The Invisible Economy: Validation
Artists need the validation of an audience, of their peers, and of their own self-growth.
Part 5 of 12
By Beatriz Ramos and Yehudit Mam
Part 4: Basic Income
Artists need the validation of an audience, of their peers, and of their own self-growth. “For many artists, survival means finding an environment where art is valued and art-making encouraged”, write Bayles and Orland. The Invisible Economy provides a space for artists’ work to be seen, discussed, and encouraged by audiences. It does this without relying on rankings, influencers, or reputations, and regardless of where artists fall in the socioeconomic spectrum, their education level, even gender, or age. All that matters is their art. This allows artists to create freely, to express their feelings, to find community, to engage with one another creatively, to hone their skills, to teach each other, to find solace, and to feel empowered.
Living in the information economy, artists can now use online platforms to fund, create, distribute, and sell their work peer-to-peer. While these unprecedented conditions have the potential to improve their quality of life and foster a new artistic renaissance, the information era has only exacerbated the unsustainability of art. The democratization of creativity is driven by market forces that have persuaded everyone to consume endless creative tools in order to reach audiences. Social media platforms use personal validation via sharing, liking, and self-promotion as tools for corporate growth. As a result, people sell themselves to death and yell for attention as loudly and as frequently as possible while revenue-driven corporations maximize profits by encouraging addictive and compulsive behaviors.
While online social networks have the ability to create powerful progressive movements like the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, or #MeToo, they have also legitimized and given a mainstream forum to alt-right movements, conspiracy theories, and bad actors who previously operated under the radar. Online platforms exacerbate social problems like bullying, alienation, depression, fake news, the radicalization of ideological positions, and even direct threats to democracy.
In the New York Magazine article The Internet Apologizes, some of the architects of the web discuss in detail what went wrong. They make clear that the root of the problem is the business model. Companies like Facebook and Google profit nefariously from the personal information voluntarily shared by their users. These revenue-driven companies are incentivized to maximize profits by encouraging addictive and compulsive behaviors and by manufacturing outrage.
What started in the ’70s and ’80s out of a Silicon Valley counterculture that embraced new technologies to change the world for good, soon became a money-making machine. “We wanted everything to be free because we were hippie socialists. But we also loved entrepreneurs… So you want to be both a socialist and a libertarian at the same time, which is absurd,” says tech innovator Jaron Lanier.
Then in 2000 came the dot-com bust and desperate tech companies turned to advertising in order to generate revenues. But this model required massive audiences, and to acquire the largest amount of users regardless of their quality. Ellen Pao, the former CEO of Reddit, explains, “It all goes back to Facebook. It was a success so quickly and was so admired that it changed the culture. It went from ‘I’m going to improve people’s lives’ to ‘I’m going to build this product that everybody uses so I can make a lot of money’. Then Google went public, and all of a sudden you have these instant billionaires… So in 2008, when the markets crashed, all those people from Wall Street who were motivated by money ended up coming out to Silicon Valley and going into tech.”
According to the article, by the end of the decade, all investors wanted to see was engagement and growth. Startups competing for venture capital were pressured to grow to 100 million users in six months. “If the AI favors engagement, like on Facebook and YouTube, it will incentivize divisive content, because divisive content is very efficient to keep people online,” says Guillaume Chaslot, an artificial intelligence researcher who helped develop YouTube’s algorithmic recommendation system. In the words of early Facebook investor Roger McNamee, “They’re basically trying to trigger fear and anger to get the outrage cycle going because outrage is what makes you be more deeply engaged.”
At the same time, they were creating highly addictive products. In 2013, product designer Tristan Harris wrote an internal Google presentation expressing his concerns about addictive and unethical design. The presentation went viral but it had little practical impact since the incentive of these platforms, as Harris says, “is specifically to keep people hooked.” Ultimately, as Lanier puts it, “What started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them.”
In today’s dystopian reality, creating beauty is subversive.
On DADA, people around the world spontaneously create visual conversations together, in spite of language, distance, nationality, or other artificial boundaries. These collaborations are like jazz improvisations, with many different instruments and hues working in harmony towards one melody.
