Global or Local Artist?

Victoria Lake by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, acrylic, 30x40, copyright The Artist

I am sure that no one could have predicted the extent of success of the social media that took place over the past few decades. It’s been a while that art has been present on the internet, so we have enough experience to take a look back at what has transpired in the art world, from a perspective of an average aspiring artist. I am far from being an expert in sociology, but I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

Psychologist and popular science writer Steven Pinker has an interesting theory about globalization of today’s societies. Basically we are witnessing the struggle between the old tribal and new cosmopolitan model. Traditional tribal model encourages promotion inside a tribe, which can be a village, an art club, a celebrity fan base, or even a small country. The goal of an individual in this model is to gain respect of a group, from which point the job of staying afloat is a bit easier, thanks to the favorable status label (think Picasso).

This model is difficult to maintain in today’s world where the tribe constantly gets influenced and mixed up with other tribes, and the rest of the world. There are hundreds of artists that have their works in the Smithsonian, and nobody I know has ever heard of them. I feel quite silly when I list my local awards and titles on my web site – nobody cares except my family and friends (and very few of them too). Only a small number of artists can keep up with the expense (time and money) of a global promotion.

In the new cosmopolitan, or global model where the tribe has been mostly dissolved, becoming a top gun has lost its  value, and nobody is guaranteed to stay afloat for a long without peddling. One good strategy is to size ourselves against our peers, and work to improve in that order. So instead of aiming to impress a group, the value is in improving quality of our work by a verifiably achievable increment. The math-lover in me clicks with this idea. If there is a race worth running, it’s against our yesterday’s self.

How does this work for art collectors? In the tribal model, a collector listens to the local buzz, and finds out who is a “hot” artist to have. In the new model, a collector from anyplace has access to any artist on the planet, and any artist has access to virtual promotion anywhere. There is way too much buzz going around, so the collector has more incentive to just simply look for quality art instead.

Interesting thing is that we are out of the tribal model with one foot only – we are neither here nor there, and we may stay like that for a very long time. Both models work somewhat, and we are fortunate that we can make choices. Unfortunately, too many choices are not always a good thing. One can go crazy wasting time at myriads of those international art shows all around the globe and not really getting ahead at all, or schmoozing the local collector base which keeps moving around and losing focus, overwhelmed with what’s offered all over the internet.

I’d say, pick your game and make sure you play it with likeminded people, and of course, good luck with that! Who knows how the world will look like in a  few years, but I sure hope I’ll be around to see it.