A million-artist painting

MillionArtists is fundraising project with an interesting way of gathering donations: Everyone who gives money can choose the color and placement of single pixel on a massive online canvas. In theory, as thousands or millions of people donate, it’ll take shape as a picture.

But a picture of what? Heh — interesting question. A story in the Globe and Mail points out that at the moment, there are only 88 donations, so the pixels are so insignificant on the sprawling digital canvas that they “could easily be mistaken for dirt on the screen.” (That’s a possibly lovely, if dispiriting, metaphor for the philanthropy’s always-heroic but never-enough attempt to solve the world’s problems.) You can check the painting out in real-time here; a snapshot of the current pic, shrunk down to 1/10th size, is above. The guys running the project describe the aesthetic of the project thusly:

I see the point regarding the “meaningful and pleasant look” and have to agree that our picture may become just “white noise” … On other hand I’d compare this “random pixel location” method to Jackson Pollock’s method of “dripping paint from cans with holes in the bottom”, but I must agree that mine is ever more extreme: when Pollock used his own senses to make what he believed reflects his art vision, I’m going to use sense of color of a million different people. Will I get the “meaningful and pleasant look” at the end? I do not know. Will it show the feelings of the million people? I believe it will.

A while back, I wrote a piece for Slate about whether “collaborative art” was possible — hundreds or thousands of people working, hivelike, on a single project, each unaware of the intentions or desires of the others. I think it is indeed possible that a hive can produce art, but it all depends on the framing device. The device here is so open-ended that it’s likely to produce an entropic beige sludge. But hey — it’ll be an entropic beige sludge that has raised a bunch of money for charity!

(Thanks to Jonathan Kotcheff for this one!)

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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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