06 September 2010

That Pest, the Audience

I attended a bit of the Art Breaker opening event at the Pop Art Lab -- much less than I would have liked (damn you, RL!), but a bit. From what I've read on other blogs, I missed some good stuff. I did catch the last half of the initial talks, including that of Pathfinder Lester (formerly Linden). I have to admit, most of what I heard didn't seem very informative (I won't be as hard on the speakers as sororNishi was, after all I missed a lot, but I also won't say she's wrong).

But my ears perked up when Pathfinder, near the end of his talk, spoke of artists affecting people's lives and their work needing to be known more widely. To me, this is crucial. Who is the audience for artists' work in SL? How can artists find their audience? The Art Breaker event drew a lot of people -- at one point the sim held as many as 63! -- but I could see that many of them were other artists, plus some gallery owners; I suspect that "outsiders" like me were a distinct minority (it would be interesting to find out). Pathfinder, albeit not an artist himself as best as I know, for his part talked mainly as though he expected only artists in the audience.

Now, it's neither surprising nor problematic that artists would mostly want to spend time with each other (and to some extent, gallery owners and patrons), stirring each other's ideas and encouraging each other onward. And when I've happened to meet them, I've had really interesting conversations with several artists, including Bryn Oh, Kolor Fall, AM Radio and Miso Susanowa, who were very generous with their time.

But at presumably public events, relationships between artists and non-artists (if present) seem to easily go a bit awry. For instance, when I attended Selavy Oh and Misprint Thursday's "Wedding" performance last January, it made an impression that at the reception afterward, when I thanked them for the (theoretically open) invitation and congratulated them on the piece, neither of them replied. Similarly, I went to an opening at Crossworlds once, where not only did the gallery hosts not greet me, they didn't notice that I asked them something. Hello? Audience here! You invited me!

Miso, in her own post on the Art Breaker event, criticises a "marketing maven" for recommending "pithy, zen-like SHORT [blog] postings," and she says, "Listen up, droid-boy: it all depends on what audience you're trying to reach. Now go get some real-world experience and call me back." I wasn't at that part of the event; for what it's worth, I agree that it depends on your audience, and still more, on your goals and the complexity of what you want to say (not to mention your particular writing style and abilities).

However, there is an obvious question: who is she trying to reach, whether in her blog or her art? Is the "marketing maven" not part of her audience? I ask because -- whatever the appropriateness or viability or even the tone of his suggestions -- he was there. I doubt he was forced to attend, let alone that he was paid to. Surely he came because he wanted to offer his support and appreciation for art in SL, making a time commitment just for you? Is it too much to expect some dignity in return? Either debate with him, or thank him for coming and leave him to enjoy your work (or not) in whatever way he does. Or maybe, even take him seriously.

Okay, I don't want to go too far off the rails here. As I said, I've had some great discussions with artists in SL, including Miso. And she does have the right to be irritated by things someone says. It may also be the case that incidents like the ones I mentioned at public events are exceptions, have extenuating circumstances, or whatnot; perhaps I'm making too much of them. But my basic point is, if you're only interested in addressing other artists, then I think you're setting your sights too low. The growth and development of art in SL can only occur as a larger collective effort -- or better, a collaborative one. Non-artists are not flies in the ointment. As soon as you put your work out there for a wider audience, one way or another we're part of your future.


  1. Fair enough :) and thanks for the headsup about your blog post. I'd like to reply here...

    The referenced speech was one given by a person who had absolutely everything to say about "monetization" and "maximizing eyeballs" and all the other "web 2.0" buzzwords currently in vogue... and not a thing about art, the work PAL is doing, the possibilities and potentials of the medium...

    In short, all about PRODUCT. Which, as far as his approach went, could be a screwdriver, a plank, a sanitary napkin... doesn't matter to those types; they have no commitment to anything but the profit line.

    It is this approach that has devastated Second Life and other virtual worlds. This product-agnostic approach is new-marketing, and its failure in both the marketplace and in its inability to actually find something of value to promote or back is apparent not only in virtual worlds, but across the lines in the "new net."

    I strongly object to such myopic, nearsighted and ignorant (yes, ignorant; I have not only been in business for over 20 years, but I watched this same approach destroy the early possibilities of virtual worlds in 1996-199) approach to a medium which is extremely varied, colorful, open, expansive and bursting with possibilities.

    This economic reductionism of everything to a marketing/profit graph is a symptom of what is wrong with this entire approach, the world economy at present and the rotting end of the Industrial Revolution, which treats everything (and every person) as just a part in some vast machine; parts to be grabbed, used and discarded in the name of the quarterly profit line.

    If this person would have ONCE mentioned ANYTHING about art, the event or anything related to his presence there, perhaps I wouldn't have been so caustic in my mockery. But he didn't, and I didn't care to have him hijacking the presentations or the work at PAL for some profiteering agenda.

    TY Dividni *hug* :)

  2. Thank you for your post about the event. I only want to comment I've met tons of visitors last few days who come explore the exhibition. Those are far from being experts or art creators. They are "normal" art interested folks who likes to visit galleries just like for real.

  3. Hi Miso! Thanks for writing! (And for falling right into my evil plan to get more than seven readers!) Having fuller information about the incident does shade my thinking. I think your oppositon to reducing everything in SL (and in RL!) to marketing is COMPLETELY justified. SL being the shoppers' paradise that it is, the visual arts in particular stand out as an extremely valuable exception. (Well, I'm assuming that most SL artists don't exactly rake in the cash from their work. Naturally, I'm reminded of Frank Zappa's early album, "We're Only In It For the Money.") If the speaker failed to recognize that and indeed to connect in any way to SL arts, he deserves your scorn, and one could argue that he put *himself* outside the scope of your audience. It sounds like his comments raise a question you might discuss with the event organizers. (Whether his advice is entirely wrong might be a separate issue, since as you say, there's a question of one's audience.)

