Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Research Assistance Request

A charming Columbia student writing the thesis for her MA in Arts Administration interviewed me the other day, raising all kinds of intriguing questions about how the Internet is opening up opportunities for artists. To help with her research, I've offered to post some of her questions here and hope you can contribute to her research. I'll note that as happy as I am to do this this time, I'm heading into a particularly busy time of year for us, so please don't be offended if I can't make the same offer to others moving forward. Still, because this topic is perfectly in tune with what we do here, please feel free to offer feedback on the central premise and closing questions:
The art world is notoriously enigmatic in the way that it chooses its stars. Critics suggest that it is not necessarily how good an artist is, but more importantly who that artist knows, that determines his or her potential for success. Charles Saatchi, notoriously embroiled in this operation himself, recognizes elitism as a major player: "Dealers tend to buy artists that other artists they already show recommend. If you're not in the loop, if you didn't go to the right art school, if you don't know the right people who have the right dealers, it's very hard to break in" ("What Charles did next", The Guardian, 9/6/06).

Online art galleries, art blogs, and other new Internet practices have emerged which have the potential to democratize the process by which artists gain exposure to key art world influencers (i.e., curators, dealers, critics, collectors). This project will examine the methods that these influencers use to seek out new talent and attempt to understand the ways in which the Internet is changing this process. What are the primary functions and repercussions of these virtual "spaces", and do they have the potential to effect real structural changes to the way the visual arts industry functions?

Labels: art blogs, art business


Blogger Ethan said...

My guess is that these virtual spaces are an expansion of the existing system, not a revolution away from it. Web-blogging doesn't make networking obsolete--it just gives another avenue for it.

2/26/2008 08:19:00 AM  
Anonymous nathaniel said...

I use my site to try to provoke (and collate) discussions around my work, and that informs my practice by feeding back in to future projects. But one gallerist I work with, who has a (honestly, beautiful) VR gallery that recently went live in Second Life, has some other ideas.

I'm personally unsure of how successful business models can be for art online and in VR (see above link), but as alluded to, I'm open to all possibilities of dialogue, and so am more than happy to see where this can go. And if some dosh can be made, hey, I'm happy to have that feed back in to my practice, too...

2/26/2008 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

There's something I'd like to point out in this context, and even though it might be more tangential, it's actually quite important.

I often get asked by people who some people get so popular whereas others, and here the emphasis is almost always on an (at least unspoken) "more deserving ones", don't. What this question implies, at least to some extent, is that there is an objective criterion for why some artists should be more successful than others. But I don't see anything like that. Even though art does exist in the context of our daily lives, many aspects of which can be measured and quantified to then be described accurately with scientific theories (that point to a universal law), art itself sits where all the stuff lives that can only be described in this context (and by "described" I include statistical descriptions). So the phrase "how good an artist is" I find meaningless: After all, how do you measure how "good" an artist is? How would one tell?

"Elitism", of course, is another buzz word, which - I think - in this context also is not very helpful. In the art world, it is trivial to phrase any statement about success and its lack in terms of elitism. Any artist who has been rejected many times can always claim he or she has been shut out by an elite (and there'll always be enough people who agree), and depending on the amount of cynicism you want to invest you could simply add art blogs to the "new elite".

As for the actual question, I have a whole lot of thoughts about that but, alas, not the time right now...

2/26/2008 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

art making and selling is tribal in the same way that say, wedding planners have their go-to people.

One look at the track record of many writers will show a predilection for certain types of people and things or objectness.

One thing with any group is to be down with hthe implicit ideas - to tacitly consent to the unspoken ground rules to in effect be complicit to the system.

There are a lot of "tribes" and within those tribes are the traditional equivalents fo kings (the money) and religion (the gallerist who can also be a king)

so I guess Im saying its feudal, and that though you might think things change, they stay the same the more they change, and that means more of the same.

But people have been blogging and making mail art for a long long long long time, so I think the change might be slower than your consciousness of it might be - that glacial time is of course not aparent to the human eye.

