Clip art was the 90s version of today's cheesy, cheap stock photography. Before iStock, Shutterstock et al made stock photos affordable to the masses, licensing a single photo would cost hundreds of pounds and involve a negotiation with a sales rep over usage over the phone.
Instead marketing presentation and documents relied on clip art often-crudely-drawn representations of every business concept you could think of from two men – and it was always men – sealing a deal with a handshake to a burger at the company BBQ.
Calling clip art 'lo-fi' is possibly overselling it – these were vector artworks simple enough that a mid-90s beige PC could handle scaling and rotating it without grinding to a halt. Some clip art was black-and-white, though much of it was rendered in 8-bit flat shades in clashing hues.
Word processing software like Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect and marketing design software like CorelDraw shipped with a few hundred bits of clip art – but the companies would try to upsell you to CD sets with thousands of components.
And, because bigger is always better, these collections would grow in scale in an attempt to out do the competition – because why would you buy a clip art collection with 5,000 pieces when you could have 10,000.
In 1994, Corel released the CD=ROM collection, Corel Gallery - 10,000 Clipart Images. And it's both wonderous and horrifying – running the full gamut from glorious 90s nostalgia to 90s 'it would be nostalgic if it didn't whiff of racism and misogyny'.
The need for numbers meant that this collections was stuffed with whatever the artists could think of, to bulk out the numbers. So for every picture of a business meeting or a clipboard or something Emma from marketing might actually use, there's clip art of barely remembered actor Lou Diamond Phillips ...
... or a child sticking a fork into a power socket (WTF?).
If this was happening in 2017, this would be like iStock bulking out their collection with stock photos of a particular small Welsh village and the losing contestants of last year's RuPaul's Drag Race – and everyone would have to download them alongside the pics they might actually use.
Corel Gallery - 10,000 Clipart Images would be barely remembered as Paula Abdul is in the UK if it wasn't for the sterling efforts of Mark Sample, associate professor and scholar of digital media and culture at Davidson College, North Caroline. Mark, who went to the effort of finding the CDs, converting them from the proprietary BMF format to PNGs and building a Twitter bot that tweets one every hour.
The only info in each tweet is the file name – so alongside laughing at the cheesy crudeness and being horrified by some of the depictions of minorities, you can also enjoy a game of 'name that TV, film or sports star from the 90s' - though some are still famous (sometimes for different roles, for example, such as being a director rather than an actor).
So far there have also been a surprising number of pieces of clip art that my first guess was Donald Trump, but I've been wrong every time. Hope you do better.
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