Intimate publics, participatory culture and democratization of art forms in the digital era

Participatory culture and social media


Artistic liberty is a form of expression usually associated with an individual’s creative freedom of expression through any form of traditional art (music, painting, theatre etc.). Usually it is an individualistic trait that governs and is responsible for the outcome of expression entirely unique to the creator. However, with the advent of digital media and social network sites there has been a sea change in how creative art forms are being produced, distributed and being consumed. With ubiquitous presence of the internet and social media platforms there has been a growing trend in transforming traditional arts through participatory culture, shared knowledge and mobility. Though social networking sites are not necessarily the medium where the actual creation takes place but rather serves as a platform to bring/ bond likeminded individuals together over an area of shared interest. This could be described as a concentrated assimilation of individuals sharing a similar cultural, social, professional or related attribute, and can be linked to the theory of intimate publics on social media.

‘The term intimate publics is that as social and mobile media become more pervasive, different modes of using these media mean that increasingly publics are defined by the strengths of their relationships, rather than the total number of network connections’

(Hinton & Hjorth, 2013)

In this participatory/ collaborative means of producing creative artworks, individuals from different backgrounds, cultures and demographics are increasingly using social media platforms to express the diversity of their thought processes to add new dimensions to ideas, creating outputs that was unimaginable a decade ago. The crux behind this is probably, that ‘ideas are ubiquitous’ and it can be observed here that social networks have facilitated the free flow of ideas and information in real time, in an unrestricted environment and brought together hitherto unknown individuals and ideas both of whom would probably have never crossed paths in a pre-digital era.  In true sense this revolutionary transformation has led to an unimaginable democratization of art forms.

“Ideas spread more rapidly in densely connected social networks. So tools that increase the density of social connection are instrumental to the changes that spread.”

(Boyd, Stowe, 2011)

To describe this participatory culture further, (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013) observes that social media is primarily a participative medium where we actively share information about ourselves, our interests and ideas. Based on these, it is in all likelihood that we form association with individuals or groups of individuals who share similar interest as ours. Different forms of creative art have tremendously benefitted from this kind of participatory culture leading to the genesis of a new form of artistic freedom and democratization.

Deuze (2006 p.70) writes about the participatory culture that followed after the advent of web 2.0 where users are leveraging the widespread reach of User Generated Content platforms and mobile technology.


Democratization of creative art forms, by the people, for the people…

Clothing e-tailer, ‘Threadless’, serves as an interesting example on how social network platforms, artworks by individual designers and participatory culture can be blended together to reap commercial benefits as well as artistic satisfaction. Designers from across the globe are encouraged to submit their t-shirt designs on Threadless and garner promotional support using social network connections who appreciate their work. These connections are used to share the design and spread the word. Online opinion of users is sought through polling and the designs that get the maximum votes are stored in the user generated design repository of Threadless and subsequently printed on t-shirts. The designers whose artworks have been chosen get rewarded trough cash prizes, recognition, and royalty.


(source: www.threadless.com)

This transformational way of designing also gives users access to limitless design opportunities which otherwise would have not been possible without the participatory culture of social media.


In another interesting example, artists Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson’s have harnessed the connective power of the internet, to launch an interactive creative project ‘Moon’, which allows participants to use the surface of a digitally constructed moonsacpe to create graffiti and explore through this interface. Users can also collect digital imprints created by other users and share them on social media platforms thus promoting egalitarianism and democratization of creative art process.

The beauty of the project lies in the amalgamation and convergence of creative ideas which could only have been facilitated by the democratization that participatory cultures offer.

(Moon; source: YouTube)

Gianluca Mura, in his book ‘Analyzing Art, Culture, and Design in the Digital Age’ (p.132, 2015) analyses this process of democratization of art forms powered by powerful social media platforms to be something greater than just being an alternative channel for artists and creative professionals to promote their work with a larger audience. Rather he describes it as a ‘model for new way to collectively create original art’.


vectorial elevation

(Vectorial Elevation, Vancouver; image source: Google)

Mexican-Canadian electronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hemme came up with this unique idea of an interactive artwork project which allows users to create light design sculptures by orchestrating the co-ordination between robotic searchlights located around English Bay, Vancouver, Canada. Known as ‘Vectorial Elevation, the easy to use three dimensional interface allows participants to design their light sculptures on its dedicated website. These designs are then projected to transform the night sky over the city. Photos and videos of the designs are captured by 4 strategically placed cameras across the city, which can then be shared among peers on social network platforms. This form of democratization involving participatory culture has been observed by Henry Jenkins (2006) to be derived from the participant’s belief that their contributions are important and also to feel a certain degree of social connection with someone of similar interest.

(Vectorial Elevation; source: YouTube)


Where, why & how do I fit in here?

Being a creative professional, my social media campaign has been built around to promote my artistic prowess. I have opted for unconventional and specialized social sites like Behance and Linkedin as my primary engagement platforms. My campaign is heavily dependent on the aspects of intimate publics and participatory culture attributed to social media communications. As defined by the theory of intimate publics, the core focus of my campaign is to appeal to a very specific and niche segment of audience/ collaborators who share the same artistic interest and inclination as me.

The social environment on social networking sites like Behance typically works on the reciprocation phenom or mutual admiration. It is through this kind of engagement that I intent to collaborate with other creative professionals and participate in mutually beneficial and gratifying projects. Hence, my whole campaign harps on a participatory atmosphere with blurred boundaries between personal and professional identity, in a way such as both becomes an extension of each other. Also, the way evolving technology, multimedia and techniques have enabled new mediums to explore the canvass for creative production, gives me the courage to challenge established formats and search for something new, perhaps interdisciplinary.


The changing traditional mediums and technology enabled art forms are certainly helping us to explore artistic dimensions which could not have been traversed within the realm of its erstwhile form. This has paved way for a greater spectrum of opportunities limited only by our imagination. The egalitarian and democratic participation through social media platforms have definitely changed the way different art forms are being produced, distributed and consumed and also made these new forms easily accessible to a larger audience.

However, going forward it needs to be seen how these platforms address certain challenges like appropriation of a project based out of expectations of people from different social contexts. Hinton & Hjorth (p. 63, 2013) describes this to be the ‘inherent fallibility of crowds’ and the disproportionate ability of certain individuals or sections (among the crowd) to manipulate the outcome.

Also this kind of democratic framework works only on a decentralized structure that could prove to be a double edged sword if not managed with coherent efficacy.


  1. Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Social Network Sites Understanding Social Media (pp. 32 – 54; pp. 55 – 76). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
  2. Boyd, Dana (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics and Implications. A Networked Self, (pp. 1- 12). New York and London: Routledge
  3. Deuze, M. (2006). Participation, remediation, bricolage: Considering principal components of a digital culture. The Information Society, 22(2), (pp. 63-75) doi:10.1080/01972240600567170
  4. Mura, Gianluca (2015). Power to Share. Analyzing Art, Culture, and Design in the Digital Age (pp. 120 – 140). IGI Global
  5. Boyd, Stowe (2011) ‘Revolution = Messiness At Scale, Again’. Retrieved from <http://stoweboyd.com/post/3105227293/revolution-messiness-at-scale-again&gt;
  6. threadless.com
  7. Cembalest, Robert (2013) ‘How Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliason Got 35,000 People to Draw on the Moon’. Retrieved from <http://www.artnews.com/2013/12/19/how-ai-weiwei-and-olafur-eliasson-got-35000-people-to-draw-on-the-moon/&gt;
  8. http://lozano-hemmer.com/vectorial_elevation.php

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s