I first became aware of the luminous artwork of Anne Louise Avery when she started to appear on a regular basis in my Twitter feed, retweeted by a friend. Avery, who from her Twitter bio, is writer and art historian, based “mainly” in Oxford, perhaps a professor at the university there.
Each day Avery posts a tweet where she creates a short poetic vignette based on an assemblage of three images. Usually one of the images is a photograph of an animal, a fox, bear, otter, mouse, or similar. The other two images might be paintings, a landscape scene (rural or urban) or an object still life, typically but not always in a late 19th century/early 20th century fin de siècle style. In a reply to her own tweet, Avery provides citational references listing the title, creator, and provenance of the works that she has chosen. The vignettes themselves personify the animal depicted as they often pursue human activities like baking scones, serving tea, playing draughts, digging in the garden, or catching the train to London, writing in a journal. Each tweet garners upwards of 600 likes. Clearly, Avery has a devoted following.
I too followed @AnneLouiseAvery through January and February. To say the vignettes are charming does not do them justice. They are tiny evocations of joy, of melancholy, of friendship, of a kind of wistful quiet happiness. They are beautiful. I admire the craftsmanship that Avery invests in these gems. They lift my heart.
After a few weeks, it became apparent to me from some other tweets Avery interspersed with her artworks, that she was tending to a sick child in hospital, her son, not very old, the diagnosis uncertain. Then, around the end of February, Avery’s Twitter feed was inundated by dozens and dozens of tweets created by her followers that replicated (as best they could) her own poetic and visual style.
It was an outpouring of solidarity, of love from strangers, and sincere wishes for her son’s recovery and her own well-being in a time of personal crisis. Social media has often attracted this kind of spontaneous expression of community. But what struck me here as worthy of comment is that rather than just a message, Avery’s followers gave her back her own art as gifts. They collectively chose to communicate via participation as artists. They appointed themselves responsive fellow creators in her own special mode, sometimes using some of her own characters and mimicking her voice, as an homage to what she and the work mean to them.
What is remarkable is that this art became participatory. It was not participatory from the outset. It evolved. Social media created the basic conditions of possibility, first for Avery to share her visual poems with hundreds of strangers, and second for that community of readers to cohere with a common mission, themselves becoming artists of affectionate reflection. In Twitter parlance, “this is the content I’m here for.”