Art By the Masses and the Art of Interactivity
Professor Susan Ryan
December 2, 2012
“I saw the encounter between human and machine as the central drama of our time. The quality of our interaction with machines will largely define the quality of our lives. For what we have made, makes us.”
In this technology age, the limits of access to information no longer exist, and man has created a network of networks that connects billions of users worldwide. The Internet has, since its public distribution, become an integral part of most people’s everyday lives. The Internet has evolved into a complex community of anonymous users, all with different backgrounds, ideals, culture, etc. Due to its diversity and ease of communication, the World Wide Web presents to artist a unique opportunity to collaborate with the largest single community of people. Drawing inspiration from Myron Kreuger’s work on interactive environments and virtual space, and Alexander Galloway’s concept of the art is in the EXCHANGE between people on computers, as well as earlier works of Internet art, the artist developed an internet based collaborative art community, where the exchange of ideas and visualization of those ideas is shared with all the users of the Internet, hereby known as Art By the Masses.
This project is conceptually a community-based artwork, where users can submit ideas to be drawn by any of the other users. Users can collaborate on individual visualizations or revision other users interpretations. All art created within this community is shared by all those participating.
This concept is based on Myron Krueger’s work in virtual reality and responsive environments, particularly his METAPLAY and VIDEOPLACE studies. In these studies, he concluded that an “act of communication creates a place that consists of all information that the participants share at that moment”. The participant and the artist are both interacting and both share in the creation of the interactive art. Much like Krueger, Art By the Masses is composing a sequence of possibilities through the art of interactivity.
Many of Krueger’s concepts for VIDEOPLACE came from his earlier studies. METAPLAY focused on the key concept of the visitor understanding that they are interacting with a system that understands and responds to the environment. METAPLAY was an interaction between an artist and participants that happened solely over computer technology. The artist was able to sit in a remote location and have a projection of the participants located in another remote location. The artist involved the participants in the act of drawing and used it as a game to elicit responses. The artist of Art By the Masses translates this concept, and the interaction becomes the collaboration of users on visualizing ideas.
Art By the Masses was created by examining the dynamics of the popular website Reddit.com, a social news website where the registered users submit content in the form of either a link or a text “self” post. Other users then vote the submission “up” or “down”, which is used to rank the post and determine its position on the site’s pages and front page, where the most upvoted content is seen. Reddit contains an almost infinite number of subcategories, called subreddits that cover almost every interest possible. This website is one of the most popular websites that characterizes itself as an online community, and because of its priority to the users, its encouragement for users to contribute original content, and the high levels of daily traffic to the site, this website was chosen as the best material to host the project.
The artist created a username and posted a thread, or statement that can now be commented on by other users, calling for submissions of ideas for drawings. The post was made in the subreddit /r/art, as the artist was looking for those Redditors with more understanding of the artists influencing the project. The post reads:
“Hi, /r/art! Would you like to take part in an Internet based collaborative art project?
I am currently working on a term project with an emphasis on digital media as an art form. I am focusing the project around the Internet as art, interactive digital media, and the concept of Myron Krueger’s VIDEOPLACE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videoplace%5B1%5D ). My idea is have users contribute ideas for me to illustrate, and I will post my interpretation. As a contributing user, you can respond with an illustration or reinterpretation of my drawing. Post anything you would like to see visualized, the more creative the better and feel free to add your own illustrations. We will all share in the creation of this art piece. Thanks for your help.”
Once the post was saved, it became available to the entire Reddit community, and users could determine how much traffic it received by how they vote its content. The more upvotes a post receives the higher the chance of more visibility throughout the site. Those posts that are upvoted to the front page are seen by all who travel to the site.
When the post was created, one user initiated the interaction, and the artist was looking for a response from other users. The other users were now in control of the media that would be represented within the thread. The “meaning is not created by the artist… Meaning is the product of interaction between the observer and the system, the content of which is in a state of flux, of endless change and transformation.”
In Protocol: Exists After Decentralization, Alexander Galloway argues, “art is a tool to share with others to make more art.” As the Internet expands its information range and digital impact, it becomes a type of art object. The differences between art and non-art are less clear. It is a space that offers itself up as art. It can be assumed that in Galloway’s writings the interaction between users is not the focus but instead the focus lies in the Internet already existing as art that is adapted and improved through user interaction.Examining this work under Galloway’s ideals leaves one with the impression of the thread as a whole and its collaborative nature, not the user submitted images, as the artwork.
Many similarities exist between this project and the Net.art movement of the early 90s. Net.art refers to a group of artists who worked in the medium of Internet art during the early dotcom boom. Net.artists have built communities by web hosting art and curating all through the Internet as its medium. Net.artists have defined themselves through interplay of exchanges, collaborative and cooperative work among multiple users. One pioneer of this movement, Olia Lialina, created many Internet art pieces, most notably the interactive piece My Boyfriend Came Back From the War. This piece is a gif file posted on the Internet that tells a story to the viewer as he discovers the narrative by clicking on the images. While Net.art evolved into a tool for tactical media, it has come to identify art that uses the Internet as its medium and that cannot be experienced in any other way. The artist is successful in applying Net.art’s conceptual ideas by establishing the thread and the users interactions within it as the artwork and the users as the collaborative artists.
