The World of Big Data and How Artists Will Need to Adapt


the art of big data and how artists will need to adapt 

How Big Data Affects Artists and How To Survive!

I think we might be in the midst of the start of the real data revolution, think of the industrial revolution but with 0's and 1's replacing cast iron. 

I think we need to start planning how we will keep up and how we might have to adapt as artists so that we can feed this huge overlord they call the cloud. I also think we ain't seen nothing yet. 


One of my most popular posts ever was titled How to survive in a Big Data World and a few weeks ago I suddenly realised that Big Data just keeps on getting bigger and bigger, and as a digital artist I not only create art, at the same time I am creating and feeding this beast called Big Data too.

Even if I paint something on canvas, and yes I still do that as well as producing digitally, I am adding to the world’s data. I take a digital photograph or scan a work and it gets translated into 0’s and 1’s. I write a description of the art on my tablet and upload it with the photograph, and when I advertise it online, well it’s just a whole load of 0’s and 1’s that make it all up.

Think about this for a moment, pretty much everything we do results in 0’s and 1’s. Data which is either telling a computer to turn something off, or turn something on. For the rest of today, recognise when you are producing data and think back to a time when you didn't. I bet it was more than a while ago!

People get translated into 0’s and 1’s too. Retailers watch every move you make in supermarkets. According to a survey carried out in 2015 by a company called Computer Services Corporation, a quarter of all British shops and 59% of fashion retailers were using some sort of facial recognition software.

Online it is easy enough to collect data. Online stores will leave cookies on your computer, but offline shops have to be a little more creative. Physical stores want to understand how people behave in a shop, so cameras are strategically placed. You can no longer get lost in the crowd.

There are two very different faces of gathering data. The first face is to keep everyone safe, prevent overcrowding, provide more efficient services, and feed all of this information back to control centres and inform shareholders.

The other face is one whereby the data is harvested to inform, plan, and look at patterns. If you pay for travel using a credit or debit card a system will know where you have been and where you are going and when.

All of this data is useful because it can inform decisions around expanding networks or offering discounts when you check in somewhere. It plays a pivotal role in every nation’s security efforts, or it could be used to track your movement around a shop so that offers can be placed along the most used routes.

Transport for London data was a critical link when solving the Hatton Garden Jewellery robbery in London. An Oyster pass was found in a suspect’s wallet and the data collected threw light on the movements of the suspect during the planning phase.

Some data is now even collected by the camera being pointed at your shoes. Apparently this is more successful than some facial recognition software and more successfully identifies males, females, and children.

Much of the data becomes anonymised in what is termed as differential privacy which adds privacy controls to statistics so that those accessing the data can only see what they are allowed to see, but the sceptic in me says they can probably see what they have paid to see as well.

There is no doubt about it, Big Data is big money for some, while others lose out financially. Data can be purchased for less than pennies on the dollar but when you are buying it in the quantity that makes it worthwhile and so that you can actually do something useful with it, the costs quickly add up.

Run an app on your smartphone and often you will need to allow access to your contacts. This is usually to allow community features or to connect your friends. By clicking allow you are essentially giving permission to share data held by your device about your contacts, yet we all do it.

Click on a quiz or one of those IQ tests on Facebook and suddenly the developer gets access to your timeline and any data you have purposely or inadvertently made public in the privacy settings. This could be anything from what you post, to your phone number and email address. Ever wonder why you suddenly start to get strange emails? You have probably given away your details somewhere along the line.

cctv is evolving and more retailers are using the data 


If our cities and towns are becoming more and more plugged into the network, then so are we. The advent of wearable technology means that we are giving away even more data, and we continue to do this even when we leave our phones at home.

Wearable tech such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit are no doubt useful. We can set daily goals for walking and running, we can use them to make calls and generally make life a little better and easier, but they collect data too.

GPS, locations, health data, pretty much anything that they allow you to do will provide some data back to the device. It’s not all doom and gloom, these devices have as many positives as they have negatives.

