A Conversation with Loupe Art Streaming Team: Dot Bustelo and Nicole Kutz
Courtney Ahlstrom Christy spoke with two creative minds who are part of the innovative team behind Loupe - Dot Bustelo and Nicole Kutz. Based at the company’s Atlanta headquarters, Dot Bustelo is the CEO and founder of the art streaming player. Her vision for an immersive art experience through the use of cutting edge technology has laid the foundation for a new means of visual consumption. One might say that Loupe is a lot like Bustelo herself - serene and provocative at the same time. Meanwhile, Nicole Kutz works in Los Angeles as a featured artist on the platform and also serves as lead curator. Her aesthetic sense and understanding of what it means to be working as an artist today are valuable assets when selecting works and supporting fellow Loupe artists. Bustelo and Kutz kindly took the time out of their busy schedules to discuss the way by which we can all interact with visual art via online streaming.
Some Background Information
What is Loupe?
Founded in 2015, Loupe is a visual content streaming platform in which users can experience a continuous flow of high resolution art displayed on TV and LED screens. Subscription to the app is free for personal use, and the channels are continually refreshed with new artwork submitted from around the globe. Loupe provides contemporary artists the opportunity to be discovered by a wide array of audiences while users can view art that is both dynamic and approachable.
Curious? Watch an introductory video about how Loupe functions below:
What exactly is art streaming?
It’s a new frontier for visual art in the digital age that incorporates technology that has been used to stream other forms of media like music and video. Loupe has created a platform that is able to showcase art on all types of screens, whether it’s your home television or an installation in a hotel lobby. To learn more about the concept of art streaming, read Nicole Kutz’s essay “What is Online Art Streaming?”
How can you stream Loupe?
You can stream Loupe on any connected TV or screen. The player can be accessed anywhere there is an internet browser such as your TV, computer, tablet, and phone. Some popular options are Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Android TV, or straight from their website. A selection of fine art prints and original works are also available for purchase through Loupe’s integrated marketplace.
To learn more about Loupe and explore the visual streaming yourself, visit their website at http://info.loupeart.com/about/.
Courtney Ahlstrom Christy (CAC): So Dot, how did the concept of art streaming first formulate in your mind?
Dot Bustelo (DB): It really was a convergence of different ideas and cultural trends. A main one - given my background in the music world and at Apple - was that I wanted to have a visual complement to the continuous, immersive experience of listening to great music. Instead of having an empty black screen or repeating screensavers, I wanted something that would add to the atmosphere, provide inspiration, and even a bit of relaxation. I was thinking a lot about how far we’ve come with the technology we’ve applied to music, so why not do something similar for the visual space. Especially given where we are with screen technology like 4k TVs and high-resolution video displays that can capture detail all the way to the brush stroke of paintings. The idea for Loupe became that it would have something visual for everyone. And that’s why we offer all of the curated channels for the different atmospheres you’re trying to create.
CAC: It seems that Loupe is adding a new dimension to viewing art.
DB: Yes, it’s not intended to replace what is already in the art world. Instead it’s an alternative and a complement to the effort of transporting and hanging artwork . Especially in public spaces where’s there’s often a need for the location to change out the art after a certain period of time and create a newer installation. Loupe is a way to create a kind of public art installation that is easy and cost-effective to change while still providing intentional design elements, atmosphere, and mood.
CAC: Nicole, how did you come to Loupe? Your initial interaction with Loupe was as an artist – is that right?
Nicole Kutz (NK): Yes, I was introduced to Dot through a friend of mine. At that point, I was working at a PR firm, going to Savannah College of Art and Design, and making paintings on the side. Dot told me about her idea with Loupe, and I immediately fell in love with it. What an amazing concept and beautiful thing to bring art to everyone, especially making it accessible to people who wouldn’t necessarily get to experience it otherwise. She also took a liking to my paintings, and I started as one of the featured artists on the platform. I began introducing my friends and different artists to the platform as well. It was kind of natural progression for me to take on the curator role.
I kind of digress, but one of my favorite stories comes from when I first started curating for Loupe. My Dad was talking with a coworker saying that his daughter is an artist. His colleague immediately said, “Oh, I just discovered this amazing app art player, and you can interact with all these different art pieces. It’s called Loupe.” The coworker started to describe the whole platform without knowing my involvement. It just goes to show how Loupe brings art to those who wouldn’t necessarily see our work. I love that. It’s a beautiful moment of organic outreach and conversation that I always appreciate.
CAC: And what would be a brief description of your role as curator?
NK: It’s a pretty multifaceted role. I’m essentially an artist liaison so I help existing artists with adding new content and answer any questions they may have. And I also bring artists on board and decide what is displayed on Loupe, which is what ultimately viewers see and interact with. We also accept some artists through submission. My goal is to keep our content fresh and continuously updated. It’s something I love to do, and it’s so much fun connecting with and supporting artists while simultaneously bringing great pieces to an international audience. Always one of my goals is to make sure that we’re aware of our artist and user benefits. I am also focused on how we can foster a supportive community. Loupe is more than just an application. It’s about the new possibilities for experiencing of art.
