Post from December, 2010

Giving Art Value Through Social Media

Sunday, 26. December 2010 23:59

In his book, How Pleasure Works, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says some very interesting things about art and the art world. He takes on experts, noting that they can be fooled, sometimes famously, as in the Vermeer/van Meegeren episode and then have to quickly change their opinions to conform to the facts.  He poses a list of why we like art from an evolutionary/social/psychological point of view, and, in a different chapter, states that there are three reasons we appreciate or value art: context, history, and perceived essence. He also maintains that all art is performance, that is, it is meant, is made, to be seen by an audience.

Interestingly, the reading of Bloom’s book coincides with some other thoughts that have been occupying me for the last little while, specifically, the conflicting advice that one finds for artists. One writer will advise the artist to find a niche, even if it’s not the artist’s favorite thing, in order to be salable. Another will advise the artist to follow his/her own inclination, noting that to do anything else is hypocritical and unsatisfying. Many advise networking regardless of whether the artist is trying to sell his/her work directly to consumers/collectors or whether he/she is trying to go the representation/gallery route. Almost everyone recommends networking via social media, which can take on a life of its own, completely unrelated to anything to do with art.

All of this networking is a way to provide those three factors that Bloom says give value to art work. In other words, if we are somehow able to give our work context, history, and perceived essence, then it will, in many people’s eyes become valuable. And if it becomes valuable, people will want to collect it and will be willing to pay for it, regardless of whether we have found a niche to streamline our market or not.  What better way to provide those three features than by exposing ourselves in a public network situation, particularly one or more of the internet’s social medial.  We can, without leaving our homes or studios, provide the requisite history and context for our art work on an on-going daily, or even hourly, basis.  Given context and history, it becomes quite easy to take the next step and communicate how our essence is tied up in the work that we produce.

All that remains is manipulating the social media to insure that our information falls into the right hands, that is, the hands of potential patrons or publicists—and there is certainly no shortage of advice on how to do that. Once it’s done, we have fulfilled the requirements of giving our art value, and the results should take care of themselves, assuming that we actually produce art. Then it simply becomes a matter of continuing to feed the flow of information, capitalizing on events in our lives and artistic development to enlarge our following and thus our potential customer/collector base.

Sounds cynical, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is; it is business, after all. I’m still a fledgling at this whole social media thing and learn every day, but I can’t but help believe that Bloom is onto something, and that social media may be a way to do it. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few artists who have managed to turn social media into a really useful tool for advancing their art, some of them very successfully, if we are to believe what we read. Many are still trying to find exactly the right formula.

It does not seem to be a “one-size-fits-all” phenomenon; just as in establishing an artistic path, each artist must find his/her own social media route. Not an easy task. It is a complex problem but integrally involved with producing art today. It is a topic that I have touched on before, and probably will again and again, because, regardless of the path we choose, this is part of the art business in the 21st century and we cannot ignore it.

Category:Audience, Social Media | Comment (0) | Author:

Art Has a Life of Its Own

Sunday, 19. December 2010 23:55

During the last month, I’ve done a couple of posts about certain classes of artists who have to let go of their work in order to have it completed by others [here and here]. It finally occurred to me that all artists have to let go of their work, although some, like over-protective parents, cling to their progeny with worry, blogs, essays, statements explanations, rationales (some of which have been previously discussed).

The fact is, regardless of what the artist was trying to do or not do, the art object, once completed, exists apart from the artist. It has its own life. It exists in the world, sometimes long after the artist is gone. The piece says what it says, and means what it means, and no amount of explanation or history or background or knowledge of the creator will alter that.

As the painter, Robert Oliver, in Elizabeth Kostova’s novel about artistic obsession, The Swan Thieves, declares, “I don’t think painters have the answers about their own paintings. No one knows anything about a painting but the painting itself.”  It would be easy to dismiss Oliver; he is, after all, just a fictional character. Perhaps it would be more difficult to disagree with an acknowledged real-life artist. Jackson Pollock said the same thing much more simply:  “the painting has a life of its own.” And it does.

What matters is what the art work itself says, what it does, what it means in the eye of its audience.  Certainly artistic intent is important, but mostly to the artist. When you get to the bottom line, artistic intent matters little, if at all. Does the artist’s intent show through? Maybe. That very much depends upon the artist and his/her abilities, how clear he/she may or may not be trying to be, what he/she is attempting to do.

Often the artist gets so bound up in process that he/she may not concern him/herself with message of the piece. The goal may be to get his/her ideas and feelings onto the canvas or into the stone, not necessarily to make the painting or sculpture communicate those thoughts and emotions to others. Again, Pollock speaks to this: “The method of painting is the natural outgrowth of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them.

Sometimes, the work will say far more (or less) than the artist thinks it does. I have known artists, who, upon revisiting their works after a period of time, find things in the work that they did not knowingly put there. There is a whole body of thought that holds that the unconscious plays a terribly important part in the creative process, that the artist’s whole being bends to the task of creation and essentially subconscious magic happens. I do know that it is easy to get lost in the process (a subject for another time), and maybe this unconscious, subconscious effort is part of what really pays off in terms of what the art work says and does.

So, adding elements both consciously and subconsciously, the artist creates the work and then must set it free.  (No wonder many compare making art to giving birth.)  The art object, like an emancipated child, then begins its life, speaking to the world without reference to the artist, repeating its message, if it has one, saying what it has to say. Some will get it; some will misunderstand. But ultimately, the work speaks for itself; the work stands on its own.