The data can be used to make things such as offers, activities, and the overall experience better by tailoring it to an individual users needs. As people buy into wearable technology more and more, the big data collated will make your life a little easier albeit at the cost of some anonymised data being collected.

The instant gratification from such convenience will always come at a price, and then you buy a smart TV, smart fridge, or any one of a myriad of devices that connect to the Internet of Things. It all generates data. Big Data is the new black.

For some the sending of health data can help to formulate research and no doubt save many lives in the future, but for others you are constantly feeding the Big Data streams not just as soon as you wake up, but when you have a sleep app running on your phone while you are asleep. Data is constant.


So just how much data do we humans leak in a day? I did a little research online where my keystrokes will have been sent to the search engines to see if there were any hard numbers in terms of the average amount of data that is collected each day.

The figures were astronomical, more than a few websites were suggesting that more than 2.5 Quintillion bytes of data are created each day, or enough to completely fill 10-million Blu-ray discs, the height of which when stacked would be the height of the Eifel Tower, four times over.

I also saw figures suggesting that we upload 72-hours of YouTube footage, create 216,000 Instagram posts, and send 204,000,000 emails, and post 277,000 tweets, every minute of every day.

So what does a day look like for a typical person when it comes to data?

I spent a whole day logging everything I did and I suddenly realised just how much data I was creating by just creating a single piece of art. Over the course of the day I had spent a vast majority of it online. I watched a little Netflix (who doesn't?), purchased and downloaded new digital brushes, sent emails, created an art description, answered over a hundred emails, checked my Facebook groups, got a Flash Briefing from Amazon’s Alexa, and this was before I had even started to create anything. Then I focussed on creating a new piece of art which I have been working on for a few months off and on and generated more new data. 

The tally at the end of the day surprised me, I had managed to get through 11 Gigabytes of data somehow, yet it wasn’t even close to a heavy use day.

You can see just how much a part technology played, but when I am out and about with the day job or working on my own business the amount of data is even higher. My average monthly data usage for the family and all of the connected devices at home runs between 400 Gigabytes and 600 Gigabytes per month, and sometimes more. That's a huge amount of data but some people's usage is even higher. 

And it’s not just days that I am either taking a day off or working from home, even while I travel I consume and create data.

A commute to London some 130-miles away, occasionally a trip on an aircraft where the flight crew are already aware of any special requirements I have because of my frequent flyer card rely on data being generated or available. 

Travelling to the airport or station will be generating data in my car, the engine has multiple computers and satellite navigation is connecting to a mobile network to provide real-time updated traffic reports.

I realise I am out of cyan printer ink, (why is it always cyan colour printer cartridges which run out the fastest?), and place an order through Amazon where my previous buying data is there to see and reorder with just one click. I then ask my Amazon Alexa device to give me a flash news briefing based on my preferred interests, and to check the travel news and weather for the following day.

When I log back into Facebook I can see posts relating to cyan ink (how are Amazon and Facebook even connected anyway?), and I track the delivery status of the Prime Now driver on my smartphone.

When I am not working on the day job I will try to get some time to myself and my family and do even more work on my art, blog, and those jobs around the home that always need doing, and Googling or YouTube (ing) DIY techniques. 

That means even more data being generated, and I check the online banking to make sure that no one has bequeathed me a million dollars in the hope that I can finally buy some new art supplies and get to work on converting the garage in to a large studio and give up the day job. 

For artists a majority of their work now has to be done online in order to compete with the box stores selling cheap art. Promoting posts, interacting with collectors and art buyers, all of it needing at least some data to be generated and shared in some mysterious cloud.

Only 10% of the world’s data was created prior to 2011. The remaining 90% has been created since 2011. A figure that has been doing the rounds forever but one that is even more relevant today.

I begin to wonder if the 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes of data we produce each day is adding to the weight of the earth. Will our planetary wobble, wobble a little more? Will my iPad still weigh the same if I download a hundred photographs from the Cloud? Apparently not, the research has been done with e-books. 


