Currently, only four percent of art sales take place online, and countless ventures and start-ups have tried and failed to increase that percentage and to bring the art world to the digital world. Launched in October 2012, Art.sy seeks to break this cycle by making the entire world’s art freely available online for anyone to see, to find, and to purchase (sometimes). Dubbed the “Pandora of Art” by founder Carter Cleveland, Art.sy has a business model that positions itself for success in a sector that has largely avoided e-commerce and a digital presence.
Analyzing Art in a Whole New Way
The unique value proposition behind Art.sy is its “Art Genome”. Comprised of over 800 “genes,” or attributes, the Art Genome Project is the recommendation engine behind the site. The engine can decipher technical, objective terms like “abstract culture” and “screen printing;” subjective descriptions like “visual references” and “American realism;” and generic words like “woman” and “alienation.” The project is also continually adding and redefining genes. Yes, it’s a mathematical and mechanical process to analyzing art, something that art historians and curators did intuitively, but the Art Genome is what sets Art.sy apart and what will enable them to succeed in this sector in a way others haven’t. The Art Genome is very similar to what Pandora has done, and it fits nicely in the digital commerce realm.
Art.sy’s Team of Investors and Supporters
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. With Art.sy’s team of investors and supporters, it’s a matter of both. Both Eric Schmidt of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter are investors, while Wendi Murdock (wife of Rupert Murdock) has invested and currently serves on the company’s Board of Directors. Dasha Zhukova, a leading philanthropist and arts promoter in Russia, has also personally invested and is currently the site’s creative director. John Elderfield, the former chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, is an adviser. With a team like this, it’ll be hard for Art.sy not to succeed. These investors and supports can keep Art.sy in the right direction when interacting with the art world, while leaving founder Carter Cleveland to pursue his vision for the genome and the site.
It’s About Sharing and Discovering
What’s going to make Art.sy successful in this sector is that it’s not a strict buying and selling of art; it’s not e-commerce in the traditional sense. It also hopes to be much more than folks looking at the art online and creating their own galleries, which is what the Google Art Project. Even though Google has a much larger collection, Art.sy hopes to bridge the gap between those two by making it easier for people to browse and to find art they may be interested in, while leveraging its over 300 partnerships with galleries and museums around the world to showcase the art. For the most part, Art.sy is about browsing, finding new pieces of art to enjoy and new artists to follow. Yet, that browsing could mean enough interest to make a purchase, as some of the art showcased will be for sale.
But, Discovering Whom?
The biggest critique of Art.sy thus far is that it doesn’t quite capture the devotion that an art fan would have of an artist, and that showing works with the same genes could replicate one’s tastes and preferences but lack the emotional impact that favorites deliver. Essentially, some have said that Art.sy suggests awful art based on the tastes, preferences, and genes we’ve showcased, art that isn’t of the same caliber as what we prefer or what has already been substantiated by the art world. An example given in The New Republic was that after viewing a photo of a swimming pool by a notable photographer, Art.sy served up more photos of swimming pools based on that one preference and the genes associated with the initial photo. However, the Art Genome is constantly changing, getting better at what it’s designed to do. Another point is that art is ultimately subjective, and Art.sy can develop a robust algorithm as to how art is analyzed, interpreted, and preferred, but it will never accurately predict which pieces of art would be considered relevant and pleasing for 100 percent of its users. It could also be argued that suggesting other pieces of art based on the subject matter of the original isn’t all the insulting or basic of a suggestion. Why wouldn’t someone who likes a photo of a dog like more photos of more dogs?
Much like Pandora and Netflix, you’re not going to find a local artist’s first collection or the senior project of a prodigious college student, so it’s not going to be the site to discover local or up-and-coming art (it also doesn’t work with artists directly). However, Art.sy is a low-barrier way for someone to become interested in art, for finding neat works and enjoying them without having to go to a museum or to brush up on terms like ‘pointillism’ and ‘impasto’.