Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Message Meets Medium: Collecting Digital Art Through s[edition]

Although I am neither a collector of art, nor a frequenter of social media, somehow s[edition] intrigued me. Launched a few weeks ago, s[edition] is not just a digital art gallery, it’s a gallery for digital art. Here’s the difference: the art you can browse, buy and collect through s[edition] is not a digital representation of artwork, it is art using the digital medium. Like a traditional print, there is a limited number of pieces available. Unlike a traditional print, you can view the creation you purchase in a variety of ways and sizes on your iPad, Blackberry, PC, TV, digital photo frame, or any other connected device. You can store your artwork in s[edition]’s digital vault and access it anytime, anywhere – provided you have the proper hardware and internet connection.

Each piece in your vault is yours and yours alone. It is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and can be “identified, verified and traced.” Skeptics among us might wonder what all the fuss is about. There is a myriad of images you can find for free online and use similarly. Naturally, this begs the age-old question: what makes art, Art? Some say art is anything that's made with love or intention, or simply a thing of beauty. Others say art is something that challenges the way we think about the world. Whatever your definition, s[edition] for certain challenges the way we think about art itself.

s[edition] currently has nine artists, including Damien Hirst, participating and they are expecting to grow quickly. The site is also hoping to expand and add a secondary marketplace, allowing members to sell digital art previously purchased (presumably sold out and no longer available) on s[edition]. The concept is a new way to support artists, collect art and connect collectors. Although the prices are right (ranging from $8 to $800), the model might take some getting used to. In a world where art is both coveted and covert, such an open forum may demystify the idea of collecting art, something that in many minds is reserved for the rich, the educated and the fashionable.

Artist Damien Hirst
Most of the middle class will agree that a few strokes of pigment do not a million-dollar masterpiece make, even if it is Jackson Pollock doing the brushwork. With s[edition], however, anyone can own a Neon or a Damien Hirst…well, almost anyone. Although s[edition] “believes art collecting can be instant, affordable, social and enjoyable,” this clearly only applies to those who have hardware and connectivity. What about the many people who do not have either – like much of the Canadian North? Perhaps the average middle class, blue collar worker can now access art, but the digital divide ensures that access to art (at least through s[edition]) is not yet universal.

Nevertheless, s[edition] claims “more people would be collectors were it not for lack of access and resources.” That’s likely true; everybody enjoys being aesthetically pleased. But if we’re talking art for art’s sake, isn’t limited access and resources, aka scarcity, what makes art so intriguing and valuable? If just anyone could own a Picasso, would the rich, the educated and art the fashionable still want one? Perhaps not, but perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Taking art out of the fingertips of the elite and putting it in the palms of the everyman is, I would argue, a positive step forward. But each time we take a step forward we change the landscape.

The landscape has also changed for artists. Artists who sell their work on s[edition] inevitably lose control over how their art is displayed. The canvas is no longer a canvas, but a screen of any size, with undefined resolution, pixel density, vividness, and color. Admittedly creating digital art and selling it on s[edition] is not for control freaks. But knowing that your art is being enjoyed in so many different formats, by so many people? I imagine that makes the tradeoff worth it.

Like most social media sites, s[edition] allows users to access top collectors, most viewed artwork and recently purchased pieces. You can create a profile, make a wish list, follow artists and receive email updates. You can find and connect with other people who have similar tastes as you. My fear with s[edition], and social media in general, is that we become motivated by the exhibition. Somehow, what we really appreciate becomes lost in our efforts to prove to the world how rich, how educated and how fashionable we are. Of course, in some sense, this is what art has always been about: art has always been an exhibition. In this light, s[edition] makes perfect sense.

Mari-Beth Slade is a marketer for an accounting firm in Halifax. She enjoys hearing new ideas and challenging assumptions. When not hard at work, she appreciates sharing food, wine and conversations with her family and friends.

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