Art, by Mob

I came across and article from Slate I was reading way back when I started my moveArt Mobs. The author, Clive Thompson explores the power mobs have had recently, especially in relation to the arts.

While many artists draw influences from many sources, the common wisdom is that art created by committee, rather than by a unified single vision (albeit sometimes shared by 2-3 collaborators) is usually crap. Thompson’s article shows that in some cases, that isn’t necessarily so.

Witness Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia written by grace of contributions of the masses, which in three years has exceeded the size of the venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica. (It has nearly triple the number of articles and double the number of words)

Thompson also cites the generally successful mob creation of letters via voting whether a pixel should be white or black. On the other hand, when faced with less concrete concepts like creating a face or a goat, by voting pixels black or white, the mob had a hard time creating anything that resembled..well..anything.

Likewise, the person who intitiated Wikipedia has tried to get mobs to write textbooks. Some projects are doing okay, but most are not because of the lack of a unified vision and voice.

These are really intriguing experiments and results. But the application for the arts manager can be fairly simple in some respects. You can solicit all the feedback about programming a season you want from as many sources as you want, but in the end, one central vision must make the determination regarding what will appear on stage. If you try to please everyone or as many people as possible, you end up with an utter mess.

Andrew Taylor said something similar in his Simple Truth 1 posting and a follow up when he says of a presenter who put out a call for programming ideas that would work in his performance space.

“Given the simple truth that audiences buy expectation rather than performances, and given that consumers can’t really say what they want until they have it, and often not even after that, Law is looking in the wrong place for inspiration.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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