Glaciers will definitely change things, and I think there are business models for that in place already ask halliburton or wackenhut or wig wam whatever.

2/26/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

In a way, the ease in which people can publish their art (via websites) increases the need for people/organizations to highlight the worthwhile work.

The fewer venues for art, the easier it is to gain attention via DIY efforts. If there are 10 galleries, opening up a temporary warehouse show will make a big splash. If there are 100,000 galleries, it's just a drop on the surface.

You can build it, but they won't come unless someone who already has an audience highlights your work. So the Internet doesn't really mean everyone gets their 15 minutes, just that power-bloggers serve a role similar to that of curators.

2/26/2008 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Your statement "Critics suggest that it is not necessarily how good an artist is, but more importantly who that artist knows, that determines his or her potential for success" determines the following language about democracy and exposure, as thought that is all that the web provides. But behind the critic's "suggestion," which should be read in fact as a criticism and not an endorsement of our current situation, is that art criticism does and should matter. You will find these ideas on my site, www.catherinesarttours.blogspot.com, as well as on Jonathan T.D. Neil's www.consecutivematters.blogspot.com.

2/26/2008 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

My web activity has provided a way to offset the isolated situation I am in living in Jacksonville, FL. To place my work within a larger context and see what bites (in every sense of that word;).

However, I am not certain web activities provide a bridge to the mainstream social network of art or the "influencers". I believe instead that a separate social structure is created among the participants. I only base this idea on the fact that all of my opportunities generated from having a web presence have come from other "webers" who have a maverick, outside the box sort of take on things and whose influence mostly lies on the outskirts of the mainstream artworld.

Of course I am basing this on my experiences and am not 100% certain this illustrates the entire situation.

Great thesis topic and I wish her well on her research!

2/26/2008 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

I have to agree with Zip, alas.

We haven’t really moved very far from court favorites, when it comes to conducting business with the high and mighty. We never will. Unless we’re all communists, and then we’ll all be too poor to buy or sell anything, because everything will be so evenly distributed no one will have anything and even if there was something accidentally overlooked by the state it still wouldn’t be ours to buy or sell anyway and even if we could afford the materials, or just made things out of mud with our bare hands, furtively, while no-one was watching, it would be an insidious relapse into fascism. And we would feel guilty about taking advantage of each other. Although it would be kind of a laugh when we thought about it. So we could probably only deal in conceptual art of the purist kind. The studio and the gallery would be conceptual as well. They might as well be. It would be a totally virtual aesthetic, a bit like the internet but without pop-ups.

But is there a way of getting around people, all those bad people, and dealing directly with THE POWER? THE BIG MONEY? THE PATRON MAXIMUS? Can the internet do this? Will you just listen to yourself for a minute? There is no power without those people, their language, customs and fashions. They’re like shit to a blanket. That’s how they get their action. That’s how they keep it. That’s what the power is, that’s what it does. It welds people into those formations. You think there’s a way around that? – WRONG. You build a way it gets filled up with all those court jesters at the speed of light. If you’re fighting your way through them you’re never going to get there.

You want to sell for peanuts to people who don’t even care about actually seeing the product? Well the internet may be for you. But if you honestly think a Charles Saatchi is going to waste his time surfing or fending off 23 zillion emails and clever attachments, you’re not really connecting with collecting or collectors, much less art. In his own shy, fumbling way, Chubby Chucky is in it for the chums. It’s about being there, with just the right crew, amazing them, appalling them, beating them to it, bluffing them, in the private view, the back room, the artist’s studio, going through all their stuff – oh the privilege! The insights! It’s so enriching - when you’re rich.

There is no democracy there, no one knows everyone at once and for always, deals with everyone equally, all collecting exactly the same thing. You work through your friends, learn about art or friendship, when one gives out at least you have the other. And in the end they all build Xanadu.

If you can’t wait your turn, you’re in the wrong queue.

