[iDC] Art Basel: Signs of a Broken Food Chain,2

Cynthia Rubin cbrubin at risd.edu
Wed Jun 20 17:25:28 EDT 2007

First, Frank's comments on the "economics of attention".  Very interesting - information is no longer scarce, but attention is.  Artists  - like every one else who is involved in some form of communication - need attention. The focus for attention, however, can come from investigating what truly engages an audience (and that does not have to be a universal audience), or it can come from looking for media hype.  Hopefully the "quality" artists sought by Bryant are engaging -- but nothing in the Vogel article confirms this.

If we talk about how to engage audiences rather than how to sell them, we then can look to the museum shows and alternate space exhibitions that provide a good mix of current work.  This system is not perfect, but eventually lots of interesting work does get shown, and persistent artists can have their moment.  

In my earlier post, I was not addressing selling and owning as such, although it would seem so given that  I began this in a discussion of an Art Fair that is a big marketplace.  As Isable points out, artists certainly are using the internet to get work out and to find the audience that will be engaged by the work.  I think that Frank is right when he says that buyers want what everybody else wants - so some people cannot look at work themselves.  They can only do in a crowd.  This certainly makes the internet less apealling to them - how can you look from your own home?

It occurred to me that what we might need is an IKEA for the art market.  A place for reasonably good quality, that helps to give people the self-confidence to make design choices for themselves. Design in training wheels.  Perhaps something that serves the same role that radio stations had for music -- DJs select certain works, but then the buyer/listener makes choices beyond that.

Museums are clearly taking on more of this role, as they continue to show contemporary work.  And I have no idea if this is a good thing or not.  What I do know is that as long as quality is defined as worthy of investment, we will continue to miss out on some engaging work that is under some artist's bed.  

-----Original Message-----
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net on behalf of Isabel Walcott Hilborn
Sent: Wed 6/20/2007 1:37 PM
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Cc: Cynthia Rubin
Subject: Re: [iDC] Art Basel: Signs of a Broken Food Chain

Let me try to answer your question  "Is there any way to mend the food
chain?" with one possibility.

As an Internet entrepreneur I find this a fascinating post.  If the problem
you describe truly exists (the alternative is that the "great art" of which
you speak languishing in garages is actually crud nobody would want - but
you sound as if you know what you're talking about) then clearly there are
market inefficiencies.

Where there are market inefficiencies, there's often a way to fix them on
the internet.

Digital cameras are much cheaper than art.  Why wouldn't all of these
artists, or whoever is representing the artists, simply take pics of the
canvases, upload them to an Internet site, describe them (size of convas
etc.), put a price tag on, and see whether it's true that anyone really
wants it or not?

The answer is, they are already doing it.  I shopped for art online last
year at a site like I'm describing, and ended up not buying anything.  Of
course the Internet doesn't give the same impression as looking at the real
piece, it's impossible to judge quality, and other problems with
perception.  The biggest problem, though, was that there was so much bad art
that it became impossible to sieve through it all.  This is the same
curatorial (editorial) problem that the entire web has.  How do you find
what you are looking for, and know it is "of quality" and trustworthy?

Perhaps all I mean by "bad art" is simply something I wouldn't hang on my
wall.   Another person's definition would be something that's a bad
investment. A third person might only like a certain style.  Therefore, if
we could apply some of the social network techniques we're learning from
sites like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube  to Artwork, we might really be
getting somewhere.  People could start to place art in "groups" by tagging,
so you could look at anything in the Expressionist style, or anything in
primary colors, or anything that reminded one faintly of Renoir.  People
could rate each work they looked at so the cream would start to rise to the
top.  The site would only accept works by artists that have received some
major honor already, so it was at least a bit exclusive.  Artists would be
paid when work was sold, not pay to upload their collection (it needs to
spread as fast as it can).

The the last key is you'd have to be able to try before you buy.  Set it up
so you rent the (insured) painting for two months, and then send it back or
buy it.  It's much easier to make the purchase when you already know how it
looks above the fireplace, and the digital representation doesn't do justice
to the original.  You simply have to see it.

So, to sum up since this meandered a bit and I don't have time to edit: to
fix the food chain, you can replace the outmoded curatorial system with a
large collaborative group of art fans and buyers.  As a group, aficionados
can categorize and sort more efficiently (and gage the market better) than
gallery owners, and the Internet showroom (though inferior) is much
cheaper.  Once the right site gains momentum and becomes the standard (and
I'm sure they're a few out there already vying for this), then the right art
can then get into the right hands instead of languishing.

