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Can a crowd produce art? My latest Slate column

Slate has just published my latest column, which explores the question “can a crowd produce a work of art?” I talk about some of the interesting smart-mob theory floating around these days, and then explore the example of Typophile: The Smaller Picture, a fascinating project by Kevan Davis that allowed thousands of strangers to collaboratively design a font. The font was a success, but when Davis tried to extend it to more open-ended art, it didn’t work:

When the mob tried to draw a few simple pictures, it couldn’t. Davis told it to draw a television, but the image never congealed. The group agreed that the tube should be represented by empty space, but it couldn’t generate any other details. An attempt at drawing a face produced an even more shapeless mess. The only partially successful picture was a goat: At around 4,000 votes, it looked pretty goatlike, and at 5,000 votes the mob revised it to make the horns curvier. But after 7,000 votes the picture decayed into a random jumble of pixels, as if the group could no longer agree on what a goat should look like. Mobs, it seems, can’t draw.

You can read the entire article here for free! If you have any thoughts on it, I’d encourage you, as always, to post ‘em in The Fray, Slate’s discussion threads.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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