2/26/2008 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Why doesn’t Larry Gagosian or Mary Boone have a blog? Although there’s a blog section at the Sattchi web site, you’ll never catch Charlie there (maybe he’s posting as anonymous). As much as I enjoy the idea of art blogs, at the upper levels of the art world they are seen as little more than knats, an annoyance, a realm for nerds in pjs. There may be a place for on-line promotion, a virtual info booth on 42nd Street, but like selling art on line it’s seen as the e-bay of the art world. This may change, but we have yet to see an artist who could harness the web to access the elite levels of cultural institutions.

I see the potential of the blogosphere as laying elsewhere.

2/26/2008 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Why doesn’t Larry Gagosian or Mary Boone have a blog?

Give it time. Many mainstream journalists who originally scoffed at blogs now have one.

but like selling art on line it’s seen as the e-bay of the art world

That is changing even as we speak as well.

2/26/2008 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

The great thing about blogs is that it gives us a place to share our complaints about the fact that "Dealers tend to buy artists that other artists they already show recommend. If you're not in the loop, if you didn't go to the right art school, if you don't know the right people who have the right dealers, it's very hard to break in".

2/26/2008 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Internet practices have the potential to democratize the process, but can be extremely effective if the artist is willing to open himself up to democratization and look outside the art world to gain exposure.

As much as it seems the industry functions within a vacuum and as hard as it works to reinforce this idea, the players are no less immune to suggestion and the power of hearing a name over and over than anyone else. To quote a publicist, even CEOs read People when they go to the dentist's office.

I work for a fairly successful artist (hence posting anonymously-- I don't want to speak for him, but I will say that he is not in NYC to maximize his hand shaking and cheek kissing opportunities). Previously, he'd been roundly ignored by the art world press. So we stopped pursuing them and looked elsewhere. Part of my job is working SEO on his website. We created a variety of terms that we wanted associated with his art, and worked to make him appear in the first few Google hits for those phrases.

Between the cold call interest we get from that, combined with our pursuit of less self-important media whom we direct to his website for photo, video, and text resources which help accommodate their short lead times, both print and web attention has spiked. And now the visual art industry is finally catching up and expressing interest.

I think the biggest fallacy is that these art industry players are on the cutting edge in the first place. They are perfectly capable of being lead.

Ed, I picked up "Contemporary Art and Complicity" on your recommendation and I'm really enjoying it for many of these reasons. We're at a point when artists are free to participate in the larger culture; if the art world is ignoring you, use another angle and sneak in through the back door of the Style section or a technology blog. If they see your name frequently enough, the art world will find you. That's where the Internet will help you, not by posting images to online galleries. Until Google Images is sophisticated enough to understand the concepts behind your art and convert them into meta data, you're better off telling your story in words, over and over and over again to whoever will listen, art insiders or not.


2/26/2008 11:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the exception of video, online specific interactive work, etc, a big online obstacle is its lack of physicality -- it's a bunch of pictures of art. Don't buyers want to see the actual work? Unless they are buying the artist's name/pedigree rather than the art itself? Even then, it seems unlikely that online presence alone will create that pedigree.

2/26/2008 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

"It's a bunch of pictures of art" - being a word/object, always interested in the problematic relation between the two, I think it's interesting to watch how the relation between image and text is played out in blogs. For ex., paintersnyc priveleges the image over text, but seems to summon a megathread of commentary, like some kind of symptom for the absence of words. And I like anonymous' post above, about the importance of google search terms fro visibility. As much as the web is about images, it's about words, maybe in effect taking the place of the gallery space, like some kind of necessary prosthetic for actual experience.

2/26/2008 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

It seems to me wherever there's room for it, there will be elitism. I don't feel anything has changed in the art world-- who you know in any field is important.

What's different are the tools we have, and how we use them. I'm using my online presence to meet people and artists I wouldn't have otherwise met. I have to believe in the DIY tactic, or else I'm not giving myself much of a chance.

Artists have to become socially outgoing in multiple mediums and unafraid to make fools of themselves by talking to strangers. The internet is just another venue to do so.

