Archive | April, 2012

The Digital Impressionists

25 Apr

For an artist in Paris during the latter part of the nineteenth century, everything hinged on Le Salon.

If your work got accepted it would enhance your reputation and could even make you famous.

It almost certainly meant selling some pieces and making a living.

With so much at stake, inevitably competition was furious and the selection process stringent.

Until 1863, with the art establishment struggling to beat back the emerging Impressionist movement, the selection process went beyond stringent and entered the realm of sheer brutality.

Over 3,000 paintings were stamped on the back with the infamous red R for refusé and rejected.

There wasn’t an outcry or a backlash so much as total uproar.

Parisians were so outraged that the Emperor Napoleon III had to intervene.

He diplomatically granted the rejected artists the chance to exhibit at a Salon des Refusé.

Among the rejected, hung works by Manet, Whistler, Cezanne and Pissarro.

The scandalous hit was Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe.

Although thinly veiled in classical allusion it was widely assumed to depict a couple of whores in the notorious Bois de Boulogne.

{Sacre bleu!}

It was probably the moment when Impressionism began to eclipse Realism.

The growth of photography had rendered Realism obsolete.

It was old technology.

No one could paint as realistically as a camera.

Impressionism didn’t need to.

It was different.

It was new.

And where would art be without the next thing whether it’s soup cans or Super Mario?

Currently, Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man are on show at the Smithsonian.

They’re part of The Art of Video Games, an exhibit showcasing 40 years of gamer art, from Pong to Flower.

{L'herbe sans dejeuner}

Predictably the show has intensified the “Are video games really art?” debate.

A hundred years ago it would have been “Is cinema really art?”

And fifty years before that, the same question was asked about Impressionism.

It strikes me as moot.

If the establishment in the form of the Smithsonian says video games are art, isn’t that enough?

More intriguingly, if the Smithsonian is today’s equivalent of Le Salon

Where is today’s Salon des Refusés.

It might just be Kickstarter.

Since its inception in 2008 Kickstarter has morphed from a source of funding for personal projects to a full-on game incubator.

The success of Double Fine Adventure and Wasteland 2 started a cash tsunami rolling with over $10 million funded to games projects since March 1 alone.

Kickstarter has become so successful as a game incubator, it has spawned copycat sites exclusively for crowd funding games.

While the imitators are playing catch up Kickstarter has morphed into a not insignificant source of venture capital fueling exceptional non-gamer creativity too.

The media were all over Pebble the smartwatch start-up that’s raised over $6,488,243 to date.

By some estimates Kickstarter will raise over $300 million this year.

OK, that’s barely seed capital by Silicon Valley standards, but significant funding to the rest of us.

It marks an evolution from personal to small business funding to venture capital.

Can’t get that meeting with Sequoia or Union Square – maybe you don’t need to when you can go direct and get funded anyway.

That works, until someone thinks up an even better model.

And they will.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

As they say in Paris.



Not Every Business Needs a Brand

11 Apr

Mario the Tiler doesn’t have a logo.

I’m not sure he even has a business card.

And I know he doesn’t have a website.

He doesn’t need one.

Everyone in the hood knows if you want decent tiling at a fair price you call Mario.

His phone never stops.

Call him and he’ll come round in his beat-up van and give you an estimate.

It’s a straight-forward value proposition.

The work is good not great.

But good tiling is good enough for most people.

The price is modest not cheap.

So you get a deal and you don’t hate looking at it.

And Mario works fast so it works for him.

If you’re an architect or a perfectionist, you might want to use someone else.

Mario won’t mind.

He’ll be busy tiling, he’s good at it.

He’s even better at getting customers and keeping them.

In contrast to Mario and his van, Honest Ed’s takes up a whole block.

Ed’s as everyone calls it is a Toronto landmark.

In business for over 60 years, it was a big box store before there were big box stores.

At around 160,000 square feet it still is.

It sells everything and anything it can buy, and then sell, cheap.

Ed’s is a refreshingly random shopping experience.

Want a DVD for 88¢ how about Abbott & Costello or vintage TV series Dragnet?

No, how about an 88¢ baseball hat?

Sometimes when I’m stuck on a brief, I’ll stroll round Ed’s incredible retail smorgasbord and free associate.

Pooch shampoo, sardines, kitsch religious artwork, clothespins, BBQs, cleaning supplies, hey I need cleaning stuff!

Ed’s doesn’t do branding, so much as anti-branding via cheesy hand painted signs that tell it like it is.

Everyone likes Ed’s.

They keep you coming back.

In contrast to Ed’s prime real estate,  Casa Rosa is a garish pink motel tucked behind the bus station, in the Mexican resort town of Tulum.

It lacks curb appeal, and if you just arrived, you would probably walk past it.

I certainly would have, if a hotel owner in Valladolid hadn’t recommended it.

That was my good fortune, because Casa Rosa is an excellent budget hotel.

Less than forty bucks gets you a spotless room with a king size bed, air-conditioning and TV.

It may lack a bit of charm, but the same amenities on the beach would cost you at least three times as much.

The word is out and not surprisingly Rosa’s gets busier every time I stay there.

I love brands, but not every business needs a brand.

Every brand, on the other hand, needs a business.

Which means getting customers and keeping them.

Not quite as sexy as selling your 2-year-old start-up for a billion dollars.

But the first step in doing an “Instagram” is getting and keeping customers.