CIU 111 – Reflective Blog – Data, You and your Art

We currently live in a world that revels in collecting information. On everything. About everything. There’s literally nothing people will not collect information on.

And yeah, it’s kind of scary. And messy. And it’s making us think about what information we’re putting out about ourselves, and what we can (or should) do with the information we have on other people.

(Of course, the data being collected is only as good and as accurate as the person who inputs it – for example, my dad? has never gone by his actual name or age upon the internet but instead goes by a series of amusing pseudonyms , all apparently born in the year 1900. Not exactly helpful to all the data harvesting algorithms out there)

The thing is, when we think of data, this is the kind we think about – that which can be taken from us, and regurgitated at us through advertising. We hardly ever think of the data gathering that we ourselves do, in order to get through our daily interactions.

As an artist/animator trying to make a career for myself, there’s a lot of data I can collect to help further said career. This doesn’t come from knowing my where my friends or acquaintances went to school, or what brand car they drive, or what their parents do for a living.

It comes from, say, looking up the portfolios of people who have recently been accepted at a rather prestigious art school. I’m not interested in their names, or age – I’m interested in what similarities there is between them, so maybe I can try my hand at applying. It turns out that for this acceptance cycle at least? The vast majority of the winning portfolios involved heavy use of intense colour, a huge emphasis on drawing people from life, and a lot of storytelling poses. From this I can extrapolate what would be a good portfolio for me to submit, and what I’d need to work on to get there.

The same obviously applies when it comes to submitting work to get jobs, or commissions – there would be no point in say, submitting a really painterly ornate looking logo to a minimalistic leaning company like Apple, or a portfolio heavy on the horror themes to a company specialising in children media.

It’s all about stacking the deck in our favour.

It also helps when – and this is probably more suited to a post on social media, but there is a crossover – analysing the page views on your work. A large number of content sites, from Deviantart to Vimeo allow the author to not only see how many page views you receive, but when, and where from. If you’re an Australian artist with a high percentage of fans from the United Kingdom then, perhaps it would be prudent to tailor your posting times to when they are most likely to see it – the data from analytics can help you with that.

Interestingly enough, the perception on how readily information on everything is, vs the reality (and some of the laws coming in to protect the privacy of your data) has lead to some rather sticky conundrums. Recently a tax law was introduced – and before you all fall asleep, this is important for anyone selling or intending to sell digital goods – by the EU, that states that if a digital good is sold in a European country, then the seller must pay the VAT on that product, to the country in question, at their VAT rate.

Sound complicated? You have no idea. A little extra digging into the fine print turns up, that the seller must collect three separate and matching points of data that proves that the person (who may be from an entirely different country) was in that country at the time so that the tax can be paid to the appropriate country.

(A more simple version of this would be that if I, as an Australian, bought a song from iTunes while visiting France, iTunes would have to prove that I was there, and not back home in Aus, and then pay that tax to France at their rate.)

Adding to the mess is the fact that the law also states that all data collected by the seller has to be stored for up to 10 years in case of an audit – but here’s the catch. This conflicts with stringent privacy laws that prohibit the collection and/or storage of exactly this data.

What’s a person to do? On one hand, you have the assumption of mass data dissemination, freely available to all who need it, while on the other hand, you have privacy laws forbidding just that.

These kinds of questions and conundrums are what has muddied, and will continue to muddy this issue for a long time yet.

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