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In the 00's, Social Media Connected People with the Arts
by Stephen Becker 5 Jan 2010

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t update our status, send out a tweet or watch a viral video online. But KERA’s Stephen Becker reports the ’00s saw sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube used for the serious business of making art:


Recently on Art&Seek, we looked back at some major changes in the arts during the ’00s. Each day, we asked local experts about how a new technology or movement has affected their field.

Each of these experts was also interviewed for the following KERA radio story about social media’s influence on the arts:

  • Expanded online version:

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t update our status, send out a tweet or watch a viral video online. But  this decade also saw sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube used for the serious business of making art.

As Director of Animation for Reel FX, Bryan Engram oversaw part of the production of Live Music, a short film that played on more than 500 screens this fall.

ENGRAM: “It’s a love story between a violin …

[Sound clip of violin from movie]

ENGRAM: “ … and an electric guitar….”

[Sound clip of electric guitar from movie.]

ENGRAM: “It was a great first step using this technology. … Through Facebook and through other software we have at Reel FX, we were able to cast a wide net across the world and find artists everywhere to contribute to this project.”

Earlier this year, the company based in Dallas teamed with another studio called Mass Animation to launch an online contest for animators to work on Live Music. Reel FX provided the basic model and movements of the characters. From there, animators around the world put the characters in motion. The best entries eventually made it into the movie.

The company used Facebook to get the word out about the contest. And as the animators worked on their creations, they communicated with one another through Facebook forums to help each other out.

In November, Live Music played before the feature-length cartoon Planet 51 in theaters. It’s now available for download on iTunes.

Each year social networking Web sites have had an increasing influence on the arts, and more specifically, how people participate in the arts.

Dean Terry is the Director of the Emerging Media and Communication Program at the University of Texas at Dallas.

TERRY: “People have changed their expectations. They no longer expect to be just consumers of art and content. They’re also producers. Or at the very least, they want to talk back. Twenty five percent of Net users are now producers themselves. And this is only growing.”

Terry says that as artistic people connect with others online, the creative process becomes more open and collaborative. Painters film themselves working to explain their technique. Authors share chapters with readers for critique before the book is finished. And sites like YouTube and MySpace allow artists to broadcast their work to a wide audience.

You no longer have to go through traditional gatekeepers like record companies and art galleries.

But is that necessarily a good thing?

José Bowen is a jazz musician and the dean of the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU.

BOWEN: “I think it’s a good thing that the barriers are lower in some ways, but I do think it means that everybody now thinks they have the skill set and the taste to do that. That’s leveling in some ways. You don’t want everybody being an interior designer. Some people really are better at it.”

Bowen says more people flooding the Internet with their creations leads to more clutter. It’s harder to find the true artists among all the wannabes.

Yet even the greats had to start somewhere. And one of the benefits to sharing your work online is seeing how far along the path to greatness you are.

Michael Auping, Chief Curator of the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, says by working online, artists have a chance to think through their work before taking it to a larger stage.

AUPING: “To me, YouTube would almost be like drawing. It’s practicing art before you actually make art. It’s a place to just play and experiment. And then in the larger realm of things, when you’re in the larger arena of a gallery or a museum, you make a bigger statement.”

Contests like the one Reel FX held for Live Music would suggest that gap is narrowing between making small statements online and large statements elsewhere. In fact, the Live Music contest was so successful Reel FX and partners plan a second venture:

This time, artists will animate superheroes like Superman and Batman for an upcoming videogame.

Reel FX’s Bryan Engram says social media-based contests like these help top-flight animators who don’t have Hollywood connections get discovered. And Reel FX benefits by making the discovery.

ENGRAM: “If you can cast that wide net and you’re exposed to talent all over the world, that is a huge pool to choose from. And I think you’ll obviously find not only some gems, but frankly some prodigies within that group.”

This decade, home recording software and cheap digital video cameras made it easy to express ourselves.

But it was social media that gave us an audience. And it made us spectators to creativity around the world.