10 X 10: A History of deviantART
Proud to be a deviant? This history belongs to you. Is it long? You bet it's long-- ten years in the making long, told by ten of the deviants who built deviantART and kept it alive. So brew up a fresh pot, print up some pages, and sit down to the story of the decade
matteo (co-founder, deviantART): I was eighteen when deviantART first opened its doors. I was so young and naive. I had this idealistic vision of an online community of artists, coming together to promote creativity and the freedom of expression. We had no idea that it would actually succeed beyond our wildest dreams.
jark (co-founder, deviantART): At the time deviantART was conceived, I was living in Chiba, Japan. I had been working on websites for a few years and was actively brainstorming ideas for a new website. My main experience up through that point had been in the MP3 scene; I worked on a site called CyberTropix, briefly ran a skin site called screenphuck, and then ultimately "settled down" by working on an MP3 site known as DMusic.
matteo: I got into digital art in high school, like most of the people here. But as I learned, I wanted to return the favor, so for every tutorial that I read, I tried to write one as well. My website, Wasted Youth, was the home for all of these tutorials and quickly gained popularity. As I found more free time during college, I wanted to introduce a community aspect to the site, for artists to showcase their creations and tutorials. Scott (jark) and I discussed creating a separate site, which he called screenphuck. I hated this name and the design for it, so we went with deviantART instead. I'm not sure where it came from, but it stuck, along with the green design.
spyed (co-founder, deviantART): In my recollection, deviantART was an evolutionary conclusion derived from a few trends and pockets of people that came together at the same time. The first trend was "skinning sites," the very first of which was called WinAMP Facelift. The second was DeskMod.com, which took Customize/Skinz and added "IntraSite Messaging" and basic community concepts (i.e. Notes). And the last was DMusic.com, which was the platform through which deviantART launched. It had a nearly identical set of features to deviantART upon launch, but applied to the arts. At DMusic, we were improving on the other concepts out there; deviantART improved on DMusic.com. It was a wonderful time for innovation.
jark: I remember sitting in my living room in Chiba and coming up with the basic deviantART framework. From the onset I was thinking branding -- the ability to attach words and unique meanings to what was done on the site. I had come up with endless ideas but ultimately settled on deviantART. It was almost love at first sight. Using deviantART, we could call submissions deviations, users would be deviants, and the interacting was to be called deviating.
That was all born during the early part of the summer of 2000. I constructed a basic design for the site, offering up a somewhat revolutionary menu system for the time. I can't quite remember why but I selected the famous "deviant green" color palette for the basic color scheme.
spyed: DMusic owned WinAMP Facelift, and so my first recollection of deviantART was when an artist on WinAMP Facelift stated in our IRC room, "Hey, I love uploading my skins here, but I also have paintings!" and provided us all with a link to a jpeg of the painting. First of all, not a lot of people had digital cameras, so a digital photo was novel in the first place. And of a painting? At the age of eighteen, I didn't know anyone who made paintings like that. It really blew my mind to know a cool kid who made paintings. And it also occurred to us that it wouldn't make much sense to post a painting on WinAMP Facelift, now would it? It took about a year after that for the right elements to come into play to actually build and release deviantART.com. But that's my first recollection of at least one of the founding notions for deviantART. It was definitely Matt Stephens (matteo) who tactically realized this concept, and it felt so right to support it.
jark: Once the working copy was sewn together, it was shown to a couple folks-- one of them being my friend and co-founder, Matt Stephens (matteo). We met on IRC, in a chat room we used to hang out in all the time.
My senility does not allow me to remember the specifics of how the meeting went down; point is that we met and, in due course, worked together to bring the deviantART vision to fruition.
I was living in Japan. Matt Stephens (matteo) was in Texas along with Elliot (tack). Chris Wright (arc) was in Sydney, Australia, and of course Angelo (spyed) was in Los Angeles, where deviantART is currently headquartered. Later on, dj-designs ended up working with us as our first in-house artist, with deviantART version 2 and version 3 being his exceptional designs. Although we initially launched dAv3 with dj's design, we ultimately settled on the "minimalism" theme created by starvingartist.