    Hi Claus, thanks for writing too! I'm delighted to hear that lots of people are coming to see the work, that's fantastic! I've only gotten to see a few pieces so far, but I'll be coming round, hopefully several times. However, the focus of my concern isn't what happens when individuals visit galleries or encounter artists at work. (I'm very cautious about approaching artists when they appear to be at work, but in fact, not even one has ever told to me to bug off, which I find completely amazing given the sort of concentration my own work requires.) Instead, my underlying question is how we can build the audience for art in SL, and arising from that, what happens at *events.* Things seem fine at the one-on-one level. But at gatherings to which the general public has been invited, sometimes the presenters (organizers, speakers, performers, exhibitors, or whoever it might be) seem to forget that non-artists are there. Not all the time, certainly, but often enough that I think it requires attention. And I think it requires more than an occasional nod: the best way to build an audience for art in SL is almost certainly to make non-artists an integral part of a *community*. (I've seen brilliant, wildly avant-garde performance art and theater groups that are practically *mobbed* because they've tapped into a community.) Public events are crucial occasions when that can happen.

    Sorry, I don't mean to lecture! I only want to stir thoughts on how organizers and presenters should conceptualize that they're doing when they hold a "public" event.

    Thanks again, both of you!

  4. Claus, Binary and PAL put on an amazing opening, yes. But let me echo Claus' comment above with my own experiences this week.

    Hanging out in my own build enabled me to connect with two people. One is an incredible sound artist who no one seems to know about [Mik Frequency]; certainly an "arts person."

    The second was a woman who was brand-new to Second Life [rez date Sept 1 2010] and yet had somehow managed to find Tasuko Ghost, Pop Art Lab and some other heavy arts groups. She was not a builder [yet, though I pointed her at The Ivory Tower of Prims] and didn't even know her new Linden Home was on land that would let her rez!

    I could feel her excitement and awe as she stood in my build, exclaiming about it and the other builds in the PAL show. She told me she was in Alaska, working at some Coast Guard station and felt incredibly isolated from communication and culture. She kept on saying over and over, "I couldn't ever have dreamed that computers could do things like this!!!" I felt humbled and squishy listening to her delight and beauty-shock at what computers are capable of and of Second Life.

    Fundamentally, all art is about communicating. The net is a communications medium. Talking only to a small circle of friends with somewhat congruent worldviews would be like making paint-by-numbers paintings to display only to your immediate family.

    The real goal of artists, musicians and creative technicians is to expose "the public" to new ideas, esthetics, possibilities and viewpoints; on this is am squarely behind you. Speaking only to the "intelligencia" is boring. rude and dereliction of duty.

  5. maybe we didn't reply because we didn't 'hear' you or, to be accurate, didn't read you?

  6. Hi Selavy, thanks for responding. Yes, I assumed so -- it's hard to keep track of all the chatter at times like that. I guess I'm still not explaining myself well. But first, I hope you don't think I was angry! I was more like puzzled or confused. Let me try to clarify. The reception was in a public performance context: you and Misprint created a wedding, and as part of that performance, invited the entire audience to the reception, which is the expectation at most wedddings. So it would make sense for the reception to be performed more or less in the same way, that is, the couple would receive the guests, including the strangers nobody knows. (If it were a private party and I was horning in, the context would have been quite different.) On the flip side, as a participant in a wedding performance, I took my own role as "guest" seriously and thought it would be rude of to congratulate the couple -- plus I thought you deserved the congratulations! Seeing the crush of people (and interested in the interactions among people I'd heard about but never seen before), I stayed at the reception until maybe two thirds had left before I approached, because otherwise I certainly wouldn't have managed my part. It was a reception, there were two of you, I tried a couple times. Writing about it unfortunately seems to overstate the situation, because I absolutely do NOT think any rudeness was intended! It was more like a performance glitch. I want to emphasize, I'm not talking about *personal* encounters between artists and non-artists: I'm talking about open events. When the general public is invited, it's going to be a mixed audience, so the question is how one deals with that fact. (My background is in theater, audience is always a concern.) So I'm NOT saying "Grrr, artists are clique-ish jerks!" I'm saying, "Folks, I really want to see appreciation and practical support for SL arts to grow, but to do that, you've got to pay attention to making non-artists part of a community, and public events require special efforts." Does that make sense? I don't think my original post was clear enough about that, and I'm afraid I sounded a bit put out. And although the title of the post was meant to be a little sharp simply to catch eyes, it was probably sharer than necessary. My criticism truly is meant to be constructive.

  7. you're right, the wedding performance (and the credits for it go to misprint, she was the principal author and she organized the whole thing) was meant to include the audience as participants. of course communication with the guests would have been an important part of the whole story. and i really have no idea what went wrong with communication at that performance. it's paradoxical but i had a similar impression: i played the bride on a wedding, but nobody talked to me, not even to congratulate. a life performance is very exhausting and i remember that, after a certain time into the reception, i concentrated on responding to IMs, loosing interest a bit in following chat conversations that were not meant for me, anyway. so i'm doubly sorry for having overlooked your attempt to communicate: it would have been a pleasure for me as well.
    apart from that, i completely agree with you that our work shouldn't be only for fellow artists, but for a wider audience. as an example: one of my works was an environment for the poetik parties organized by nur moo, which was a very rewarding experience for me, and probably the installation with the most visitors i ever had.

  8. Hi Selavy! Great, I'm glad I managed to be clearer this time. But I'm sorry to hear the "Wedding" was a bit off for you as well -- sheesh, not getting congratulated?? Sigh. Anyway, I hope to meet you one of these days!