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Could Kickstarter Be Evil?

Paul Constant and Jen Graves Debate Art, Money, and the Internet

Could Kickstarter Be Evil?

JIM WOODRING, BLUE SCHOLARS, ‘THE LONGEST HOURS,’ ROBOCOP What do these four projects have in common again?

Paul Constant: It all started with a press-release e-mail from Blue Scholars. The subject line read "Blue Scholars raise $41K+ and counting..." On the semilucid level at which I receive surface e-mail information, I thought to myself, "Oh, that's nice. Blue Scholars had a fundraiser for Japan." But the e-mail continued:

I wanted to touch base with you about the Blue Scholars' next album, Cinemetropolis, and their decision to "sign with the people" and raise funds through Kickstarter. Support from fans has been overwhelming; they have pledged more than $41,000 already, with 15 days left in the campaign.

Oh. No. The "news" is that Blue Scholars are raising that money for themselves. And all of a sudden, a bunch of feelings I had been subliminally courting about Kickstarter bubbled up in my brain. Like the best ideas, Kickstarter is pretty simple: An artist or organization explains a project on the site, and if enough people pledge donations within a certain window of time, the pledges become real money. If they don't reach the goal, the pledges evaporate harmlessly. Kickstarter takes a clean 5 percent cut. And like all the simplest ideas, I think it might become troubling—I'm concerned that Kickstarter might start pulling money away from nonprofits and charitable organizations, becoming a way for entertainers and creative-minded people to exploit their fans.

Jen Graves: If Blue Scholars give people what they want for what the people decide to give, then is it exploitation? Or have we become so used to a middleman that it seems crass for artists to conduct financial transactions directly with audiences—no record labels, no art dealers, no house taking a cut, no grant-making panels. Is there anything "charitable" about Kickstarter? If so, then how big does an artist have to get in order to be a fox in that henhouse? Blue Scholars aren't Kid Rock. Wouldn't something like Kickstarter help midlevel artists support themselves and their families while working full-time at their art, rather than being distracted and stretched by day jobs?

I just wonder whether we accept only two kinds of artists: starving and filthy rich. Artists in the middle bring up questions about whether art is bourgeois, whether it has value if it is, and whether artists have to live outside of norms in order to make meaningful art.

Let me back up and say this: My experience with Kickstarter began with the Seattle independent store Pilot Books, which hit me up out of the blue one day—for what, I can't even remember. It's just such a great little store that I was happy to give $15. I'm pretty sure they offered me some perk-ish thing in return (invitations?), but that's not why I gave the money. I just like them and want to see them succeed, and it felt good to give them my own personal "grant."

My other exposure is through Seattle artist Rick Araluce, who sculpts miniature dioramas. Araluce is working through a mechanism similar to Kickstarter but exclusive to the arts: United States Artists. To be eligible to post their projects on the site, artists must have won awards or grants from "partner or recognized organizations" of USA Projects.

Araluce's first call came after he'd been rejected by Bravo's art reality TV show. "I guess I'll have to make my $100,000 the hard way: one project, grant, award, or piece of sold artwork at a time," he wrote. Enter United States Artists.

"I am inviting you to consider investing in my latest project, 'The Longest Hours,' under the auspices of this new online community... The attached images describe a work-in-­progress, yet it is a work getting closer to completion with every passing day! By the beginning of May, the work will be complete and will ship to New York City." The sculpture will be in an exhibition on the art of the diorama at New York's Museum of Arts and Design this summer.

My big question is this: Is asking for money directly less savory than asking dealers to represent you or critics to get interested?

Paul Constant: This does raise questions about how much of a salesman an artist has to be in the age of the internet. A few local authors have complained to me about how polished you have to be to succeed—you have to have a web presence, you have to have a Twitter account, you have to post links to positive things people write about you. You basically have to be a shameless huckster, and there is nothing more shameless and hucksterish than asking people, outright, for money. So maybe the modern state of the arts has finally reached its logical apex (or nadir) in Kickstarter?

I gave to that same Pilot Books project. It was a worthy cause, and Pilot Books isn't a nonprofit and so isn't going to get any corporate or foundation money. I've also given money to cartoonist Julia Wertz, whose tiny publisher needed $5,200 for a new edition of her first collection, and to Stranger Genius Jim Woodring's United States Artists bid to build a seven-foot-tall pen. And, again, I love Blue Scholars, but I am less excited about Macklemore's Kickstarter campaign to fund a music video. I think when you're asking your fans to pay for your promotional tool just after you sell out three nights at the Showbox at the Market, you are treading dangerously close to the verb "bilk."

