Platform media revolutionizes art communication

By WU TAO and ZHANG ZHI’AN / 02-18-2021 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

A crosstalk (xiangsheng) actor gives a live-streaming performance on the platforms of Douyin, Weibo and Bilibili. Photo: CFP

Each communication revolution has enriched artistic creations and expressions, exerting profound influences on art. Amid the waves of thriving digital technology and media integration, platform media has gradually become an important hub for social networking and information transmission. European scholars have also put forward the concept of a “Platform Society.”
In the new communication pattern, media channels for art communication include professional media outlets, art-related institutional media, self-media, and platform media which gathers and distributes information for the above actors. Apart from existing professional media organizations, some art institutions have established institutional media on such platforms as WeChat and Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok) to encourage public participation, share artistic activities, and form vertical communities. 
As a professional steward with knowledge and capital in the network-based society, art institutions have become promising data intersections and vertical media actors in socialized communication. In addition, with the rise of self-media, which represents grassroots culture, the public now has a voice in art appreciation, because technologies are empowering ordinary people to share their popular artistic expressions real time. Art communication is therefore increasingly inclusive and open. 
Status quo of platform media
At present, platform media outlets such as WeChat, Toutiao, and Douyin are playing significant roles as information hubs, reshaping economic, cultural, and artistic communication landscapes. Distinctive in style, these media platforms have aggregated different types of content. 
The first type of platform media, represented by WeChat, meets people’s essential need for social networking and is deeply embedded in daily life as a connector. Also, it serves as infrastructure for artistic life, setting the stage for real-time online exhibitions, art exchanges, and interactions. For example, the mini program “Unexpected Arts” is committed to showcasing collections from many art institutions in an illustrated fashion and allows the audience to comment in the interaction section. It is a relaxing, portable art gallery.
The second media type consists of information content platforms, such as Toutiao. Algorithmic recommendations are the most important technological tool for this platform media to succeed. Data-based algorithms are capable of identifying individuals, texts, and scenarios, and by precisely matching the three factors, technology has iteratively learned and grown from a tool that humans use to find information, to a tool that seeks individual interest. 
When information platforms capture users’ artistic interests or preferences, they will recommend non-repetitive related art information. Take the National Customs (Guo Feng) channel on the Toutiao platform as an example. Data shows that more than 40,000 artists were active in the channel as of May 2019, covering traditional arts like painting, calligraphy, and opera. They created an average of 10,000 entries every day, while gaining more than 10 billion views. Compared with limited offline artistic creation and communication by artists and art institutions, the crowdsourcing model featured in content production platforms can substantially inspire grassroots artists and enlarge the production scale of art information. 
Third, short-video platforms like Douyin are providing technological convenience for users and greatly lowering the bar for video making. Breaking the spatial limitations of artistic practices, short videos can bring immersive enjoyment and reproduce art in a more convenient manner than illustrated texts and long videos, attracting more users to participate in art communication. 
Data shows that a total of 280 million artistic short videos were created and watched 1.5 trillion times accumulatively by June 2020. In 2019, Douyin held a challenge entitled “Everyone Is An Artist” to engage users to create artistic short videos. Moreover, it developed such functions as artist stickers, which allowed users to incorporate artistic elements like Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots, and Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali’s mustache, through simple overlays, thus applying new artistic approaches to creation due to digital media technologies.  
All in all, platform media has revolutionized the previous model for art communication characterized by high communication costs, spatial limitations, and elitism, adding more social attributes to art communication, inviting users to participate in and explore rich and diverse art practices to a high degree, and profoundly influencing their artistic perceptions and expressions. With aesthetic accompaniment for daily life, convenience, and without ceremony, internet platforms are offering new network spaces for more and more people to experience and share art in everyday life. 
Path for innovation 
Art communication practices in the new communication era are diverse and rich. Art communication is infiltrating network-based society in new ways with platforms as hubs. In the internet platform era, how do art institutions, artists, and the general public innovate in art communication with the support of media technologies and open up new spaces for arts to flourish? Efforts can be made in the following two ways. 
