[Brian Manley kindly just sent me a picture from his Flickr stream of his new “We Need To Talk” print, framed and hanging in his office. Thanks, Brian!]
A while ago, I talked about “Social Markers”, a form of “Social Object” that places you in context within a group.
Social Markers are a prime form of social shorthand, that people use to STAKE OUT the ecosystem they’re occupying. So why do I find this such a useful term for marketers? Because obviously, if your product is a Social Marker in your industry ecosystem [the way the iPhone is in the mobile world, or Starbucks is in the coffee world, or Amazon is the book world, or Google is in the search world, or Whole Foods is in the supermarket world, or Virgin is in the airline world, or English Cut in the bespoke world etc etc] you will have an AMAZING competitive advantage to call your own.
And if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, “Why the hell not?” Quit your job and start over.
A few weeks ago I read an article in The Economist about how very rich Russians have suddenly started buying the art of Damien Hirst and other Western Contemporaries in large numbers.
Hirst is very, very famous. His work sells for millions. We could argue his work’s artistic merits till the cows come home… his work is cleverly designed to provoke that kind of controversy, anyway. But I’m not here to play art critic. I’m here to talk about something else.
When people buy expensive, famous art, it’s not just about the art in question. It’s also about the social dynamic that surrounds it.
When you spend a king’s ransom on a work of art, you are basically sending a message to the world, “I HAVE ARRIVED”.
“I, too, am now a member of a certain elite group. Like my peers, I too can appreciate and afford the likes of Hirst, or Warhol, or Johns, Rauschenberg, Matisse, Picasso etc etc. ”
“Art as Social Marker”. Exactly.
People buy large yachts for the same reason. Or large apartments in Mayfair or Central Park South. Or deerstalking estates in Scotland. Or golf memberships to Augusta. Or islands in the Caribbean. “Social” drives the purchase just as much as the object’s inherent utility, probably more.
As far as I can tell, people don’t buy my work to advertise the fact that they’ve arrived somewhere BIG, like these wealthy Russians buying Damien’s work.
It seems more like to me, people buy my work because they ASPIRE to arrive somewhere, one day. Somewhere interesting and meaningful, with any luck.
Wherever that place may be, I can relate. I hope to arrive there one day, too…
You nailed it. Art is as much about the person buying it as it is the artist.
Speaking of Hirst, I highly suggest the book “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art” by Don Thompson, an economist. It’s a dense read, but an interesting one. An easier read on many of the same subjects is “Seven Days in the Art World” by Sarah Thornton. Both books were written at the peak of the art market–just before the Wall Street collapse. Would love for them to write follow-ups in today’s market.
In any event, I think it’s a useful exercise for artists to know why someone buys their work. Not everyone wants a shark in formaldehyde in their home or office.
True, but we are saying, “I, too, am now a member of a certain crazy group. Like my peers, I too am a CDF.”
Thanks for another interesting post, Hugh.
I think the yacht/art-type purchase was what Thorstein Veblen was describing when he coined the term “conspicuous consumption.” That’s different from people who are simply trying to position themselves as being forward-thinking, avant garde, hip, and cool by being Gaping Void fans or…er…referencing Thorstein Veblen. I do aspire to CDF-ness, though.
I would even bring up also, the idea of “communication” markers & objects. When in the context of a social energy or dynamic, ie the social or collective energy surrounding a piece of art because it is well known and referenced etc- would then push the communication object into a “community or social” sphere resulting in a more social-ized dynamic energy.
I agree with Keith… for me it’s not so much about saying “I’ve arrived”, it’s more about throwing up my CDF flag to see who else is on board and hopefully to connect with them.
With art and brands, aren’t we just buying the story/meaning around the object? And it’s not always conspicuous consumption — often, we are just having a dialogue with ourselves. So, the Chinese guy stuck in a traffic jam in Shanghai in an MG, is — in his mind — going for a jaunt around some English country roads . . . and the Londoner with his Asahi beer is . . .
Exactly, Gordon! Those of us who sell art have moved from selling status through conspicuous consumption to selling meaning through connecting the dialog going on in the buyers head and the artist who tells their story through their art and their personal art-making process. The commercial gallery model was based on selling status and has tanked. A new and exiting world!
I buy your art not because I aspire to arrive somewhere one day. I think your art inspires me to believe its all about the journey and who you are travelling with. Bugger the destination – do you know where you will end up? !
I buy your art not because I aspire to arrive somewhere one day. I think your art inspires me to believe its all about the journey and who you are traveling with. Bugger the destination – do you know where you will end up? !
It’s this piece that makes me wish I had a business of my own…. nice work.
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