As I said earlier, artists who focus on traditional art will still be using and creating data, or someone sharing the work of those artists will add to a digital footprint. Not only art, but all of those please copy and paste posts (no, I am not one of the three people who will) and those funny cat videos, all of them creating a digital footprint that exponentially keeps on growing.

For artists social-media is becoming increasingly harder to use to make sure that your work gets seen. Our work is turned into meta-data and keywords and gets ranked not by artistic beauty but by search engines and popularity, and by sharing posts.

And it is about to become even harder…

This week Twitter announced that they are considering charging businesses through a paid membership subscription service. If you want your art related business posts to be seen by the masses and you do, then you will need to consider paid advertising and using big data to target audiences, or pay a subscription if their plans go ahead. 

At the moment they are only considering the option but it hardly seems fair that a lone visual artist working in their studio should be potentially paying that same as a large corporation with a marketing budget and access to big data.

Twitter’s user base has plateaued in recent years and despite online advertising seeing an increase over the past twelve-months, and this being the company’s only meaningful income stream it needs to do something entirely different to survive.

What will a subscription get you? Well so far the details are sketchy with only a few worthy news sources reporting on the situation, but it all seems to indicate that big data will be accessible to those who take up the offer.

They say that the premium tool will make it easier than ever to keep up with multiple interests, grow your audience, and will provide valuable viewing, posting, and signalling tools such as alerts and trends and activity analysis.

But to get the most out of big data you really have to know how to use big data and how you should interpret that data and convert it into sales. Most artists I know aren’t too interested in the big data, they know their markets and they like to create art and not review streams and streams of data.

It’s all a bit of a catch-22. You need to sell your art to generate income, but you can’t generate income online when you are not selling your art online, and to sell your art online likely means you’ll be paying for advertising, or subscribing to a premium model.

Some of the big content providers are pulling out of allowing their adverts to be run on certain channels on YouTube, Google, et al, because they have little or no control over where and what videos and content their adverts appear in. Many are refusing to advertise if their products are by default advertised over the top of or next to extremist content and fake news.

The social-media giants will need to eventually figure out a way to make sure that these kinds of sites are not funded by advertising revenue, and they will have a big hole to fill in terms of revenue if they can’t.


As artists we will need to evolve too if we are to keep selling by using social-media. It is likely that we will see some other things happen in social-media over the next few years too.

Firstly I have a feeling that ultimately there will be one major social-media platform and maybe a couple of smaller ones which target niche interests. These will be the ones we need to focus on.

Facebook is already emerging as the clear winner and now that they own Instagram and what’s App, they look likely to maintain their position.

I think also that we will see much more in the way of paid visibility becoming the only viable option to reach new markets. The organic visibility of brands has decreased significantly over the last year or so meaning that brands now have to pay to be seen.

As artists we can more often than not only afford a small outlay to generate adverts and there’s not too many of us who will be able to compete with the big brands.

Facebook Business Pages, I am just surprised that these aren’t already being monetised more. It doesn’t appear that an artist or small business, business page is seen any differently to larger corporate pages. Essentially to get any real reach, your page has to be continuously shared by others, (without you asking for it to be shared because the algorithm knows you asked), or you are going to need to pay to boost a post, run an advertising campaign, or attract new followers by constantly producing exceptional content.

They are still a great way to connect with a community of art buyers, but it is much more difficult than it once was.

Individualising timelines is another way that social-media platforms are currently evolving. Recognising the need for users to be able to customise their news feed preferences is something that they have already picked up on.

The question is just how long will it take for this process to become much more automated rather than having to set your own preferences?

Whenever you like, love, or wow, and especially when you use the emotions other than like on Facebook, your preferences are updated to show similar content that got a reaction, in the future. 

It’s only a matter of time before we start only seeing the content we have loved and wowed without having to do anything to the settings at all, but the other question is, will this make the posts you only ‘like’ or don't comment on fade away?