There were some daunting days for deviantART during the first couple years, and, as a result, the foundation of the physicality of the administration somewhat changed. The site needed a stable company behind it, and this is when the Los Angeles headquarters was essentially hatched, almost by default because of how the business side of things played out in the early days.
spyed: Physically, deviantART.com was located on the same servers as DMusic.com as a part of the same network, co-located at tera-byte.com (tera-byte online) by our good friend Steve Keiser, who was soon after absolutely instrumental to deviantART's survival. By 2001, we split deviantART from DMusic as we got about $15,000 from the creators of the Sonique MP3 Player (the ULTIMATE in Skinning Apps), Ian Lyman (scir), and Andrew McCann (mccann). Andrew also contributed his time and efforts to build and install four servers at Pihana Pacific in downtown Los Angeles, which is where we moved from tera-byte. Chris Bolt (chris) administered and scaled all of these systems. And Ellis Ghodesian (whose background is in textiles and is therefore a MONSTER negotiator) gave us the biggest and most instrumental gift of all: as a favor to Andrew, he negotiated a Cogent contract in the year 2001 to give deviantART a permanent rate of $10/mbit/sec for our bandwidth. Without this, deviantART would have been d.e.a.d. as there was no way we could afford those rates in light of the economic downturn and complete absence of an advertising or venture capital or even angel market. Normal cogent contracts at the time for a site like ours were $30/mbit, and industry averages for any other bandwidth provider were over $90/mbit. This meant the difference between $1000 a month, $3000 a month, or $9000 a month. We could only barely afford the $1000 a month coupled with the other costs including jark's contract, matteo's contract, the Pihana Contract, and other basic expenses.
matteo: The first version was so simple and basic. There was really nothing revolutionary about how the site worked. It was the community of people that flocked to the site that made it special. Experts use the "network effect" to describe the success of simple sites, like Craigslist, and I think that's exactly why deviantART was so special in the early days.
spyed: The servers were named DaVinci (database server), Escher (web server), Picasso (image server), Dali (email & misc). Dali happens to be the same server that was used as the primary Sonique Download site during the Internet Boom and therefore has street cred beyond belief. I always saw that server as a sort of blessing from our idols and our roots to go forth; in fact it was mystical to me that we had it. (Thank you, Ian Lyman and Andrew McCann. You are legends.) All four servers are now obviously out of rotation, but they reside at deviantART HQ and are among our most prized possessions. I've always wanted to spark them back up and install deviantART version 1 on them. Maybe one day.
heidi (Director of Marketing): Early on, deviantART didn't have many resources, especially when it came to manpower. Angelo (spyed) and I would often find ourselves installing hardware for servers, or servers themselves, even though we weren't necessarily hardware people. We'd work at the datacenter, with giant air conditioners blowing, holding a cell phone to one ear with Chris Bolt (chris) on the line guiding us through the tech work.
jark: deviantART owes a lot of credit to Matt Stephens (matteo) for his push to broaden deviantART's horizons. It was essentially his idea to open deviantART to more than skins, themes and wallpaper. He was the artist who proposed the design extension for deviantART, whereby artists would have a home on the web, and be afforded an opportunity to share their art with the world. If I were to pin a single reason for deviantART's immense popularity, it would be this single idea, which ultimately spawned in to what you see today. Although the deviantART of the years past is substantially different in look, feel, and technical construction, the community is mostly the same -- passionate artists who desire to share their creations with the world.
matteo: We spent the first few months commenting on every single piece of art that was submitted. I introduced Daily Deviations to feature more art and artists, which proved to be a very successful feature. As people strived to be featured on the homepage, the community seemed to grow organically and exponentially. The forums filled up, the IRC chat rooms filled up, everything on the site seemed to be taking off. Six months after our launch, we knew we were onto something much bigger than we anticipated.
jark: Every piece submitted to deviantART was commented on constructively. We aimed to make artists feel at home, as if they would obtain feedback on their art to help make them better artists and assist in their artistic development. I remember when we started receiving a couple hundred submissions in one day and how difficult it was to comment on everything -- but we did it. It was standard operating procedure back in the day.
matteo: I was basically in charge of Artist Relations. I was the liaison between the community and the dev team. And we had tons of technical problems back then, since we were constantly pushing the limits of what the current technology could handle. We had many outages, laggy days, and even some data loss. It was a constant battle just to keep the site up. I was involved in the site and active in chatrooms, forums, shoutboxes, etc. for about ten to fourteen hours a day, depending on how much schoolwork I had. I was a full-time college freshman at the time.
spyed: In the first year, I considered going to college. I never got farther than the ULCA application being on my desk completely blank. That's been the only time I'd ever thought about leaving. But right at that moment, deviantART nearly went through its second financial crash and nearly bankrupt, and I focused on it and never focused on college again.
jark: During this time, I also was solely responsible for the coding of deviantART's backend. While I did not perform the system administration functions -- even then that was performed by Chris Bolt (chris) -- I did handle all the development of the site up through version 3. It was during this time when deviantART needed to be more scalable, and my lack of experience in that area led me to have to defer to much smarter folks, like Chris, who assisted in new and inventive methods for ensuring that the site remained accessible.
