SURFMERCHANT™ was at Block T on Wednesday for a le cool fringe summit called Arts to Market on the subject of selling Art and how Artists promote themselves to profit from their profession! The night prior, we attended “Spiel” presented by le cool and Pilcrow, a head-to-head of old-world journalism (New York Times) meets social-network-cum-content platform (Contently). Both were head-scratching experiences so we thought we’d knock our heads together and pen our thoughts on the matter.
The panel discussion for Arts to Market on Wednesday quickly turned to a broad philosophical debate on the socio-economic and cultural fabric of the art market. The direction that the dialogue took was perturbing. It seemingly disturbed guest speaker and owner of Kerlin Gallery, Darragh Hogan, also. Hogan is an established art merchant hosting exhibitions from Kerlin Gallery on South Anne St, Dublin 2. He advocated for local, physical & social exchange as his core values and value proposition.
Others sitting on the panel were Nicola Doran from the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, Kate O’Daly of Love & Robots and Sean Moriarty of Demand Media and Saatchi Art. Moriarty extolled the virtues of art curation, a global community marketplace for artists, art lovers and buyers. The pillars of his argument were accessibility and self-promotion, the internet creating a level playing field and a canvas for the artist to tell their story, their purpose and creative process.
We couldn’t help but root for the underdog in this Darragh v Goliath debate. The smart money was all on Sean Moriarty’s argument. The way of the future points to digitisation, or at least phygital (funky applied example of content curation), e-commerce, community networks and peer review. The middle man would be redundant. No longer would the discerning gallery owner or distinguished art expert hold sway as to what art-work features or is deemed worthy…
We would! It’s hard to argue against the great democratisation of the internet and the unparalleled opportunity that it provides break-through artists to get their first break. But could the system be gamed?
SaatchiArt employs standard e-commerce practices. Take a large database of products and sort results based on recency and relevancy. Recency is time-sensitive, so we revere Newness & Nowism! Relevancy is more qualitative. It can take in a plethora of factors. This is where personalisation comes in. In a sense, it follows the formula of If This Then That, matching past preference for future prediction. It’s remarkably accurate. We’re remarkably predictable at times, particularly in our shopping patterns.
Now layer in crowd-souring and social signals – a peer review platform that measures product popularity according to views, engagement & social validation. Network effect dictates that once a unit gains the traction of a certain number of page-views, comments, reviews or shares, the concept of virility sets in. Interactions with that unit cause it to feature, promotion leads to further interaction, popularity is reinforced in a cycle of peer approval.
This is no bad thing! It is a very efficient mechanic allowing the market dictate, based on free-market supply and demand, what products register and highlight. Herd mentality and group-think can cloud the crowd voting system however. As social animals, our psychology is skewed toward peer approval and FOMO. Popular can all too easily replace best-in-class. Our judgement can be biased by peer actions and behaviour, leading us to make decisions that independently we might not otherwise.
Walking away from hearing Shane Snow of Contently the night before, I had the same train of thought. The epitome of content marketing, could it be that Contently is focusing more on the presentation of content than the content itself. Could how we wrap our content with design, interactivity and social stimulus disguise a mediocre message, publication or product?
My argument then is this. Ultimately, we will be directed by more than just our own views. Traditionally, the gallery curator provided such “advisory” services. Today, our “friends” and social circles point the way, as does the wider public opinion. Gallery 2.0 is made up of more stakeholders; more artists, more curators, more window-shoppers and more art collectors. The curators at SaatchiArt “filter” our view and traffic our purchasing decisions, as do their community, or which we are a tiny part. We are all responsible for each others’ actions but most importantly of all, responsible for our own. This is the quiet realisation I enjoyed on Wednesday night at Le Cool’s Arts to Market event.