And that's my main problem: Kickstarter doesn't distinguish between worthy and unworthy. Its biggest drive to date is a campaign to mass-produce a watchband for the iPod Nano; the target was $15,000 and it raised almost a million dollars. You don't get more bourgie than that. Another blockbuster was $50,000 to build a Robocop statue in a Detroit park. Michigan has an 11 percent unemployment rate, 58 percent of students graduate from Detroit public schools, and some snickering fans of 1980s cinema contributed 50 grand to build a statue that should come preinstalled with air quotes? That money could have been put toward a scholarship (they could even have called it the "Robocop Memorial Achievement Fund" or something equally dopey so their lulz-quota could have been met).

I'm concerned Kickstarter will be overrun by artists who already have marketing people and are already good at manipulating social media and playing the system for maximum publicity outcome. There's precedent: YouTube has become a cesspool of prepackaged "viral" videos that are actually stealth marketing projects for corporations. I'm worried that major labels and publishers—powerful people—are going to transform Kickstarter into a little money farm, turning consumers into producers and milking them on both ends of the process.

Jen Graves: I phoned these potential industrial farmers of intellectual property.Kickstarter Cofounder Yancey Strickler, a former freelance rock writer, is generally idealistic: "We want this to be a platform for not doing the typical thing," he said, "which is abandoning the things you love before you even give them a try." (Strickler, Perry Chen, and Charles Adler founded New York–based Kickstarter in April 2009.)

But Strickler admitted Kickstarter is having this debate internally. The site gets 250 proposals a day. Each is examined; some are argued. As Kickstarter's profile rises, bigger names are drawn to it, he said. Actor John Cameron Mitchell is raising $25,000 to produce a graphic novel by Dash Shaw. A producer on behalf of actor Matthew Modine is raising $20,000 to turn Modine's behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of Full Metal Jacket into an app. Why can't Mitchell and Modine pay for the projects themselves? "Sometimes, people don't need the money but want to get connected to an audience," Strickler said.

Kickstarter is not need-based and not quality-­controlled. "We don't want to be in the position of saying, 'Well, if you ditch the lead singer, then we'll say yes,'" he said. "We're looking for people who work in the Kickstarter spirit. We require every project to offer a reward. This can never be a PayPal jar." And this way, he added, artists can work without the interference of, say, bottom-line Hollywood studios or bureaucratic publishing houses. "Maybe Blue Scholars need that $50,000, maybe they don't," he said (Blue Scholars ended up raising $62,391). "But this way, they're only answering to themselves."

But is that iPod watchband a "creative project" or just a small business? "There is some level of conflict here—we used to have a no-businesses approach," Strickler said. "But, really, this was just a guy with an idea, and design is art. We limit Kickstarter to projects. Startups come to us when they don't want to go to venture capitalists, and we say no, it has to be a project. It's complicated."

We can all agree on that much. recommended

 

Comments (58) RSS

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1
Nice debate. I was curious about this when I gave money to the Ai Weiwei documentary "Never Sorry." It felt funny to be called a "backer" for a $10 pledge, but it also felt good to do something.

Given the huge investment of time that artists put towards grant applications, I've been curious about microfunding models in general . . .Would it be possible to pay artists a flat-fee for uploading documentation of publicly accessible temporary work - after the fact? Could this be a way to have artists focus more time on their work, and less time on paperwork? "It's complicated" pretty much sums up ideas like these, but I'm thrilled to see new models emerging. We need a constellation of funding strategies to support the arts (to borrow a phrase from a friend).
Posted by Cheryl dos Remedios on April 27, 2011 at 1:15 PM · Report this
2
Nitpickin': the Dash Shaw thing is a movie, not a book.
Posted by Maré Odomo on April 27, 2011 at 2:17 PM · Report this
3
Pretty interesting the way people are moving beyond labels & other institutions traditionally necessary to creating projects. I expect more discussion of this, meanwhile these individuals are on the forefront of a new way of doing business.

We interviewed a few musicians/artists about using Kickstarter for "Music Biz, DIY Style" ep. 4 of our documentary on local music, The Seaport Beat, available here: http://hollowearthradio.org/theseaportbe…
Posted by moo http://doitforthegirls.com/ on April 27, 2011 at 2:31 PM · Report this
4
In general, I support the idea of Kickstarter because it gives people a lot of choice in what they'd like to see created. The donations are made of free will and it creates a direct relationship with fans. That being said, I've definitely seen some lame "projects" that are really just exploiting eager good natured fans. For instance, compare one group that used Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to make a documentary (seems fair), vs. a certain underground pseudo-celebrity that is trying to raise $100,000 to write an autobiography. Really? I know plenty of people that have self-published for a small audience with very little money. Crowdsourced funding is like anything else: do your homework before spending.
Posted by jabuhrer on April 27, 2011 at 2:44 PM · Report this
5
Paul Constant epitomizing condescending liberal micromanagement. What to you propose Paul? Shutting kick-starter down? People spend money on stupid bullshit all the time. If they want to fund a Macklemore video, who cares? If Kid Rock wants to use Kickstarter to buy himself a jetski, lets see if he can do it. Just because there are some stupid projects, or some pseudo corporate drones in kickstarter, doesn't mean it's becoming a bilk.

