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Disintermediation Manifesto, Part 3: Disintermediate Reputation

Post #1619 • August 28, 2013, 11:56 PM • 1 Comment

The demand: The correct audience is not the highest-paying, or the one with the loftiest credentials, but the one that loves your work when it is at its best, on its own terms.

Thanks to my involvement as a co-host at Beyond the Horizon Radio, I've become better educated about gamification, a term coined by the British programmer Nick Pelling defined as "the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and solve problems." One of the most heavily gamified phenomena in the contemporary world is reputation. Stack Overflow has a reputation score system that unlocks privileges as it rises and carries with it a certain amount of prestige among other programmers. Reddit has karma. Twitter accounts have distinctive displays of total followers, which act as a kind of reputation score.

It was natural for reputation to become gamified because reputation figures in many role-playing games: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft, and so on.

I got to thinking about this because I attended Boston Comic Con earlier this month and saw Bill Willingham at a table, with a line leading up to it as long as the one I saw photographs of for Marina Abramovic when she did her performance piece at MoMA last year. If you don't know Willingham, he has a storied history in comics. I remember him as one of the illustrators of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, and the creator of The Elementals for Comico during the '80s. Willingham was signing autographs and rasing money for Hero Initiative. (He reported on his blog that the Boston total for Hero Initiative was over $500.)

A possibly odious question occurred to me: who has more Twitter followers, Willingham or Abramovic? Willingham, it turns out, 11,850 to Abramovic's 9,832.

This proves nothing, of course, but it clarified for me how disintermediation relates to the display of art. The primary purpose of the display of art is to display the art. The secondary purpose is to broadcast signals about the reputation of that art - how important it is, and to whom. Easel-sized art might look better on display in a coffee house than in one of our enormous contemporary museums with 24-foot-high walls, but the latter signals greater importance. Rather, it signals greater importance to folks who care about the contemporary museums, which is decidedly not everyone. I can think of 11,850 potential exceptions.

The point here is that if galleries are basically stores, then museums are basically walls. There are a lot of walls in the world, and while they're not all created equal from the standpoint of Purpose #2, they might as well be from the standpoint of Purpose #1. There are also many things that are not walls that display art in their way - books and digital screens come immediately to mind. My friend Warren Craghead has an ongoing project he calls Seed Toss, in which he draws on sticky notes, sticks them somewhere out in the world, photographs them, and leaves them for someone to find and wonder over.

[Image: Drawing by Warren Craghead left in an unnamed Mexican restaurant, 2013]

Drawing by Warren Craghead left in an unnamed Mexican restaurant, 2013

Museum display of this would crush the beauty of the gesture.

If museums are basically walls, then art criticism is basically a letter written from one viewer to another. It is part of the signalling, the secondary purpose of display. One might aspire to an exhibition in a museum or a gallery, and hope for a critic to come along and consider the exhibition for the benefit of his readership. Is a review the only way to produce a signal in 2013? I doubt it. Is it the best sort of signal? It depends. There are art critics of whom I don't think too highly. Meanwhile, the artist Kyle Staver has a daily practice of posting three images of art, selected according to a theme, on her Facebook page. The selections are eclectic and often delightful. Other artists chime in with their own images in the comments. I would prefer to see my work included in Kyle's selections one day than to be written about by any number of boring, purblind critics.

If it seems like this post is more open-ended than the previous installments of the Disintermediation Manifesto, it's because the questions of how we're displaying art, to whom, and why, ought to have consummately individualistic answers. I'm currently bopping around an art-comics-poetry circle alongside Warren and a handful of other people. We came up in discussion recently in The Atlantic in regards to a comics-poetry article by Hillary Chute in the July/August 2013 issue of Poetry. The audience for this work is tiny, but on the other hand, it has never been seen before in the whole history of art, so it's cool to be a part of it. I once joked on this blog that in the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people. The more serious sentiment behind that is this: there are more kinds of audiences for art than there ever have been. The standard markers for reputation have become a few choices out of many. The question, then, is who loves your work when it's at its best, on its own terms? Those good people are the proper recipients of your consideration.



John Link

August 29, 2013, 1:13 AM

The question, then, is who loves your work when it's at its best, on its own terms?

Logically, this statement describes a circle, more or less. There is a pretty good country song that sings in praise of the unbroken circle. The joke, it seems, is on logicians.



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