An immodest proposal
Post #1276 • January 14, 2009, 7:17 PM • 22 Comments
As you may guess from yesterday's post, my first order of business is new paintings, great ones to the extent that I can manage it. Next order of business is to use my perpetually advanced-beginner programming skills to develop the mother of all professional backends for an art career.
Basically, I would like to run an experiment to see what happens if you treat the business end of this art thing as if it were any other kind of business. A gallery of one, if you will. A business needs a product, knowledge of the location of its patrons, and a means of communication to connect the two. The only thing that differentiates art here is that the first item can't be automated. (Well, that's not completely true. Printmaking is an automation. But certainly the final product can't lose its humanity in the making, or we're just generating trash.) The other two are highly amenable to automated solutions.
Yesterday, John left the following comment:
The sheer size of the unholy multitude of artists, to which we all belong, makes for a muddy situation. If the cream rises to the top, what difference would that make in the Mississippi's delta area? You can't find it for all the muck, and it is eventually absorbed by the ocean where it completely disappears.
So do we look for different headwaters? I don't think technology can provide them. How can we be our own news organization if no more than a couple of hundred read our news? What difference does a JPEG make anyway? I don't think writing can provide much. Small scale marketing on the part of bit players won't provide a new start. Museums have not been very interested in local artists unless those artists have "made it" in some commonly accredited far off venue. Etcetera.
Et cetera indeed. These are all legitimate concerns, one hard problem after another. For my myriad intellectual and character weaknesses, though, I have nevertheless picked up a good habit of thought. When faced with an intractable problem, I ask myself, What am I ignoring? I presume that the solution lies somewhere in the problem field and I am failing to see it. Pace Einstein, the problem probably can be solved at the level of thinking that created it. (And I've learned that the worst things in life hit you in the back of the head, not the front. What am I ignoring? reduces a modicum of exposure.)
Okay, the museums tend to blow off the locals unless they have succeeded elsewhere. What does that mean, when we say that the museum is not interested in something? It means that the curators aren't regarding it as important. How do we convince them that something that we're working on is important? But wait, do we have to deal with all of them, and all of us? Can I convince one curator to regard my most recent work as important? Hold on again - is one curator aware of the existence of said work? Can I name a single curator? Now we're talking sense. This problem has a portion I can act upon.
So let's say that I've sent him a photo of one of my works and a note. Still no interest. No surprise there. Any salesman worth his salt wouldn't leave it at that and curse the darkness. He'd wait a while and contact them again. And if the cost of doing so stayed low enough, he might repeat that for years. He would regard every curator as potentially interested, some more than others of course, but he would leave the door ever open. I said yesterday that curators, in my experience, are typically ideological creatures. Part of that ideology often includes some kind of responsibility to the public, or they wouldn't have gone into museum work. If you're part of the public, and other portions of the public are in your audience, then something could turn in your favor.
I have considered a lot of options that might make a difference to the kind of art I care about. I considered a kind of publishing/gallery hybrid, but the numbers didn't look so good. I talked with another artist about starting a collective, but you could just end up marginalizing yourself or saddling yourself with a load of unproductive responsibility, and let's face it - in certain circles, association with me would be toxic. But what if the "new start" John mentioned is awaiting someone to start taking banal, non-heroic action of the kind necessary to any business pursuit - networking, marketing, grooming patrons, and cultivating wider visibility?
I'll tell you what - I'll try it for you. For a year. At the end of that year I'll have a very nice Web-based program with a database of contact information of potentially interested parties (problem #2) that provides several interesting ways of communicating with them (problem #3). It will, for instance, upload print-quality photos of work with germane image information, automatically update your website gallery, and transfer the printable image with a text-file caption onto an FTP server upon request. It will transform selected contacts into a CSV list that can then be sent to a print house and turned into a mailing without you having to peel and stick labels. It will let you publish a blog inside your own domain name, without resorting to a yourname.blogtypespotpad.com address. When you tell the program about a new exhibition, it will update both the germane site page and your CV, the latter of which will be convertable to a PDF at the click of a button. It will track granting opportunities and sort them for you in order of increasingly distant deadlines. The basic idea is that if I've had to do it once, I'm going to make the program do it for me the next time.
At that point, if the result pleases me, I will let you use it. Maybe. If you're serious about your work, serious about your career, not serious about yourself, and sympathetic to the new modernist attitude. You have to feel okay about one additional feature of the program - opportunities you install on your personal project list, if appropriate, will be promoted to the general opportunities list, visible to other users whose identities you will not know. (The same will be true of their additions, of course.) There will be a membership fee in the lower three digits, mostly to cover bandwidth and to express your sincere intentions. Membership will allow you to hire me as a copyeditor at an absurdly cheap rate, and as a ghostwriter for an eminently reasonable one. It will be like a arts collective, but without the hell that is other people.
Let me know if you're interested.