(Some of you may have seen this article posted at the Fantastic Robert Genn Twice-Weekly website if not, please consider this link my little gift to you. I have been reading his essays for a few years now and they always seem to motivate and and start great dialogues.
Dear Michael Orwick,
In 1847, Karl Marx wrote that working for wages would be superseded by what he called "self-activity." With the economy humming along, surplus time would free people to study, privately create and generally improve themselves. He suggested they might also hunt, fish, or even become critics in their spare time. Of course, this was going to happen under the Communist system. It didn't. But Marx's prophetic vision continues to prove him right. What Marx did not foresee was the remarkable variety of interests that folks would pursue. Only a few years ago a person who painted on the heads of pins would be considered an eccentric oddball.
Today's Internet can bring a world of pinhead painters together to share techniques, one-hair brushes, magnifying devices, exhibition ploys, pinhead history and pinhead lore. A pinhead society is formed and a pinhead president is elected. Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail," while essentially a book on economics, talks about these sorts of esoteric pursuits and issues that will affect the lives and livelihoods of artists. The long tail is a graph that describes the vast variety of niches now available beyond the more standard fare. Amazon, for example, by offering more than 800,000 CD titles as compared with the average Wal-Mart at 4500, is an example of the retail long tail in action. Without "the tyranny of the shelf," and with its ability to tolerate a great deal of what they call "noise," Amazon offers stuff that is otherwise hard to find. Niches rule. We've put long tail graphs and their implications at the top of the current clickback. See URL below. With the remarkable democratization of human activity, older attitudes of scarcity may be waning. The bonanza of choice is affecting the ways people buy art. The "Star system" may be on its way out. Not only will people make art for their own consumption and those of their friends, but they will buy locally and value individuality and connectivity rather than name. "Young people today," says media mogul Rupert Murdoch, "don't want to be told what's good and bad, they want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it." The growing presence of large Internet art sites where art is arranged by genre and niche is part of this phenomenon. "Are you looking for a pinhead landscape or a pinhead portrait?"
PS: "Noise can also be a huge problem in the long tail market. Indeed, if left unchecked, noise--random content or products of poor quality--can kill a market. Too much noise and people don't buy." (Chris Anderson)
Esoterica: Not everyone sees the long tail as a good thing. "Sturgeon's Law," named after science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, states, "Ninety percent of everything is crud." Galleries, museums and even websites are in the business of filtering out what they consider to be crud. Part of our job as professional creators is to filter our own efforts. By the way, are standards rising? Maybe the democratization of art can only go so far.
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