Category:Audience, Creativity | Comments (2) | Author:

The Most Vulnerable Artists

Sunday, 12. December 2010 23:50

In case you missed it, last week the Ovation Channel presented their “Battle of the Nutcrackers Dance Off,” broadcasting five different versions of the holiday classic.  And different they were.

There are all sorts of possibilities in watching five different versions of a story.  One could compare the direction, choreography, and/or interpretation of the five productions. One could talk about how each production was a product of its time (ranging from 1989 to 2009) or country of origin, or director, or principal dancer.  One could consider the quality of each individual production and the ideas it presented.

The Nutcracker Ballet was not, as you probably know, created whole, but has always been an interpretation. The story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” was a written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman, and was revised (see my last post) 28 years later by Alexandre Dumas, whose version has provided the basis for most ballet interpretations. I’m sure that neither author expected his work to be interpreted and reinterpreted in ballet. But it was, in 1892, with a score by Tchaikovsky, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Later versions do not necessarily attempt to copy this first production. And even though current productions continue to use music by Tchaikovsky, each ballet is an interpretation of a revision of a story that was meant to be read, not danced.

Musing on this interpretive aspect of the work, what struck me was the vulnerability of some artists—those who depend upon others to complete their work. These come in two classes: one class gets to influence and maybe even supervise the work of the others who finish their work: stage directors (already mentioned here), choreographers, scenic designers, and costume designers. The second group is comprised of those who create and then send their work into the world never knowing how the work will be interpreted. This group includes playwrights and composers. Compare these sorts of artists to those who create end products directly: painters, photographers, sculptors, print makers, actors, musicians, dancers, performance artists, writers.

How could the relationship between the artist and the final art work be more different?  In the former case, the only relationship between the artist and the finished product is the outline or blueprint of the end product, which can be interpreted in various in various ways. In the latter case, there is no separation at all between the artist and the completed work. It’s as though the artist can speak directly to his/her audience, while the more remote artist has to communicate through layers he/she cannot see, much less predict.

These “remote” artists are literally at the mercy of those who complete their work, which can be quite a strain. There is a (probably apocryphal) story that Tennessee Williams had to be hospitalized before every Broadway opening, so great was the stress on his system. Whether true or not, the story illustrates the intense vulnerability that such artists endure.  Unfortunately this inability to control the end product goes with the territory. Playwrights and composers are the makers of plays and musical compositions, not the makers of productions and performances.

And my guess is that they, like stage directors, and choreographers, have to learn to let go. They learn that by the time they release their work to the general artistic world, there is nothing more they can do. They are finished, and it is up to producing organizations to understand the nature of their art and pass it along to the audience.  Not only do they risk being misunderstood, as do all artists, but they put themselves in a position having their work interpreted, modified, and perhaps distorted (either intentionally or through oversight or incompetence). Because of the nature of their work, they may be the most vulnerable of all artists.

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Inspiration, Theft, and Copy Protection

Sunday, 5. December 2010 23:55

Inspiration is a word with many meanings, particularly when used in an artistic context.  In some cases, it means simply to animate action; in others it means to make something similar. Some would call the latter idea stealing; some would call it sampling; some would call it homage, some would call it being influenced. Legally, I am told, you can appropriate an idea but not the exact representation of a thing, unless, of course the thing you are copying happens to be in the public domain, as fewer and fewer things seem to be.

To prevent such appropriation, we rely ever increasingly on the copyright. Johanna Blakley in a TED talk, however, notes that the fashion industry has no copyright protection and finds that, because of that lack of protection, fashion designers “have been able to elevate utilitarian design…into something we consider art.” They can “sample from all their peers’ designs…and can incorporate it into their own designs.”

Not only does Blakely argue that this inability to protect is a virtue, but she feels that it is responsible for the significant profit in the fashion industry. As evidence, she points out the differences in the reported income of non-protected industries versus similar protected industries. The non-protected ones are so far ahead as to make it no contest.  Some artists who agree with this approach refuse to copyright their works, electing to go with the more flexible, and some say more progressive creative commons licensing scheme.

Some argue that this is the way artistic ideas develop, or at least used to before the world became as litigious as it seems to be today. One artist would look at the work of another and react to it, often building on it, sometimes incorporating it, sometimes quoting it, which seems to be a more palatable practice (although no one except motion picture directors and critics seems to know exactly where the line is between copying and quoting).  In any case, according to some, this is how movements are built, or according to Blakely, how global fashion trends are established.

Some artists go further, encouraging the theft not only of ideas, but of anything:

Out of the closets and into the museums, libraries, architectural monuments, concert halls, bookstores, recording studios and film studios of the world. Everything belongs to the inspired and dedicated thief…. Words, colors, light, sounds, stone, wood, bronze belong to the living artist. They belong to anyone who can use them. Loot the Louvre! A bas l’originalité, the sterile and assertive ego that imprisons us as it creates. Vive le sol—pure, shameless, total. We are not responsible. Steal anything in sight. – William S. Burroughs

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”  – Jim Jarmusch

On the other hand, some artists are very protective. Damien Hirst, who himself has been known to borrow the ideas of others, threatened to sue a 16-year old artist for using a photograph of Hirst’s diamond-studded skull in collages. And I know at least one artist, a photographer, who becomes furious if someone steals her ideas; I don’t know that I blame her.

Blakely says that the solution, at least in the fashion industry, is to create pieces that are of such quality that successful knockoffs are impossible or to put together a signature look that is too hard to copy. I think the best approach is to put those two ideas together. Whether you are in the copyright or the creative commons or some other camp, create pieces of the highest quality and develop a style and content that is so distinctive that copying, if possible at all, would be would be obvious even to the most untrained eye.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comment (0) | Author:

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