Art Trends: Toyism and Google

(We’ve been exploring wider creative territories — philosophy, film, music, art — lately here on Litkicks, and I like the way it’s going. We’ll have lots more more book news and reviews soon, but till then, here’s a dispatch on two new wrinkles in the postmodern/pop art scene, by our guest blogger Claudia Moscovici. — Levi)


In modern art, there are a number of movements that place playfulness and fantasy at their center. Surrealism comes to mind, and also Dada and Pop Art. Toyism is the latest movement in this tradition: it subverts the canon to put the fun back in art. What’s interesting about this game-like movement is the fact that it’s rule-bound. In this respect, it goes against the postmodern assumption that anything goes in art. Since the 1960’s, we’ve been trained by the experts to think of visual art as a realm with consecration (since some artists become better known than others), but no formal rules or boundaries.

Dejo, a Dutch artist and musician, introduced Toyism to the public in the early 1990s. A group has formed, according to the rules, with a membership that usually oscillates between 13 and 20 members, but cannot exceed 26 members, one for each letter of the Roman alphabet. The artists, including the founder, all work under pseudonyms to allow for greater creativity and freedom.

Toyist works are figurative and narrative: they represent recognizable objects and every picture or sculpture tells a story. They tend to use bright and distinct colors, rather than mixtures, for greater contrast and visibility. For this reason, Toyist art is very eye-catching. Although a lot of it looks playful and fun — think of Miro’s Surrealist doodles — the Toyist artists often deal with serious themes, and tend to be more quirky and introspective than other postmodern artists.

The Toyists work in many media and genres, including painting, silkscreen, giclee, print, jewelry and sculpture. If this kind of art fits your personal style or vision, take a look at


One month ago Google launched the groundbreaking Google Art Project. This is an online, high-resolution compilation of some of the greatest works of art, featured in famous museums around the world, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and (my personal favorite) the Frick Collection in New York City, as well as the Uffizi in Florence; the Palace of Versailles in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London. Seventeen museums and galleries are currently participating in this revolutionary venture.

Elizabeth Merritt, the Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, has described the project as an “interesting experiment.” Other leaders in the world of art greeted the venture with more optimism. Julian Raby, the Director of the Freer Gallery of Art, stated that this project would increase viewers’ interest in visiting the actual museums. Brian Kennedy shared this view, though he pointed out that even virtual gallery tours offering excellent resolution and panoramic perspectives are not a substitute for seeing works of art in person.

He’s right. Still, in my opinion, the Google Art Project represents the wave of the future — if not the present — and not just for museums, but also for art galleries. Galleries have taken a terrible hit during the past few years. Many were forced to go out of business. During tough economic times, art is seen as a luxury. The Google Art Project generates interest in great works of art once again. And with interest comes visits to the museum and galleries, which in turn, increases the number of art collectors and buyers.

Incidentally, I also love the idea that Google, which now owns YouTube, combines the virtual museum tours with YouTube videos related to selected artists or works of art. By combining beautiful art and music, sometimes even local scenes, and by being so widely accessible to hundreds of millions of YouTube viewers, Google is making art accessible and inviting not only to art lovers but also to those who have only a remote interest in art.

The world of art has reached a pivotal turning point due to this, and similar, technological advances. Those galleries who will adapt to these new ways of reaching viewers to inform and attract the general public will be much more likely to survive than those who will not. I can’t see virtual reality becoming a substitute for actual reality in any domain: be it art, sex or entertainment. But I do see virtual reality as the most effective — and now, indispensable — way to spread information about the reality that will count most in the twenty-first century. You can learn more about this project by visiting the Google Art Project yourself.

14 Responses

  1. This rocks.
    As the

    This rocks.

    As the pop-art-mod Who once said,
    “I can see for miles and miles,
    I can see for miles and miles . . . ”

  2. I don’t think that toyism
    I don’t think that toyism should be taken seriously but the Google Art Project is a great idea. I hope that soon all the major museums in the world will participate.

