When Developers meet Art – Interview with Isabel Draves

by | Jul 29, 2015


Image courtesy of Isabel Walcott Draves

Image courtesy of Isabel Walcott Draves

Digital artists and digital art seem to be becoming more and more popular. Though digital artists were active from the ’60s, it wasn’t until recent years that they started to flourish. The image of the artist as we imagine through history is changing. Not only artists working in the studio painting, sculpturing, or drawing, but rather sitting in front of computer programming. Yes. Programming. I wrote in the past about Paul Graham’s essay “Hackers and painters” in which he highlights the similarities between hackers and painters. So when I heard about LISA, Leaders in Software and Art, I was intrigued, so interviewed Isabel Walcott Draves, the founder.

Isabel is a NYC-based entrepreneur, tech startup consultant, and expert in building communities. She has worked at the crossroads of technology, media, and startups for over twenty years. In 2009 she started Leaders in Software and Art (LISA), and New York City’s Creative Technology Week (2015)

The Artian: For those who are not familiar with LISA, can you please share with us? what is LISA and its purpose?

Isabel Draves:  We’re a community for software and electronic artists, curators, collectors, and coders who come together, mingle with others in related professions, learn what others are doing and share and promote their own work.

TA: What is your vision for LISA, or what are you are trying to achieve?

ID: To build a closer-knit community of tech artists and raise the profile of the movement.

TA: It seems that you started LISA long before art, technology, and startups were popular subjects. What brought you to start LISA? 

ID: I wouldn’t say long before, as people have been building communities like this since EAT in 1967, but six years ago this art was still outsider art and now it is, in many ways, the hot topic at the forefront of both art and tech.  I’m an entrepreneur myself with a dot com startup under my belt and have worked with many startups as a strategic consultant.  I’ve also been organizing people into special interest groups, formally and informally, for years so that too was nothing new for me.  But the real reason I got into tech art is because of my husband, the open-source software artist Scott Draves.  At the time it was an uphill battle finding a gallery or museum that would recognize generative art as legitimate, so I wanted to organize the movement.

TA: You are married to an artist and as such familiar with the life of an artist. Though, not many are familiar with the artist’s life; some visualize the artist as the one “that just does some painting”. What is the most typical misconception that people have towards software artists and art in general?

ID: There are always stereotypes, but unlike the artists who may moonlight as baristas or waitresses, tech artists typically have skills that allow them to take high-paid work if time allows.  So the “starving artist” stereotype doesn’t normally apply unless the artist simply refuses to take time away from the “easel” so to speak.

TA: You are an entrepreneur and have many years of business experience. I always claim that entrepreneurs and artists share many common traits. What do you think? Which similarities do you see between artists and entrepreneurs?

Interesting point and two similarities jump out at me: the requirement to be a self-starter, where you don’t need someone telling you what to do; and the inability to hear the word no.  Both types relentlessly pursue goals that others think aren’t practical or possible.

TA: You work in the tech and art industry; it seems that the art world still didn’t figure the right way to engage the “techies”; you are also participating in Art silicon valley which targets this group. What are the impressions and reactions you get from this group when they interact with art?

ID: I think the art establishment, like every industry, has a lot of work to do to keep up with the changes being wrought by technology, and they are struggling with that and learning as they go along. Gallerists recognizing who can afford to purchase by looking for a Euro-style look, for example, will be steered wrong by the sneakers, t-shirts, and khakis of the wealthy tech set. As for the tech industry, many in the field are new to the concept of appreciating fine art and high culture, and that will come in time, and the definition of “fine” and “high” will change accordingly.  And finally, the aspect of art collecting that is more about buying investment-grade art and storing it in a warehouse or showing it off as a trophy I think resonates less with this group, since their investments and trophies tend to be companies. So another approach is needed.   Perhaps a more genuine one that revolves around developing a taste for art and a love for a particular piece; and that process cannot be rushed.

TA: In recent years we see a lot of activities in the field of art, entrepreneurship, and startups. Some of these activities include art startups that pop up everywhere around the globe: some of which are trying to disrupt the old art world, some of which like Depict, are trying to promote digital art to the world. In your opinion, do you think it is sustainable? What is the key success to these startups?

ID: I think it’s a fool’s errand to try to predict which disruptive businesses will win and why.   If you know someone who pretends to know why Facebook is cranking along and MySpace, Orkut, and Friendster aren’t, they’re fooling themselves. The market is ready when it’s ready so some of it is pure timing.  With variable quality, buying something expensive online will always be a challenge.   Probably the merchants that get around that problem with a Rent The Runway try before you buy a thing, or a Zappos- type free returns policy, will do the best.  But I haven’t spent much time examining that sector.

TA: One of your targets is to expose software artists. Can you recommend to our readers some software artists worth knowing?

ID: For sure. Check out our list with over 200 past LISA speakers that are featured in the artist portfolio at softwareandart.com

TA: What is the message you would like to send to our readers?

ID: Come to Creative Tech Week in New York City, April 29-May 8, 2016! Visit the website for more information Creativetechweek.nyc

You can follow LISA’s activities via Twitter, their YouTube Channel, where you can watch past events, and on Meetup group, where you can get updates about future events.

Isabel Draves Leaders in Software and Art from New Media Intersections on Vimeo.


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