Molly Crabapple, a wonderful artist who I interviewed for Don’t Go Back to School, is doing something right now that’s shaking up the conventions of the traditional gallery system.
Molly is an incredibly hardworking artist who makes a living with her work in as many ways as she can. She’s an illustrator, she’s done book projects, she’s been hired to paint elaborate murals in swank restaurants, just for a few examples. Her work has a respectable following, and she’s the founder of “Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School.”
Molly hasn’t yet been able to find a gallery to represent her and sell large works on her behalf. That means it’s a real challenge–and financial risk–to give up time from the work that supports her in order to make those paintings. So she found another way. She’s funding her gallery show, called Shell Game, on Kickstarter, without a gallery, and she’ll rent a storefront to display and sell the paintings (if they’re not all sold already) when they’re done. Backers of the project at various levels get things like ephemera, prints, access to the process of creation, and, at the highest levels, the paintings themselves.
The one thing you can’t exactly do DIY has to do with the reputation and recognition that being represented by a gallery confers. Writers have the same dilemma. For a lot of us, the idea of publishing our work Creative Commons is really appealing ideologically, and has the potential for wider circulation. It’s not the loss of potential revenue that stops people–that’s not what stopped me, anyway. As a first-time novelist, I wanted the stamp of approval and legitimacy points that being published by a ‘real’ publisher confers, and ended up getting it. Follow Me Down came out last summer.
A while back, Robin Sloan took a different path. He used Kickstarter to modestly fund the writing of a novella, which he produced in hardcopy for backers and released Creative Commons for the world. It’s a great piece of literary science fiction, and as it gained momentum, it also scored him a book deal, for an expanded version, with FSG, one of the most prestigious big publishers around. The book will be out in June. Of course, that’s helping Robin in the legitimacy department, but I think the lesson of his project, and of Molly’s Shell Game, is that legitimacy and reputation can increasingly be conferred by communities of what you might call informed fans. This isn’t just sheer, unadulterated page-view populism. This is the idea that when a discriminating community of consumers of a genre think something counts as ‘real,’ it does.
That’s a liberating sea-change for everyone.