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Navigating Taste

I recently discovered Artsicle, an amazing new website that allows regular people with regular paychecks the opportunity to live with real live art from real live visual artists. How do they do it? Instead of buying, you can rent with the option to buy.

While other art rental services exist, Artsicle is unique. Their “Discovery Game” helps users develop their taste in art. “It’s really hard to look through 2,000 pieces of art and figure out which one is for you,” notes Alex Tryon, one of the co-founders of Artsicle. The Discovery Game displays two works of art side-by-side, sometimes of similar styles and sometimes dissimilar. As a user, the game asks you to choose which one “you love,” and then another pair pops up with the same question. This continues until your gallery is full. Artsicle also shows which works and artists have the most “favorites” on their blog.

Establishing, understanding, and influencing artistic tastes and preferences is a core focus of our work. We have found find that while people develop taste primarily through social networks (e.g., my brother introduced me to Jane’s Addiction and John Zorn), arts organizations are also responsible for many audience members’ preference development, curating taste through programming decisions. In this way, arts organizations are just like Artsicle – they offer a select roster of shows, exhibits, films, festivals, and other events from which audiences can choose. However, only a few organizations provide guidance for individual audience members as to what they might like. Jazz St. Louis is one my favorites. The middle of their homepage asks, “Do You Know Jazz?” There are three options (“I’m an Aficionado,” “Call me a Newbie,” and “I’m somewhere in between”), each of which takes you to a customized page with a list of artists, events, and news the organization recommends for someone with that level of knowledge.

We live in a world of suggestion. Social networking and websites like Amazon, Netflix, and Goldstar have amped up the scale and power of external influences on taste development. But the non-profit art sector is still trying to figure out how best to harness this energy. Artsicle is a good example of how to help people develop their taste in art (know what they like and don’t like) through a platform that builds a direct connection to artists, or, as Ms. Tryon says, “makes everybody a collector and allows every artist to make a living.” Or as I might say, bringing art into everybody’s everyday lives, and encouraging aesthetic growth and impact.

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