“Words are not it”
If I had a pound for every time an artist told me that. It's at the heart of everything I've been thinking about - how Google's search engine is failing artists. (This particular quote comes from Trevor Bell, an artist of stature with work in the Tate collection, who talks eloquently about his work here.)
Google is optimised to deliver personalised advertising. They collect information about you so they can personalise their results; for them, it's never been about a simple search for information. If anyone was ever in any doubt, take a look at the subterfuge involved in their collection of personal information for Street View.
So how can artists develop their profile online without compromising the spirit of their site? Why should artists suit Google's text-based search engine when they just want to be found?
“Categories” don’t really help. There are, of course, many 'schools' and 'isms' which weave their way through art history. I recently bought a copy of the Tate Artist Timeline. This lovely production by Sara Fanelli is informative and thoughtful, but it made me realise how subjective any search or even categorisation of art actually is. Every boundary, subjected to scrutiny at any level, becomes contingent on perspective and context. Even Christie's and Sotheby's have different definitions for contemporary art. And if you're out of the view of the major selling houses and galleries, how can your collectors find you?
The traditional “tree” directory systems used by most art sites I've seen require the searcher to make increasingly arbitrary decisions based on subject, size, colour and so on. These systems are suitable for stock photography databases, where people are often looking for specific images for editorial usage, but are nowhere near sophisticated enough for the variety and nuance of the artworld. We can embrace serendipity in random results, but how can you develop any searchable list?
I had some hopes of developing a numerical system, an ‘art version’ of the Dewey decimal system used by librarians to order books on their shelves. It has the advantage of removing protaganistic textual classifications and replaces them with a simple number, like references on a grid. My early experiments were quite promising technically, but foundered on arguments of categorisation once more - is this work more abstract than that one?
I've not entirely given up on that approach but being pragmatic about it, feel sure we can solve a really big part of the problem quite simply with an online register of artists. Not an online gallery, just a way of finding artists. Not based on competing for rank, or artworld status. Whether your type of art is in fashion, or not.
An image, contact details and a direct web link to the source.
Search by name, location, type of work (paint, performance, craft) then straight to websites or studio links where more work can be seen.
No frills, no selling interface, just visibility.
Free to use, free to register, free to explore.
It's the phonebook for artists: isendyouthis artistsregister.
Craig / @isendyouthis