By Gavin Artz – August 4th 2008

Originally published Music Forum. Journal of the Music Council of Australia

Vol. 15 No. 4, August – October 2009. ISSN 1327-9300


If art were a part of our living culture would we recognize it as art?

In the digital age one of the biggest conundrums for business is how to find successful models for generating revenue from digital activity. Facebook doesn’t generate as much revenue as its value would suggest it should and digital business is finding it has a commodity that is highly valued in a cultural and social sense, but consumers are not willing to put any commercial value on it (Oreskovic, 2009). Those artists whose practise is in digital media would probably be able to relate to this problem. The music industry is also struggling with the issue and it is one that literature is now having to face with e book readers and Google’s massive online library waiting to be read. Digital media businesses have been busy finding new revenue models. Crowdsourcing, the Economy of Abundance, the Long Tail, open source, donation, tiered licensing/freemium and advertising have been a few of the models experimented with over the last five years; longer in the case of open source and tiered licensing. New models need to be found for the arts in this digital world, not just for sustainability, but for artists to take their place at the centre of culture, society and economy.

So back to the question “If art were a part of our living culture would we recognize it as art?” Through my work at the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) (www.anat.org.au) it is a question that I find I am asking myself more and more. Those artists working with digital media seem to move freely from art work, to game, to commercial web site and back to art work. Those viewing these free movements may call none of what they do art, or maybe all of it, or only some of it art. It doesn’t seem to matter and least of all to those involved in the creative practice, but this often leaves those who’s job it is to codify artistic practise in the unhappy position of recognising it as art, yet not able to engage with it because it doesn’t fit into current expectations of what art is.

“If art were a part of our living culture would we recognize it as art?”. I have begun to use it as test of whether a work of art is a part of our living culture or not.

In 2008 ANAT was involved in bringing the Graffiti Research Lab (GRL) to Australia (http://grl.anat.org.au). This highlighted the question, is graffiti public art, or vandalism (not art)? Once again the question of a living culture arises. Graffiti is a creative expression that is not separate from our daily existence. It is a part of our environment and impacts on us whether we like it or not. The people involved will create the work whether you like it or not and we all have to engage with it whether we want to or not. It is uncensored, there is no one to tell you if it is good or bad, it appears, made up of our current lives.

Often our experience of art is in the form of a marginalised activity; a very revered, but still marginalised activity. We go to specific venues cut off from society where we engage with our cultural history. This is art as museum piece, taken from our daily lives and placed away from our daily activity, it is an important part of our cultural history and as history it informs our existence today, but it is not a part of our daily lives. In fact an industry exists on the basis that it is not a part of our daily lives. Art operates on a scarcity model. There is a scarcity of venues to engage with art, there is a scarcity of those who can mediate the art experience, there is a scarcity of those who fund and pay for art. It’s exclusivity and specialisation gives it a scarcity that works well for a very small minority involved in the arts. The common notion in the arts of the original having value is also based on scarcity. When a prized Rembrandt is found to be not by the master, then it somehow loses value, although up to that point it was a masterpiece. This is based on scarcity of the original, as well as the scarcity of those who can mediate the art experience. The irony is that if an entrepreneurial, purely economic approach is taken then we will all be more able to engage with art and culture and a sustainable existence can be spread more broadly across those engaged in artistic endeavours.

Art in an economy of abundance

The revered marginalisation of work benefits those who can interpret and allocate scarce resources. So what if, as in the digital world, the resources are not scarce? Someone doesn’t have to choose how to fill the limited wall space in a gallery, or choose the compositions that will be played in a venue, or the ones that will make it to a CD. People can have a direct relationship with the work, it all can be made available and the fan/connoisseur can trawl for what they like, or follow the lead of like-minded fans/connoisseurs.

What about critical dialogues placing work in the context of art history and culture? I am sure those who like that type of thing will make it available to the public, but a practising artist who has a direct relationship with culture, society and potential revenue may not care about critical dialogues. If you are making a work for an accessible audience then the potential for a work to be a part of our living culture grows.