For me it just proves that more obstacles only create more interesting ways to get around them.

2/26/2008 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Sorry folks,
This thread exposes many of the reasons why well reasoned collectors, enthusiasts or dealers are and should be skeptical of on-line art stuff. Much of the content is self-promotional sales pitches. If I’m not mistaken Ed, when queried about the motivations for starting your blog you stated as much, to Peter Plagens for the AA article “Grass Roots”, not that self promotion is evil, but let’s just say, you’ve got to take it with a pound of salt.

The net is loaded with scam artists, blabbermouths and near-do-wells. When page views or Google hits translate into revenue streams is when the big league acceptance will occur.

Too many times I’ve seen something with a tremendous web presence evaporate when seen in the real world. And although I’m a fan of the net and blogs, I realize that when it comes to selling art, there’s no replacing a charming dealer with an expense account and a fat rolodex of clients

2/26/2008 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're missing the point of this thread. It's not about doing your actual business online, but how you get yourself in front of that dealer with the fat Rolodex in the first place.

That said, I firmly believe the physical art business is at least as thoroughly loaded with scam artists, blabbermouths and ne'r-do-wells as the Internet.


2/26/2008 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I agree with n's comments above, especially regarding strategies for getting in though the back door. My career has changed dramatically because of the opportunities that the internet has provided. When you establish an online space where the public can see jpegs of your work, then constantly sow seeds so that people become interested in finding that source, some incredible things can happen.

2/26/2008 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Thoughts on being a scam artist: it occurs to me that the academic journal October and blogs are the only places where writing on contemporary art is not dependent on advertising.

Blogs are a place where a very high level of integrity can remain in an impure world. When art criticism is perpetually declaring its crisis, no jury has really landed on the status of the blog and is effects on art criticism. In fact, the loud dismissals and quiet avoidance of discussion of October in The State of Art Criticism, edited by james Elkins and Michael Newman, 2008, opens the possibility that there is a lot of room for quality blogger criticism to be received and deployed well in the art critical world.

2/26/2008 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharon said:
"...there will be elitism... who you know in any field is important."

I agree. Just as in any business, where you went to school, who you made friends with there, who you stayed in touch with helps you climb the ladder. (It's not that it's impossible to be successful without these advantages, it's just harder and usually takes longer.) And this isn't purely elitism; it's practical, it's a time-saver. If someone is interviewing to hire a young lawyer, knowing where s/he went to school and having a reference from someone the employer knows and trusts is just a shortcut. Who has time to weed through all the blind submissions from people who may or may not be any good? What successful gallerist has time to weed through every slide packet or cd that comes in the mail? If a person is recommended by someone that you already do business with (in any field), that cuts down on the risks you subject yourself to dealing with a new person.

In the other arts, it's also hard to get your foot in the door. There are not always open auditions; you often have to get an agent to even have access to casting directors. Many publishing houses will only accept manuscripts from literary agents, not from authors without agents. It's a filtering process because there are so many aspirers; there is not enough room for everyone to get in, so there are sieves along the way that you have to pass through. That's life in pretty much every sphere. Deal with it.

Also, the internet -

The great thing about the internet is that it is democratic, it has no filtering process, everyone can be on it, everyone can participate. That's also the worst thing about it from the point of view of a busy consumer, someone who wants a little pre-filtering, who doesn't want to wade through millions of websites.


2/26/2008 01:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I reply here.

2/26/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got asked the same question from a family member. My response was - as it is now - that mainstream, high-end art world is made up of hear-say from very few. In a way, these people go about their business through their ears, as they say, not with their eyes. The internet makes information available (who shows with who, where, etc..), but the power structure remains pretty much the same.

I was also asked "why can't you promote yourself better that way, online then?"
Because the status most artists would like to access can only be granted by the very, very few...and they are not looking as much as they are listening.