CAC: What has been the general user response about experiencing Loupe?
DB: We’ve had many users describe the experience as tranquil. Even with edgy art or provocative art, we hear often that it is meditative and calming to see the artwork images flowing across the screen.
We do have some fun case studies on the website of featured home users. It’s been fascinating to hear these stories - how they’re using it in their homes, how they like to watch, what music they listen to, and even what they’re doing while they stream art. We’ve spoken to people who literally leave Loupe on all the time.
What has also been interesting to learn is the specific artwork people pause on. Some users will pause on a work for hours almost as if they’re turning their TV into a picture frame for the day. We’ve even had that kind of request from some business spaces. Could we slow down the transitions to change out the art once a day? So that when someone goes into work every morning, there’s a different piece of art.
CAC: Have you been able to track how Loupe is received in different countries?
DB: We track really well around the world on Apple TV which is still our most popular platform. We've reached number one lifestyle app around the world, which is fascinating to me. In certain places, Loupe continually performs at the top, like in Belize and Nepal … why?
I wish we had the resources to understand why that’s the case. But it’s great to look at the third-party analytics that gives us that data on how high our performance is around the world including Jamaica, Paraguay, Bolivia, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, India, and so on. One of my theories as to why Loupe can perform so well globally is that it is entirely visual with as few words as possible on the screen to interrupt and add “noise” to the user experience. After all, visual art is an international language.
CAC: It brings to mind where we are in the digital age of art consumption. It can often feel overstimulating, but as users have noted, they don’t feel that way when streaming Loupe channels.
DB: As a society, we’ve moved into a model of instantaneous streaming consumption. It’s quite a candy store we live in. There’s A LOT of art that translates well for different times of day, different moods, different atmospheres. There are all these micro moods you want art experiences to complement. And there is just so much extraordinary art being created. It’s exciting to blend from every direction. We’ve effectively gotten accustomed to having that experience with music in our lives. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have that with art. And while we’re accustomed with video platforms having a never-ending array of shows and films, it’s interesting that it has not yet been really applied to art.
CAC: Do you have a personal philosophy or criteria when selecting artists to feature?
NK: I really look for eye-catching images. It doesn’t have to be the loudest piece., but I find that brighter colors and higher contrast translate well into the platform. Right now we mainly feature two-dimensional artists, however we are starting to show more 3D works. I wouldn’t say that I’m looking for a quick read but something that will show well on the screen and in multiple environments.
One of my favorites is Mark Scheff who has these cool resin pieces. Even though there are numerous layers, I knew it would still speak on the screen. You gain an additional perspective when you read the description field and then look at the artist bio on our website. For the most part when you click an artist’s bio page, you get a headshot, bio, artist statement, their website, and any Loupe press we may have. These points of connection are so important and necessary when experiencing a piece of art.
CAC: How have artists generally reacted when you have reached out to them on behalf of Loupe?
NK: It varies but for the most part, I reach out to someone because I know their work is going to look really great. I feel it and know that it’s going to make sense. The concept of Loupe resonates with a lot of artists, but as with any field, you sometimes get jaded people or someone who might be scared to break from the traditional way of displaying art.
CAC: It seems that Loupe is creating a new possibility for artists in that you don’t have to be restricted by a physical gallery environment.
NK: I couldn’t agree more. Loupe is not exclusive and has a different approach which I think is important. One of the biggest pushbacks is limitation in gallery representation whereas Loupe aims empowers the artist. You are more in control of your work and its destiny in a sense. I like that.
CAC: The flow of the art is intriguing in terms of the sequence but also the movement across the work itself when viewing it on the screen. Is there an algorithm to make that happen?
DB: We call that movement “panning.” Since art comes in all shapes and sizes, the question was how are you going to display art on TV that typically has an aspect ratio of 16 by 9? We don’t want to crop the art so we introduced movement. It lets you know that you aren’t seeing all of the work, but by the time the image leaves the screen, you will see different sections of it up close.
Right now the speed of the pan depends on how closely the dimensions of the artwork are to the aspect ratio of your screen. So for example, if a piece is more vertical, it’s going to pan up and down. If it is more horizontal, then it would pan side to side. If the size of the work is very close to the aspect ratio of the TV, then it would barely move. The more extreme it is, the faster it moves, like with tall and skinny pieces. We do give the option on Apple TV to stream with the aspect ratio showing and that means there is going to be the black banners on the side. We have had a lot of philosophical conversations about this.
Actually we just had a lengthy discussion about expanding what we can do with the panning. One could say that a still image with black banners is more accurate since it’s close to the actual dimensions of the art. Another could argue that it’s disconcerting for someone looking at it this way on a TV when they’re more accustomed to the image filling the screen. And without the movement, it is more stagnant and could be less appealing. With the panning, it introduces a sense of movement you subconsciously expect when looking at a screen. It’s a peaceful motion. It doesn’t fly across but rather is a continuous slow movement, which is likely why users describe the experience as tranquil.
CAC: Do you think Loupe will ever branch out to motion or film art?
