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Art for Aggregators’ Sake

On November 11, 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that some of the biggest names in technology, media and fine art are coming together to support Art.sy, a Pandora Radio-type aggregator which will recommend art to users based on their "tastes." Among the supporters and advisors to Art.sy are art collector Wendy Murdoch (wife of Rupert), art dealer Larry Gagosian, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

In an interview with Motherboard.tv, Art.sy founder Carter Cleveland stated, "We want to get people… wean them off the teat of mass production and mass consumption, back to a point where we used to be, which is appreciating original real fine art. And if you’re buying this art, you’re actually supporting a real person, you know like, a starving artist, someone who’s struggling to have a successful career.”

Wean them off the teat of mass producton? I have an intense aversion to Art.sy before it even goes live, and to existing art aggregators like www.artfacts.net, a site which ranks artists on a point system by their exhibitions and sales. While Art.sy’s plan to serve the art market over the artist isn’t nearly as blatant, I suspect Art.sy will share Artfacts’ tendancy to limit the pool of artists to those who are popular, online and for sale. As Douglas Rushkoff argues in his new book, Program or Be Programmed, what seems like an abundance of choices online really is not.

"The digital realm is biased toward choice, because everything must be expressed in the terms of a discrete, yes or no, symbolic language. This, in turn, often forces choices on humans operating within the digital sphere… It’s in that translation from the blurry and nondescript real world of people and perceptions to the absolutely defined and numerical world of the digital where something might be lost."– Douglas Rushkoff, Program or Be Programmed

Artfacts looks like NASDAQ

Record stores of the pre-internet days encouraged hunting for titles that were both obscure and rare, while online music aggregators like Pandora rank and limit choices to those which are already on the world wide web. The user may have the perception of endless options, but the sample of artists on Pandora is most definitely finite. And Art.sy’s core sample appears even smaller than Pandora’s: according to the the site’s FAQ section, "Art.sy features works for sale by leading galleries as well as those on display in museums and private collections." Haven’t the supporters of Art.sy noticed that the web is most innovative when it operates from a bottom-up strategy? If the advisors to Art.sy included a grassroot creative from Etsy rather than a trustee from SFMoMA, I’d feel more optimistic about getting artsy with Art.sy.

The 24 year-old founder of Art.sy


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