Susana Roque: Why we should talk about the JPEG in the arts

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      A JPEG doesn’t seem to represent art. At first, it seems like the JPEG is so insignificant that we should really laugh if anybody ever talks about it in an artistic setting. After all, isn’t it just a medium to transport our ideas from one place to another, a modern-day quipu with pixels acting as knots, transferring our art into the digital landscape. A JPEG sits in our desktop folders after all with many other JPEGs.

      So, what’s in it?

      The power to give more self-employment in the arts and feed society with much-needed creative knowledge to create what we know—at work and in our personal lives—in better ways. Potentially, it’s a new place for artists to distribute their work and ideas to many new people on the Internet.

      At the moment, most of the art that is displayed in a JPEG is watermarked or created in a low resolution on the web. Artists can also save an image in an SWF instead so that it may not be reproduced without permission. At this moment, quite a bit of art on the Net is downloaded privately. Some of it is sold on different websites.

      What would happen if artists were able to sell some art prints on the web as another way to promote and sell their work? Now, a “save as” or a “digital download” isn’t a loss of work, like it used to be for artists. Because of new website technology for artists such as Big Cartel, a JPEG can indeed bring more art to more specific niche audiences.

      The gallery system and art fairs are not the only places to sell artwork. Everyone wants art. Not everyone can buy art for large amounts of money. Art has been seen as too expensive for “everyone”. I certainly do not think that art that sells for $3,500 at an art gallery is for everyone. It has a small niche of buyers, just as many online art websites have different buyers, such as on Etsy.

      But, how many artists ask themselves, “What is it that the public really wants from me when making their work?” Not many. This is one of the problems in the arts. If you look at the statistics on the kind of art that sells in galleries or online, the results are not at all what you would expect. People pay for collages with animals, fantasy/fairy tale characters’ portraits, and a lot of inspirational words with flowers. This might be surprising since we are not usually taught to find an audience that will like and respond to what we do, with a marketing plan.

      Should we cater to the audience online and their needs, if we can label them? Isn’t that what we do in galleries? Or, do we market the living daylights out of our art and create this need? Perhaps we need both.

      One thing is for sure, in a traditional art market, only few artists benefit from very few buyers.

      On the web, there seem to be very few artists and art pieces that sell when compared to how many are out there; however, there seems to be a lot more buyers. I do think that if we work together as art communities, it could be possible for artists to self-publish and sell some of their JPEGs as safe and legitimate downloads to many people, just the way posters and books are sold. The doors have already opened for this opportunity, so this is good news for artists and people who support us.