Dyske Suematsu
Since the beginning
dyske@dyske.com
Works in United States of America

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BIO
I think, theorize, and write about highly irrelevant matters.
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DISCUSSION

Re: Re: Blog vs Board (re: Blogging Survey)


Let me avoid a confusion, and use the word "list" or "email list" instead of
"board", because the latter is a medium of its own (generally web-based).

I don't see the "ego" argument in this context. Ego is certainly the motive
for both an email list and a blog (and a board). I do not believe that a
blog is fueled more by ego than a list is. In many ways, a list is more
ego-fueled since it is a "push" medium. You are pushing your message to
people who may not be interested in what you have to say. I find a blog to
be less egotistical because only those who are actually interested in what
you have to say would come visit. It is less intrusive and less
presumptuous.

On my last post, I provided a link for those who actually read my post. So
far 13 people have read it. When you hear that Rhizome has 17,000 members,
you might get an idea that at least hundreds of people would read your
posts, but no matter how big the list is, those who are willing to be
involved actively are always handful. In fact, there is a natural size of
active participants towards which all lists tend to incline. If too many
people start discussing, it becomes impossible to keep on top of it. Part of
the nature of email list is that there is a point at which the number of
posts per day becomes unacceptable for most people. Like population growth
of a city; at some point it becomes uncomfortable and people start leaving.

All these characteristics of email list encourage and discourage certain
behaviors. Because of the way Rhizome is set up, I would imagine that my
last post will not be read by too many more people even after a year. So,
when you write something for this list, you want to keep in mind that what
you are writing is going to be read by about a dozen people. This will
certainly influence most people in terms of how much time and energy they
would spend on writing something.

This is not a bad thing. This encourages people to casually express their
opinions. In fact, that is my impression of Rhizome; a casual place, not a
serious one. For the same reason, it is a good place for announcements. 76%
of the members being artists, if you post an announcement for a grant or a
commission, I'm sure hundreds of people would actually read it.

The bottom line is that Rhizome cannot be everything you want it to be. It
is what it is. It is good for what it is good for. Beyond that, you either
have to find some other websites/lists/boards, or start your own with
specific designs that encourage desired behaviors.

Best,
Dyske

DISCUSSION

Re: Blog vs Board (re: Blogging Survey)


Every medium and context encourage their own unique behaviors. For instance, a friend of mine is a member of WeightWatchers.com, and she showed me what sort of discussions take place on their boards. I was quite surprised to see women behaving badly. On most discussion boards, women tend to behave more civilzed than men do. But, apparently, in a context where they know there are only women, they change their behaviors. (Or perhaps it is the topic of weight that encourages that sort of behavior; who knows.).

Minor differences in user interface, system architecture, graphic design, theme, the personality of the organizers, etc. can influence the behaviors of the members significantly. I currently manage several discussion boards and I am always surprised by how differently people behave because of these subtle differences. By changing small aspects of them, you can encourage or discourage certain behaviors. For instance, making people register first before posting makes a big difference in terms of the quality of content; you get a lot less abusive posts. Being able to easily view all the posts made by a specific user, makes people think twice about saying anything too stupid. And so on...

Blogs and discussion boards are quite different. For one, blogs, for the most part, are one-way communication. You have something you want to say, and you say it on your blog, not necessarily expecting that people would respond. Not all thoughts you want to write down are appropriate for discussion boards, even less so for discussion boards with specific subject matters, like Rhizome. So, I do not see blogs and boards as something you need to choose.

As for the lack of interesting discussions on this list: There are things you can do to encourage interesting discussions too. I've always found Rhizome to be problematic when it comes to how it supports text. Thoughtful posts, like that of Curt you pointed out, get lost in a flood of other posts. It may get on the home page for a few weeks, but after that, it gets the same treatment as the other posts that contain frivolous remarks. Unless you know exactly what you are looking for, there is no easy way to browse though quality content on the site. If there were a page with a list of substantial contributions, many more readers would be encouraged to read them, and that in turn would encourage writers to submit more substantial contents.

When most people go to sites like nytimes.com, they do not exactly know what they want to read. They just know the quality and the reputation associated with New York Times. nytimes.com therefore needs to provide a way to let the readers easily scan through contents. If their home page looked like Google's home page, most people would simply go elsewhere. This is essentially the situation Rhizome has with respect to substantial contents contributed to RAW. It does not make sense especially because the majority of Rhizome's content is relatively timeless. (This particular post that I am writing now, for instance, should still be relevant to some readers a year from now.)