  3. I like what I see of the
    I like what I see of the Toyists — I’ve always appreciated a playful style in any form of art.

    In terms of the emphasis on rules, this reminds me of the Dogme 95 movement in film, which had rules like “no superimposed titles” and “no special effects”. I wonder if there’s a connection between Toyism and Dogme 95?

    I think that “playing with rules” (and that’s really all it is) can be a good catalyst for creativity. As a blogger, I’m often aware of the implicit rules of the blogging format, and how strongly these rules (“link to others”, “write in first person”) influence this form.

  4. Toyism is much more serious
    Toyism is much more serious than only fun. It brings back a genuine sense of joy that we lost especially in post-modernism. You’re right, Claudia, The Google Art Project opens a wide door to the future of our art collections!

  5. I would say, a weird
    I would say, a weird combination a in weird world, but indeed, this rocks big time!

  6. Rules can sharpen skills,
    Rules can sharpen skills, like when a writer uses the 5-7-5 syllable form of haiku, or the rhyme sceme & structure of a particular kind of sonnet.

  7. I’ve been following the
    I’ve been following the Toyists’ work for a couple of years now and I’m pretty sure Toyism is here to stay. It’s fun and it also has a message. The colors are very appealing and uplifting and all the works I’ve seen so far are well thought through and impeccably done!
    I think Toyism hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves and I hope the other media in the US are gonna pick up on it soon so the world knows about this great art!

  8. Bill, I agree with you that
    Bill, I agree with you that rules sharpen skills and talent. That’s part of what I liked about Toyism: the creative play with rules. In fact, this is what Picasso once told his partner, Françoise Gilot, in the famous quote below:

    “Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production is submitted to rules. They—the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians—did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. … Painters no longer live within a tradition and so each one of us must recreate an entire lan-guage from A to Z. No criterion can be applied to him a priori, since we don’t believe in rigid standards any longer. In a certain sense, it’s a liberation but at the same time it’s an enormous limitation, because when the individuality of the artist begins to express itself, what the artist gains by way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.” (My life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, 21)

  9. If art doesn’t grow it is a
    If art doesn’t grow it is a symptom of the society that embraces that mindset. When art if free to flourish it is evidence that the society in which in comes from is tolerant and eager for change.

    Even tho this Toyism may end up a fad like so many before it, no doubt the most successful will leave their mark on the history of art for the times.

    Thank you for this link. I enjoyed.

  10. Coming from the Netherlands,
    Coming from the Netherlands, my opinion is that mtmynd has an interesting point.

    “If art doesn’t grow it is a symptom of the society that embraces that mindset. When art if free to flourish it is evidence that the society in which in comes from is tolerant and eager for change.”

    The Dutch are considered very open-minded so how do you explain Toyism being an art movement with rules? To my opinion, it’s best to let art grow and flourish, but (just as a garden) you should do so by having a set standard. In society, how do you measure success if there is no comparison?

    I’m not saying everybody should start making their artworks by the Toyism rules, but it would be interesting if some other movements were “born” and people chose to specialize in those fields, just like you would in other lines or work.
    People hold professionals to a certain standard. When you visit a cardiologist because you have heart problems, you expect him to know all there is about hearts. When you hire a plumber, don’t expect him to paint your ceiling.

    What would happen if all artists would be held to the same standards? Specialize in one or maybe two art styles and try to be the best you can be by following the rules.
    Then people could really appreciate art to it’s true value, rather than sticking a couple of nails in an orange and calling it art.

  11. mtmynd and Miranda, I agree
    mtmynd and Miranda, I agree with both of you. Different art movements (or groups) make up their own rules, which allows for a combination of play (or innovation and creativity) and set certain parameters (which future art movements will change). But there’s no such thing as art in a vacuum, completely free of any precedents or standards, as the Picasso quote above and Toyism itself illustrates.

  12. It’s like games. Poker has
    It’s like games. Poker has certain rules (this should get Levi’s attention) but then, people make up different kinds of poker with different rules.

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