2/26/2008 09:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...blogs can be also, simply, a place to keep track of what you do, or what you are looking at, speaking from an artist perspective.
I've met many people from blogs, from looking at work online, which has either been posted on a blog or @ an artist's own blog/site.
I've been invited to participate in shows between and across the two oceans, and have done likewise, invited artists to partake in curated exhibitions and events.
I think the internet, blogs, video blogs, [Kalm aren't you a blogger--there is some dude with the same name who posts these great videos on a few user friendly sites], electronic communication, is a very important part of the world that we live in. I mean the world this way has become less kind of centric.
And at the end of the day, when we come down on the elevator, the door opens where on ground floor you can choose your own desired % of people who you would want to talk, or do business with.

It's also interesting, for me, at least, to see who's blog blocks my travels through the blogsphere. I have to congratulate the people over at James Wagner/bloggy/AFC for typing in their particular 'block' access/success story. One wonders, why someone would do this, block access to an open network, especially ones that often deal with, quite harshly, and in an upfront fashion, issues related to 'denied access', 'no photo policy' as part of a rebuttle to free access and transmission of information for the greater joy of the community.
We are but only human, contradictory, after-all, as oft the reply to the begged question is.

Thanks Ed, you are too generous.

I've mentioned someone's name here. I hate doing that, but i think the information begs questioning, so I need to be honest and write my own, and perhaps I may even get an answer,
thanks again.
Brent Hallard,

2/26/2008 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

‘Anon’ takes a more balanced view. At a low level the internet can advance an artist’s exposure/reputation. If you’ve just arrived from another world or you really don’t know enough like-minded people, setting up a website for your work is a good start. Attracting attention to it can be tricky, but putting this to one side, contacts made that way are really only a prelude to actually meeting these people, if possible, actually showing in a gallery.

But this is still pretty modest - a long way from being taken up by the Rubells or Saatchi, selected for a Whitney or whatever. Going to that next level is the tough one. Obviously there are a lot of opportunities to publicize shows on the web – too many, in fact. You read the ones you like, skip the rest, and there are always more, more and more… But still, no matter how partisan, everyone would like to be that big unanimous winner, selling stuff for a fortune, in all the big museums, acknowledged by, if not all, then most.

So how does that happen? Where does the common ground come from? And can the internet provide some? Again, at a low level, there may be on-line publications that start to offer some striking new criticism and advance certain kinds of work that will trickle through to the powers that be. But it might also be just the sheer volume of commentary and scrutiny of critical and curatorial practice will prove insidious, simply start to erode some standards; gradually transform them. As Zip points out, the influence, in as much as there is one, may take longer than expected.

There is a second issue here, essentially about institutional integrity. This is where all the politics, factions, class allegiances etc take priority. Oriane says it has to be, is pervasive and deal with it. But this is also to accept a reckless degree of hypocrisy from figures of authority. The problem is not that all walks of life apply these tacit standards in assessing a prospective newcomer or applicant, but that these are not the standards that the applicant is being asked to meet. If a dealer, curator or collector said up front, ”I’m only interested in young artists with an Ivy League pedigree who move in social circles close to my own”, the artist would know whether or not to proceed. But this is not what they say at all. They say “I’m interested in new and exciting art that challenges today’s troubled world and my own discerning sensibility.” They make claims to deal in art for all, make claims for an institution; which they either cannot or will not meet and which only serve to disguise their narrow self-interest.

And obviously what follows from this is a deep suspicion of what counts as art, on all sides.

Of course if they flatly announced, “Look, I’m only in this for myself, and my kind” the whole pretence of something higher and more accepted evaporates, so they persist with the double standard, and if anything deepen the factionalism. Where it’s just a matter of their private money or facilities, one can say they’re entitled, but the public sphere is built on top of that, and what goes for the private soon goes for the public. When it comes to handing out grants and scholarships from public funds for instance, the private sector record weighs heavily. When it comes to museum shows, they look to commercial galleries, other ‘accepted’ curators, etc.