But it means giving up control people may not want to give up: the
digital picture is up there so someone may copy it, your art isn't seen in
the best visual environment or hung next to the right pictures, you might
receive a label or a rating you didn't want to receive, have to sell it
for less than you wanted to, you can't artificially create scarcity to
inflate prices, and so forth.


On 6/19/07, Frank Pasquale <frank.pasquale at gmail.com> wrote:
> My guess is, that when someone like Bryant complains about lack of great
> art, he's really complaining about a lack of art that has accumulated the
> "buzz" necessary to assure a prudent investor of the resale value of the
> work down the line.  It's an artificial scarcity based on the " economics
> of attention <http://madisonian.net/index.php?s=richard+lanham>" and
> Girard's idea of "triangulated desire": buyers want what everybody else
> wants.
> I found the Hans Abbing's <http://www.hansabbing.nl/> *Why Are Artists
> Poor* an insightful analysis of some issues here.  Tyler Cowen's Good and
> Plenty<http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/03/good_plenty_par.html>also does a great job commenting on gaps between economic success and
> artistic quality.  He states "we cannot have a coherent political philosophy
> without bridging the gap between economic and aesthetic perspectives" on
> arts economics.
> --Frank
> On 6/19/07, Cynthia Rubin <cbrubin at risd.edu> wrote:
> >
> > I am curious about how others are reacting to the buzz on the big art
> > fairs.  In particular, I was struck by comments in Carol Vogel's report from
> > Art Basel, June 14, NY Times
> >
> > http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/14/arts/design/14fair.html
> >
> > =========
> > quotes from Vogel's text:
> >
> > Collectors are grumbling about the scarcity of top-quality art.
> >
> > "There are some good things, but not as many as there used to be here,"
> > said Donald L. Bryant, a Manhattan collector and trustee of the Museum of
> > Modern Art. "The market is so hot, and the demand is so great, it's getting
> > harder to find great art."
> >
> > ===========
> >
> > The food chain is broken.  Everywhere I go, I find intelligent people
> > working on interesting ideas - wonderful artists who have stockpiles of work
> > in their attics, basements, under their beds, or digitally stashed on
> > hard-drives.  I am not talking about totally unrecognized artists, but about
> > artists who once were in important shows, who had their work discussed at
> > length in art magazines, or even on the cover of art magazines, or have been
> > honored with grants and commissions.  Not overlooking younger artists, we
> > find artists at all stages of their careers who are making installations or
> > exhibitions in their homes, restaurants, wherever they can.
> >
> > I am writing from Avignon.  Yesterday I stumbled into a gallery where
> > stacks of abstract paintings recalled the 1970s, but the gallery owner
> > explained that even these do not satisfy the local market of buyers who are
> > clamoring for Provencal scenes which could have been painted more than 100
> > years ago.  On Saturday night I went to an open house by an established
> > artist in one of those elite "year-in-Provence" towns --- an artist whose
> > name shows up in google searches of auctions - -and who does some
> > interesting work - and he had the stockpiles described above.  I also
> > visited the new contemporary art museum "Collection Lambert" , and saw the
> > Cy Twombly exhibit http://www.collectionlambert.com/pages/expofutur.htm.  Nice
> > paintings, but it still is not clear how these merit the title "quality"
> > while many others did not get there.
> >
> > We know that we live in a curated time, a time in which the interest
> > comes not from the artists but from those who envision and organize exhibits
> > around conceptual movements that they either identify or invent (who
> > knows?).  If work falls outside of the parameters of the curatorial mission,
> > then it is not shown.  If work is too similar to already selected work, it
> > is not shown.
> >
> > But if work goes too long without being shown, it fall out of view of
> > the curators, and it is difficult to resurrect it.  Consider this
> > observation in the Vogel article:
> >
> > =======
> > quotes from Vogel's text:
> >
> > Art fairs help to gauge popular tastes, and dealers hungry for material
> > often revisit artists who have gone out of fashion. A decade ago no one
> > would have paid attention to the installation of Belgium street signs by
> > Marcel Broodthaers adorning the booth of Michael Werner, a dealer in Cologne
> > and New York. But by the afternoon of opening day they had all been sold.
> > "Michael has had them since 1969," said Gordon VeneKlasen, his partner.
> > "He showed them at Mary Boone in New York in 1987, and nobody touched them.
> > Now everyone wants to have them."
> > =========
> >
> > The non-artist frequently has a view of artists receiving first local
> > attention, then national, then international, all of the basis of aesthetic
> > or conceptual merit.  What is really happening, however, is that if artists
> > are interested in "the market" (and many are not), that they artists are
> > forced to spend more and more of their time second guessing the
> > curators.  Others, who do "quality work", fall into void.  A few fortunate
> > ones, like Marcel Broodthaers, may get pulled out again, but consider that
> > he might not have been - that all these years he had to pay storage for work
> > that 20 years later is "great".  Was his timing off?
> >
> > Is there anyway to mend the food chain? Do we care?  What does the "lack
> > of quality work"mean for the many artists making quality work that never
> > gets shown?
> >
> > Cynthia Beth Rubin
> > http://CBRubin.net <http://cbrubin.net/>
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (
> > distributedcreativity.org)
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> >
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> >
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> >
> >
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Message: 2
Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2007 10:58:34 -0400
From: Colin Rhinesmith <crhinesmith at comcast.net>
Subject: [iDC] danah boyd on ?MyFriends, MySpace?
To: idc at mailman.thing.net
Message-ID: <D15D69F9-BCE2-4550-A1B2-B649B6A840EE at comcast.net>
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Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard Law School
June 19, 2007