Some people are far more eloquent by drawing or painting than by using verbal language. As a visual person, I always resented the tyranny of words and I wondered why no system existed for people to speak visually. This is why the conversational aspect of DADA is crucial. There are many digital tools for people to draw together on the same canvas but on DADA art is a means of communication.
Inspired by the surrealist game “exquisite corpse”, in which someone draws the continuation of a prior drawing they can’t see, we developed a system in which people can see the preceding drawing and they reply to it with another drawing, engaging in a dialogue that enriches and enhances the previous drawings. As with the exquisite corpse, DADA inspires creativity because each reply adds an element of delight and surprise. But DADA’s structure encourages a more conscious creative flow that results in spontaneous, sometimes narrative visual conversations, and elicits replies with endless variations of topics, genres, styles, humor, empathy, and creative twists made by people from all over the world.
Whether people draw for sheer creativity or to express their feelings, it’s hard to lie when making art. Communicating through visual art is extremely personal. When you draw, you can’t hide. You can’t portray yourself aspirationally or misleadingly. Art represents the artist in all honesty, and an artist’s identity is intertwined with their work, which is why making art is intimidating.
“If making art gives substance to your sense of self, the corresponding fear is that you’re not up to the task — that you can’t do it, or can’t do it well, or can’t do it again; or that you’re not a real artist or not a good artist, or have no talent, or have nothing to say. The line between the artist and his/her work is a fine one at best. Making art feels dangerous and revealing. Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. For many people, that alone is enough to prevent them ever getting started at all”, write Bayles and Orland in Art and Fear.
In our visual conversations, this sense of vulnerability is shared.
When someone else “sees” you on DADA and takes their time to respond, their response feels like a gift. This is the reason why people who don’t know each other personally create extraordinary bonds of friendship, love, and trust. As Bayles and Orland write, “What we get from other artists making art is courage by association. Depth of contact grows as fear is shared and therefore disarmed. And this comes from embracing art as a process and fellow artists as kindred spirits”.
Precisely because making art makes people feel vulnerable, our focus is on people, and for more people to make more art so that people find art-making to be liberating and not intimidating. Hence, anyone is encouraged to draw regardless of their skills. Like the Dadaists who championed anti-art a century ago, we embrace amateur art today.
In Digital Resistance, the Critical Art Ensemble has stated that “amateurs have the ability to see through dominant paradigms… Amateurs are not invested in institutional systems of knowledge production and policy construction, and hence do not have irresistible forces guiding the outcome of their process.” As art critic Roberta Smith says, “What we look for in art is a sense of urgency, that the artist couldn’t help but create. What we have in the contemporary art world is a lot of calculation.”
On the occasion of CADAF 2019, the first Contemporary Art and Digital Art Fair in New York, we presented Simply María: The Art Of María García, an exhibition of the drawings of our most prolific artist, a Venezuelan woman who has no formal art training, and who makes a living by washing cars. Art historian Agnes Berecz stated that “by presenting this imaginative and formally inventive work, DADA provides a counterpoint and active resistance to both the fetishization of technology and the over-aestheticized practice of art”.
María is no less an artist than anyone who benefits from the privilege of access to art schools, sophisticated tools, museums, galleries, and the art world career circuit. In fact, she is more remarkable precisely because she creates art without any of these things. Somehow, these limitations give her art a unique point of view. Her art has no bad habits or influences: it is pure self-expression.
Digital art tends to emphasize technology and its tools at the expense of self-expression. We believe that art is a fundamental human instinct and that it is made by ordinary people. DADA is a place where people express their emotions through art. They can express their fears, paranoias, rage, humor, sadness, their feelings of inadequacy or sense of being treated unfairly, whether it is justified or irrational, without threatening the community’s cohesion. In designing DADA, we demonstrated that it is possible to create a healthy communal space without censorship, where trolling and bullying are organically neutralized by a community that is deeply empathetic.
DADA fosters an encouraging, non-judgmental community. In the words of the artist and technologist Kat Mustatea, “With more than 150,000 users worldwide, DADA has done the seemingly impossible in the digital age: scaling intimacy.”
Part 6: Autonomy