Art on the Mart (3)

[December 22, 2009]

[This post reflects the state of the sites discussed at the time. Since then, each site has improved in design and messaging in differing degress. The issues raised are still relevant to the discussion of digital marketing for the arts in the US.]

The more sites I visit, the more I realize how far we are from realizing our potential in digital space. Leaving aside bad taste, slap-dash functionality and sheer hucksterism, the overwhelming majority of Web designs are still rooted in the world of print and TV.

Visit sites built for arts organizations and you can practically taste how much the designers wished they were working on a glossy five-color brochure. And that’s what the majority of them have produced: a static page turner—minus the tactile sensation, the rich aroma of fresh ink and the guilty pleasure of dog-earing a favorite page.

While some, like the LA Philharmonic’s, do offer some sparkle—more sites than I can count are little more than electronic brochures. Here, well-chosen still photography and an abundant library of video and sound clips almost convinces you that the site’s first language is Digital.

Only the oddly orgasmic photo of the music director, Gustavo Dudamel, spoils the effect. Reading like a caricature, it’s far more evocative of a classic movie short than a transcendent artistic experience. And yet, photoshopped images like this are the common coin of print brochures, where scale and placement would help mitigate the impact of such a horribly out-dated cultural cliché.

Dancing in No-Motion.
Western Classical Dance embodies movement, sound, color, passion—not to mention several hundred years of tradition, intercut with influences from many different cultures. So it may come as a surprise to see the static digital pamphlets proffered by the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater or the Martha Graham Dance Company.

In each case, the presence or absence of video links is beside the point. Trapped in the narrow confines of brochure design, video is not integral to the overall structure of these sites. In the midst of such emotionless landscapes, video can only function like an animated still.

While sharing many of the same traits, the site for the Joffrey Ballet does include a blog, featuring photos of current productions, which visitors can comment on through Photobucket. These simple measures add a welcome dimension to “art as usual,” that claustrophobic miasma of intra-referential nonsense, which arts organizations routinely use to justify—quite unnecessarily—their very existence.

Artistic ’Vision.
In stark contrast to these examples is the standard set by the Netherlands Dance Theatre. Starting with the home page, the site is alive with sound and motion. Video captures a wide array of performances and the user experience—sleek, reactive—invites a lengthy stay.

More important, the site manages to convey something of what Dance is about: not a decorous display suitable for framing, but a vital expression of the human experience. As such, it embodies a key principle: A Web site representing the work of artists must itself be a work of art.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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