matteo: I was in charge of getting the print program together, so I have TONS of deviantART prints somewhere in tubes and boxes. In college, they were all over my walls, but over the years, I have lost some and failed to put some up. I have often talked about commissioning jasinski for a piece to go above my mantle, but I've been too busy to really move forward with it.
spyed: Hommage to Dali Winter by arterie (that's deviation #6903) is just an amazing piece of art. It actually inspired the creation of the Prints program in 2002. Later on, Disco Blues by Jasinski sold so well in our Prints program, especially in the early days. It gave us hope that our Prints program really had legs and that deviantART had a financial opportunity to help pay the mounting bills. You wouldn't believe the financial stress during these years. So while others at this time likely have more emotional connections to pieces of art -- maybe a first Daily Deviation or an inspiring creation for deviantART itself -- the only art works that would appeal to me at the time were ones that helped my psychology surrounding finances and deviantART. I was really the only one carrying the financial burden of debt, going in to a mountain of it personally, and to the point where all I could afford to eat was tuna fish in a can. I hid a lot of these things from the team to keep morale high, but I haven't been able to touch that stuff until really recently; I got so tired of eating it. So, those two pieces I hold sacred. The original Disco Blues is a real painting. I have been in search of it since 2002. Aaron Jasinski doesn't know where it is or who bought it, as he didn't document sold paintings at the time. I would kill for it. Jasinski has since painted a comparable concept for me that I have at home and cherish, but it's just not the same.
justthorne (senior member): daPrints changed my life as much as any other aspect of the experience. I started out doing little web-sized imagery, but daPrints quickly inspired me to take prints seriously. One pride in my photography now is that I do large impactful prints (usually 24 or 30 inches), and I really owe that to their print service being so readily available and encouraged to us. It still seems to me that they were ahead of the curve on offering that, and making it quite reasonably affordable and practical to use. I probably got in around "version 2" of their program, and will always be profoundly thankful for it. There was a subliminal message implied, that our work was worth far more than just being featured on the web, and it really spoke to me at exactly the right time in my own development as an artist.
spinegrinder (Prints Quality Control and Customer Support): As far as infrastructure goes, I believe the height of my involvement was when we worked on Prints II, which included a completely new submission process, new product pages and a shopping cart upgrade, I believe. The main point was to radically simplify and modernize the print submission process and to spice up the product pages. What I mainly did was testing the new stuff for bugs with every change and just using it as a normal user, and gave feedback accordingly. I remember when we finally launched Prints II, I was up for almost two days thanks to launch delays and testing everything vehemently pre and post launch to make sure our new baby had a pleasant birth!
Throughout the years, I got a pretty good insight of dA's technological inner workings and from what I've heard, I earned myself quite some reputation as a bug tester and reporter and having a good technical understanding of the site, for a non-IT person.
heidi: Over time, I came to realize that no matter how long we'd estimate it would take to install a server or fix a problem, I should triple it. Something crazy, random, or unexpected would always pop up. A planned three-hour endeavor would undoubtedly take nine hours.
spyed: One of many low points was when deviantART was off-line for nearly two days somewhere in 2002. I stood at the colo [collocation center; data center] at the 24-hour mark, five servers completely dismantled on the floor, a completely malfunctioning foundry router whose new firmware kept crashing it, the old firmware was unable to be reinstalled due to (I think) a burnt out blade necessary for it and for deviantART to function. I hadn't slept for over sixty hours at this point, the colo was about sixty-five degrees freezing, and our cage was right next to the air conditioning unit. I hadn't eaten in fourteen hours and I was surviving on the free coffee in the waiting area. Chris Bolt was on the phone from Edmonton Alberta Canada. I didn't have a headset, so I had to keep the nearly-dead cell phone between my head and shoulders, causing muscle strain for over twenty hours, and it was excruciating. The three-foot movement limitation from the phone's power cable didn't help. My psychology was completely shattering as I held two CAT5 cables in my hands, unplugged from the router and the Cogent bandwidth connection, while Chris and I had completely run out of options for what to do without new hardware and it seemed like days more were still necessary to fix it. Completely unacceptable to me. The community and my team were of a devastated morale, I would have rather died than stopped, at this point dragging the absolute *hero* that is Chris Bolt through it. Using the only ammunition I had; pep talks every six hours for why we had to stay awake and what was on the line. Hours later, Derek Labian from FileFront.com came to the rescue with the right part completely out of coincidence, like a divine intervention, and after being awake for about seventy-two hours, I finally got to sleep for the next two days. I have no idea how I drove home. I fell asleep ON my alarm clock as I was setting it, because I felt I had to wake up the next morning for meetings. You should hear my old roommate (and best friend) David Brownstein recount the story of walking in to my room with the alarm going off so loudly the whole house could hear it, my face *on* the alarm clock as it's going off, and me completely asleep. He shook me and I didn't wake up, and I came to as he was calling my Mom to come over. He thought I was dead.
