Carrie Miller considers the possibility of mathematically determined taste…
It’s common to think of mathematics and the arts as disciplinary opposites; that art is a mode of creative expression which is excessive to the logic that the pure sciences are rooted in.
But from the time of the Ancient Greeks, mathematics and art have been seen as having something fundamental in common, as evidenced by the notion of the Golden Ratio – a ‘Divine Proportion’ found in both. The Golden Ratio has been demonstrated in various art works, from those that aimed for geometric perfection through its application, to Le Corbusier’s fascination with geometric forms which mirrored natural phenomenon.
Once again mathematics is being applied to art, this time to discover the “relatedness” of works of art. The Art Genome Project (AGP) aims to build an archive which will provide a representation of art through time, with the ability to connect works and artists through related qualities including medium, period, influence, social factors, subject matter, and style. The objective is to map and therefore preserve the history of art through the use of technology which will allow this complex categorisation. The idea is to capture the essence of art at the elemental level through the ascription of hundred of attributes to describe particular works and a complex algorithim to organise them.
The commercial application for this ongoing study is the website Art.sy. – international art world heavy hitter Larry Gagosian’s online ‘fine art emporium’. A joint venture with big name investors such as Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey, and Wendi Murdoch, the site is the brainchild of 24 year-old entrepreneur Carter Cleveland. It’s based on the technological model of Pandora, a music-curating site which compiles play lists based on the personal tastes of individual consumers. Cleveland has said that the technology applied to the art market can expand it “by providing greater access to existing and potential collectors, while simultaneously helping galleries and dealers to better understand their needs and tastes”.
Art.sy gives the following example of how the platform will work: “If a new collector searches for “Andy Warhol” but is only interested in art under $5,000, Art.sy returns works by emerging artists that are influenced by or similar to works by Warhol. Similarly, if an experienced collector searches for “Yves Klein,” Art.sy returns any works by Klein as well as, for example, works by Enrico Castellani, an Italian artist connected to Klein.”
I’m a huge Andy Warhol fan. But I can’t imagine I would necessarily appreciate the work of artists that claim to be influenced by him. Have you seen some of the stuff that is categorised as Pop Art? And this seems to be the problem with what is potentially a revolutionary step in the development of the commerce of art. I may be a luddite but it’s unclear from all the effusive press releases how this new platform will work in practice, particularly in relation to work that’s inherently conceptual. It’s not up and running yet but I’m betting it will be possible to type in search parameters that gets a would-be collector from Gerhard Richter to Ken Done with a little effort.
To be fair, Art.sy has built into it what is crucial to understanding a work of art: its context. Once you have found something you like you can “explore other works by the artist, as well as artist statements, exhibition and publication histories, and other supplementary materials. These resources are created by the artists themselves or their galleries, ensuring that collectors on Art.sy receive authoritative information they can trust.” But even this relies on some knowledge of the art world and the language of art – something out of the reach of those who aren’t already somewhat familiar with these things.
It therefore remains to be seen if Art.sy will expand the audience for art as it is claiming it will do. My feeling is that it may be helpful for unknown galleries and talented nobodies whose work is within the $500 – $5000 price range. But art is a luxury good, and luxury goods are all about branding. So without the auratic quality that coalesces around names that become brands – whether artists or galleries – cashed-up collectors will be unlikely to purchase anonymous work simply because of its “relatedness” to the work of others with bone fide reputations. In the end, it’s doubtful that a mathematical formula can take into account a crucial aspect of what drives the art market: the cult of celebrity and market hype.