With greater access and freedom comes the necessity for more discernment.I used and contributed to kick-starter on numerous occasions and I think it works extremely well. It's especially good for albums (like what the blue scholars were doing). All they did is pre-sell special packages in order to fund the album and allow themselves the time to not work and focus of their music. What the fuck is wrong with that?
Posted by Hosono on April 27, 2011 at 3:41 PM · Report this
6 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
7
Agreed with Hosono. You get to be the arbiter of what deserves to get your money, and in the case of albums, the artist gets to test for demand up front before making 2000 copies of something that may or may not sell.

The site doesn't claim to be exclusive to charities, so that shouldn't confuse the debate. Think of it as modern arts patronage, only instead of a small number of rich people funding the arts with strings attached, you get a large number of funders, minus all the limitations/conservative bitching of something like an NEA.
Posted by leo on April 27, 2011 at 6:07 PM · Report this
8
I consider myself a "critical person of color", one that conservatives would likely call a "socialist" and I must say Paul Constant's argument is on some intellectual masturbatory bleeding heart liberal bullshit. Do we not have more pressing issues to criticize? I can only speak on the Blue Scholars project, but how the fuck is this "bilking" me for my money? I essentially pre-ordered an album. Hell, by Paul's logic, street performers (the epitome of a starving artist) should not ask for money to "fund" their performance. "Michigan" (and its supporters) should be blamed for caring more about a RoboCop initiative than a scholarship-- not KickStarter. Who's to say those that funded the RoboCop initiative didn't contribute to another cause supporting Michigan more traditionally as well? Furthermore, how many jobs and what kind of buzz would be created from a RoboCop statue? It's not as stupid as it sounds. Is Paul suggesting I am better off effectively and morally contributing to a non-profit such as the Red Cross? I wonder what the CEO of the Red Cross drives. KickStarter is the natural progression of an internet driven social network capitalist society. Sure, I'd rather give 100% to the artist, but for right now, 95% sure as hell beats whatever weak ass percentage an artist gets through a label.
Posted by killa_cali on April 27, 2011 at 6:19 PM · Report this
9
I think, like always, people should be responsible individuals, and that includes financial responsibility. If you're going to be monetarily backing something up, you should know full well what kind of engagement you are getting involved in. If there are any cases of public manipulation in requesting funds through Kickstarter, I think we should be dealing with that on a case-by-case basis.

In general, all Kickstarter does is create an area for which financial transactions can occur. It's up to us be smart, responsible individuals.
Posted by NickName on April 27, 2011 at 7:08 PM · Report this
10
While there may be some big names on Kickstarter, it isn't like the site is overrun by already known (and rich?) artists. It is mostly little known, grassroots efforts. Other big, popular projects I can think of, like the one which is recording classical music and releasing it into the public domain, are quite worthwhile, and the occasional celebrity visitor just brings higher exposure to the other, perhaps worthier, projects on the site.
Posted by sahara29 on April 27, 2011 at 8:16 PM · Report this
11
The policing here is the amount of interest that the public has in seeing these projects come to light. If something catches the imagination of enough people, it gets funded. For what it is and what it is designed to do I think it is fine.
If you want to do something that is so "challenging" that the general audience is not engaged by the concept then you will have to go to other places for funding.
I honestly do not see this as threatening or as taking anything away from anyone. It provides people like myself with an opportunity to become backers or patrons of art in ways that were not previously available. Getting more people excited about art is a good thing.
Also, the argument that X should not be funded because all that money should be used on Charity Y is completely fallacious. And horribly overused.
Posted by Nurseferatu on April 28, 2011 at 1:09 AM · Report this
12
The policing here is the amount of interest that the public has in seeing these projects come to light. If something catches the imagination of enough people, it gets funded. For what it is and what it is designed to do I think it is fine.
If you want to do something that is so "challenging" that the general audience is not engaged by the concept then you will have to go to other places for funding.
I honestly do not see this as threatening or as taking anything away from anyone. It provides people like myself with an opportunity to become backers or patrons of art in ways that were not previously available. Getting more people excited about art is a good thing.
Also, the argument that X should not be funded because all that money should be used on Charity Y is completely fallacious. And horribly overused.
Posted by Nurseferatu on April 28, 2011 at 1:11 AM · Report this
13 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
14 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Paul Constant 15
@5: Absolutely. My point was they should shut Kickstarter down. Thank you for your close reading of the article.