So, given this design of the site, you as a writer know, consciously or subconsciously, that whatever you write will be for the consumption of the few who happen to catch it at the right time. This does not make you want to spend much time composing your thoughts. It makes more sense to use the list for something more casual (like short comments and remarks) or temporary (like announcements of current events).

For these reasons, I believe that being frustrated with the way people are behaving or not behaving is a waste of time. Trying to discipline people by criticizing achieves very little. You need to provide an environment that makes them want to behave certain ways.

Now, as an experiement, if you have read this post this far, I would like you to click on the link below which will count the number of people who actually read this. I'm curious how many people in general actually read posts on Rhizome. Many people open a web page or email, but not many, I suspect, actually read the content.

http://www.dyske.com/visit.asp?p=1

-Dyske

DISCUSSION

Re: Rhizome needs to drop its membership fee and free its content


The difficulty of this issue, especially for Rachel, is that many long-time
members feel they own shares of the organization. To some degree, this is
rightfully so, because they have contributed to what makes Rhizome valuable.
However, you do not see this kind of passionate opinions about how to run
particular organizations when speaking of institutions like Whitney, DIA, or
Guggenheim. To some degree, they could easily tell you, "How we run our
organization is none of your business!"

Now, this gets further complicated when you pay member subscriptions,
because all members then become sponsors. Sponsors are legitimate share
owners, and they are entitled to their opinions, and the directors of the
organization cannot simply ignore them.

The difficulty of running any organization is that you need a good balance
between democracy and leadership. If you listen too much to what everyone
says, everything gets diluted and nothing gets done. If you lead too
dogmatically, like Bush does, you could cause a lot of trouble. Either way,
it is not good for the organization.

In the end, it all comes down to how Rachel wants to run it. We cannot
formulate a constructive criticism if we do not have the whole picture. For
instance, from outside, I feel that free membership would be more beneficial
than their ability to give out commissions, but I do not have all the
information necessary to determine if this is truly the case. Given the
fixed amount of resources, how it should be allocated is a call that we
cannot make intelligently unless we know the whole picture.

My bottom line is that we could only make suggestions, not tell them what
they should do. I think there is a certain danger in feeling like we all own
Rhizome. A large organization without a strong leadership could quickly fall
apart. And we don't want that to happen either.

Dyske

DISCUSSION

Re: Beyond


Hi Jason,

I do not think that digital art can "transcend" anything, but it gives us an
alternative. But this is only if it establishes itself in the middle class
like films, movies, and literature. I have a feeling that it would because
of the nature of the medium. It's difficult to have a monopoly on something
that is so easily copiable and distributable.

So, by "beyond", I simply meant, we may have a choice beyond the game whose
rules are set by the upper class.

Best,
Dyske

--
Dyske Suematsu
http://www.dyske.com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-list@rhizome.org [mailto:owner-list@rhizome.org]On Behalf Of
> Jason Van Anden
> Sent: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 12:52 PM
> To: list@rhizome.org
> Subject: RHIZOME_RAW: Re: Beyond
>
>
> I have read and re-read your very thoughtful post three times
> now. Wow. I am both impressed by your analysis, and somewhat
> distrubed by it.
>
> What exactly do you mean as "Beyond" Upper Art? Are you
> suggesting that digital mediums have the potential to transcend
> the current market you describe?
> +
> -> post: list@rhizome.org
> -> questions: info@rhizome.org
> -> subscribe/unsubscribe: http://rhizome.org/preferences/subscribe.rhiz
> -> give: http://rhizome.org/support
> -> visit: on Fridays the Rhizome.org web site is open to non-members
> +
> Subscribers to Rhizome are subject to the terms set out in the
> Membership Agreement available online at http://rhizome.org/info/29.php
>

DISCUSSION

Beyond "Upper" Art


Beyond "Upper" Art

Just as each culture has its own distinct taste, each economic class develops its own taste as well. This is easy to see especially in food culture--many in the lower class and some in the middle class live their entire lives not knowing what foie gras is. Not all mediums of art are popular across all classes. Some are tied to a specific class, like Fine Arts is to the upper class, and film is to the middle class. This means that success in each medium of art is measured by the taste of a class it is associated with. This has certain implications for artists who hope to succeed.

