Bringing art to the masses has been a goal of royalty, business titans and politicians for millennia. But Silicon Valley? Not so much.
Way back in 1998, a novel little company started in Emeryville, California, just east of San Francisco, was launched and is dedicated to helping people find and buy art. While mainly offering reproductions of great artists, Art.com has grown over the years and is a main destination for people looking to spruce up their homes and offices with a framed reproduction of something famously beautiful.
Recently, however, a new batch of art-focused initiatives online has introduced a fresh and exciting way to relate to art and to also consume it.
Art.sy is one such player, which is trying to do for art what Pandora did for music and Netflix has done for movies. Their goal is not a small one: index the world’s art holdings and then deconstruct each piece to enable a search and recommendation engine that makes artwork more accessible to the average Joe. The company calls the deconstruction piece creating an Art Genome.
The project is inspired by Pandora’s Music Genome effort in which a bevvy of Pandora music experts assign one or more established attributes to any given song so that song can be instantly related to others like it. It’s why Pandora can organically produce a playlist just for you with only a few clues as to what you like listening to. It’s kind of magical.
What makes this tough for art is that there are rather more subjective criteria one can ascribe to any given picture or piece of art. Still, Art.sy is throwing a lot of very smart art experts at the task and taking a laudatory stab at creating the same sort of magical experience offered by Pandora: If you like a Vermeer, you might also like a Rubens; if Rothko is exciting to you, try Diebenkorn. Folks could spend hours flowing from one artist or genre to the next on a mission of discovery and delight.
Art.sy hopes to monetize one day by connecting users to the galleries that possess the artwork and its rights to reproduction, where the consumer can presumably buy the merchandise usually found in a museum store.
While Art.sy is not the first to attempt to index the world’s art – Google, predictably, has been on this mission for some time – they are the first to make it so accessible to ordinary folks and in a way that is inherently educational.
On the other end of the spectrum is Artify.it. They have come up with a clever way to subscribe to and rent contemporary art by living, working artists. It’s a low-cost, low risk way to get to know an artist or a single piece of art before committing to buying. For a fixed monthly fee, users can choose from an inventory locally-produced, high-quality art that they can then display in their homes or offices for some period of time. Artify deals with issues around insurance, delivery and installation, which removes a lot of the costs and logistical headaches often associated with acquiring art.
If the user falls in love with the art piece, they can buy it outright from Artify.it, which then sends all but a small transaction fee back to the artist. It’s great for local artists, great for would-be consumers of art, and great for a cool and clever little start-up.
While consumers of art have long relied on curators or gallery owners to help them understand and appropriately consume the art they seek, an algorithmic approach may make art consumption more populist and, well, popular. And by using technology to connect working artists with eager consumers, technology can create new markets where none existed before. Who knew artists and geeks could be so compatible?