The smell of the Pihana Pacific Colo (now owned by Equinix), where we still have servers, is so distinctly imprinted in my mind that to this day I can hardly go down there. Chris and others have literally seen me wince when the elevator doors open. The smell brings me back there, and I can't go back there to that kind of pain again. It was physically and emotionally excruciating.
heidi: I'll never forget the time Angelo and I were installing a batch of new hard drives. It was 7:00 PM during the summer and the sun was still shining. We'd done a lot of the installation work in advance of arriving at the datacenter and thought it would be a quick two to three hour install. We'd arrived at the parking lot, and as I was leaving the car, I was still wearing my sunglasses. "I don't need these. It'll be dark soon. I should leave them here," I thought. But for whatever reason, I kept them with me. Fourteen hours later, when we finally left the datacenter, I was really glad I still I had my sunglasses.
jark: As for how those days felt -- fun, tiring, stressful, and a host of other emotions. It was exceedingly fun being a part of deviantART and watching the site grow from nothing in to something, almost similar to how a parent adores watching their child grow from infant to toddler to child to teenager to adult. Along with that, however, was a lot of stress in ensuring the site remained accessible, stress dealing with the business aspects of the site and stress at home since I spent so much time with the former. Bottom line -- it was an enjoyable time that I would never want to take back. I would do it all over again if I could.
matteo: I think it's pretty common knowledge that Angelo, Scott, and I had our differences. The lowest point, from my perspective, was when Jark was let go. I didn't have a good relationship with Angelo at the time, and things were strained to say the least. Since then, I have sat down with Angelo and discussed exactly what happened and why it had to happen. I understand now that Angelo was sort of forced into the situation and how hard it was for him during those times. We are now on really good terms, and I think it all comes down to communication. Talking things out really helped.
jark: Suffice it to say that my lowest point with deviantART was in the summer of 2005 when I was abruptly removed from deviantART, Inc. without any warning whatsoever. Although my spidey senses told me something wrong was happening, I was not in the right frame of mind to have consciously noticed all the signs of deterioration. Nonetheless, that was both heartbreaking and embarrassing, though the former more than anything. My beloved community was taken right from under my feet.
lolly (former Director of Community Development): Ahhhh, the transition period. That was an equal mix of sheer unadulterated fun, a complete and utter lack of sleep (at one point I hit 64 hours of no sleep and had to be ordered to go to bed, hahah), a solid chunk of insanity trying to reorganize everything, talk to everyone, shake hands, kiss babies, and feel like a politician to a large degree, which, for someone like me, was a very unusual feeling to say the least. The thing that is truly interesting, though, at the end of the day -- and this will probably come as a shock to a lot of people who were around at the time -- but truth be told the vast majority of deviants didn't know nor really care about the whole changeover.
The real numbers of people on either side, pro clown/pro alien etc were in truth less than 2% or 3% of the community at most. But at the time it definitely felt like it was EVERYONE and EVERYONE had some opinion, some conspiracy theory, some secret "inside source" and so on. But... despite the actual number of people down in the thick of it, those people were very important in the grand scheme. Those are the people who, pardon my french, really give a shit and had a truly profound impact on the site and how things got revamped to a large degree. justthorne really jumps out as someone who worked very hard to be a voice of reason and compromise and his commitment to dA is beyond reproach.
justthorne: After Scott was fired, I was as upset and confused as everyone else, but felt sure that something was wrong, and struck that all our collective frustration wasn't being channeled into any useful power to find out.
It's not that I wanted to be any leader, but rather that my own burning need for one forced me into that position. It felt very much like a full-time job for quite a while, reading every new scrap of relevance, exploring new inside-tracks of information, and most importantly, responding to as many people as possible, both cheerleaders and critics.
Rather than risk destroying dA, I wondered if we should simply leave it. Not a very compelling position, an empty gasp. But that's when I zoomed in (again) on the Submission Agreement, and realized that it provided too many contingencies and loopholes allowing dA to play sloppy with the rights to our work, and that we couldn't really "leave," not without leaving our art behind. It was wrong and was something we could know to be wrong, a certainty.
Wrote it up and a number of people thought it was a pretty crazy plan, but Richard (lolly) saw my proposal, and, within a week, I was having my first phone conversation with Angelo.
"If you fix the Agreement, then it doesn't matter if we can trust you or not."