@8: To be fair, I didn't use the word "bilk" in reference to the Blue Scholars. I used it in reference to Macklemore, whose "rewards" for funding his video were pretty lame. And what's wrong with asking some questions about the pros and cons of an "internet driven social network capitalist society?" Don't you think that corporations will find a way to maximize Kickstarter for their own benefit unless people hold Kickstarter to a high standard? Jesus, you'd think I kicked your puppy by suggesting a Robocop statue was a lame idea.
Posted by Paul Constant http://https://twitter.com/paulconstant on April 28, 2011 at 10:39 AM · Report this
16
@15, You don't propose anything Paul, that's why I asked. You merely engaged in a queasy condescending jerk fest over people being bilked.

You're not holding Kickstarter to a high standard. At all. You're mewling over nothing. You have no point. None. Criticizing an indie artist for a music video or some silly dude for funding a robocop sculpture has no intellectual validity.

Here's why: When you raise those issues the next logical question is what do you propose? Do you want more projects on Kickstarter to be rejected? Why? On Who's authority? Yours? Why can't people have an outlet to raise money for stupid shit? Because it bilks people? Really?
Posted by Hosono on April 28, 2011 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Adam Superfan 17
I always liked the idea of free art. Too bad everything isn't just free, and the artists you like you could donate to them. I realize this is pretty unplausible in our current culture/economy, but a guy can dream. I think Kickstarter is positive thing.
Posted by Adam Superfan http://facebook.com/hateyouhumans on April 28, 2011 at 12:22 PM · Report this
18
I just started using Kickstarter to raise vital seed money for a feature I'm making about the perpetrator of the Capitol Hill Massacre (WALLFLOWER). As I was planning the launch the multiple disasters in Japan struck. My wife is from Japan, so it was a constant source of anxiety in our household.

So I've asked myself these same moral questions. Ultimately, I don't believe in the either/or argument. I think it's fallacious to believe if money was not being pledged on Kickstarter it would go to Japan (or to other charitable causes) any more than I think the destruction of Starbucks would raise revenue for the Red Cross through people spending less on lattes.
Posted by BloodPudding on April 28, 2011 at 1:03 PM · Report this
19
I've donated to some small projects on Kickstarter - to help build a community theatre in Little Rock, to help Florida indiepop band The Pauses record with J. Robbins, to help Brooklyn two-piece This Frontier Needs Heroes self produce their latest record. But I only support people I know in the flesh, and those whose projects I know need grassroots support. Just like non-profit philanthropy, kickstarter just requires some effort on the part of the donor to make an informed decision. Cheers!
Posted by Bittersweet on April 28, 2011 at 1:51 PM · Report this
20
Artists ought to be paid for work. I'd like to pay them, and I do so whenever I buy their work or commission new work. I don't want them to beg or act like their pay is charity. Kickstarter encourages that. It reminds me of tipping. In both cases I feel basically shitty that the person working has to feel any uncertainty about the value of their work. I try to be generous, but no one, waiter or artist, ought to be obliged to please their "customers." When they are so obliged, we all become customers. I'm not a customer.

This dialogue was great. It raised questions. It doesn't have to offer solutions. The comment thread is sufficient proof that the dialogue was worth having.
Posted by Matthew Stadler on April 28, 2011 at 1:57 PM · Report this
GlennFleishman 21
I think Paul misreads Kickstarter as a donation. It's not. That stuff doesn't typically work. It's micro-patronage, a term Kickstarter and others coined. It's a way to participate in what someone creative is doing, and get some kind of reward.

Most of the projects I've seen offer two kinds of rewards: a physical thing that you could obtain after the project is produced at a retail or from the producer's Web site at either less or more money than via Kickstarter; a unique thank you or experience otherwise unavailable. The best projects combine the two. Many also give a pre-release glimpse (like studio cuts of an album, a PDF of a book in progress, or a meet-up ice-cream social...or whatever).

So you can look at Kickstarter for some projects as simple aficionado pre-sales with a personal touch; or you can look at is as a PBS-style "premiums" pushing fundraiser.

But in either case, it's a transaction and participatory. It's not "hey, have some money, see ya."
Posted by GlennFleishman http://blog.glennf.com/ on April 28, 2011 at 2:04 PM · Report this
22
I think Kickstarter kicks a*s. I'm an indie recording artist - I've even won a Grammy. But I didn't want to do a music project - I had an idea for a decidedly low tech game that I wanted to launch. Though the budget was modest it wasn't in my reach. My genre (kids/family music) has lots of rewards but $ isn't one of them. Long story short, launched my game (RoXzai) on Kickstarter yesterday and already we've gotten pledges totaling 20% of the goal. Without Kickstarter my idea would have no chance of getting off the ground - now, I've got a reasonable shot. I'm thankful for that.
Posted by BuckHowdy on April 28, 2011 at 2:33 PM · Report this
23
@20 I too liked the conversation. One critique of Paul's which is on target is of artists who do just use Kickstarter to fund projects they would have done anyway, and no particular perk or recognition is given to the donors. Having the site overrun with those kinds of projects would be a downside.