First, the affordance of different types of internet platforms is crucial to achieving targeted art communication. With the emergence of platform media in recent years, the concept of “affordance” has entered the scope of journalism and communication studies, facilitating scholars to understand and analyze the interface, communication technologies, and users of platform media. 
Technological affordances refer to the possibility of users attaining a certain goal through new technologies, while platform affordances reflect the two-way interactions between internet platforms’ technological features and actors’ intentions. 
Platform affordances can provide new ideas and visions for art communication. Resorting to platform affordances such as relevance and interactivity, art institutions and artists can intensify information exchanges with the public in the process of art communication, value public opinions, and interact with people in multiple forms to transform art communication into equal dialogue with the audience. 
In addition, local art institutions and local artists can reasonably harness platform media’s grouping and positioning functions as well as membership system to nurture local art fans and enhance their sense of identity and belonging. Furthermore, they can understand the aesthetic demands of each audience member by means of platform data, artificial intelligence, and algorithms, thereby customizing art communication for individuals. 
Although different social media platforms share many similar functions, their technological affordances vary significantly. For example, WeChat has strong social networking affordance, so it is ideal for daily communication and cooperation among art institutions and artists. With the affordances of production and social networking, the WeChat public account function allows art institutions and artists to systematically disseminate art theories and knowledge, and carry out aesthetic education. 
Douyin is distinct from WeChat. Despite its social networking functions like following and forwarding, Douyin is a visual media platform which functions as a theater for daily life. It is a better fit for artists to display their personal charm.  
Therefore, art institutions and niche arts can focus on cultivating Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) for art communication purposes. To users, the multiple technological affordances of platform media have raised the possibility of diversified operations. Art communication should make full use of the feature to propagate arts on different platforms. 
As a supplemental strategy, attention should be paid to amplifying perceptual experiences and originality, and strengthening interactive and immersive experiences. The general public is fond of arts, but arts should be presented in a way they like. They prefer experience and interactions to rational knowledge transmission, which requires communicators to translate arts into experience, a kind of participatory aesthetics, and even a game. 
In recent years, art institutions have fully leveraged digital technologies like VR and AR to represent and reconstruct arts through frequent immersive exhibitions. Through multiple sensory experiences and fancy effects, they cater to young people’s interest in taking pictures at internet-famous sites, and thus enjoy great popularity among youth. 
Some art institutions have utilized platforms’ interactive functions to involve users in artistic creation and consumption. For instance, the Dunhuang Academy and Tencent jointly launched the “Dunhuang Poem-Printed Silk Scarf” campaign in 2018, in which users could choose elements from Dunhuang frescoes to design personalized silk scarves, and digitally generated short poems were included on the scarf. The interaction gave them an experience that integrated aesthetics and entertainment, making art communication a link of daily life. 
Indeed, platform media has connected arts and cultures—which seemed disconnected from ordinary people—to daily life through visualized, story-based communication in fresh and interesting ways, converging perceptual experiences and rational knowledge. It is an important direction for art communication. 
In 2018, Douyin joined forces with seven major museums, including the National Museum of China and six provincial museums, to stage the First Gala of Dramatic Cultural Relics. In this Gala, cultural relics were animated into vivid and vigorous images, thus achieving memorable interactive storytelling effects. 
By creating immersive artistic experiences through dramatized and interesting content alongside new media technologies, the audience is brought into a scene, and art institutions and artists can blend art communication into contemporary cultural contexts. This strikes emotional resonance with the audience and fuses art and culture into people’s lives. 
In art communication practices, we need to make the most of platforms’ technological affordances to combine arts and experiences, attach importance to integrating perceptual experiences and rational knowledge, and enhance the fun and social connectivity of art content to enhance connection with the public amid higher degrees of participation and intensive interactions, thereby making art communication more appealing. 
Wu Tao is from the School of Journalism and Communication at Nanjing Normal University; Zhang Zhi’an is a professor and dean of the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University.