In a digital era the concept of the scarce resource is diminishing. The Economy of Abundance (Anderson, 2008) suggests that those whose skill lies in allocating scare resources is diminishing. Why would you have a marketing consultant choose which product to sell when you can just put up everything and let a direct relationship with the consumer decide what people want to buy. It worked well for iStockphoto (Howe, 2008) who changed an industry with this very concept. The record industry is learning this at their cost. Artist and repertoire is becoming irrelevant in a time when home studios make the need for expensive recording studios redundant, MP3 has made distribution deals redundant and the web is slowly making marketing redundant. It is the best time to be an independent musician, but difficult if you are an established one or one of those whose profession was choosing and telling the public what they will like. The popular musician has taken to this with concepts like Crowdsourceing (Howe, 2008) allowing for a musician’s fans base to develop touring itineraries and free rich multimedia outlets online being used as a marketing base.

So why not Crowdsource compositions, build a site that allows anyone to up load compositions and the composers get a cut when it is sold. All this is very possible with pdf and cheap notation software. The consumer can choose what they like; the more obscure instruments may have a better chance of finding a repertoire (this is the Long Tail in the next section). Does MP3 sound terrible on your $50,000 sound system? Why not sell super high definition music at a premium, a great revenue stream for orchestras.

The Long Tail of art

The Long Tail (Anderson, 2008) economic theory is that the Internet has changed the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is based on Perato’s concepts, in business this tends to mean that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. In a world of scarcity you focus on the 20% that gives you the 80% of your business. The Long Tail suggests that the Internet has given business the potential to economically access to the 80% of customers that have not been seen as cost effective in the past. This is because there are was 197 million broad band connections world wide and growing rapidly (OECD, 2006) and the capacity for niche markets to form around the ability to search for and acquire obscure products is therefore also growing. The cost of having these products available is negligible, so they can all be available. This means that customers can actually get what they want instead of a marketing consultant telling them what they want.

The same is true of art particularly in the digital world. Music has traditionally been an early adopter of digital technology and music is experiencing this change first. But the same can be true for art in general, there is a capacity for direct access to everything for those that wish to experience art and there is no need for this experience to be mediated by experts. Art then doesn’t become a marginalised activity that happens in a specific environment, it happens as a part of a living culture, interacting and developing. Sure people will still be fans of someone who selects work. If someone is selecting art and you like their choices then they can cut down personal research time and you have the bonus of a rationale behind the selection. But in the future this may just be an algorithm that correlates your choices with that of the crowd and offers suggestions that may be just as viable to you as a as an experts opinion.

Ancillary IPs – The entrepreneurial mind.

Many of the emerging art forms find it difficult to earn revenue in the traditional context. If your only way to generate revenue is through the marginalisation of your work, through the mediation of an expert, in a specific venue cut off from society, then your work is not only being treated as a scare resource, but it is also being treated a tangible product that can only be hung on a wall or exhibited in three dimensions. In this world a premium is placed on the original and copies undervalued. What If your art work is digital, what if it has no physical form, what if the art work constantly changes with user interaction, what if your art work cannot be hung on the wall or sold to a collector? Then you can always rely on public subsidies, or you can be entrepreneurial, both have problems, but I will argue that being entrepreneurial is the best way forward.

Being entrepreneurial is creatively taking advantage of opportunities that others have not recognised. Artists have already trained themselves in this key ingredient before they start; That is, looking at the world from a different perspective and creatively interpreting it.

Rule one: Content is not a commodity: (unless you have extreme economies of scale.) In the digital era the concept of selling content is diminishing rapidly, something the music industry still has not learned. People are less inclined to purchase content and as recordings get cheaper to create and distribute they become more marketing collateral from which other revenue making activity can be leveraged. “Freemium” (Anderson, 2009) software models of free for home use and sales for corporate use (tiered licensing) could be used, using freely licensed content to build a fan base for live performance could be used, the use of content to draw eyeballs and then generate revenue from an audience in all its forms could be used. The Long Tail concept of selling cheaply to a large audience in stead of selling expensively to a small one, combined with a subsidy from selling extremely expensive commodities to those that can afford it is a way artists have gone (Wallace, 2009). Artists are having luck with donation models, just as some software developers have had for years (Van Buskirk, 2007). With digital art it must be remembered that if you cannot sell it at a reasonable price officially, people will get it for nothing some other way. Trent Reznor found that out and did something about it; if people are boot legging your concerts then coopt them and put them to work for you (Rose, 2009).