However, it does limit the kinds of projects Kickstarter can do. I'm thinking of a lot of the charitable projects on IndieGoGo, which is a similar site except that any money you donate goes to the project even if the funding goal isn't met. Therefore it often has projects that don't really produce anything like a CD to give back to the donors. But Kickstarter doesn't have to be the answer for every kind of project; I'm not criticizing its structure, just pointing out there are many possible venues for artist funding.
Posted by sahara29 on April 28, 2011 at 2:42 PM · Report this
24
Don't most of the anti-kickstarter arguments in this come down to the following?

1) Art picks the pocket of charity.
2) I am uncomfortable with artists making money.
3) Kickstarter has projects I think are lame.

1 is simply wrong: art and charity are not mutually exclusive. 2 is dumb bourgie bullshit. 3 is fine, but any large arts organization is going to have lame projects involved: regardless of whether it's crowd-funded or some traditionalist wealthy benefactor or state-funded model. It doesn't really function as a critique of Kickstarter, because alternative funding models are even worse in this regard.

yrs--
--Ben
Posted by Ben Lehman on April 28, 2011 at 2:49 PM · Report this
cosby 25
I have to agree with @20, Kickstarter commodifies art before it's created and, in my opinion, devalues the reason the art is created in the first place. It treats art simply as a business that needs venture capitalists to decide whether it has value or not.
Posted by cosby http://www.myspace.com/cosbyshownights on April 28, 2011 at 3:16 PM · Report this
26
I hope Kickstarter reminds people that as much as we wish it could be, creating art is not free-it takes resources to create it. (even if those resources are simply free-time; time is still very much money) If Kickstarter increases this awareness, then that is excellent.

Interesting debate, thanks guys! (also, I might venture that a Robocop statue in Detroit could actually bring in tourism which would create more jobs and money for the community in general...)
Posted by Ryan Molenkamp on April 28, 2011 at 4:06 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 27
Oooh, cosby @25, that's really well-stated, and something I wish I had been able to express in the piece: The pre-commodification of art is weird. Sometimes—a lot of the time—art simply can't be a business, as much as pro-internet libertarians wish it could be. This isn't necessarily a problem that's new to Kickstarter, but Kickstarter does highlight it nicely.

Mr. Molenkamp @26: I considered tourism, but ultimately decided not to mention it because, seriously, it can't be that much of a draw, can it? Maybe I'm underestimating the pull of kitsch tourism.
Posted by Paul Constant http://https://twitter.com/paulconstant on April 28, 2011 at 4:27 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 28
I guess that I just don't understand your central complaint ("Kickstarter doesn't distinguish between worthy and unworthy") and wonder how you think that it might be addressed. Artists needing to hustle for time, attention, and funding doesn't seem like a new phenomenon to me. What is new is that the arena for raising money has gotten wider and more democratic.

People spend their money on thousands of stupid things every day. Some buy $12 tuna melts. Others go to movies or buy books. Some people make risky investments. Asking Kickstarter to police projects isn't going to change any of that. Personally, I think that the RoboCop statue is silly, but I prefer a world where people can choose to fund it rather than one where someone tells them that they can't.
Posted by Josh Bis http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Author.html?oid=3815563 on April 28, 2011 at 4:39 PM · Report this
29 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
CharlesF 30
I don't see what the problem is, unless you think the word "bourgeoisie" means something evil/bad. Maybe if Charles Mudede had written this, it would have made more (less) sense.
Posted by CharlesF on April 29, 2011 at 7:14 AM · Report this
31
The pre-commodification angle is interesting. Particularly with regard to, say, expressive fine artists. I do think that the "project" model is a good one. The projects that will be the least tainted by the commercial aspect are the ones that are basically commercial endeavors to begin with: albums, films, books, etc. To date I have chosen to fund exactly 2 Kickstarter projects: both were documentaries. Both were labors of love that would attract a small devoted audience, but would probably have a hard time finding funding in traditional ways. I think the crowd funding apparatus is less likely to taint the vision of a documentary film than, say, the work of a painter or poet.

Even though I don't share Paul's sentiment 100%, I do totally support him making the argument. We've seen over and over how independent internet ventures turn into watered down corporate circle jerks. In fact, you could say that about the internet as a whole.
Posted by jabuhrer on April 29, 2011 at 10:05 AM · Report this
32
What's wrong with Kickstarter(or users) making an artistic or value judgement?

Some of those projects are just plain shitty ideas. Macklemore, while not Eminem(yet), has the connections and resources to make his own videos. The Robocop statue is a Fuck You! to the people of Detroit from a hipster nerd contingent of the internet. It's not a neutral "whatever floats your boat", it's the hipster version of placing a giant Confederate flag in Detroit.

While those famous projects don't take planned donations from the friends of worthier creators, they take up media space and the front page of Kickstarter. Some will be happy letting the market decide popular pop artist videos and "ironic racist"* statues are "art". The rest of us can and should reject that idea.

