The Invisible Economy: Creative Collaboration

Blockchain paves the way for exponential creative collaboration and for art to evolve freely in unexpected ways.

By Beatriz Ramos and Yehudit Mam

Part 9 of 12

Soul in the Machine

Part 8: Greater Good

The market values art for its scarcity, which incentivizes making less art. It’s hard to inspire creative collaboration while strict copyright laws prevent co-creation, and there is no way to track attribution, much less to capture value from spontaneous collaborations like memes.

Until recently, digital art had no value because it can be reproduced endlessly. But now, blockchain technology makes it possible to turn digital art into unique digital assets that can be transacted, bringing scarcity, authentication, and ownership to digital art, and allowing it to capture value just like physical art. This has spawned the emergence of a digital art market. Through cryptographic digital assets called tokens, blockchain also makes it possible to add layers to a digital artwork without the need for permission, allowing artists to collaborate freely while keeping track of their attribution. Since DADA is already a collaborative platform, this paves the way for exponential co-creation and for art to evolve freely in unexpected ways.

Bitcoin was the first token that solved a problem known as double-spending. The issue with digital money was that somebody could duplicate it and spend it simultaneously in two places. Bitcoin solved this problem by using blockchain’s consensus mechanism in which thousands of computers around the world validate the transaction which is then recorded on a public ledger where transactions can’t be modified. In other words, if I send you a bitcoin, the network knows that now you have it and I don’t.

We can now exchange digital artworks in the same manner. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are tokens but tokens can have more functions than money. They can be programmed to represent anything: a membership, a concert ticket, points in a game, participation rewards, shares in a company, or a piece of land. Tokens allow us to create, exchange, and track new and previously unaccounted types of value.

Like Bitcoin, some tokens can be fungible or interchangeable, as in fiat money: a dollar bill has the exact same value and characteristics as another dollar bill. But they can also be unique, like an identity: my ID is unique and different from yours. These are called non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which can represent unique, rare digital art. While anyone can still make infinite screenshots of a given digital artwork, collectors can now buy and own an NFT of the digital “original’’ with its verified provenance and authorship registered on the blockchain. As an analogy, if someone makes an exact replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night at MoMA, the value will still lie in the original painting, regardless of how many forgeries are made and disseminated.

What makes NFT technology so exciting is that it can be layered with attributed contributions from different artists.

This changes the way we traditionally value art. It paves the way for an unprecedented wave of innovation in art creation and art appreciation. This means that on DADA anyone will now be able to use, remix, animate, add music, or texts on top of any digital artwork in our platform. Each new iteration will be its own NFT, guaranteeing that all the variations of the artwork maintain its integrity while allowing art to evolve freely as more people contribute, similar to the way in which our visual conversations evolve and branch out.

NFT 1: Massel, Peru.
NFT 2: Simon Wairiuko, Kenya.
NFT 3: Boris Toledo, Chile.

In the Invisible Economy what matters is the process of making art, and art is valued for its abundance and constant evolution. We don’t think the value of art lies in its scarcity. For us, the real value of rare digital art lies in the attribution and ownership that are tied to the digital artwork, and in that it is now possible to own a unique asset that can be viewed, used, and remixed by anyone around the world.

But we should be clear. We welcome the free flow of information, and sharing art, but not if people profit from an artist’s work without remunerating the artist. There are projects on the blockchain that allow people to tokenize any image and sell it for a profit without any verification, attribution, or remuneration of the original artist, which is akin to legitimizing the theft of other people’s work. There is a way to do this fairly.

At DADA, every digital drawing is made directly on our platform with our tools. As soon as the artist posts the drawing it is saved, along with the metadata about the artist, on IPFS, a public distributed server that no central authority controls and which is maintained by thousands of computers around the world. This is important because storing art on IPFS allows artworks to exist independently from any organization — the art can still be seen even if the organization no longer exists. This is the first step towards decentralization.

When the artwork is tokenized, the NFT is attached to a smart contract. This is an agreement that stipulates the conditions for trading the artwork. These contracts are digital code that self-executes once these conditions are met. If someone buys a rare artwork, the smart contract automatically sends the money to the artist, and the artwork to the collector, in real-time and without any intermediaries.

Smart contracts can include royalties on secondary sales, which is unheard of in the conventional art market.

The technology is still in its infancy and there are still some hurdles, like the current difficulty in executing different smart contracts across platforms, but sooner or later artists will be able to earn royalties from their art, in perpetuity. At DADA, our smart contracts will reflect our distribution allocation according to our gamified system, and will automatically distribute the basic income accordingly. This allows us to explore all kinds of possibilities for co-creation.

With over 120,000 drawings created on our platform, DADA has the largest rare digital art collection in the world ready to be traded as NFTs. We are pioneers in the rare digital art world and are committed to continue working on building the rare digital art market, not by competing against, but by collaborating with people and projects in the blockchain and art community. This is a space where there is constant experimentation, and enormous potential for innovation with new forms of viewing, displaying, exchanging, and experiencing art.

