The Invisible Economy: Greater Good

Art will thrive in a system that is motivated by caring.
6 min readJun 8, 2020


By Beatriz Ramos and Yehudit Mam

Part 8 of 12

Bea creating a mural in Soho, NYC, to bring art to the looted and boarded-up neighborhood.

Part 7: Self-Expression

Art contributes to community cohesion, reduces social exclusion and isolation, and makes communities feel safer and stronger. It also speaks truth to power, makes us reflect on our own lives, and challenges our views. Art helps to build democracies that are able to overcome fear and suspicion. The Invisible Economy is a vision for a new breed of artists that embrace the information era yet still believe in the transcendental nature of art. While the financialization of art constrains the power of art, the Invisible Economy aims to liberate it.

Since technology in itself is a democratizing force, many art and tech companies are democratizing art by offering all kinds of tools and services to create art, showcase work, get funded by your own network, buy affordable art, and display art digitally. Blockchain technology introduces more ways of democratizing art by offering new tools and services for disintermediation, authentication, digital art ownership, fractionalized ownership, and new ways of funding artists.

The unintended consequences of this democratization are explored in the article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur, by William Deresiewicz. He describes a new market-driven paradigm in which every endeavor becomes creative and everybody is “a creative”. The artist becomes an entrepreneur who manages every aspect of the production, marketing, and sales of their work. Audiences become customers. Collaborators are contacts in social networks. Works of art become commodities and consumer goods. And art becomes safer, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please, more like entertainment and less like art. Deresiewicz thinks that this may mean the death of art.

The question we should ask ourselves is why even with the unprecedented democratization of creativity in the information era, art continues to be out of the reach of most people, both artists and everyone else. Most people can’t afford art, and most artists can’t afford to be artists.

We believe that art can’t thrive in a system incapable of being motivated by caring.

In 2003, at a morning prayers address, Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard, stated, “We all have only so much altruism in us. Economists like me think of altruism as a valuable and rare good that needs conserving. Far better to conserve it by designing a system in which people’s wants will be satisfied by individuals being selfish, and saving that altruism for our families, our friends, and the many social problems in this world that markets cannot solve.”

Coming from one of the chief architects of the 2008 financial crisis, the idea that altruism is a rare good to justify greed is as absurd as it is dangerous. In What Money Can’t Buy, the philosopher Michael Sanders writes that “altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise.”

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s findings show that gift-giving keeps us in the social world and away from market norms. At DADA, each drawing is a gift from the artist to the community, so we ran our own experiment to understand what kind of dynamics this would spark in the collectors’ side. At the Rare Art Fest 2, we issued a collection of 42 digital drawings from one of our most popular visual conversations for people to claim for free, as a gift from the DADA community to the blockchain art community.


Social norms would dictate that each person would take one or two so that others could also partake, just like guests at a party at the buffet table will be mindful of their fellow guests and leave food for others. The 42 artworks were claimed pretty quickly, with most people getting one or two at most. However, one long-time DADA art collector claimed 27 drawings — more than half the total.

When we asked him what motivated him he said that he was a huge fan of DADA and of digital art, especially if it is free. His motivation was not for accruing value although he thinks that some of the earliest pieces of digital artwork may increase significantly in value in the future, and if so, he would consider selling his art. We believe that he collects because he loves digital art, but perhaps the thought that these artworks may increase their value changed his mindset to market norms and incentivized his hoarding behavior, even if it was not his primary motivation.


It turns out that just thinking about money changes people’s mindset from social norms to market norms. In one experiment described by Ariely, researchers asked the participants to rearrange sets of words to form sentences. For the participants in one group, the task was based on neutral sentences (for example, “It’s cold outside”); for the second group, the task was based on sentences related to money (for example, “high-paying salary”). The results showed that participants in the “salary” group behaved more selfishly and self-reliantly, were less willing to help each other, or to help a stranger, they wanted to spend more time alone, and they were more likely to select tasks that required individual input rather than teamwork.

So what does the democratization of art really mean?

For DADA, it means giving people the tools and freedom to create art, to enjoy it, and to collect it. It means restoring art to its rightful place in the world. It means making it relevant again for millions of people, not just for a privileged few. It means taking it away from the toxic dynamics of competition and scarcity and returning to its communal roots. It means giving everyone on DADA the gift of experiencing that they are participating in something bigger than themselves, whether by making, enjoying, or acquiring art.

In systems that function under market norms, people behave more selfishly. In contrast, in a system governed by social norms, people behave more altruistically. The Burning Man festival is a fascinating experiment in art and community which functions as a gift economy. Every year, 80,000 people from all over the world gather to spontaneously build a city in the desert, guided by ten principles: radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and “leave no trace”. Except to buy ice and coffee, monetary exchange is strictly prohibited. Participation in the community is key and it encourages the exploration of artistic self-expression and the selfless giving of one’s unique talents for everyone’s enjoyment. It has been said “Burning Man is about ‘why not’ overwhelming ‘why’”. It may very well be the freest creative place on earth, even if for a limited time. Can it be expanded beyond the privileged few who attend it?

At DADA we believe that anyone can make art, and if everyone actually did, our society would be more empathetic and cohesive. We want to encourage millions of people to make art. DADA is different from other platforms in that we focus on the creative process. But the real power of DADA is that we do this together. This collective sense of joy and vulnerability creates a vibrant space for artists to thrive and art to be strengthened. What we advocate is not for everyone to become an artist, but for everyone to engage in the liberating process of artmaking. By doing so, more people will connect with and appreciate art.

Like Burning Man, DADA is about freedom, self-expression, creative collaboration, and community on a grand scale. Jason Bailey writes, “I believe DADA is very far along in becoming the first platform to unlock global creativity. Where others might see a simple drawing tool, I see the opportunity to 10x the world’s creativity and trigger a new global renaissance unlike anything we have seen before”.

Like our Dadaist predecessors who rejected the capitalist society and cultural conformity of their time, today we reject the system that produces extreme inequality, the financialization and commodification of art, and the exclusive complacency of the art world in favor of a massive art movement that is more beneficial to more people and is truly in touch with the world.

Part 9: Creative Collaboration



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