Once the Admins had publicly committed to changing the Submission Agreement, all I had to do was wait. My plan was doomed to succeed.
After last-minute haggling in a conference call with Richard and the lawyer, the new Agreement went live on March 1, 2006. "If we're free to go, then we can stay." As far as I know, there's no comparable accomplishment in the history of online communities. Which does point to Angelo's commitment to the site. Think about it: A more corporate entity would have fallen on its sword before caving to the vocal minority, and then suffered the consequences for years as if no fault of their own. So give Angelo credit for putting the site before any arbitrary pride, and believing in the site enough to take that hit to its asset value and knowing that it would re-grow. And I think Richard's voice in his ear was crucial to helping Angelo regard our community of artists with new respect.
lolly: Odd bit of trivia, for the first several weeks, I spoke to Jark pretty frequently, as I had been and still am friends with him, and he is just as big a factor for me ending up in a position to take over his area as anyone else. Admittedly, after time, it became very strained and hard to speak for obvious reasons, but I still remain on good terms with him.
Another thing worth mentioning is just how damn surreal the whole thing got. It became this issue of not being about two people, about human beings and a job, it started to become an issue of icon versus icon, clown versus alien and which people chose to side with. Let me tell you, it makes you rethink your place in the world once you begin to feel you are a symbol more than a person.
It was a solid six months before it felt like the dust had truly settled and people realized, "Okay, this guy isn't some pawn of The Man out to rip us off".
spinegrinder: If my memory serves me right, late December 2004 or early January 2005, good old Richard Hartley aka Lolly (back then still lllo0o0olll) sent me an IM saying he'd like to talk to me about something later. Since I was very active in the Prints forum at that time, helping out others with using the service, I just thought I might become a forum mod. When he asked me if I would like to join the Prints team as a so-called "quality control technician," I was blown away. Back then, I was quite a n00b still and thought most deviantART administrators weren't paid, so I jokingly asked him if I'd get some free merch or "pocket money" as compensation. I think he laughed about that and went on to explain that it would be a paid full-time position. I believe I crapped my pants and said YES. Then followed the necessary paperwork and a week or two later I got upgraded from a * to %, which most excellently resembles a printing press. The following weeks were amongst the most amazing in my time on deviantART, as I got to discover the other side of dA and settle into my administrative role.
lolly: The great thing about moonbeam13 and chix0r is they don't need any advice. What they do is spot-on and they are both incredibly capable and creative individuals. chix0r, in specific, I was and still am 10000000000% behind, and feel she was the exact perfect choice to replace me.
chix0r (Director of Community Operations): I was a volunteer on the MN@ Team back in 2005 when I was approached by Richard (lolly) to ask if I would be interested in interviewing for the Prints Customer Service Supervisor Position. At that point in time, I was working freelance mainly doing policy development and consultation for local authority funded initiatives and I obviously leapt at the opportunity. I was interviewed and subsequently offered the position, which then led to me becoming MN@ Manager alongside the eventual Prints Manager role. When I first joined the team, deviantART was based in spyed's house. I am based in Scotland, so it took me a while to adjust to the eight-hour time difference, even though I am an insomniac! I've been lucky enough to have worked in various positions throughout my time with deviantART, and two years ago, I moved into the newly created Director of Community Operations position that I hold today.
moonbeam13 (Director of Community Relations): I had been volunteering as a Gallery Director (now known as Gallery Moderator) for about a year and had just returned from the 2005 deviantART summit in Los Angeles, where deviantART is located, when the structure of the company changed drastically. Scott (Jark) was gone, as was the Director of Artist Relations (Dygel), and Angelo (Spyed) asked if I would work part-time as the Assistant Director of Artist Relations to help reorganize, and I jumped on the chance. I moved to full-time and the Director position later that year.
spinegrinder: I think the absolute height of the social networking aspect for me is now, since I've joined the Community Operations team in May. I've never interacted with so many people in a given day or week, so it's been quite a trip so far doing customer support in a variety of areas.
lolly: The extent of my involvement [with deviantART]? Anything from dealing with personal squabbles between two thirteen-year-olds or helping the FBI on major multiple murder investigations. In between shit like that, taking giant chunks out of the massive and Orwellian Book of Policy as written by one S. Jarkofski and scaling it down to be more in line with what an art site should be.
