The War of Art – A SXSW Dispatch


This past Sunday, Passionfruit teamed up with our sister site The Daily Dot, meetup group Creator Economy NYC, and creator-centric education platform Teach:able to throw a party in Austin during the South by Southwest festival.

Comedic styling was provided by Yoni Lotan, Topo Chico and Coke provided bar support, and our friends at VINYL Beauty Bar were the consummate hosts. We had an amazing panel from CENYC featuring Creator Authority’s Brendan Gahan, Teach:able’s Creative Partnerships lead Olivia Owens, creator and founder of What’s Trending Shira Lazar, and Creator Economy NYC founder Brett Dashevsky. Also very special thanks to Alison Flood, who is known by “people who know” as a “person to know” when throwing parties at SXSW (or anywhere, really).

We mixed, we mingled, we made new friends and introduced old ones to each other. It was what South by Southwest is at its best: a chance to create some intentional serendipity. Finding and connecting with the right people who see the same creative and technological possibilities as you is a critical component when turning a creative vision into a creative reality.

It’s also, I think, what Passionfruit aims to be at its best: A convening force for creators and the people or companies who support creators. I’ve been publishing this newsletter for exactly one year this week, and in the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of movers and shakers in this space. Between our articles and newsletters, we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of makers, marketers, and media specialists, each looking to collaborate (and commiserate) in the face of creative headwinds. If you couldn’t make it to our Austin event, we already have another one cooking for VidCon, so stay tuned for more details (and respond to this email if you’d like to be involved with the programming or sponsorship).

Alas, we heard from a number of attendees that our creator-focused mixer was an outlier at this year’s festival, with most of the major panels focusing more on the technology and marketing and less on the creativity and people that feed such technological wonder. AI was at the top of everyone’s mind but there was so much of it, nothing stuck out as particularly insightful or fun. Lots of tools from startups meant to supposedly “enable” creators, though to us it sounded more like tools that brands could use to replace us with.

But despite what the tech and marketing crowd was hawking, when creators were involved, they were the undisputed focal point of this year’s festival — YouTuber Jon Youshaei’s keynote had a line wrapping around multiple corners and was so popular they’re trying to schedule an encore session with him. Kaya Yurieff from The Information got served spicy rigatoni by Mario Carbone himself at Alex Cooper’s Unwell House, and this weekend even Dimes Square indie mag Byline is hosting an event with Urban Outfitters, Reebok, Fujifilm, and Levi’s. Creators are the hot thing in Austin this year, like location apps and blockchain before us.

Brett pulled together a list of learnings from our panel for creators in his latest newsletter, you should check that out. Teach:able put their thoughts up on Instagram. Ours are right here in this newsletter, and we’ll have photos and videos on our site and socials once our videographer finishes editing for Jermaine Dupri.


Art exists to connect the artist with the audience, sort of a handshake “you feel me” expressed through an artistic medium. This is a beautiful, human thing, and it’s what social media was based on when it was at its best … creative people expressing themselves creatively to audiences who could feel it.

But the platforms need more content to remain relevant, and AI is good at nothing if not generating mountains of content. Over the coming months and years, these platforms will continue launching “AI tools” for “creators” to do the work of bringing your creative vision to life. Why toil away at trying to get a guitar riff to sound perfect when you can just write a prompt that gets it close enough?

As Neil Waller, founder of the influencer management firm Whalar put it to me, “AI can be democratizing.” Undoubtedly. Affordable editing software like ProTools democratized the recording studio, so goes the thinking that AI will make it easy for anyone to take their first step into creating something, no practice or understanding of the building blocks necessary. 

In that sense, an idea machine sounds magical and novel. How many more musicians could exist if it weren’t for the 10,000 hours of practicing to sound good first? Or perhaps, if you’re a musician but not a video editor, wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app that could produce a visualization for your new song without having to ever pay a graphic designer to stylize your lyrics?

Except, by unleashing these tools without the proper guardrails to protect and support the creative makers in the process, it won’t be long before our feeds are algorithms feeding algorithms. We aren’t necessarily democratizing art for creators and consumers, we’re all succumbing to the totalitarian control of the platforms that publish it for us.

The AI-produced content will always know what the AI-driven algorithms are hungry for. So when Meta says they’re introducing AI tools to their feed, I read that as a way for them to secure their position as the world’s best attention machine. Not as a way to democratize creativity. And if anyone can create anything they want with no effort, what sense is there in learning to write, sing, direct, or design?

On one of my last nights in Austin, I was invited to a Q&A with Nadya from Pussy Riot and Nelly Ben Hayoun, director of the film “Doppelgängers.” The film was a documentary exploring space colonization — and how when we enter new frontiers (like colonizing the moon, for example), we are granted a unique opportunity to build our social, technological, and economic systems from the ground up. We don’t have to be beholden to the same capitalist and colonialist forces that brought us to the present moment in time.

Social media is our current new frontier. But the powers that be have already constructed these platforms in their own image — imperfect lines of code strung together by well-intentioned technologists who have gotten a real understanding of what people like to consume and what brands are willing to pay for. The platforms are indifferent as long as they’re capturing attention, and the brands are indifferent as long as they’re selling products. 

When the brands who currently support creators ultimately realize they don’t need the creators to create content for them, the creator economy boom will go bust. AI doesn’t miss deadlines, doesn’t accidentally tweet something offensive (usually), and it doesn’t need money to make its passion project or feed its family. It doesn’t even need a creative person at the helm, necessarily.

South by Southwest started as a simple music conference, and countless bands and filmmakers over the last 30+ years were first “discovered” at showcases and screenings in Austin. Yet this conference that was literally born out of bringing creatives and financiers together heads towards its fourth decade somewhat confused, the entrepreneurs and founders who build AI tools for their own riches aren’t fully aware of (or interested in) the cascading effect this technology is going to have on creative professionals, and it shows.

All the more reason we intend to keep showing up in places where creators, founders, and brands are meeting to talk about how we can create together, sustainably and profitably. Algorithms may be hungry for AI content, but human beings aren’t. Endless thanks again to our first partner, Teach:able, for understanding the value of a person whose knowledge may not be as vast as AI, but whose humanity and creativity is undeniably more vast than algorithms can ever hope to be.

Hope to see you at the next one!


How X Could Make Itself More Creator-Friendly

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Teachable gives you the freedom to build your brand, deepen audience connection, and generate income you can actually rely on. From online courses and communities to easy digital downloads and memberships, Teachable helps you scale a revenue-driving business — all on your own terms. Grow your income and impact on Teachable.



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