Crowdsourcing is slowly becoming an essential part of the creative process. Though the image of the solitary (often tortured) artist toiling away in a studio might still be popular, the truth is that for a long time creative folks have been working in communities, relying on each other for inspiration and feedback. And thanks to the long arm of the Web, artistic communities have grown to global proportions.
Artists have reaped the rewards of crowd-generated websites that serve the unique needs of their communities. Photographers have benefited from flickr, through which they can post, view and comment on pictures as part of a global community of shutterbug. Providing essentially the same service for interface designers, Pattern Tap provides inspiration and feedback on web designs. FFFFound serves anyone working with digital images; users post their favorite internet images and in return, the website recommends new images based on their contributions.
Creative crowdsourcing projects, though, are encouraging the crowd to engage in collaboration, not merely inspiration. More and more, artistic enterprises are incorporating the feedback and guidance of their intended audience. The beloved 80’s band Devo, for example, solicited the feedback of fans for many aspects of their 2010 comeback album, including song mixes and design colors.
Devo vocalist and bassist, Gerald Casale explained on Devo’s website, “We decided to actively seek comment and criticism from outside people and use that as a tool, rather than shunning or ignoring it…Our experiences participating in secondary creativity—things like corporate consensus building, focus groups—make you appreciate the connection that an artist has to society.” The association that Casale makes between creative crowdsourcing and traditional marketing tools like focus groups is no accident. The great advantage of crowdsourcing one’s fans is that it gives them a sense of creative ownership over the product and, thus, increases the likelihood of them buying it. For this reason, crowdsourcing that integrates collaboration is a great way to build an audience.
On one hand, Devo’s marketing firm Mother LA was very smart to use crowdsourcing as a way to please Devo’s small but devoted fan base; on the other hand, when creative enterprises turn their artistic vision over to the crowd, they risk creating mediocre art. In an ideal world, art is divorced from monetary concerns, and artists or artistic groups create the work that comes closest to their unique artistic sensibilities. But when collaborating with the crowd, there is no single creative vision, which can be detrimental to the quality of a work – even when the crowd is comprised of knowledgeable fans. Should artists really rely so heavily on the crowd? Perhaps, crowdsourcing should stick to generating supportive artistic communities such as flickr or Pattern Tap and stay out of collaborative efforts? Or can crowdsourcers maintain quality and artistic integrity while integrating the creative contributions of the crowd?