At the base of social network sites is the desperate desire to be  
social, to be apart of a group. Social networks are about friends and  
people you already know.

The concept of public: critical to engage in public to make things  
real (Arendt). Networked publics are imagined by the public to have  
some kind of property. Networked publics have existed for almost  
thirty years (see Usenet): people organizing around interests,  
mailing lists, topic orientation. Then the boom happened. People  
rushed online, sold on story of e-commerce. Web 2.0 is really  
interested in the way that it changed the rules of organizing sociality.

MySpace meant to be a rip off of Friendster. MySpace first reached  
out to indie rock musicians. By late 2003, indie rockers were using  
Friendster for shows, community building, etc. MySpace said, ôHow can  
we help you?ö Indie rockers responded, ôYou can help us?ö MySpace  
created unique URLs for the purpose of musicians. And Los Angeles  
promoters realized this would be a great tool. To get VIP passes,  
youÆd had to have a MySpace page as a way to promote shows to venues.

First group jumped on as 21+ crowd. College kids followed what was  
happening and it went below that in age. When something starts to  
take off at 21 it works its way down. MySpace dropped it down to age  
16. It didnÆt take long for teenagers who were musically inclined  
(within high school). They were using Xanga. They liked to be able to  
see and collect their friends. MySpace provided this space.

MySpace users figured out that they could put in HTML and tons of  
other code into their pages. MySpace recognized this emergence and  
didnÆt stop it. They thought it might be interesting to see where it  
went. This emerged into a copy/paste literacy. They were able to copy  
and paste from around the web and put it into their MySpace page.  
Within this culture, all sorts of chaos emerged. Fishing emerged,  
privacy became relevant, etc.

This is not about ôsocial networking.ö ItÆs about places where people  
can write their social network into being.

When young people started to use MySpace they used it for social  
posturing. ôYo, whatÆs up?ö Public comments look a lot like a locker  
room, a bedroom, all the things that make parents run away. It makes  
an amazing space for self-expression. This is one of the things at  
risk when parents are let in. They are publics like the mall, like  
the park. But they are also unlike any publics you grew up with.

4 properties of this kind of public

1. Persistence
2. Searchability
3. Replicability
4. Invisible audiences

Given these properties young people have been able to make sense of  
it. Context allows us to understand what is the social way to  
interact? Requiring what it is and what is not appropriate is how you  
interact. People know they are supposed to be quiet on a bus, but at  
the same time not many people actually follow those rules. ItÆs not  
that the people are the rule, but the norms around the roles are in a  
space. The Internet provides that info through the labeling of topic.  
See the organization of Usenet. It didnÆt take long for people not to  
follow the rules. Alt.tasteless brought a twisted version of what the  
rules of the community were supposed to be.

This generation is growing up with a celebrity style public without  
knowing who the publics really are. ItÆs better to be public and be  
seen then private and invisible.

The American high school image in the 50s was to keep kids off the  
streets and away from the labor organizers. There are a lot of costs  
to this dynamic. The rise of bullying started in the 50s. The term  
teenager was created in 1941 by marketers to pick a market to go  
after. This meant a rapid shift in generations. The whole culture  
changed quickly. Today we are living with the damage of that. Young  
people v. adults.

Teenagers today are kept out of public life. They are locked inside  
for many reasons. If they donÆt have cars, they canÆt get out in many  
parts of the country. Even when there is public transit parents are  
afraid to let their kids outside. Most communities in the U.S., there  
are few places left where kids run free outside and come back for  

The other big affect is that families are highly structured. Going  
from activity to activity with the hopes of getting into schools like  
Harvard. Young people are turning to network publics as an  
alternative public. They are innovating and creating in places where  
they can create friends. For example, why do people write comments  
instead of public messages? ItÆs better to be seen on the street then  
to appear invisible.