The vast majority of artists comes from the middle class. As they become successful, they often cross over the lines of social classes. A natural way to look at this phenomenon is that with money comes the taste associated with it, but, in some cases, it is also possible to see it the other way around; they became successful because they acquired the taste of the upper class. In order to show what I mean by this, I will take Fine Arts and analyze the class dynamics within it.

The upper-middle class and the upper class are the patrons of what we call Fine Arts in the West. For it to be financially viable, galleries must charge a minimum of several thousands dollars per work even of an emerging artist, a price which a middle class income could hardly afford for what essentially is a wall decoration. The success in Fine Arts, therefore, is contingent on the tastes of these social classes.

What distinguishes the upper class from the upper-middle class is that the members of the former do not have to work. They have a lot of time on their hands to cultivate taste, and thus develop more radical taste than that of the upper-middle class. For the upper-middle class, art must still be functional to a degree. They cannot buy artworks and send them straight to a warehouse; they buy artworks so that they can display them in their houses. This severely limits the types of work they can purchase, which makes them conservative supporters of art.

The upper class, on the other hand, has other reasons for buying art besides decorating their houses. One of them is pure investment. Buying art is as risky as, if not riskier than, buying penny-stocks or junk bonds. Like the way venture capitalists diversify their holdings in order to hedge their risk, if their motive is to make money, the collectors of contemporary art must also diversify. This is a strategy only the upper class can afford to execute. In order to beat the market, they must think more radically. The criteria for buying art cannot be confined to practicality. They have to think strictly in terms of the future potential of the artist.

In addition, the upper class buys art in order to assert their identities. The middle class does the same by collecting books and CDs. Those who lack identities of their own must define them by consuming identities of others. Knowing what books and CDs a person owns is a convenient way to know something subjective about him. The members of the upper class go beyond mass-produced products of art. Instead of asking what books and CDs they own, they ask what fine artists they own.

For those of us in the middle class, it is hard to imagine why anyone would buy a piece of conceptual art that consists of a DVD player and a projector for 10 thousand dollars. But, if your annual household income is 4 million dollars, 10 thousand dollars would be equivalent to 100 dollars of the middle class household income of 40 thousand dollars. It is not difficult to imagine collecting as a hobby something that cost 100 dollars each.

The upper class being the sole supporter of radical contemporary art, the success of artists hinges on whether they succeed in pleasing their taste. In this sense, Fine Arts should be called "upper art" not "high art." Most artists are in the middle class when they start their careers as artists, but for them to be successful, they must cultivate the taste of the upper class. This means that initially their taste is out of sync with who they are, but as they succeed, their financial status comes in sync with their taste. Filmmakers and musicians have the opposite problem. They must please the taste of the middle class, but as they succeed financially and join the upper class, they must preserve their middle class taste. By failing to do so, they would alienate their market.

Consumers of identities, whether middle class or upper class, are often drawn to what they are not. The White middle class is drawn to the Black street culture. Obedient kids are drawn to rebellious music. Suburban kids are drawn to urban culture. And so on. Successfully pleasing the taste of the upper class, therefore, does not mean doing as they do. Pandering to the apparent taste of the upper class would probably be a mistake. Exploiting their self-hatred or sense of guilt might be wiser.

Since the tastes of the upper-middle class and the upper class are quite different, the artists who please the former may find themselves stuck with a moderate success, unable to achieve the status of "blue chip" artists. For them, a gradual shift into something more radical in taste during their mid-career might be strategically wise.

How artists deal with the discrepancy between the taste they must cultivate and what they are in reality, has certain spiritual implications. Suppose what you do as an artist pleases you as well as the taste the upper class. If you are intentional in pleasing both, it is good business. It is like a baker who loves baking and pleasing his customers. If it does not particularly please you but it pleases the upper class, then it is prostitution. If it pleases you but you do not question where the money is coming from, then it is a shady business like selling bongs-the upfront premise of your business is to sell artistic substance (to smoke tobacco), but the buyer's true purpose is to satisfy their egotistical needs or greed (to smoke marijuana).

In this sense, digital art offers an interesting alternative. Anything can be co-opted by the rich, but both the immediacy of access and the ease of duplication of digital art function as natural deterrents against it. This is true to some degree for photography. Many photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe appeal to the middle class as well as to the upper class. Once digital art establishes a market in the middle class, it would be an ideal medium for artists who have something compelling to say for the taste of their own class.

Dyske Suematsu - April 13, 2004

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