let's try to get our heads around this new media thing
Post #647 • October 18, 2005, 10:05 AM • 34 Comments
It came to pass that Kathleen posted several images of the Diego Singh show at Frederic Snitzer Gallery on her blog with a request for discussion. The gallery contacted her, informing her that she had posted the entire show, and could she maybe do a preview instead? Then the artist asked her to take all the images down. "He wants people to see the work in person," reported Kathleen.
New media make it possible to do unprecedented things in arts coverage, like, for instance, putting up images from an entire show alongside a discussion about it. All parties ought to welcome that - from an attention economy standpoint, that creates big real estate, and costs practically nothing. (The Attention Economy holds, with only mild overstatement, that just as currency replaced land as the primary repository of value 500 years ago, attention is about to do the same to currency.) Why oppose it, then? Because doing so runs up against some traditional concerns about how people should view art. Collectively, the gallery and the artist think that posting the images from the show will give a substantial number of people the illusory feeling that they have seen the work, and thus don't need to see it in person. Are they correct?
400-pixel, 72dpi representations of work axiomatically do not do it much justice. I'm going to assert that only people who do not like Singh's work in general (smoky drawings that make Pop references, or however you want to generalize it) are going to look at Kathleen's original post and feel dissuaded from coming into the gallery, and the gallery has very little chance of selling work to these people anyway. Everyone else gets a buzz on - the gallery, the artist, and the aficionados of his work. The press release can only inform people about the show. Kathleen's post could have made people think about the show, causing durable attention and more than factual awareness that the show exists.
The artist, on principle, would prefer people to see his work in person than via reproduction. By asking Kathleen to take his images down, he guarantees that, at least partly. But in that case, why advertise the show? Why even send out a press release? If the Herald wants to run color illustrations with a review of his work, will he stop them? Qualitatively these things may be different, but attention economics holds them as functionally identical. Here, at least, is a chance for a casualty - someone who might write the work off in reproduction who would actually like it in person. But the only way to prevent all such casualties would be to never allow reproduction of your work in any form. You have to weigh that against the possibility that the group of people who would like your work in reproduction and like it even better in person is greater, and I think that possibility exists.
But that's not what happened. Instead, the artist accidentally implied that the reproductions do indeed substitute for seeing his work in person. Kathleen's commenters carefully pointed out the ways in which the reproductions were inadequate, noting their large scale and irreproducible surface effects. Now they have nothing to discuss, at least in that regard. The gallery, politely and with good intentions, has administered a heavy dose of buzz-kill around the artist. I understand where they're coming from, but I don't think they understand where they're going.