Unlike previous examples referenced, such as Myron Krueger’s study of Responsive Environments, the aesthetic of the images is not totally disregarded. In Krueger’s study the importance was the interaction not the visual quality of the thing produced. However, in Art By the Masses the aesthetic is important in how it sparks interaction from the community. A user who replies with an image that appeals to the majority of users in the thread will receive more upvotes from the community and an increase in that images visibility. That image then creates a string of other user created image responses. Interestingly enough, the same reaction from the community can occur if an image is particularly distinct from the others or just plain terrible. The functions and interests of Reddit help to facilitate the artist’s ideas toward a database of visually unique community artwork where the most different images will be the ones with the most interactions.
The idea of utilizing the Internet community for collaborative work is far from ground-breaking, and many threads of the same concept can be seen on Reddit every week, usually the original poster asking for ideas from the community for creative project or suggestions on improvements. However these posts fail to involve the community in the actual creation of the artwork. Only the original poster has the creative license to his work, even though the community inspired his work. This project successfully removes the barriers between artist and viewer, and allows all to become the artists. All the work created in the thread belongs to all the users interacting within it.
While the actual nature of the project is less developed than the concept of multi-user artwork, several users have submitted ideas for visualization that the artist has rendered in the form of collages. Some of the works are exact interpretations while others seem to come from an idea the artist conceived of while in the process of creating. At the current time, four other users have contributed to the thread, and the artist has replied to their requests with an attached link to the image created for them.
The interactions are as follows:
The artist now must wait for other users to post new ideas or for new users to discover the thread and add their own interpretations.
The images produced to date consist of four collages made up of multiple online images acquired through a basic Google image search pieced together in Photoshop to relate to the artist’s interpretation of the idea posted. These images contain no deeper meaning other than representation, however other users may have other meanings in their creations. All of these images were collaged by the original poster of the thread:
“Martin Luther King riding an inflatable pool dolphin into the sunset.”
“Intensive piping systems scaling the exterior and interior of a structure, with Willy Wonka factory styling. Dreamy, unrealistic, yet seemingly inhabitable”
“A Chilean Sea-Bass at Mardi Gras.”
“A giraffe climbing Mt. Everest with her best friend a rampaging orca flying in a hand glider (because an orca can’t climb. Duh.)” 
In a world where endless information is available at a person’s fingertips, the sharing and collaboration of artwork has reached an almost infinite limit of possibilities. The pioneers in Internet art have paved the way for new art to evolve along with the technologies we have created for ourselves. As this ideology of community art expands, we can expect to see a future where art is no longer limited by one person’s ability but is open to the talents of the whole of our digital communities.
Ascott, Roy. Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace? Art Journal. Fall 1990
Galloway, Alexander R.. Protocol how control exists after decentralization. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
“Hi, /r/art! Would you like to take part in an internet based collaborative art project? : Art.” reddit: the front page of the internet. http://www.reddit.com/r/Art/comments/140wia/hi_rart_would_you_like_to_take_part_in_an/ (accessed December 3, 2012).
Myron Krueger. Responsive Environments. MIPS 46 Conference Proceeding. Pg 424. Montv, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1974
Paul, Christiane(2003). Digital Art. London: Thames & Hudson.
“Reddit.com Site Info.” Alexa – The Web Information Company. http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/reddit.com (accessed December 3, 2012).
“reddit: the front page of the internet.” reddit: the front page of the internet. http://www.reddit.com (accessed December 3, 2012).
“www.netarts.org / machida city museum of graphic arts / index.html.” http://www.netarts.org / machida city museum of graphic arts / index.html. http://www.netarts.org/ (accessed December 3, 2012). “war2.” http://www.телепортация.org. http://www.teleportacia.org/war/war2.htm (accessed December 3, 2012).
 Myron Krueger. Responsive Environments. MIPS 46 Conference Proceeding. Pg 424. Montv, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1974
 METAPLAY was designed as an interaction of an artist drawing on the image of the audience projected from a remote location. It was important to involve the participants in the act of drawing and as such it becomes a game between participant and artist interacting through a man-computer video link spanning a mile
 VIDEOPLACE ‘s impact in the experience lies in the fact that each person’s image is him. “what happens to his image happens to him”
 Myron Krueger. Responsive Environments. MIPS 46 Conference Proceeding. Pg 421. Montv, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1974
“Artificial reality that seeks to define abstract impossible relationships between action and result”
 “Hi, /r/art! Would you like to take part in an internet based collaborative art project? : Art.” reddit: the front page of the internet. http://www.reddit.com/r/Art/comments/140wia/hi_rart_would_you_like_to_take_part_in_an/ (accessed December 3, 2012).
 Ascott, Roy. Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace? Art Journal. Fall 1990
 Galloway, Alexander R.. Protocol how control exists after decentralization. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
 “www.netarts.org / machida city museum of graphic arts / index.html.” http://www.netarts.org / machida city museum of graphic arts / index.html. http://www.netarts.org/ (accessed December 3, 2012).
 Myron Krueger. Responsive Environments. MIPS 46 Conference Proceeding. Pg 415. Montv, N.J.: AFIPS Press, 1974
This concept of the response as the medium and the art being the interaction was discovered through the process of developing his project GLOWFLOW
 The anonymous users are identified by their user name in the top left corner of the post. The username highlighted in blue in the replies is the original poster, in this analysis referred to as the artist.