Glitch and the Art of Letting Go Part 1: The Initial Disturbance

By Kirilum | From the aether | 20 May 2020

This article is part one of a three-part series.

Glitching and glitch art have become more and more prevalent in our modern culture. Presenting itself in more than just underground art forums, glitching appears in music videos, movies, social media, and magazines. This piece will outline what glitch art is, and determine if it offers us anything interesting besides a broken wavy picture. Does the glitch movement have a philosophical grounding, and is that ground worth standing on? What is a glitch?

According to Wikipedia, the etymology of the word “glitch” is likely of German and Yiddish origin, coming from the German word glitschen (to slip) and the Yiddish word “gletshn” (to slide or skid). A glitch is a sudden, jarring change or fumble. Some of the first uses of the word can be traced back astronauts working at Cape Kennedy in the 1960s. Astronaut John Glenn explained the term as:

“A spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit which takes place when the circuit suddenly has a new load put on it…Normally, these changes in voltage are protected by fuses. A glitch, however, is such a minute change in voltage that no fuse could protect against it.”

In our modern lexicon, glitch has taken on a similar definition—as an error or malfunction—but maintains the implication of suddenness. It is important to distinguish between glitch art and glitch aesthetic. I understand glitch art to be a nuanced, multi-layered discussion and philosophy. Glitch aesthetic is simply the act of making crazy, colourful, staticky, wavy pictures. In other words, glitch aesthetic strives simply for the appearance of malfunction (regardless of how intended the final result is) (Pangburn). If we are to talk about glitch as Art, we must discuss the concepts that hold it together.

The first touchstone of glitch as art is the artist’s surrendering of their artistic discretion. Daniel Temkin explains that “Glitch art underscores the computer as an apparatus indifferent to the readability or quality of the resulting image. The tension in the form does not come from the risk of damage or failure, but from the surrender of the image to an unpredictable system, the collaboration with the machine. The artist digitizes the piece, manipulates the data, and hopes for the best.

One can never be certain what the glitch will produce, and it is not easy to recreate the same glitch twice (see figure 1). After glitching for a while, you can have an idea of what a glitch will do, but it can never be certain that it will produce what you intend. In that sense, the artist is no longer the craft person that skillfully and accurately shapes their piece, rather, they have become the rudimentary button pusher and finger crosser. In a way, they become a Technologist that tweaks and troubleshoots pieces of data until satisfied with the outcome.

Same image processed with slight variations

Same image processed with slight variations

What does this mean for the artist? As the artist surrenders their work to a system that manipulates the work and spits it out as a logical output, they move from the realm of labouring tradesperson to an agent who regularly takes a leap of faith. The practice of creating art switches from the physical artifact to the act. As Rosa Menkman puts it, “the process and the resulting bytes, re-gardless of content, become the artwork itself” (53). In some ways, the glitch artist is a conceptual artist. For both a conceptual artist and a glitch artist, a leap of faith is necessary for the art to become present in the world. This leap of faith in many ways becomes a practice in letting go, not unlike meditation.            

Where once the artist was simply a master craftsperson who forged their creations from raw matter, the artist of our modern age must not only create but also meditate. The artist must contemplate their creation, beyond merely the tactility or form. They must contemplate their art in light of its context. This is true of all modern art, whether glitch or not, but regardless of which art you choose, the context of our modern society is always in reference to technology. Glitch art gives us an opportunity to manifest the leap of faith as a technological act and allows the artist to come face to face with an unexpected perspective. The leap of faith in a glitch allows the artist to blur conventional perspectives and allows contemplation and re-contextualization in relation to technology and our role in relation to it. The glitch gives us access to a window that so far our biology has kept closed – But can Glitch Art challenge our biological perspectives, and if so, how?


To read the full essay, visit my Amazon Kindle page :

To read the second part, see:

Originally published on

How do you rate this article?



Writer, artist, human person

From the aether
From the aether

Fiction, articles, essays, and creative projects

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.