*To WiS or any other pedantic assholes: I don't mean genuinely "ironic", but the hipster couching of their appropriation, ignoring that it denigrates real people still struggling.
Posted by SoSea Resident on April 29, 2011 at 10:13 AM · Report this
33
"In an ingenious set of experiments, Brandeis University Professor Teresa Amabile has shown that creativity itself may depend on the intrinsic nature of absorption, that is, it depends on being its own reward. Amabile tested subjects ranging from children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for creative tasks. Their creative productions were then rated by a panel of judges composed of professional creators. Amabile and the colleagues report that no matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for an external remuneration, they became less creative." - from "Breathing On Your Own" by Richard Kehl
Posted by Laura Castellanos on April 29, 2011 at 11:00 AM · Report this
34
@25 and @27

How is raising money with kickstarter any more a "pre-commodification" of the art than say a record label signing a band to a contract to make x number of albums?
Posted by Jeffrey on April 29, 2011 at 11:16 AM · Report this
alpha unicorn 35
"In an ingenious set of experiments, Brandeis University Professor Teresa Amabile has shown that creativity itself may depend on the intrinsic nature of absorption, that is, it depends on being its own reward. Amabile tested subjects ranging from children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for creative tasks. Their creative productions were then rated by a panel of judges composed of professional creators. Amabile and the colleagues report that no matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for an external remuneration, they became less creative." - from "Breathing On Your Own" by Richard Kehl
Posted by alpha unicorn on April 29, 2011 at 11:42 AM · Report this
36
@27 Paul - Really I have no idea exactly how much of a draw Robocop would be; however, if I were visiting Detroit already, I would definitely go out of my way to see the Robocop statue. And I think a lot of other folks would as well. But I would not go to Detroit specifically to see Robocop.

Pretty much the same way I feel about Rocky in Philly. Of course, my understanding is the Rocky statute is in a location that is already attractive to tourism (never been). So really, the point is that kitsch does attract tourism (some examples off the top of my head: The Corn Palace, The Trees of Mystery, any building in the shape of some object-like a cowboy hat, the city of Las Vegas) and if Robocop were placed in a neighborhood that could use a little financial oomph, create a few jobs, fill some of those empty building, it I would think it would do that. Plus, it would spark fear in the minds of criminals!

But wait, wasn't this debate about Kickstarter?
Posted by Ryan Molenkamp on April 29, 2011 at 11:52 AM · Report this
seandr 37
Seriously, a debate about whether fans should be allowed to give money directly to an artist? Of course they should. What kind of asshole could possibly think otherwise?

Who are you going after next, Paul, buskers?
Posted by seandr on April 29, 2011 at 12:22 PM · Report this
Adam Superfan 38
I mean, can you argue with these rewards!? http://kck.st/gLVtjK
Posted by Adam Superfan http://facebook.com/hateyouhumans on April 29, 2011 at 12:46 PM · Report this
39
Apparently Mr. Constant thinks every dollar spent on an album, download or taco is a dollar taken from the Red Cross or the Gates Foundation. Most power elites would agree.
Posted by shy girl on April 30, 2011 at 10:26 AM · Report this
40
#33 and #35 - the work of Amabile, unfortunately, is flawed. The "reward destroys creativity" debate has raged (truly) in social psychology and industrial psychology circles for years. Here's the skinny - if you are rewarded for doing something (anything) and there is no associated "quality bar", then you begin to associate the work with the reward (intrinsic motivation become extrinsic) and you pump out garbage (hey, I'm getting a reward no matter what, right?). However, if a quality element is introduced to qualify for the reward, then quality (or creativity, or whatever you are judging on) remains. Unfortunately, Amabile has built her reputation on the pseudo-factual pillar you quoted, and as such is unwilling to waver in her views even when presented with substantial caveats to her primary theory. Research I was involved in disproved her lawlike proclamations, making for a very ugly confrontation at a conference in Denver back in 1998.
Posted by ManDrone on April 30, 2011 at 4:48 PM · Report this
alpha unicorn 41
"People need good lies. There are too many bad ones." Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Posted by alpha unicorn on April 30, 2011 at 5:24 PM · Report this
42
Have any of you mini-investors here that have "donated" to Kickstarter received your return on investment, I mean "reward", yet? Was it worth it?

Argue about Kickstarter The Concept all you want, or spend that time doing something productive like, uh, working on a project. Either way in a few years you'll have your answer. Once a decent number of projects have been completed and judged, people will either still be using it or they will be cursing it still bitter about that $15. Or they will be judging it on a project-by-project basis.

And isn't Kickstarter basically just a platform for forming a corporation, albeit a very small one by today's standards? You know, like, how corporations were ideally envisioned way back? Not exactly a new idea here.

