The Mass Masterpiece: How Creative Crowds Can Create Art

By | February 27, 2013

What lessons have we learned on the conditions for creating great art from crowds?

The crowd is certainly capable of remarkable creativity. But expecting it to autonomously produce art is unrealistic. Rather, the key to creating the mass masterpiece — as in other crowdsourced projects — lies in controlling the crowd.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa

Writing for Slate Magazine back in 2004, Clive Thompson examined a visual art experiment conducted by British web developer Kevan Davis. While he found initial success with a crowd-designed font, the project fell apart when Davis asked the crowd to draw a goat. While the image began with promise, it broke down as the crowd became larger and began to disagree on what a goat should look like.

Thompson concluded that the second experiment was too free-form, and that to collaborate successfully, the crowd required a well-defined objective.

Artists have since succeeded in harnessing the creativity of the crowd by imposing a well-defined structure on the creative process.

Both Swarmsketch and The One Million Masterpiece are achieving interesting results by giving the crowd specific instructions for simple tasks.

Swarmsketch asks artists to contribute a single line to its weekly drawing, and The One Million Masterpiece calls for contributions to its online canvas along specific submission guidelines.

Likewise, visual artists Aaron Koblin and Chris Milk achieved stunning results in The Johnny Cash Project in which they asked the crowd to animate a music video for Johnny Cash’s ‘Ain’t No Grave’ single.

The key difference here is that Koblin and Milk provided a specific framework for artistic contribution. The crowd was given a frame from the video clip and asked to overlay their drawing on top of it.

This model effectively encouraged a wide-range of artistic interpretation, while maintaining overall coherency.

So what’s the take-home message?

In art — as well as business — the crowd needs a well-defined goal and clear work processes in place in order to achieve results.

While the crowd is indeed capable of creativity, it cannot yet achieve art alone.

Image source: Heatheronhertravels

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