to protect your secret identity. In your regular life, if such a thing exists, do you dabble in the arts?

Absolutely! More than dabble. I went to school for theater, and now living in NYC I work mainly in film and television production.

If you studied the arts, then I’m sure you’re familiar with this assignment. Finish this artist statement: Art is ______?

Art is anything. [It] depends on the person experiencing the art, that’s the magic. It’s also the most frustrating thing. One person can find something to be art and it’s correct for [at least] that one person.

Twitter

Speaking of one person, I’d like to deviate and make this about me. I am a pretty low-level comedian. I think I had 600 Twitter followers before my friend John bought me 1500 followers as a prank. Do you know me in real life?

That’s a solid prank! I did not know you at all. I try very hard to follow mainly strangers. It’s my favorite part of running this Twitter.

I see it as a great compliment to be part of the menagerie of pop culture icons you choose to grade. Should I?

Of course! You’re a prime example of what I wanted to achieve: positive connections in a simplistic format. Three letters, boom, make someone feel good, even [if only] for a passing moment. It’s a win in my book.

I’m glad you have positive intentions. I’ve actually replied to you a few times because I thought you were one of my friends messing with me. Do you ever feel like what your doing might be considered condescending by some?

That has happened, but if people react in a negative way, I reply that it’s meant as positive. A few squabbles happen, but that’s not my intention.

Sometimes you will respond to something I’ve tweeted that I know is a little too self-indulgent and I see your response of “art” as a way of curbing my ego. But it sounds like that’s me projecting my own personal insecurities onto you!

See, there’s the magic again! You see it that way, but every other person may and will probably see it differently. I sent “art” [as a response] to your tweets because they were enjoyed, or at least I saw another human being trying their best–and that’s enough for me or the Art Decider. I created the Art Decider for this exact reason: encouragement. Even if I [respond] “art” [to] tweets that aren’t the finest or most profound thoughts, it’s still “art.” It’s the Art Decider, not the “art grader.” It almost was something with a more judgmental tone like “art grader.”

Twitter

You’re choosing to identify art, not quantify it?

It’s the reason many parents keep their kids’ “art” forever. Their drawings, their paintings, tapes of them doing almost any activity… because to the parents it is truly profound. Even if the art is scribbles, an awful piano recital, etc. Personally, I love the movie Space Jam. It is art on the same level to me emotionally as Bertolt Brecht, [which I] mean as an amazingly high compliment. You know why? Because I went with my mom, and every day for two weeks, we crossed the day out on the calendar, counting down the days until it opened, and went together at the Loews on Route 22. When I see it now I couldn’t remove the feelings [of the past] if I tried! Those memories–that’s the magic!

That’s fascinating and incredibly positive. For the longest time I thought Art Decider was just a prank . I actually didn’t even realize that you never tweet “not art” until I did my research.

[Laughs] You noticed! I think they’re may be a few, to be fair, but 99 percent of what I tweet is just [the word] “art.”

Do you remember which tweets you deemed “not art” and why?

Mostly for political reasons, or figures encouraging any sort of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc., etc.

I see. That puts you in an interesting position, though. To play the devil’s advocate, if my tweet “I’m pro legal weed. That said, musical theater is legal and there is nothing more annoying than someone who likes musical theater too much” is art, then why would any other negative tweet not be considered art?

Let me just turn off the Hamilton soundtrack. Yeah… Musical theater… I’ve thought that as well. Here’s the example/notion that I look toward. Warner Bros. still distributes a lot of old cartoons that have horrible racism, sexism, etc., so they play this warning before them. Some things are objective, and some things are just hate speech, but hate speech can exist within the art of the cartoon. [Does that] make sense? It’s still awful and wrong, but the surrounding elements make it a work of art that contains something abhorrent and objectionable. There’s a very famous production of Othello where Patrick Stewart performed as Othello because the concept was that in this world whites were the minority and all the other roles usually played by white performers were [instead] played by black performers. It’s subverting the awful history of using blackface.

Intention is crucial, then. These tweets that you deemed “not art,” were they made by someone you were following?

Sometimes those “not art”s were RTs [made by someone else I follow]. Often I try to branch away from my timeline and participate with new people.

So the “not art” responses weren’t necessarily you being disappointed by a Twitter user that you had artistic hopes for?

Exactly! People forget [that] how you act outside your artistic life will affect how people perceive your work. I’ll never listen to Kanye’s music the same way after his Bill Cosby tweet. Never, never, ever. It can also happen in a positive direction.

Do you think so? Would Nickelback rescuing a sinking boat full of orphans make their music any better, or more artistic?

Yew! Of course! Perceptually, at least, but you can’t turn off that awareness or power. That’s such a funny thought, too. But yes, I think without a doubt the music doesn’t change, but the perception will. Especially for those born after the fact, you follow? You’re framing it as if everyone is born with this preconceived notion that Nickelback is not well received by many. Their collection of work’s longevity will skyrocket because of a single story. This is the classic discussion with Vincent van Gogh. Everyone knows about him cutting off his ear, and so on. He’s still a master at his craft, but that added bonus can go so far. I hate to use this example, but look at poor Richard Gere and that horrible fake story about the gerbil. What if Nickelback faked saving a bus full of orphans? People would burn their albums in the street, en mass, cheering. [Would] they deserve that in reality? Of course not, but if they did something so gross and offensive, [then] sure, burn away.

I guess it is unfair of me to consider my perception of Nickelback as the only valid opinion, the same way I wouldn’t want someone to consider Piss Christ unartistic because of it’s vulgarity.

Wonderful example. Or that whole mess with The Holy Virgin Mary, where it’s a work of art, but it included elephant dung and people lost their freaking minds. As if they didn’t produce collective waste from their own butts each and every single day since the dawn of man.

Twitter

Besides @artdecider, do you have a personal Twitter? Do you consider it art?

Of course! It’s @iamtannenbaum, and it’s art. It’s not for me to decide [if it is] “good” or “bad,” but I know it’s art.

How would you feel if someone made an Art Decider Decider twitter account and started deciding which of your “art” replies are art?

[Laughs] That’s happened! Plenty of people argue with me and say “not art” to me. That account would still be art!

Comedian and actor Hank Azaria tweeted that @artdecider is art. What have been your favorite experiences so far as the art decider?

Hank Azaria giving me the “art” back and a message I received a few months ago. A young woman contacted me and told me that her mother passed away a few months ago, and how she was feeling depressed, and how receiving a tweet that said “art” on her photo of almond water made her smile. That meant the world to me.

Wow. It’s amazing how powerful one word can be at the right time.

Art.

I am honored. 

[Laughs] I can’t have the interview end without me doing it at least once!

Last question: have you gone to an art museum since you started @artdecider, and if so, did you audibly say “art” as you passed each piece you enjoyed?

I attended the Picasso sculpture exhibit at the MoMA recently, and not out loud, but sometimes in my head I think “art.”

I would love to go to the MoMA with you. They have a Halal Guys cart food out front and their white sauce is the true art.

I go to those halal guys! Yes, that white sauce is amazing.

Drew Kaufman is a writer and cartoonist living in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow him on twitter, or you can go to his website, but you can’t do both unless you are true of heart!

Photo via Phil Roeder/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)