moonbeam13: I've been involved in a variety of intense projects, but I'll pick two to focus on First, was Anime Expo. This seems like not a big deal, but the planning of our presence at the convention, the set-up and take-down of our booth, and the networking throughout the weekend was intense. We had to bring the technical aspect of deviantART into real life and that was a challenge, but we pulled it off. We had eight flat-screen TVs streaming artwork I'd selected on the outside of our booth as well as two screens on the inside of the booth that would stream the artwork from the galleries of the deviants who 'signed in' at our virtual desktop we had set up. We also had a creation station with Macs and Wacom tablets and artists from deviantART doing signings. The whole thing was exhausting but amazing Here's some pics [link]
Second, was groups development. Myself, Angelo (Spyed), Simon (Pachunka), Andrew (Mccann), Stanley (starvingartist), David (kemayo), and Sasha (randomduck) secluded ourselves in a home on Vancouver Island for ten days to develop groups. You can read and see some pictures about it here [link] here [link] but it was a lot of work, not a lot of sleep, and a lot of "YEAH, THAT'S IT" followed by "...no, that won't work, scrap it, start again." It was frustrating and amazing to see it come to life from graph-paper drawings. I've walked the line between the social and technical side a few times but nothing to this extent; this was a fully immersed lesson in the insanity that goes on behind the scenes in the land of 1s and 0s, and it was awe-inspiring to say the least.
spyed: I've held virtually every position in the company with the exception of engineer. I'm not an engineer. I'm a product manager, an entrepreneur, and I have driven the vision of the company from inception along with contributions by Scott Jarkoff (jark) and Matt Stephens (matteo). Scott specifically contributed the massively brilliant message center and the user-interface design of the Profile pages, both of which meaningfully improved on DMusic's designs. Matt provided the real push to enable multiple art category types from day one and pushed for it to happen on day one. These two things were essential to our success throughout the years, and without Scott and Matt, who knows what deviantART would be? For one thing, it would have been named something else. And for another, it would probably have been a bit more "square," so to speak, as I was at the time. But since then, I've built every division of the company as a VP and delegated it after it was up and running. These divisions usually got much smarter after I'd leave, btw. Anyway, at some time or another: CEO, President, COO, CFO, CTO, VP Artist Relations, VP Marketing, VP Communications, VP of Products & User Experience, VP of Retail, VP Network Operations, VP Advertising, VP of Llamas & Points, VP of Premium Memberships, oh hell, I can't keep writing this list-- It's ridiculous.
chix0r: There's no two days the same at deviantART, and that's one of the things that I love the most. I'm lucky enough to be in a position where I am included in a lot of projects which literally start out from a simple comment such as "wouldn't it be cool if the community could... " And within 30 minutes, we have a project team together and a plan in place to bring the thought into reality.
There is an intense and genuine passion behind the scenes to continuously improve our community. The amount of dedication and selfless grafting that goes on behind every project is something which I can't put into words without sounding like I am insane and using up every cliché in the book, but it really is a unique and life-altering experience to be part of.
matteo: Everything I know about art I learned from deviantART. I have no formal education in any of this, so the entire experience was a learning process for me. All I knew before deviantART was how to create some cool interfaces in Photoshop. I didn't understand why it was important or the impact it had on our everyday lives.
spyed: When we started deviantART, I already had a habit of making paperclip sculptures out of the paperclips on my desk. I thought they were nifty. I didn't think they were art or that I was an artist. Years later, I recount my whole life and the many artists in my family: my aunt, my father, my mother, my cousin chefs, designers, architects... and I realize that emotional sensitivity and creation is in my blood. What I learned, however, is that it's actually in all of our blood. It's a part of being human. And what I love most about deviantART is that it rebirths it, encourages it, develops it in people. Who would have thought-- a "social network" where, if you spend enough time on it, it brings the artist out of you. I didn't know that when we started. I'm so grateful for the artists I've met who have inspired me, especially in the direction of street photography. I am most grateful in my life for the opportunity to build a technology that makes the human race more creative.
justthorne: I'd wanted to be an artist for years, and knew Photoshop like the back of my hand already, but had no idea what to do or say with it. So dA inspired me to finally see my way through to becoming "an artist" myself. But the "student" phase of writing "what can we learn from this?" critiques was essential to me getting there.
Most rewardingly, I learned that the most interesting art often comes from the ones still finding their way.
jark: I learned exponentially more about art during my time with deviantART than I have about anything else. Although I am quite sure a number of folks would say I learned more about business than I did art, I cannot claim this to be true at all, even though the context in which my ties with deviantART were severed might offer this impression.
