Public Spaces, Retail Art, and the Reduction of Meaning

With marketing demographics available to everyone through social media, there is a push to consider the audience before beginning any project. Artistic endeavors are no exception. Consider the audience. Is there an audience? Then I watch as my own social media feeds fill up with clickbait. Friends, family, acquaintances, paid ads… Like this, share that. All for the sake of the following.

It is common to describe these social media activities as something new. This is not new. We had to hustle art before the internet. This is just a new hustle. Social media can provide information through marketing campaigns for target audiences and interests. Often discussions around new projects will begin with this end in mind?

New tools like this are useful for any project. Determining a market for a project that has, or will have, investors is essential. Target audiences can be found without employing expensive marketing consultants or purchasing expensive data sets. Ad campaigns can even be purchased with modest budgets.

Every artist wants their work to be seen. It doesn’t matter whether it is a painting, a song, a poem… We all want to be recognized. Recognition on a mass scale is tantalizing.

In the quest for the largest target audience, we are losing sight of artistic vision. The art isn’t always about the consumer. Where would we be without Mapplethorpe. What if Mapplethorpe had first put together an ad campaign on Facebook to determine whether his BDSM photography had a large enough target audience?

It could be argued that Mapplethorpe inspired designs may not be appropriate for public spaces, but what about the Sistine Chapel ceiling? What if Michaelangelo was represented by a retail agency that represented thousands of working artists? Michaelangelo presents his designs to the Retail Public Spaces Group (RPSG). The well meaning RPSG sales agents review the designs and have a meeting with Michaelangelo. They tell him that they can’t possible present a design to the Vatican that includes God’s Balls. Michaelangelo passionately pleads his case for the inclusion of God’s Balls in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The RPSG representatives ask how the overall space would suffer without the inclusion of God’s Balls. Michaelangelo explains his position in fifteen emails – each with an ever expanding group of middle managers. Each time he sends an email, the replies come with an expanded list of well meaning middle managers and marketing people.

In the end, RPSG doesn’t even include Michaelangelo’s proposal as part of the group of proposals sent to the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling would end up being an abstract representation of the Garden of Eden. No human forms included. The human form is too controversial. RPSG wouldn’t tell Michaelangelo any of this. They would just tell him that the customer (the Vatican) decided to go in a different direction.

The collective marketing juggernaut of retail art agencies and art groups reduce a request for art down into logos and brands that are forgotten and mean nothing. The artist decides what is art. Without risk, our public spaces turn into geometric shapes and meaningless abstracts designed for efficiency. Meaningless forms that we agree will offend no one.

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