Are emojis the latest modern art form?
29/11/2016

Could you imagine conveying complicated emotions and gestures like praying hands without the tap of a screen on your iPhone?

Plenty of emoji symbols are practically ubiquitous these days, having earned their place in plenty of advertising campaigns to full-blown feature films about emojis in the pipeline for next year.


Shigetaka Kurita’s original 176 emojis, from 1999, have recently been acquired by MoMA, which could mean the symbols have finally made their long-deserved transition into the art realm. Is it time that the little illustrations we use each and every day be taken as a serious art form?


Yung Jake, an artist from California, has used emojis as a medium in an ongoing series of portraits that recreates contemporary celebrities, artists and even memes. His work ranges from Kanye West, Leonardo DiCaprio and David Bowie all the way through to everyone’s favourite ape Harambe.

To recreate such iconic people, Yung Jake uses layer upon layer of your favourite emojis — the bright red angry face, taco, musical notes and even the alien face. His work is absolutely brilliant, if you’re intrigued by it then you should check it out over on his Instagram page and be sure to make the most of Instagram’s new zoom feature on the photos to see the level of detail each portrait has.



Professor Vyv Evans, from Bangor University, last year looked at how emojis have become the fastest growing language in the UK, and have evolved faster than ancient form of communications, such as hieroglyphics.


Evans looked at “the speed of evolution” in the use of the little popular keyboard icons instead of words. “As a visual language emoji has already far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its ancient Egyptian precursor, which took centuries to develop and is the faster growing form of language in history based on its incredible adoption rate,” he said.


There’s been plenty of criticism that humanity’s reliance on emojis is a regressive slide back towards hieroglyphics but there’s plenty of examples that show emojis are in fact a perfect, modern example of the times changing for the better. Emoji translation is one of these, the first hugely successful masterpiece of the budding genre was Emoji Dick (Moby Dick in emoji) by Fred Benenson. There’s been other attempts at translating classic films into emojis but one of the all time greats is this effort of the 1980 horror film The Shining from Jordan Peele:

It’s hard to believe that emojis have been around for 17 years, they’ve certainly come a long way in those 17 years. Kurita’s original crop were more typographical in nature, the martini glass was meant to represent a bar, whilst the burger was representing a restaurant.

The more modern batch of emojis have seen a shift from the cartoon style of old to much more photorealistic representations of real-world everyday objects.

Like the art world, emojis can be an extremely lucrative business, even more so in the past 12 months with the influx of celebrity endorsed emojis. When Kim Kardashian-West launched her “Kimoji” in December 2015, she literally shut down the Apple App Store.

At its peak the pack of Kimoji’s was costing $1.99 and was attracting over 9,000 downloads per second, earning Kardashian-West around about one million dollars per minute. Following the success of the Kimoji’s, there’s been plenty of other celebrities to jump on the bandwagon in hope of taking their own slice of emoji pie, including Justin Bieber, Kevin Hart and even Charlie Sheen.

Emojis have changed dramatically in the past 17 years and there’s no doubt they’re going to keep changing, especially when Apple update their hieroglyphic alphabet with each new iOS update for the latest batch of iPhones.


With any other artistic movement, it’s unclear as to what the exact impact emojis will have on human history. Similar to the Egyptians and their hieroglyphics, could you ever imagine future generations queuing up and paying to see a rare WhatsApp group message packed with emojis?



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