Adopter stories: “Art is a human need and a human instinct”
When I first logged on to www.dada.art , it reminded me of the Windows’ Paint app, but in the best possible way! With a friendly and simple interface, it is far from intimidating with an oversupply of options that you find in Photoshop and many other creative apps. When all you have is a few brushes, a full palette and your trackpad, you suddenly remember what it’s like being a child again and you just start drawing!
Back in 2014 when Beatriz Ramos – the mastermind, founder and CEO of DADA – was recruiting talents for her animation studio, she realised that there was a need for a database and a community where artists could exhibit their works. However, a mere database was not quite enough, artists should matter just as much as their artwork. She imagined a place that would revolutionise how artists interact with one another and their art. That was the moment DADA was conceived.
DADA is the first social network for collaborative visual conversations. It’s truly a social network like no other. Here, the process of making art and the dialogue created from it have centre stage, and anyone can be an artist. In the meantime, integrated use of blockchain technology makes it possible for users to monetize their creations.
.ART talked to the co-founder of DADA, Judy Mam, about what the art world is now, how far it has moved away from what it should be, and how we can try and change it, not in spite of technology but with its help.
Dada the art movement got its name because for Germans the word meant foolish naiveté and had many other nonsensical meanings in different languages. What sentiment did you take from Dada the art movement to DADA the art project?
We made a list of probably 300 possible names for the platform and nothing really stuck. And then one day Beatriz asked me, “How about Dada?” and I thought “wow, yes, this is great!”. It’s short and very easy to remember, everyone can spell it. But it’s also related to the Dadaist movement – we have a very similar spirit of experimentation, collaboration and doing something revolutionary for art today. At the time, Dadaists were really breaking all the rules. They would say that you don’t have to be an academic painter, and you can do something of your own, like make a collage or write a poem – and it would be art. That you could take a urinal and turn it into art. That you don’t have to make art alone and can collaborate with others. We share their ideas and are, in a way, a XXI-century evolution of the Dadaist movement.
What are the conventions that should be broken in the modern art world?
There is just so much that doesn’t seem to be working. First of all, art has ceased to be part of our daily lives. It has become something that’s either expensive or intimidating. In the US, for instance, the government is cutting budgets for art education. Today’s society simply doesn’t think that art is a priority. And then we have the world of fine art, which only a tiny percentage of people can afford to own, and only a tiny percentage of artists make millions from selling their work. There are millions of artists who are talented and worthy, but it’s impossible for them to get a gallery show and breach the gatekeepers required for recognition. At the same time, regular people don’t come into contact with art – neither through enjoying nor through collecting it. We believe that technology, in our case blockchain, can change that.
The most important part is the conversation: you can draw something very simple and anyone can respond. That’s where the magic happens.
What is the proportion of professional artists to amateurs on the platform?
We have over 160 000 registered members, and although we don’t have the exact breakdown, we know that the top 2% of the most engaged members are professional-level artists. At the same time, there are some amazing cases of non-professionals. There is, for instance, María García, a hairdresser from Venezuela who has made over 10,000 drawings. We featured her work at CADAF, the first digital art fair in New York. We love what she does – we call her “the Andy Warhol of DADA”. I think she would be called an outsider artist in the world of fine art but she has an incredible imagination. And this is exactly what we’re after: we aren’t interested in perfection – but in what you can contribute to the conversation. There are also a lot of people on DADA that haven’t taken the first step toward drawing, they are maybe a little bit intimidated – but they are still scrolling and enjoying the art. I love to see the level of improvement. Every member, even professional artists, starts tentatively and slowly figures out how to use our simple tool-box in the best way possible – and the change they go through is enormous! The most important part is the conversation: you can draw something very simple and anyone can respond. That’s where the magic happens.
Do you yourself draw on DADA?
Oh yes, I am terrible! But I found a way to do it so I’m not embarrassed. I do abstract paintings of dots. I’m not at all skilled and I don’t have a tablet, so I just use my laptop’s trackpad, but it doesn’t matter. I just draw what I can, and people respond – it actually validates you and gives you confidence to continue. As you can see, people tend to be very hard on themselves when they do something creative and we want people not to feel that way. Our founder, Beatriz Ramos, is the one who came up the idea of having a creative conversation. As an artist, she always felt like she was at a disadvantage – she was far more expressive and eloquent with images and drawing rather than with words. So, she insisted for DADA to be a place where you aren’t drawing on top of someone else’s creation – it’s a place to have a dialogue through which we can build a strong community.