Rule two: Artists create IP: If your work is in the digital world then it is often difficult to sell, but you probably have created intellectual property (IP) in creating your work. The concept of Ancillary IPs (Artz, 2008) is that an artist, in working toward their creative vision, comes across road blocks which they over come through creating some IP. This can be in the form of a gadget, or code, or process. This Ancillary IP is often over looked as it is not the end result that the artist was looking for, but merely a step along the way. This Ancillary IP though has value in its own right and artists, it turns out, are particularly good at making it.

The concept of Ancillary IP’s has five key attributes for success (Artz, 2009):

  1. Invention and Innovation: Because Ancillary IPs are created to resolve a real problem they are closer to innovation than pure invention. There is far greater potential to find like problems than from pure invention
  2. Commercial Partnerships: There are no expectations that creative practitioners involved in the Ancillary IPs model will have business skills. While it is advised that a level of knowledge is developed to ensure appropriate choices are made, the Ancillary IP’s model is more focused on commercial partnerships.
  3. Personal Benefit: There is an expectation that the creator of the Ancillary IPs will derive an ongoing and direct benefit from commercial applications. This is a part of the commercial partnership that allows for ongoing IP to be created.
  4. Personal Vision: Ancillary IPs relies on the personal vision of the creative practitioner. Their value is in this vision and everything is to be done to allow them to focus on the end vision.
  5. Process: Because of the importance of the personal vision this personal vision cannot be curbed to commercial ends. Commercial opportunities come from the overcoming of roadblocks, not the end result.

So what technology have artist created?

A very short history of the synthesiser.

Twentieth century composers were looking for ways of generating and controlling specific tones. They hacked and made technology do what they wanted it to do. This was the development of electronic music. When RCA was looking for a way of testing equipment and they needed a way of generating and controlling tones, they drew on the knowledge and inspiration of artists to make the first true synthesiser. This on going development between arts and technology continued creating instruments such as the Moog and also tone generators that made modern telecommunications possible. This resolving of like problems happens often and the creative drive often means that artists operate like scientists working on pure research; they push unknown boundaries and create something that might not seem useful in the first instance. For artists there is the potential to look creatively at their entire practise and see if the tools they create to produce work have value in their own right.

References

Anderson C. 2006, “Long Tail, The, Revised and Updated Edition: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”. Hyperion, New York.

Anderson, C. 2009. Wired Magazine.

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-03/ff_free

Anderson, C. 2008. – Video.

http://www.poptech.org/popcasts/popcasts.aspx?lang=&viewcastid=22

Artz, G. 2008. “Artistic practice and unexpected intellectual property: Defining Ancillary IPs”

http://www.chass.org.au/papers/PAP20080709GA.php

Artz, G. 2009. Abstract “Achieving Innovation Through Ancillary IPs”

3rd Annual IP Management in Practice conference.

Howe, J. 2008. “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business”. Random House, New York.

Howe, J. 2008. Crowdsourcing – Video.

http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/cs/2008/07/crowdsourcing-t.html

OECD Broadband Statistics to December 2006

http://www.oecd.org/document/7/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38446855_1_1_1_1,00.html

Oreskovic, A. 2009. “Facebook and Twitter hunt for revenue”. Reuters, Fri May 22.

Rose, F. 2009. Wired Magazine

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/04/trent-reznor-wa/

Van Buskirk, E. 2007. Wired Magazine.

http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/commentary/listeningpost/2007/12/listeningpost_1210

Wallice, L. 2009. Wired Magazine.

http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/03/sold-mini-golf/

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