If you don’t know TikTok or only associate the app with dancing Gen-Z and viral memes, you’re mistaken: Here are some highlights for a balanced cultural algorithm.
While Corona restrictions mean many museums and cultural institutions remain closed or can only welcome visitors with strict (hygiene) measures in place, the content they offer is shifting ever more into the digital sphere – and here the video platform TikTok, with its 800 million users globally and a particularly young target audience, is gaining an ever-stronger role in the scene. The platform allows institutions, creatives and artists to engage with visitors or with issues such as inclusion and diversity, and to do so with relative speed and inclusivity, and enables the TikTok community to participate in the cultural realm.
Anyone who is not familiar with TikTok or believes the app offers nothing but viral memes and videos of the Gen Z performing dance routines is missing a trick – or perhaps does not have a handle on the algorithm for which TikTok is famous and which forms the secret to the app’s success. Because the app actually also offers entertaining and simultaneously educational content pertaining to art and culture, all presented more succinctly and inclusively than the many recurring debates in the arts supplements. Here, we present a few highlights for a balanced cultural algorithm.
Many international and even some national museums and exhibition venues are represented on TikTok and publicize their exhibitions and content by means of short video clips. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam offers its followers one-minute clips in which experts from its team present the works in its collection, and there are similar set-ups for the content of the Museo del Prado and the Uffizi.The latter frequently takes inspiration from viral sounds and marked Milan Fashion Week by putting Flora, the goddess of spring from Botticelli’s “Primavera”, on the cover of a magazine. Meanwhile, the Sacramento History Museum has come out tops in the TikTok algorithm with more than eight million likes. Its best-performing content is 82-year-old Howard, who works as a volunteer in the museum’s print shop and who went viral back in December 2020 with a clip of him at the printing press.
Those who prefer a more academic approach to art appreciation should treat themselves to the videos from @_theiconoclass Here, art historian Mary McGillivray from Melbourne presents one-minute clips explaining the origins of well-known works of art or summarizing techniques and styles. For a technical and at the same time very close-up look at works of art, users should check out Milan Mako Milan Mako, who works as a restorer at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts and who films himself at work with his paintbrush and scalpel. Photographer Cait McCarthy, meanwhile, mimics famous works of art like “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Jan Vermeer and documents her preparation and the development of the image in short TikTok videos.
Theaters and opera houses are likewise represented on TikTok. The American Ballet Theatre shows bloopers and clips from behind the scenes, scoring points for its perfectly edited transitions, while over on the Royal Opera House channel the soloists sing before the currently empty auditorium.
And nor does the art and culture community on TikTok shy away from addressing political themes such as cultural appropriation, focusing particularly on the sort of areas that have received little attention thus far in the established art canon.
The app serves various communities as a platform which they use to report on their culture and history as well as their own experiences, connect with one another, and thus can now draw attention to and perform in the spirit of diversity and inclusion within our society. The hashtag #nativetiktok, for example, has already been clicked on 1.5 billion times on TikTok.
First in the ranks is a video by James Jones with more than 23 million views, which shows a traditional ceremonial costume of the Cree, one of the biggest indigenous groups among the First Nations of North America. On his TikTok account Jones depicts the Cree coming-of-age dance and explains cultural customs and traditions. Tia Wood is also Cree. Her account went viral in autumn 2020 when she sang a popular TikTok song with her own melody inspired by the traditional songs of the Cree. If you click on the sound of the video, you will find over 15,000 clips of singing posted by Wood, in which people of indigenous origin (both in and outside Canada) wearing elegant, colorful costumes dance, sing and express the diversity of their culture.