I definitely share skepticism considering the history of corporate involvement in pretty much anything, especially art. But debating it before the results are in is just uninformed annoying blabber.
Posted by malty on May 1, 2011 at 10:47 AM · Report this
43
Even without addressing the set of issues within Kickstarter and focusing on direct action/representation as it relates to the arts, it seems relevant to recall that musicians (and others) have been doing DIY in the U.S. for 30+ years. Personally, I see artists now doing things that I and many others globally were doing with sound (hand-made individual objects, no legitimizing middlemen) 20 years ago. The internet and digital technology of course make manufacturing, distribution and promotion cheaper and more efficient; but why (and again, sidestepping the particular details of Kickstarter) this is supposedly novel news now that younger artists are doing it is not only puzzling but definitely speaks volumes about what most people seem to know (or refuse to acknowledge) about the stateside history of independent cultural production.
Posted by wyndel hunt on May 1, 2011 at 1:08 PM · Report this
44
It's up to the backers to decide what a worthy project is. Just like youtube is not responsible, within reason, for the content published, neither is Kickstarter responsible for the prerogatives and interests of backers and backees.
Posted by jtwankerschmidt on May 2, 2011 at 2:08 PM · Report this
45
Thanks for this debate. I'm in the middle of my own Kickstarter campaign, so I thought I'd (belatedly) contribute to the discussion. Specifically, concerning the idea of pre-commodification: You're right-ish. I don't like asking people to judge my work with their wallets before the work is available. But most people who pledge on Kickstarter aren't really judging the art; they're judging the artist. Setting aside the freak examples (iPod watchbands), most successful projects reach their goal through personal connections. i.e. It's through a belief in my creative capacity--and not an in-depth evaluation of my project--that I got a pledge from my mom.

And, of course, if the finances don't come in, there's no work to judge at all.
Posted by BJA on May 3, 2011 at 6:38 PM · Report this
46
Thanks for this debate. I'm in the middle of my own Kickstarter campaign, so I thought I'd (belatedly) contribute to the discussion. Specifically, concerning the idea of pre-commodification: You're right-ish. I don't like asking people to judge my work with their wallets before the work is available. But most people who pledge on Kickstarter aren't really judging the art; they're judging the artist. Setting aside the freak examples (iPod watchbands), most successful projects reach their goal through personal connections. i.e. It's through a belief in my creative capacity--and not an in-depth evaluation of my project--that I got a pledge from my mom.

And, of course, if the finances don't come in, there's no work to judge at all.
Posted by BJA on May 3, 2011 at 6:42 PM · Report this
47
Constant is deeply concerned about ordinary people being "bilked," but does not seem to recognize their right to make their own decisions to give money to whatever silly, serious, stupid, sensible, wasteful, or worthy cause they want. They will have no ability to evaluate the Good or Evil nature of Kickstarter projects on their own, apparently.

Maybe you can get funding for a little pop-up window that cries: "Hey jerkface, why aren't you funding a scholarship for disadvantaged youth instead?!" Of course, you'd have to develop a sensor for Constant-disapproved causes first.
Posted by DLB on May 4, 2011 at 9:42 AM · Report this
Silenus 48
I sent this to Kickstarter, but I'm adding it here, too:

In Seattle we have come to expect shallow, off the mark yellow journalism from the Stanger (except for Dan Savage, of course), so the recent "Could Kickstarter Be Evil" article didn't surprise. I'm writing to you because I feel Kickstarter is a great resource, and I think your response to their clueless criticism could have been stronger. (As an arts and entertainment professional, the article really pissed me off personally, but I won't bore you with that.)

Including projects from already successful people is several features, not a bug.

1. All the ideas in Kickstarter have the potential to stimulate the thinking of others. Ideas of the rich and famous may not be better than those of unknowns, but they do have a track record.

2. Inclucing well known people has a very important plus. They bring their fans, and that gives the fans a chance to look at other projects.

3. Rich and famous people's projects need to be included because everyone's projects should be. Attempting to vet projects based on arbitrary value sets would poison your well.

I think you do have some problems to consider, the most important being people taking money and not doing the projects. In the worst case this might be fraud. It would be good if you were looking at completed projects. And letting the world know about successful projects is a good idea. But the people who contributed to projects, even if they didn't set the world on fire, should know that the project was at least attempted.

I wanted to look for the Blues Scholars project mentioned in the Stranger, but unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a way to search for specific projects. It might be good to add a search function so if I heard "Joe Smith is doing a Kickstarter project" I could find it.

I also think you should consider adding a side bar to each project page that would have links to similar projects. i. e. If you like the Blues Scholars project, you might like these as well.

Finally, I think Kickstarter is ripe to start fostering face to face events, from conversation cafe type get togethers, to larger conferences on entrepreneurism.
More...
Posted by Silenus on May 4, 2011 at 12:59 PM · Report this
Silenus 49
I sent this to Kickstarter, but I'm adding it here, too:

In Seattle we have come to expect shallow, off the mark yellow journalism from the Stanger (except for Dan Savage, of course), so the recent "Could Kickstarter Be Evil" article didn't surprise. I'm writing to you because I feel Kickstarter is a great resource, and I think your response to their clueless criticism could have been stronger. (As an arts and entertainment professional, the article really pissed me off personally, but I won't bore you with that.)