I don’t see how the internet can right this, but I don’t think it’s just something one can shrug and walk away from. If there’s an art issue here, it’s about transparency and very clear and explicit criteria. It’s not good enough to take their word for it, or their friend’s words, if they want to say it’s good or not then they should have to say how.

2/27/2008 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Hey anonymous Brent in Tokyo,
Yeah, I do post art vids, but don’t try to use it overtly as a self-promotional tool. I have also been a long time contributor to the “Brooklyn Rail” which is for the most part, a publicly funded publication.

I think the internet has great value, I just don’t know if it’s going to be the source for art world bigs trolling for talent.

And yes, the real art world is full of scam artists, blabbermouths and near-do-wells, cept I know where they live, and can catch those guys on the street and smack em down, or put a brick through their window, problem, solved.

But please Mama, I’ll be a good boy Mama, just don’t make me read “October” Mama, please.

2/27/2008 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the pacific northwest and far from la or new york, so the internet offers me the opportunity to see what is going on much more quickly then periodicals. I have considered making a more substantial web presence for some time, but am not sure if the benefits outway the risks. Would I get a gallery or a show or am I just supplying inspiration to someone with a better geographic location? I'm not sure what the right answer is yet, but am content being a slow burn by developing my work outside of the bright lights.

2/27/2008 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As cap says, the internet is there. And probably it's more the traditional media that pays the most attention to 'the presence'.
And i agree, Kalm, i don't see you doing those vids to promote, well, especially not yourself. But I do consider them real. It's a pleasure to watch them, and beats anything out there that moves about the art hands down.
And, of course, I always go past the Rail.
And I'm in this different city. Though i feel very comfortable going to these places, Ed's place [though here I'm mostly a lurker]. These places definitely don't feel foreign. And, stupidly, i'm not aware of the barriers. So in a very real sense the barriers don't exist. That works!
Well, OK so i get blocked sometimes. I guess i'll never figure out why. And probably that ignorance is bliss!

But here is a thought: what's to stop, say the likes of Charles Saatchi pulling from his online image data a really tight show, two of them. There is enough good content in there. And I think doing so would shock everyone, and be good for everyone.
Anyway 'presence', it helps, has helped me as an artist. And a giant or two has knocked on the door, so something happens out there without you knowing why or how.
People I've met come over here, now. One person I met is bringing her mom over this spring. They also will be in a show. Another will have their work in the newest Tokyo Art Fair this April. So the internet has helped: first at garnering a diverse and broad audience. And then a very real oportunity comes up, a very focused and local manifestation, I mean, it just seems so natural.
So primarily I think what you do Kalm, or other blogs I like to go past, is very much being 'just part of the natural flow of things'. It can be done... and you do what feels right for you. That way you give out. And I think people can sense that, the difference.


2/27/2008 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Yeah I'm a big fan of JK's halfassed productions.

2/27/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon W.S. Lane said...

Well, numero uno, the web is not "democratizing." 30% of Americans aren't online. Of the 70% who are, you can't really expect a significant number of them to be content authors. The 70/30 are real numbers; the "significant number" is an educated guess. But the point remains: 70% of a country having access to the democracy is not democracy.

The people online are already moneyed and educated. Your elite. The classic socially excluded populations -- the poor, blacks -- are exactly the ones again excluded, from the internet and elsewhere the world over.

But, as for art, the medium of the Internet is its own thing. I saw an exhibition of Bo Bartlett (who is, albeit, already an established artist) then went to his website to send my friends links. The web images did no justice, and in fact I didn't even bother to send the links, because there was nothing to the images. They were just some Maine landscape images of sorts. Nothing special.

But, face to face, Bartlett's work is insanely amazing. Which is something to be said, coming from me, who hates most art (but watches it nonetheless, looking for the next profound and non-academic thing).

So combine the two things, and the only thing the Internet does is help the "elite" classes self-publish their work.

So either the elite who have truly great work look like they have shitty work, or the elite who have shitty work self publish as a "rejection" of the world that won't but their shit work in physico.

And that is fucking arrogance.

2/28/2008 12:08:00 AM  

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