Can the Internet Rescue Art?
I have been looking at artists’ pages on the internet lately and wondering: Can the internet rescue art? Does art even need rescuing? Well, according to my artist friend Olga Grulichová it does. She says that cheap knock-offs from China and other low-cost locations are killing Czech art — especially high end art glass and porcelain which is energy-intensive and expensive to produce. She has had to give up plans for some porcelain pieces she designed because the porcelain manufactury she was using closed. Glass artist friends have been hard hit by closures of commercial glass furnaces. And she is nervous even discussing some of her designs, much less advertising them on the internet after some bad experiences with the theft of her ideas: one of her signature designs– quirky ceramic house facades based on the centuries old houses in Prague’s Malá Strana were quickly copied and mass produced for sale in all the tourist shops in town. These, I point out to her, are not really comparable to hers, which are much larger pieces, each with individual touches often specially designed for the future owner- down quilts airing in the windows, lace curtains, people standing in the doorways, symbols and names over the doors…
I tell her– and I believe– that these cheap imitations are no competition for her. That people who care about art will want her originals and not cheap copies. She has had considerable success as an artist, I point out, with exhibitions in Paris and large purchases by such companies as Movenpick. But even as I reassure and encourage, I realize that I don’t really know. It is all part, I think, of the larger question of how we will compensate original work of all kinds now that many of the old forms and norms are dying. Will artists be able to make a living in this new world? Will writers? Who will support them and how? Will micropayment companies such as Kachingle provide a new model? Or will we return to old ones like the 16th and 17th century patrons of the arts?
I am rooting, myself, for some combination of the new and the old: for people to begin once again to define themselves and achieve respect at least in part by developing their individual taste– and to do that through the new tools of the internet and social networks. I can imagine a world in which the same broad swathe of the middle class owns art and supports writers as used, in Victorian times, to have servants. I can see young people developing a sense of who they are by searching the world for one or two special artists whose work calls to them in a unique way– and then spreading the word about them among their friends and contacts.
This seems to me an attractive vision. I hope, for the sake of artists like Olga, that it one day becomes reality.
Photos by Sarah Shaw Tatoun, ceramics by Olga Grulichová