Over a decade ago, researchers ran an experiment, starting by generating hundreds of pieces of art and splitting the art into two groups (source, backup). One group was labelled as being part of a prestigious art gallery, and the other was labelled as computer generated. 

The researchers recruited fourteen student subjects, scanned their brains with fMRI while they observed the art on a computer screen. Students preferred the art that was labelled as from a gallery more than the computer generated art.

With the very small sample size, this paper serves more as an occasion to discuss the importance of context than an actual conclusive observation. There’s a more direct implication here about A.I. art and artists, though that’s not what this blog post will cover. (Another day, I hope!)

When I previously wrote about self-promotion (more than once!), I’d framed it mostly as a distribution problem; since it was very unlikely that somebody was going to promote your work for you, you’d be better off doing it yourself.

I’d glossed over a key dimension: contextualization

When you promote your work, you are getting a chance to contextualize your work. You not only get a chance to describe your work, you also get to tell people your story. This is something that no artificial intelligence engine can replicate credibly (yet).

The reason we follow art and artists is because of the story. As this post in Acid Rant examines the recent A.I. Drake and Weekend song:

The Weeknd was literally homeless in the streets of Toronto from Scarborough and used his voice and his art to propel him into becoming the biggest artist on Earth, he went through years of drug abuse, sleeping on floors while trying to find ways to eat, and life experience that AI will never be able to have into telling one of the most inspirational stories ever told, something AI can never really do.

Conversely, that’s why people who don’t tell a story also may not see the value of their work appreciate. The art is no longer just about the work; it’s about the context of the work. Guernica worked not just because more people saw it; it was because the context of the world changed between the time of the Paris World Fair and the MoMA exhibition that made the work famous.

The actionable step is to start developing your story; to learn to create a perception, to do interesting things, and to build relationships and gain an opportunity to communicate these things. 

Media is an opportunity to contextualize. It’s an opportunity to express yourself—or to show off—through fashion, environments, relationships, subject matter expertise, and passion.

For example, consider Virgil Abloh’s V.A.A. Medallion t-shirt. Virgil was inspired by UNDFTD’s Gold Medal tee, and remixed the design for Leaders 1354, a store that he spent a lot of time with in his hometown of Chicago. 

When he discovered Colette, he redesigned the V.A.A. Medallion t-shirt, which was renamed the colette x Champion Medallion t-shirt.

It was effectively the same piece of work, parlayed through different contexts, which enabled him to open new doors and build new relationships across the world. He would do this multiple times—and get so good at it that corporations would hire him effectively to contextualize their work for them.

Consider this the next time you do media, or participate on social media. It’s not just about the distribution or the algorithms. It’s about contextualization.

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