It always excites me to see someone trying to shake up the art industry, so I was sad to learn about Jen Bekman’s fine art retail site, “20×200” suspending operations. Though I didn’t know the people personally, I’d been rooting for them. It seemed like a neat idea, and I loved the name.
So why did it fail? In retrospect, it isn’t too hard to see why: High overheads (Since when did you need a fancy office in SoHo, New York to sell art prints online?). Investors vs Founder conflicts. Beaucoup Employees, Pas Beaucoup sales. Nothing that any of us haven’t seen before…
But here’s another thought:
20×200’s official tagline was “Art For Everyone”. Or to put it through a Marxist lens, art for the masses.
“Bringing Art To The Masses” is a well-meaning idea, sure, but hardly a new one. The early Soviets tried the same thing, coincidentally, around the same time they also discovered that ruthlessly exterminating people en masse (no pun intended) was good for business.
John Ruskin, William Blake, Durer, La Trec, Hogarth, etc etc were trying even before that [Though Ashille Gorky, one of my favorite artists, didn’t like the idea so much. He famously called 1930’s Social Realism “Poor art for poor people”, but I digress…]
The thing is, like Seth Godin says, does anybody really belong to “The Masses” anymore? We’re all weird, we’re all niche, and thanks to the Internet, we’re all getting weirder and nichier by the day.
In other words, “Art For Everyone” is a nice enough thought, until you realize that few potential customers actually like being put in the “Everyone” basket.
So what basket do people like being put in? A basket with a strong, passionate, relatively unique sense of PURPOSE that defines it. A niche that matters.
And yes, you guessed it, what is true for the online art sales market is also probably true for your industry as well.
It’s either that, or get crushed by Amazon…
[UPDATE:] Jen just sent me a nice email- Operations are suspended, not ceased. So it seems there’s going to be a second act, they’re going to regroup… Stay tuned. Hurrah! 🙂
Interesting, I just watched a talk with her talking about how passionate their fan base was, but sometimes you never know what’s going on behind the scenes.
I think you’re dead-on the “Art for everyone” – I know what the message implies, but I don’t see myself as everyone, so it’s almost a slight offense. Maybe the next slogan will be :
“Loathed by many, loved by those who know better ”
I was inspired by her idea, and considered doing something similar when I first arrived in China. Her elegant pricing method was a fantastic idea, and with the NYC gallery space they had a place for the ‘fine art’ aspect which gave them credibility in the art world. (Artworld as antithesis to the “everyone” tagline of course).
Anyway, last time I checked, the site had gotten unwieldy: too much art, not enough ways to search it. Looking forward to their next incarnation.
Nail on head. What just came up for me is that in many ways, I would favor an organization that reflects my aesthetic rather than one that has a category box for me. A lot of indie record labels (and even majors with their smaller subsidiary labels like Nonesuch) have this down as if you like one of their artists, you’ll probably be interested in another. Smaller art galleries often have a niche market as opposed to feeling like you’re walking into a college town poster shop with your Bob Marley posters over here, your Einstein posters over here, your bikini posters there, and your sports posters in the back…
Speaking of former Communists bringing art to ‘the masses’
Yes we are all unique.
Yes we are creative.
Yes we all need more art that ‘speaks’ to you and have meaning.
We’ve concocted a nifty new take on that at : http://JuicyCanvas.com
‘open-sourced’ art is here.
check out our full manisfesto : http://juicycanvas.com/manifesto/
i would really love your thoughts.
artur | founder
Nice post..thanks for sharing “Art For Everyone” it make me inspired to learn in every field.
I loved the 20×200 concept, but I placed a $500 order in January. My credit card was charged, but I never got the print. I got one mass email explaining that they were in a transition, but I have not been able to reach them since. It’s really disappointing. I know I am not the only one whose money they have taken.