I am not a traditional artist. I deal with code and ideas rather than the standard canvas on which most artists create. I appreciate all that I've learned, and all that I've been taught by some of the most talented people in the world. It has been an amazing journey.
heidi: deviantART is at the forefront of championing the arts; over the last ten years I've learned how art, and deviantART, can truly impact and inspire people. It's a very rewarding feeling to realize.
lolly: I learned that a lot of people with no right to do so, call themselves artists. Normally I end sentences with "lol" but not in this case.
pachunka: Yesterday I saw the coolest damn Chikorita hat you've ever seen on the front page. I'm getting one.
spinegrinder: It's thanks to deviantART I have discovered art to begin with. I've learned to appreciate many different aspects of art over the years-- mediums, genres, subjects. I've actually never been much interested in art history or particular art creation processes and such technicalities, so I haven't learned much in that regard. The majority of my interest in art is my own perception of it and how others perceive certain subjects in art. I've learned that art can have profound effects on people. I've learned that art in general is best enjoyed with a very open mind.
chix0r: I've learned something new every day about the cultures, religions, and traditions that make up our world, simply by browsing our galleries. As someone who very much believes in the principle of lifelong learning, I could spend a lifetime on deviantART!
moonbeam13: I have a love for Anime, Fractal, and more understanding of traditional art movements than I would have had without deviantART. Every day I am blessed with learning more and more about the vast world of art and the creative minds that bring it to life. If you're willing to step outside of your comfort zone and able to open your mind, you can see an inspiring world in other genres you'd never even considered before.
matteo: I am a consultant [to Angelo] at the moment, hoping to get more and more involved as time goes on. I miss working on the site and am so excited to see how far it has come since I left. Angelo, Heidi, Chris, and others have done a remarkable job at creating and managing one of the most talented teams I have ever had the privilege of working with.
I would like to be more involved, but it's a delicate process. I live in Austin, Texas and most of the company is in LA. So I get to visit, but day-to-day operations are hard when working remotely. Ideally, I'd like to come back as a product manager and focus on one product while maintaining my role as an advisor and consultant to Angelo.
lolly: I read a lot about what's going on, but I'm not too terribly active on the site these days, and not anything to do with the site itself, just more of a general lowering of activity online. Plus I've been moving around a lot and it's summer, so less computer time overall. I'm sure once Wisconsin winter hits again I'll be living on it again, haha!
moonbeam13: Currently, I'm the Director of Community Relations and, along with Fiona (chix0r), manage our online community at deviantART. I primarily focus on the issues that affect our artists-- exposure, promotion, education-- and manage our volunteer group of Gallery Moderators that help to represent specific areas of the community.
I love my job and I feel quite blessed to say that. I'm involved in weekly meetings with the core of the company and feel very included in all decisions affecting deviantART. I think our biggest issue is lacking the human resources needed to tackle all of the technology we want to bring to the site and of course the bugs everyone wants to see fixed, but we're working on that
chix0r: In my current role as Director of Community Operations, I'm responsible for the day-to-day running of the Copyright & Etiquette Team (CEA), Help Desk & Customer Service, as well as the MN@ Team. Community Operations are responsible for the development and enforcement of all policies and FAQs within the community, ultimately providing a safe and enjoyable environment for artists to interact in our community.
There's a darker side to the above at times, which means I respond and assist with requests from law enforcement agencies dealing with missing or exploited children, fraud, and other events which make you realize just how vast our community has grown.
Danielle (moonbeam13) and I share the community management role, and we're both very much involved at the decision-making level. I also have the honour of selecting the Senior members and Deviousness recipients, which is always an inspirational task. I also fly the flag for our involvement in various philanthropic projects.
justthorne: I had certainly pursued [the Deviousness award] with single-mindedness. I'm obsessed with credibility anyway, so Deviousness seemed like the obvious way to cement mine around the site. I had deliberately become a presence in the forums, and had deliberately waded up into the "political discussions" (largely about the Submission Agreement) prior to the explosive events. I set out to show everyone (and especially Scott, Angelo, Eric, Daniel) that I was a fair conciliator and analyst. All while showing everyone else that I was the best kind of critic: positive, supportive, exacting.
A lot of the Deviousness honorees are either great artists or great assets in the community, and so it seemed that a lot of people came to my page expecting the latter (based on the write-up), and found themselves rather stunned by my work itself. Not that I'm the greatest artist in the world -- far from it -- but composition makes a hell of a first impression, especially a gallery full of it turned up to eleven. The whole thing probably served to cement my belief in my work, to an unexpected extent. Within the context, Deviousness, and all the attention that comes along with it, really is the highest form of encouragement. And it remains the proudest honor of my life (not least of which for earning it even further after the fact).
chix0r: I also write a monthly column about deviantART for the Digital Artist magazine, which is released every month by Imagine Publishing, distributed worldwide. In this, I feature rising stars and artistic trends within digital art alongside community happenings and events.