People tend to be very hard on themselves when they do something creative and we want them not to feel that way.
There is this game I used to play as a child: you would take a piece of paper, draw a head, fold it so it wouldn’t be visible. The next person would have to add the neck, and so it went on until you reached the feet and unfolded the paper to see a surreal result. Drawing on DADA is somewhat similar. What was the inspiration behind this idea?
What you are describing is actually a game called Exquisite Corpse, invented by surrealists in the early 20th century. In that sense DADA is a reverse Exquisite Corpse! You don’t just see what you draw, you can see all of the additions made by other artists, and the most surprising part is the reply to you. It was Beatriz’s idea, linked to our mission of creating a space for creative conversation. When you get an e-mail notification about someone responding to your painting – it’s a gift. It’s like a wonderful surprise that makes you want to continue the conversation. When we launched, we didn’t have a team of designers, so in that sense DADA is circumstantially but at the same time deliberately easy to use. We didn’t want people to be intimidated by perfection. We are now working on improvements with a design team (finally!) but the idea of simplicity will remain: just pick out a brush and draw!
Works purchased on dada.art can only be printed in small dimensions as it’s meant to be displayed and enjoyed on the screen. Is the future of art fully digital?
Art has been around since the dawn of humanity and I’m sure people will keep making physical art forever. I love books and don’t own a Kindle, but at the same time I believe that being digital doesn’t make art any less human. What we need to do is create a better experience for digital art, and technology can help us do it. As long as we strive to create ways of displaying, sharing and storing digital art that are similar to analogue art, it will be worth it. People live most of their lives digitally anyway, everyone is attached to their device and this is troubling. However, it’s important to create opportunities for people to be creative in the digital world, to make or enjoy art while they look at their screens, to express themselves. We know that some artists use DADA to warm up for their offline projects, to try something out and think through it. In the end it’s about the interaction between the physical and the digital world.
As I always say, no one expects a dentist to have four other jobs in order to survive – why should an artist?
Why did you choose to “divorce” Facebook?
We used to have a Facebook page for DADA with over 16K subscribers, but we realized that our posts were visible to hardly anyone – an unpaid post would be shown to a maximum of 200 people out of the 16K, that’s how Facebook gets you to pay for ads. We also learned, together with the rest of the world, how they misuse data – and we wanted to stop being part of it. We are also a social network, but we don’t sell anyone’s data and our users actually feel like they are doing something positive and unifying. They don’t display hostile behavior and there are no cases of cyber-bullying on DADA. I think when you see lovely art it gives you a context that stops you from behaving in certain ways. DADA inspires the best behavior in people – and that is very much the opposite of most social media.
In one of her recent public talks Beatriz said: “Art is not a business transaction, it’s a fundamental human need”…
I think that’s an interesting paradox – that technology can actually be used to humanize us – not to make us more alienated. DADA really shows that it’s possible. We have people all over the world who have never met each other making art together. Someone from Kenya can be drawing together with someone from the US – and that’s only possible because technology allows it. So just as it can tear people apart and make them hostile, like on social networks, technology can also bring people together. Art is a human need and a human instinct – give children some crayons and they’ll start drawing. I believe that we are the only species that make art intentionally, with a desire to depict the world around us, to express what we see and feel. We have forgotten that making art is as natural as breathing. The emotional, psychological, spiritual value of making art is way greater for our culture and civilization than its monetary value. But at the same time, people who want to live off their art need it to be recognized, and that’s when these two aspects have to come together. There are so many struggling artists out there, and why should it be that way? As I always say, no one expects a dentist to have four other jobs in order to survive – why should an artist?
And for a little bit of mind-bending activity at the end of our interview… If you had to explain blockchain to a 10-year-old, how would you do it?
Oh wow, that isn’t easy! But let me try… Blockchain makes objects out of digital stuff. You know how you hear songs online, or take pictures for Instagram? Blockchain can turn them into digital objects, like coins or tokens, that you can buy or sell. You can take a picture of your dog, make it into a token and sell it online.
Person with the greatest influence in your life
My parents, Aaron and Anita.
An object you can’t live without
A character trait you value most highly
A sense of humour.
“Libra” by Don De Lillo.
If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?
A flapper in the roaring ‘20s.
You have a minute face to face wig Salvador Dali. What would you say/do?
Your art is better than you.
When I say “art”, what if your first thought?
What’s your idea of happiness?
When the lights come down at a movie theater and the previews are about to begin.
Also published on Medium.