Towards Art Economy 2.0
Announcing A*NA. A Distributed Community Building the Tools for a New Art Economy, Focused on the Agency of Artists
Evidenced by it’s ubiquity in the narrative of human history, art is important—probably more so than we currently imagine or comprehend. To that end, the question is; what should we do next?
The Forces Shaping Art
In the modern art economy — a large and complex social structure surrounding artists and works they create — two major forces get to work once artworks enter the ecosystem.
Cultural judgement is the first. It aims to understand works and the artists who make them within the context of art history. Many participants within the ecosystem contribute to this force including critics, curators, galleries and museums. Economic assessment is the second and is informed by the first. This force aims to determine a fair price for works within the primary or secondary market spheres (before and after the first sale of a work respectively).
The degree with which an organisation or individual can influence either force largely depends on their reputation within the economy. The reach achieved by Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses, for example, means that a cultural judgement asserted by either is often regarded as more ‘true’ than respective statements made by their contemporaries. As other participants in the art economy reinforce a particular judgement, it’s influence multiplies. Since decisions to support or challenge judgements are often homogenous, particularly where information is scarce or uncertain, judgements can diffuse quickly. A phenomenon known to psychologists as social proof.
Both forces, cultural and economic, are largely subjective and encourage lively, engaging discourse about art. However, in the absence of objective criteria to evaluate artworks, those able to function as reputed cultural appraisers, combined with commercial and network scale, are able to strongly signal which artists are important and place their works with collectors or institutions competing to own them. Managing the careers of artists is arguably essential and not new. But reputation has become the dominant scarce resource, on both the supply and demand sides of the economy. In abundance, you can both play the game and make the rules.
Auction sales results highlight the challenge. An estimated 1% of artists with work selling at auction in 2017—around just 520 of 52,000—accounted for the majority of sales (64%), totalling circa $18bn in value.
This is potentially indicative of a pattern, called into focus by Tim Schneider in his analysis on November auction sales in New York between 2008–18; “multibillion-dollar annual totals increasingly depend on a stagnant or shrinking number of sales at steadily higher prices”. As noted in a related article, he points out that annual art market reports, although difficult to validate given the challenges accumulating good data, show no significant growth by value since the period before the 2008 recession. If private sales are following a similar pattern, the art economy—estimated to total in the region of $60bn in value annually—is failing to support the creation and distribution of art, for all but a fraction of the ecosystem.
“The beginning of creativity was […] the beginning of infinity” David Deutsch.
What Should We Do Next?
It is difficult to observe these features of the art economy and not conclude that it is currently more concerned with keeping a ledger of where influence lies, than empowering new modes of progress for art. Like other complex systems, it’s deficiencies cannot entirely define it. But, surely, given art’s infinite potential, being shackled by the dogmatic emergent forces of recent decades is not what we must hope for art. To that end and given the above, what should we do next?
A Network of Networks
We are organising under the Art*N Alliance (A*NA) to design and build new solutions for art, by focusing on the agency of artists and their function at the apex of culture. A*NA is an internet-native organisation designed to be more stable, efficient and inclusive. Our mission is to build the tools for a new art economy. Two projects are underway:
Zien is a new way to discover and fund exceptional artists. Financing an art practice can be difficult. Many people like art, but few get to know art. Zien aims to bridge artist and audience to the benefit of both. We’re receiving feedback from a small group of artists and expect to release the Zien Beta in Q2 of this year. More information will be available over the coming weeks. Follow A*NA on Twitter if you’d like to keep up to date with progress.
Blankchain is the second project we’re working on, which is an open language for art and aims to address one of the foundational problems in the art ecosystem—accessing reliable information about artworks is hard. We aim to help instigate and contribute to open-source projects that make the handling and transfer of artwork data easier. We believe open standards can underpin new, dynamic experimentations that empower new solutions for coordination around artists and works they create.
Open Tools, Open Culture
Foundational to the human condition is the idea of progress. That if sufficient advances in knowledge can be made, collective wellbeing can improve. Open source principles—of the distribution of intelligence and low barriers to use—and open source culture—built around the idea of individual needs being better served by abandoning a desire to protect what one has or knows—are, we believe, increasingly fundamental to modern forms of progress and at the core of our approach. The advances being made with distributed ledger technology and blockchain are helping to create future states that encourage competition on the basis of value, often human focused, than of the monopolisation of resources. We imagine a community using open-source technology to build and maintain the foundations of a new art economy, motivated by a desire to build a better future for art(ists).
Contribute to the Mission
A*NA will register as a Continuous Organisation (CO) on the Ethereum blockchain during Q2 2019. A CO is an internet-native organsation that funnels part or all of its cash-flows into a Decentralized Autonomous Trust (DAT). In the case of A*NA, the DAT will mint, burn and distribute ‘ANA Coin’ according to a transparent set of immutable functions. By holding ANA Coin, members are granted to a share of revenues generated from products or services released by the alliance. By doing so, A*NA will operate in the open and enable fair and transparent distribution of proceeds generated by the network. To get involved, you can find us on [matrix](+axna:matrix.org) and Twitter or reach out on: hello at axna dot io.
Our immediate priorities are to ship a beta version of Zien and develop the community—getting to know each other better and learning how we can be effective by working across borders, co-ordinated from London. If the mission of building tools for a new art economy resonates with you, consider reaching out and joining us on the journey at A*NA.