I'm one of these annoying people who loves their jobs and could talk about it all day long
jark: I sincerely hope deviantART remains a place where artists can continue to express themselves and share their thoughts, emotions and passions with the world, all unencumbered with full freedom of expression guaranteed. The site relies on artists -- in fact, it's the very artists who frequent this site who need to take an active role in ensuring it remains the platform they need to express themselves. The community must unite and remain steadfast in its determination and realize they have the power. It is their voice that is stronger than any single person, administrator, businessman, politician, etc.
lolly: If I feel the urge to sit on dA all night, I still do, and find it to be a lot of fun. Can't say I have any issues with it in particular; in fact, I am really proud of what I see as far as direction and community engagement from the staff level. Every year this site goes on, the challenges become more and more complicated and the current teams are doing an amazing job at rolling with it and working in a constant fluid environment.
jark: If it were not for the artists, deviantART would just be a bunch of ones and zeroes residing on some hard drive somewhere connected to the internets. I want to thank each and every artist who has touched me along my deviantART journey.
pachunka: deviantART is still the coolest site on the internet.
lolly: A decade, man. A decade on the internet is like ten cat years or dog years. That's survival and is impressive in and of itself. And it's not slowing down, not losing people, just organically evolving in the same manner it always has. No real shoving it down the outside world's throats, no hideous appearance changes, still just the same basic drive, to provide a cool laid back environment for people to share their art and themselves.
On a negative note, still toooooooooooooooooo much drama from time to time, lol. But, hey, that's part of the community and is always entertaining, so why not?
spinegrinder: I'll just say that while ten years is a major milestone for an online community and website, we've only just begun to kick serious ass in the world of art and in the worlds touched by art, online and offline. I'm glad and proud to have been on dA for seven years now; five and a half on staff.
Here's to the next ten devious years!
heidi: Ten years is a long time to stick with and be focused on the same thing, because when you work at deviantART, you really do live and breathe it -- it becomes the essence of your being. The one thing that has always remained constant, and picks me up during my lowest points is my absolute love for the deviantART community. I honestly believe there isn't a better community out there not only for artists, but also for art lovers or fans of entertainment. Our community is vibrant, talented, and active, and there's something for everyone. No matter what you're passionate about or interested in, deviantART has you covered. It's comforting to know that the site provides a vehicle for such powerful connections. Dedicating the last ten years of my life to such a cause has been an excellent use of my time. It's something to be proud of.
chix0r: I think the tenth birthday should be a reflective point for everyone. I've been working on some articles for a few weeks now and they've certainly given me a few warm fuzzy moments. I also realized that I've been on deviantART longer than I was married, so whoever said I am scared of commitment needs to think again!
So yes, here's to many, many more devious years together. Happy Birthday, deviantART! Slàinte Mhath!
spyed: I am unbelievably proud of deviantART and what we have accomplished collectively as a community, as a team, and as individuals. We should be. deviantART is magnificent as a product and beautiful as a contribution to the internet and to mankind. But most importantly, it is greater as a vision and as a mission than any one of us at all. To be a part of something like that at any level is a dream come true. We will continue on as a team to achieve our mission to liberate, connect, revitalize, organize and demonstrate a maximized potential for the arts as a whole, and we will do it with the extraordinary company of inspiring people around the world. Ten years is a milestone, but also just a moment in a timeless mission. Deviation is a way of life. Thank you, to all of you, who have made deviantART possible. From the bottom of my heart.
moonbeam13: It's hard to believe it's been ten years, and writing this has been a bit of a walk down memory lane. As a company, we're more organized and focused on the projects the community wants to see, but largely it's our continued commitment to our community that is the resounding reason for our being around a decade later. From the newest member to the CEO, we're all a community, and that is a feeling I've never felt anywhere else. Unfortunately, with growth, I find that not everyone shares that feeling all of the time, and certainly from thousands of members to millions is quite a jump, and sometimes people feel lost. However, I look at the push from the community to support those people as well as our own official projects to ensure everyone feels connected, and feel confident that we will continue to grow in a positive way for years to come.
matteo: Looking back to those early days, I think about how many of those sites, those people, those ideas are still around. I would say that 99% of everything that made deviantART into what it is today are gone. Deskmod is gone. Wasted Youth is gone. 545studios.com is gone. Most of the original core staff have moved on to other jobs or projects. It's amazing that we were able to create something so profound that it withstood the test of time. They always say the best music can be enjoyed by every generation. I'm not trying to compare dA to the Beatles, but it's amazing to see people growing up and new generations taking over, all in the name of art.
All interviews conducted between July 14 and August 2, 2010. TMD Header by $marioluevanos. Last minute edits courtesy of $LaurenKitsune. Thanks to the grace and candor of all the interviewees, the excellence of my pal `snowmask, and the unfailing guidance and shining intelligence of $Moonbeam13.