Mass Customized Art — Can Art be Co-Created?

Art logo A long time ago, I wrote about some artists that have applied the ideas of mass customization and personalization for their works. Now, a much larger initiative has started. Called A.R.T. (for "Art-ReThought"), Donald Rattner, an artist turned architect, has created a new online shop for customizable modular art. He also recently launched a sophisticated new blog on modular design and architecture.

"Is art still art if the artist’s hand never touched it?" This somehow is the key question Rattner's site asks, and while he definitely has answered it with "Yes", I am not so sure if his offerings really meet the definition of "art" for many people who may call this more "decoration".

But the lines are blurring. And in any case, Rattner perfectly illustrates how digital innovations in manufacturing are impacting art and design. Mass customization, co-creation, modular design, production on demand, digital design, robotics, and other computer-driven technologies are changing the way things are made (and as a result, the way art is thought about).

Rattner calls this mixture “The New Industrialism". "As with so many things in our lives, a lot of the historical attitudes toward the creative disciplines are falling away under the influence of modern technology. For instance, today people are demanding more involvement in the creative experience, whether it’s collaborating in the design of their own clothes or specifying a new computer for purchase. Eventually we’ll see that sensibility infiltrate the art world, which until now has reserved the right to creation to the artist alone." Rattner recently is quoted in a press release. There is a great illustration of the "new" and the "old" art in the catalogue for his customizable items (download).

In his online shop (with a small configurator), he is selling Wall Art, a hanging modular wall sculpture system that comes in square, reticular and rhombus modules and Shelf Art, a simple, expensive but wonderful personalization option for home libraries (I love those!). Nice, fredh idea — and a further sign of the broad appeal of mass customization.

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About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.