NK: That’s interesting that you bring motion art up. We are working on a motion art channel for 2019. It will be a new aspect for the user experience with moving visuals flowing into each other. We see big potential for the motion art channel and for it to be especially welcomed by the hospitality industry.
CAC: I see that a selection of featured works are available for purchase. Can you tell me more about the marketplace component of Loupe?
NK: Yes, we mainly have print sales and some originals for sale as well. It depends on the artist and the specific work. When you buy a print, it’s made to order. It’s not like we’re printing thousands of these and housing them in a warehouse. Which I think is important, and I think our artists appreciate that too. We also have a few selected guest-curated channels, which offer specialty prints that works a little more like a limited edition. Our print options are very popular for photography.
CAC: What are the different modes you can stream the visual content?
NK: When you’re in Loupe you can stream by channel, artist, or color. And every artist has their own channel essentially. For artists, it’s like having your own pocket portfolio that’s really elegant.
CAC: And do you populate the stream with new images frequently?
DB: Oh yes, we’re always refreshing the channels. It’s a proprietary player that we’ve built that allows us to create all of these independent streams that a user can interact with. The nature of the player is that we can add an image, and it will immediately populate to users the next time they launch that channel. So if I add a piece of art to right now to the Whimsical channel, it will appear all over the world. It’s like the “6 o’clock news” as far as how quickly we can update the content.
We keep the channels randomized so that it’s a new experience each time you launch it. Even seeing the art following in a different sequence gives it a different feel. It’s like if you went into an art gallery, and it was the same art but rearranged. The gallery would just have a new feel to it. On Loupe, the only image that stays constant is the first image which is the “cover art” to the channel. We make it first appear assuming that users choose the channel because they’re drawn to the cover art.
CAC: What are some recent channels that have been added to Loupe?
DB: That is a fun part about developing Loupe. A lot of these channels have been on Loupe since launch. Others we've added or renamed based on their performance we see through our analytics. A channel that we had a request for is a Seasons channel. For winter, we went with a color scheme that has a lot of white with a sprinkling of red and green. Another relatively new channel we’ve introduced is called Happy Hour. Our description for this one was “vibrant artwork for a festive atmosphere.” We had a channel called Dark Edge that did not perform very well. When we re-titled it Bizarre, the frequency of views shot up! It’s interesting to balance themed channels that are driven by the art world and those driven by lifestyle.
CAC: Loupe seems to be used both in the intimate space of home and also in public installations. Have you found any differences when streaming in a more business environment?
DB: In business locations, we’re finding requests for a lot of local art. They like to showcase the art of that city whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, or an airport. That’s probably the one differential we’re finding. We don’t find out quite as much with home users. A feature that we’ve implemented in both settings is the safe stream feature that filters appropriately for family and the workplace. As we build the catalogue, we are finding that different subsets of the catalogue apply uniquely to a business location. We can send a custom channel to a specific venue that has explained exactly what they would like to see based on upon their branding or mood they’re trying to create. We also see a lot of opportunity to work with interior designers particularly with the stream by color option.
CAC: Are you finding Loupe being incorporated more into event spaces?
NK: Absolutely! For example, we had an installation at the Perez Museum for TILA Studios during Miami Basel. Because the space was outdoors, there was nowhere to really hang the artwork. So the Loupe screens were actually the only way people could see the work. It enabled TILA Studios to (1) save a lot of money by not having to transport and install works and (2) allowed the artists to show more pieces than they conventionally would have been able to. That’s a huge benefit and opportunity for both artists and those managing the event.
CAC: In the future, would you consider adding historical artwork from institutional collections?
DB: Oh definitely. We’re open to doing that right now. We would love to partner with an interested museum or archive. It would be great to have collections of medieval art juxtaposed with abstract impressionism, pop art, or other contemporary works, for example. We launched with a vision of an integrated marketplace with the art being for sale either as prints or originals. With a museum, it would more likely be strictly for display. But perhaps they would like to sell reproduction prints through our platform too.
CAC: What are some of your personal favorite channels?
NK: I love Curator’s Showcase, of course. It features art from emerging and established artists selected by the Loupe team. I also really love the Bizarre channel and Tranquil Impressions. And I enjoy Random Play because it’s fun to see what pops up and out of context. Streaming by color is another popular feature which is fun. A lot of my own work appears in the Blue and the Orange channels. It’s interesting to see all the kinds of pieces that work together because of the palette.
CAC: What is the next step you envision for Loupe?
DB: To be in more homes and more public spaces. For more people to be aware of the opportunity to fill their screens and devices with this type of visual experience. We want to have art as much as an option of digital viewing as advertising and sports.
We are constantly honing the process of customizing and continually refreshing channels with an integrated marketplace. We have a roadmap for further personalization like what we’ve grown to expect with our music and video delivery.
And we want to encourage users to play on Loupe - figure it out, move the remote or mouse, and explore the experience. You’ll see that it’s pleasantly immersive.
Many thanks to Dot Bustelo and Nicole Kutz for chatting with Courtney. You can learn more about Loupe by following the links below.
© Worthwhile Magazine™ 2019