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A Decade of Innovation in the Arts: Part I

by Stephen Becker 28 Dec 2009 11:22 AM

This week, Art&Seek will look at some of the biggest innovations in the arts over the last decade. We’ve asked local experts to blog each day about a significant advancement in how art is created or consumed. By the end of the week, we think you’ll see that things have changed quite a bit in […]


This week, Art&Seek will look at some of the biggest innovations in the arts over the last decade. We’ve asked local experts to blog each day about a significant advancement in how art is created or consumed. By the end of the week, we think you’ll see that things have changed quite a bit in the last 10 years.

Our first post comes from Dean Terry, the Director of the Emerging Media + Communication Program and MobileLab at the University of Texas at Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter @therefore.

The winners of the last decade on the Internet were YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. All of these are all social networks where the content is 100 percent created (or repurposed) by the participants – not by some official content producer, publisher, broadcaster or curator.

It’s old news that we’re all curators now in an interwoven, multilayered dialogue rather than a monologue. But publishing and promoting our own work has another side. People have changed their expectations about how they participate with the arts. They no longer expect just to be consumers of art and content – they are also producers, and at the very least want to talk back.

A growing 24 percent of social net users are creators themselves and contribute their own work right alongside that of long established artists and institutions. People do not want to be simply talked at or presented to. Publishing or presenting without some form of participation, in the emerging networked environment, comes off as something like yelling over someone in a conversation. Broadcasting, presenting or publishing something is just the beginning, not the end.

This is not a technical evolution but a cultural one – there are changes in the way people create and interact with art, but also with the creative process itself.

The Internet, and specifically the social tools that have come along more recently, facilitate an ability to collaborate in ways that were simply not present before. And the idea of the solo genius and singular voice as the principal model is breaking down. It’s still there, still important, but now there are new ways to work with others. The notion that art comes solely from a solitary mind, often in isolation, is not the only model.

Some projects do not work well with conventional collaboration or multiple authors, though this may change. Recently, a major problem in mathematics was solved collaboratively on a blog. Might we see this approach widely adopted in areas previously thought the domain of the solitary artist? Even where this is difficult or impossible, it does not mean that work cannot benefit from input via a (hopefully carefully crafted) social network. This is especially true when the process, often carefully guarded, is exposed (or, in the language of our times, shared).

Some artists are now sharing their process on a daily basis, creating a much more active feedback loop with their audience. Former receivers of completed artistic output are now often participants in the creative process in terms of how they influence the work. So, while many artists still control the content, none of them control the conversation around it.

When I was in graduate school, everyone had their own private studio. The idea was that you would go in and not come out until your latest solo creation was complete. The process was invisible, and often obsessively secretive. Process was discussed in frequently stiff, wordy “artists statements.” Now, happily, we have the opportunity to share our creative problems and process with others. It’s ongoing, open and iterative. With practice – and this is an evolving model – it should result in richer experiences for everyone.

All of these changes in the arts and the new possibilities in collaboration and process sharing are just beginning. They are accelerated and will be changed even further by emerging mobile technologies. The current and near future wave of the mobile Internet will mean a substantial evolution in the way we connect and relate to people, places and information. This new mobile Internet ecosystem presents radical new ways to think about how the arts can evolve. And the voice part of your phone, if you still use it, becomes an afterthought. Welcome to 2010.

Dean Terry will write about how mobile technologies affect the arts in a future blog post.

  • The technical advances will end corporate control of all the arts. That is clearly shown in how the Big Four music companies have crumbled. They were dinosaurs who refused any changes or any artists that didn’t fit the sameness.
    The other arts are going through their revolutions too. Sadly the media either is clueless to this, or refuses to cover any art that isn’t safe and generic, AND they refuse any outside media scrutiny. Look for worst media lists of the decade for example!
    For example, myspace is now the world’s biggest music company, and youtube is the world’s biggest film company. But they are full of artists that are indies and for that reason they won’t get fair coverage no matter how much better they are in quality and innovation.

  • I have just read Chris Anderson’s THE LONG TAIL, which discusses a lot of this. We have switched from a cultural economy based on scarcity (less supply drives up demand) to a culture of abundance (wider choice equals wider demand).

    Thanks for a great, thoughtful post