The technology requires other things. You write who your audience is  
to be - negotiating different levels of audience based on how they  
see it. Private means ôfriends onlyö. Writing out audience means that  
you have to deal with a Top 8. The most dramatic part of MySpace.  
Pure social drama.

Young people donÆt want to friend people who hold power over them,  
parents, teachers, admissions councilors, etc. They also donÆt want  
those who would prey on them - not necessarily predators but the fear  
is scammers, marketers, etc.

3 memes

1. Ways of building structural walls. Lie, confuse things  
structurally. Walls keep one level of block.

2. Demand the way that the social way should work. ôMomÆs not wanted,  
get out!ö They want to be public, but only with people like them.

3. Play ostrich. If we donÆt see them, then they donÆt exist. Find a  
way to make them go away.

Public life is changing. This generation is growing up with a  
different public than weÆve known. The society is telling them to  
leave it and the younger generation is saying thereÆs something of  
value here. The moment the cell phone comes in, the less of a way  
that it is important. The cell phone is completely locked down.  
MySpace, for some teens, was one of the only places. Email is dead  
for young people. Their friends are all discussed through online  
systems. Some of this is changing and it will affect some of these  
websites. There is still a desire to be public.


The audio & video archive from this talk will be available soon at  
MediaBerkman <http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman>

Colin Rhinesmith


Message: 3
Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2007 12:39:21 -0300
From: Andreas Schiffler <aschiffler at ferzkopp.net>
Subject: Re: [iDC] game culture (?) (!) (%#@)
To: IDC list <idc at bbs.thing.net>
Message-ID: <46794A29.6020200 at ferzkopp.net>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

matteo bittanti wrote:
> If so, I'd be happy to lead a conversation on everything you wanted to 
> know about digital gaming but never dared to ask. Is there anything in 
> particular that you'd like to discuss? Feel free to shoot - let's play!

Everything? Now that is an offer one cannot refuse! :-)

I am at the beginning of some research into the area of game physics 
(that is, the simulation of physics in video games). [Trebor will know 
this topic, as he is in the same research group.]

The research is somewhat motivated by several observations:

Physics has an interesting split personality in that it is viewed as 
very fundamental in the sciences with a lot of 'prestige' (Einstein is a 
folk-hero), but at the same time Physics seems to be largely rejected as 
a discussion topic by non-science educated folks. As soon as it gets a 
bit more detailed and mathematical, most people will react try to avoid 
Physics. The current state of physics education (low number of 
graduates, etc.) confirms this.

Games on the other hand are well on the way (if not already there) to 
become the most used, most influential, most profitable entertainment 
medium. Therefore one can safely assume that they exert a significant 
influence on our culture. This trend which will continue in the years to 
come, especially as graphics capabilities reach photorealistic levels.

Game Physics is an element in video games that was always present and is 
even at the root of games (SpaceWar, the first video game was a physics 
simulation). It is becoming even more common due to the 3D and immersive 
nature of todays video games, because it makes games 'playable'. 
Generally it is a very important aspect of games since it is directly 
linked to the interactivity and 'feel' of the gameworld, but as a topic 
of game theoretical analysis, it is often overlooked.

As for some specific questions, I am currently interested in a 
discussion on how games affect the relationship we have with the real 
world. Obviously there are social implications to video game play as we 
can see from the whole "violence in games" debate. In relationship to 
Physics, I am looking at more fundamental changes in how we construct 
truths: Does video game physics create a form of "folk physics" (my 
immediate answer would be yes) and does that change the way we think or 
even act? For readers unfamiliar with video games, think of the 'Movie 
Physics' - which todays games largely adopt - such as the engine roar of 
a space ship flying by the camera (... this should be silent in vacuum).

So in some sense, the question extends the common "does it matter that 
movies have pseudo physics?" discussed extensively on site like 
http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics/ to "does it matter when video 
games have pseudo physics?" (and believe me they do!). Why don't game 
developers try harder and game players expect more?

If one looks critically at mass media today, are we not creating a whole 
new "church of entertainment" especially with video games, where - at 
least as far as physical simulations are concerned - the scientific 
method and precision becomes irrelevant or at best secondary over the 
goal of implementing the next, better implementation of a game as 'VR 
drug' or 'consentual hallucinations' as W. Gibson puts it?

Could the trend we see in the popularity for 'documentaries' - 
especially ones with a scientific slant such as 'An Inconvenient Truth' 
be extended to mainstream video games? Personally I feel sad to see that 
Physics is typically reduced to animating ragdoll-enemies, 
chaingun-bullets and flamethrower-particles ... so why not extend game 
physics to include more quantum-mechanics? Maybe this would allow us to 
bridge the gap between game-cultures and science-cultures.


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Cynthia Beth Rubin

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