What would you have given to sit alongside Vincent van Gogh as he worked?
What would you have learned, what insight would you have gained into humanity? What would you have asked him?
Sadly there’s no way to recapture that lost opportunity, but the convergence of art and technology in today’s world means it’s certainly possible to look over the shoulders of current artists and interact with them as they ponder the same emotions and mysteries the Dutch master once confronted.
And you needn’t be a denizen of whatever current New York, London, or Parisian neighborhood is home to today’s artistic visionaries in order to achieve the feat.
You just need a webcam, a video conferencing platform, and perhaps the ability to shush when shushed.
YouNow’s Art Enclave
Artists like Latvian illustrator Marite Desaine are already letting strangers on social media peer at their unfinished creations as they are being created.
In fact, Desaine herself has gathered more than 7 million views of her works in progress on the DIY broadcasting platform YouNow. She’s part of a service that generates 100 million broadcasts and views a month.
And what her viewers get is a real-time look at an artist at work, with the added attraction that they can post comments to Desaine which she can, and does, respond to as they appear.
While the YouNow streaming phenomenon is a tale unto itself, the attraction for artists such as Desaine is that they can generate not only exposure but income by streaming themselves into the public domain.
The artist’s followers and viewers are encouraged to pay her a tip for each visit to her studio. The gratuity can be less than $1, but even at that small amount it’s possible to make one’s livelihood this way, when each stream attracts thousands of potential tippers.
However, the limited interactivity of the exchange surely leaves some visitors frustrated, and that’s where video conferencing could make things more rewarding for both sides of the exchange.
Video Conferencing with an Artist’s Mind
The obvious extension to the current YouNow setup is to open up the microphone and camera on the viewer’s end.
Of course, it’s not possible for anyone to hold a simultaneous conversation with hundreds or thousands of people, let alone someone who is painting or drawing at the same time, so the nature of the stream would have to become more intimate, or at least more focused.
In addition to watching an artist work from afar and leaving a tip, patrons could be invited to pay a premium fee for a personal audience. Here the viewer would be able to communicate freely with the artist as they worked, and the artist could now put a face to the anonymous YouNow handle by opening a chat window on their own end.
If there’s nothing too sensitive being discussed, the whole conversation could still be broadcast live to the public.
There are all manner of small, unobtrusive video conferencing cameras and microphones currently available that could sit above an artist’s easel or workspace to reduce the impact on the creative process.
In this way art students could observe technique and process, and art fans and critics could let a conversation wander from the detail of brush stroke technique to the broader concepts of inspiration and purpose.
But if that all seems too much like interfering with the genius at play, there are other ways to interact.
Setting the Mood by Video
Instead of acting as inquisitor you may want instead to play the role of muse.
Video conferencing allows you to reverse the flow of stimuli so that you can share audio, video, and still images with your artistic hero and see what kind of creations they spark.
You could select the music that the artist hears, or share videos with them. You could send across images of your own works of art, or perhaps narrate a story or anecdote that you find inspiring.
The two-way flow opens up the creative process to collaboration of any imagining, and does so between people who may be half a world away from each other.
And there would be no need for advanced tech, although a version of current camera-pen technology (yup, a video camera you can hold like a pen) might make for some interesting, perhaps instructional, points of view.
But the basic, necessary cameras, microphones, and media platforms already exist. The possibilities are instead determined by how willing and able artists and their audiences are to stitch together the existing technologies toward a new end.
As van Gogh himself noted, great things are done by a series of small things brought together.