I think we can expect algorithms to get smarter and there is no doubt that in time we will see even more specifically targeted adverts in our feeds. Maybe that is something we should be concerned about because when figuring out ways to fill the advertising gap left by the likes of the BBC and other large corporations, will watching an ad become mandatory if you want to view the main event? I have no idea but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

The larger networks might also start pondering the use of making specific content only available to niche markets just as some of the social-media networks such as ‘ello’ do. 

‘ello’ is the creators network and a great tool for artists, but could some of these smaller sites be consumed into the inner workings of the larger organisations such as Google and Facebook?

Augmented Reality is something that has been thought of being the next big thing for many years. Early AR was sporadic, sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t. Point your smartphone camera at a building and it would tell you everything about the building, point it at a piece of art and it would tell you about that piece of art.

Lately AR has come on in leaps and bounds. Google tried to get us all to wear glasses with AR technology built in, but I have just a slight feeling that AR will see a re-emergence over the next few years.

Virtual Reality is another way that consumers will immerse into alternative realities too. I am blown away by my PlayStation VR, and as I have said before, it will become more relevant and I think especially in the arts and cinema.

No social-media platform wants you to jump ship and move on to another. Already we are seeing more and more integration offered through the likes of Facebook. Add in a shopping cart widget and users no longer have to go outside of Facebook to see your items. The ideal for any social-media network would be to be connected to you 24/7, then the big data becomes even bigger. We have to keep feeding it, and we will even if we don't really want to. 

big data feed regularly for best results 

The algorithms will get smarter and they will be geared to collecting data and generating revenue. If I were Mark Zuckerberg I would be doing exactly the same thing. The only difference is that I would be giving a lot more leeway to small businesses and supporting artists. Art is important not just for artists but the sociological impact it has on society as a whole.

The algorithm has seen the organic reach of businesses go down and it has made a huge difference to the reach of artists and small businesses around the world. It has made a huge difference to the numbers of people engaging in social-media too.

In 2013, Facebook users were spending an average of 38-minutes per day on the platform, in 2016 and with the algorithm in place, users started spending an average of 50-minutes per day on the platform. Despite what people thought about the introduction of an algorithm, usage went up. 

If only I could only spend only 50-minutes per day on it, but you know, it’s those funny cat videos, they get me every time.

Talking of video, there is much more of it to come. Uploading video is a great way to connect with art buyers and your audience, so long as it is engaging. Live Streaming also pushes up the view count too. We will be seeing much more of it whether we like it or not. 

For years many people have consumed video through their TV, social-media wants to ultimately become the new TV

Shared experiences, VR, video, these are going to be the new players and where we might just need to look in the not too distant future. It's also kind of expected by the viewer. They see video, they engage, and they want more, and as viewers we are told to some degree that this is what we want.

Orwells 1984 has stayed with us and it's going nowhere else anytime soon. 

There is no question about it, big data is really big. As artists we need to evolve and adapt and we will need to rely on data more and more in the coming years to plan our market strategies. But let us not forget that 2/3 of the world’s population are not connected to the internet.

This means that networks will grow, more data will be stored, consumed and distributed, and we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg yet as to what social-media will eventually become.

Billions more people are waiting to become connected, so as artists we need to consider something else before we worry too much about how big data is going to make us all have to work even harder to sell our art.

Artists need to consider that if only 1/3 of the world are actually connected, how on earth do we get the other 2/3 to see our art? An offline strategy is needed too. 

And that my friends is probably where our buyers really are.


Mark A. Taylor is a British visual artist who creates both digital and traditional works. His work is sold in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada, and online too. You can see his range of artwork and other products here.

He once won more than one million Monopoly pounds in a 24-hour Monopoly challenge. He recently deleted the Facebook Messenger App after being stalked online for nearly three-hours and losing more than 36% of his phone charge, and believes that there is no such thing as darkness, only an absence of light.

If you want to follow Mark on Facebook head over to and catch up with him on Twitter @beechhouseart where he always manages to somehow get a message completed in 140-characters or less.





Popular Posts