Exponential co-creation requires sophisticated curation. Curators serve an important role in art. The curator and co-director of London’s Serpentine Galleries, Hans Ulrich Obrist, writes that curating “means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history. And it means displaying or arranging the work.” At DADA, we believe curators and artists are collaborators that inspire and challenge each other.

DADA is an open platform; we don’t serve as gatekeepers. Since the art is created directly on our site and it is not uploaded from elsewhere, we do not have a first registry problem. We know the provenance and attribution of each artwork. Current curation comes from our gamified system, which takes into account the number of artworks artists make, whether they respond to others and validation by the community via likes. While our current curation system is too basic, we can develop a more sophisticated system that expands the collective understanding of art in a way that enriches the culture.

Community curation systems and algorithms tend to produce results based on the most popular content, a sort of amalgam of everyone’s taste mixed with feedback loops that disproportionately favor some aspects over others. Solutions like token curated registries, in which people pay tokens to be able to curate in the hope of later financial gains, don’t solve this problem and invite a whole other set of issues, mainly that they replicate pernicious free-market dynamics.

We propose that instead of using generic criteria or ranking systems to curate art, a broader set of criteria could produce more diverse and interesting results.

Instead of creating influencers (a small number of people who may have more sophisticated judgment than most), it makes more sense to train the eye of the majority so they can learn to see art in different ways as they progress through the system. That is, to train people to use a diverse set of criteria to curate art. Our gamified system can be used to encourage people to learn and teach each other about art. We believe that people can acquire sophisticated criteria to judge art over time as they advance through the system.

Instead of awarding “likes”, people will have different options to curate that will become increasingly sophisticated the more they engage in curation. At first, they may encounter curation criteria such as “sweet”, “beautiful”, “funny”, “colorful”. As they acquire more dots, they will get more complex curating options, like “provocative”, “moving”, “expressive” “insightful”, “playful”, “powerful”, “ironic”. This is what we mean by training the “eye”: to learn to appreciate the different elements of art until people encounter criteria in which they recognize a sophisticated sense of color, composition, genre, or a style from artists who have their own voice. By this stage, people will have learned more criteria to understand which artists have more sophisticated skills and how different artists bring value by different means of expression. They will also learn that art can have an effect on us by way of different but equally valid means. On DADA, people will always see art in a collaborative context, so that they can enjoy and compare the work of more than one artist.

This curation system challenges the winner-takes-all mentality because it is not based on what’s more popular or deemed best, but on a sophisticated set of criteria that gives people more diverse choices, which in turn encourage people to discover a wider variety of artists, not only those that a system based on popularity pushes to the top.

Collaborative visual conversations will have their own set of criteria, such as flow, dialogue, or successfully carrying on a theme or narrative, which will in turn teach artists how to better converse visually. At the same time, anyone who curates will be encouraged to try their hand at creating art themselves, so they can experience what it feels like to make art, which in turn may deepen their appreciation. As they advance through the process, their curation will be worth more points.

Through progressive design, we can also encourage people to learn and teach each other about art.

This happens via live streaming tutorials, demos, and encouraging conversations about art. These are just a few basic ideas that can enable a system of creative and collaborative curation which gives everyone the opportunity to learn about art appreciation. Through this curation, our gamified system will automatically determine which drawings and visual conversations will be issued for sale, when, through which sales mechanism, and to whom, setting in motion the decentralized economic engine of the Invisible Economy.

This approach will be used in every aspect of the system, including coordination and decision making. Gamification can help support self-governance by disseminating information incrementally and opportunely, and by organically advancing voting rights and privileges.

We frequently get invited to events and art shows and we usually call our community to participate in live drawing collaborations. These community-organized projects are quite complex and require efficient planning and decision-making. We project the art live at the venues, sometimes having our online community interacting with people who are drawing on site. We have been experimenting with how to bridge the digital world with real-life experiences while leveraging our visual conversations. For instance, we participated in an art and music jam organized by our friends at EI, in which DADA artists drew live online to music being performed live. Participation by the artists is always voluntary and spontaneous and we don’t control or direct anything.

These events help us bring the community together but we don’t have the right tools yet to optimize the experience. The artists have noticed that the quality of the visual conversations drops under the pressure of a live event. When we planned the Channel Auction at the RXC conference, we had to figure out how to create a beautiful artwork under extreme pressure. Each artist only had 15 minutes to make their drawing and pass the baton to the next artist while being broadcast live as people were bidding. This required hours of preparation. Since then, we have also participated as the DADA Collective in a live drawing performance at the Ethereal Summit in New York and at the Tate Modern Gallery in London. By understanding and eventually automating the process to execute these highly complex projects we are paving the way to more ambitious endeavors organized in a decentralized fashion.

We see creative collaboration as happening beyond artists creating art together, but encompassing collectors, art lovers, developers, and members of the broader community of art on the blockchain. Through their participation in the Invisible Economy, they will be rewarded for their collaboration in both meaningful and material ways.

Part 10: Interdependence



A collaborative art platform where people worldwide speak through drawings. Building a blockchain token economy for the arts.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

A collaborative art platform where people worldwide speak through drawings. Building a blockchain token economy for the arts.