How art is helping Meta build the metaverse
Getting a clear sense of what exactly the metaverse is or will be is a challenge for most minds. Figuring out what it can be is tough, especially for those tasked with building it. What’s certain is that making the metaverse a place worth spending time requires imagination. Fortunately for the engineers at Meta, they have Open Arts to inspire them.
“We exist to build community through creativity,” Open Arts head Tina Vaz told BOSS. The Open Arts mission statement could serve as an excellent vision for the metaverse.
The first ad promoting the Meta brand featured post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau’s “Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo.” The camera zooms in as the painting transforms into a fully-fledged, three-dimensional world behind the central figures. It’s illustrative of the vibrant experience Meta aims to provide for metaverse users, taking them quite literally to another dimension of the web.
It’s fitting that art features so prominently in the introduction of Meta, as art and artists will play a key role in the construction of the metaverse and in exploring its possibilities.
“Making technology is a creative act,” Vaz said. “The creative process and the process of developing technology are analogous.”
Open Arts provides creative engagements and workshops for Meta employees in all aspects of art, programs that help get the creative juices flowing and encourage innovation in their work. The act of creation requires experimentation and sometimes failure, whether it’s making a sculpture or building an app. There is always a lesson to take away.
Just as it provides new avenues for employees in which to create, Open Arts opens opportunities for artists to showcase their work to a wider audience. That comes in the form of installations at Meta offices, partnerships with museums and cultural institutions, and artwork showcased across Meta’s apps. New creative tools such as AR and VR give artists the chance to explore new mediums.
“When we think about the metaverse, this is an opportunity to build a new world together,” she said. “Artists should be part of that conversation. Artists share a hacker spirit with technologists in that they look at a problem, take it apart, think about new ways to put it back together, ask questions that don’t have an immediate answer. Those are the kinds of conversations we think need to be had to build a metaverse that has sustainability, equity, and representation in the core of its founding.”
Meta has already been incorporating art in its digital spaces, commissioning work for its apps that has brought widespread recognition for unknown artists. Cultural moments such Día de Muertos and Native American Heritage Month have been marked with commissioned works.
“What’s great about those kinds of collaborations is the artistic input elevates the experience of the user in the app, and the artists themselves bring a narrative and a perspective on the community and the moment that’s being celebrated,” Vaz said.
Commissioned 360-degree backgrounds for Messenger Rooms showcased the work of analog artists in a digital space, a potential preview of the decoration of metaverse spaces.
Web3 will enable more unknown artists to come to the fore.
“The promise of NFTs is a widening of the funnel, with more opportunities for creators,” Vaz said. “They have even greater agency over their work and how it’s sold.”
The Place To Be
If the metaverse is to become the place to gather online, art will be a key vehicle.
“We think about art as being essential to our collective well-being,” Vaz said, “it’s something that makes us human. It’s not possible to imagine a space inhabited by humans that doesn’t include a rich array of artistic experiences.”
Open Arts is pairing artists with creators from Spark AR to add AR overlays to physical artworks that are on display in Meta spaces, experimenting with the possibilities of mixed reality.
Vaz recalled the discovery of a painting underneath Picasso’s “Woman Ironing” from her time at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It took years from the discovery that something was hidden underneath for infrared technology to reveal the underlying portrait. That’s the sort of scenario where augmented and mixed reality could show the viewer both works at once.
“You can certainly imagine the possibilities and application of AR technology in bringing those kinds of stories forward,” she said.
Artists in residency are working on projects with Responsible AI, including an all-digital exhibition from Sofia Crespo, whose work focuses on technologies inspired by biology.
“We certainly imagine doing more of those in continuing to move toward the metaverse,” Vaz said.
Just as musicians put on virtual concerts during the height on in-person COVID restrictions, the metaverse could showcase live shows and exhibitions through VR.
“Art and artists can introduce us to social, philosophical, political, even ecological possibilities. That’s true for the physical world and for digital spaces. If we’re building a new world in the metaverse, what do we want those possibilities to be? How can we leverage technology to give them creative life? That’s why we think it’s important for artists to be part of the conversation.”
We’re only scratching the surface of what the metaverse can be. Imagine the possibilities.