Including projects from already successful people is several features, not a bug.

1. All the ideas in Kickstarter have the potential to stimulate the thinking of others. Ideas of the rich and famous may not be better than those of unknowns, but they do have a track record.

2. Inclucing well known people has a very important plus. They bring their fans, and that gives the fans a chance to look at other projects.

3. Rich and famous people's projects need to be included because everyone's projects should be. Attempting to vet projects based on arbitrary value sets would poison your well.

I think you do have some problems to consider, the most important being people taking money and not doing the projects. In the worst case this might be fraud. It would be good if you were looking at completed projects. And letting the world know about successful projects is a good idea. But the people who contributed to projects, even if they didn't set the world on fire, should know that the project was at least attempted.

I wanted to look for the Blues Scholars project mentioned in the Stranger, but unfortunately there doesn't appear to be a way to search for specific projects. It might be good to add a search function so if I heard "Joe Smith is doing a Kickstarter project" I could find it.

I also think you should consider adding a side bar to each project page that would have links to similar projects. i. e. If you like the Blues Scholars project, you might like these as well.

Finally, I think Kickstarter is ripe to start fostering face to face events, from conversation cafe type get togethers, to larger conferences on entrepreneurism.
More...
Posted by Silenus on May 4, 2011 at 1:03 PM · Report this
50
Hey, Dudes,

I'm Rick Araluce, one of the people in this article whose project was mentioned; The Longest Hours.

Few things for the record:

The artwork referred to is now on its way to New York. It's a miniature diorama, bound for the Museum of Arts and Design, to be included in an exhibition entitled: Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities. The piece is a hallway with a miniature thunder and lightning storm going on outside its rear nighttime window, a little brownstone beyond, its upper windows alight. The hallway lights dim and phase out from time to time, and soft radio music issues from one sole lit doorway along the corridor. And, oh yeah, almost forgot to mention--IT TOTALLY WORKS!

Another point: USA Projects contacted me, asking if I was interested in their continuing experiment; a site devoted exclusively to the fine arts, in particular, connecting artists and their projects with those who might wish to support them. So, I thought: why the fuck not. It was difficult for me to ask for contributions, painful even. I've always hated asking for help of any kind. Nonetheless, people came through; a surprising number of them, and the project was funded. Good thing too, as I've already spent a couple grand on this thingie, as well as hundreds and hundreds of hours.

About the Work Of Art TV show reference. On my Facebook page I wrote the words about having to make "$100,000 the hard way..." (That's the reward to the last artist standing. Kinda appealing, no?) I posted that blurb for those small bunch of friends who were following my progress through the process. To any out their who give a finger fuck, I actually made it all the way to the final 60, out of several thousand nationwide.

And, hey, thanks, Jen, for seeing the whole issue in a non-judgmental point of view. Appreciate it, truly.

Hey, all you artists out there who aren't supported by rich partners, top-flight galleries, cheerleading critics, wealthy patrons, a powerful network gleaned through your having studied at Yale, Art Center--where ever--guess what: there're more of you out there than ever before vying for the same shrinking share of resources/funding/representation/collectorship/press attention, you name it. Better start thinking outside the box that the self-appointed judges of what the "right" or acceptable way of managing your "career"
is supposed to be. Better learn to say "yes" or you will be fucked in the New Art World Order.

Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention this economy?

Lastly: Why the fuck is the only acceptable fundraising effort the kind that goes to victims of natural disasters, tiny little bookstores, and folks who have cancer and no health insurance. Who wrote that rule, dudes? If you want to allow yourself to be bilked by your allegiance to a band/celebrity pet project/artist/designer/Satan--WHO CARES! It's your money to throw away, or donate as you see fit. Why does everything have to cure world hunger for fuck sakes! Give 'em their motherfucking Robocop, I say!

Now, I've said too much, and I have to pee.

Rick Araluce
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Posted by Rick Araluce on May 4, 2011 at 8:50 PM · Report this
51
A correction: Dash Shaw ran his own Kickstarter project, not Mitchell. Also, it's 25 grand for materials to create an animated feature, not a graphic novel.
Posted by Rob Clough on May 5, 2011 at 10:25 AM · Report this
naked_dan 52
There will always be people who figure out ways to abuse a system that was designed for good things. I don't think Kickstarter should be shut down. A lot of artists could really use that money, and if they get way more than what they need, good for them. I don't care. People donate to charities all the time where a lot of the money goes to things we wouldn't agree with. But we still donate.
Posted by naked_dan http://tarotjunkie.com on May 10, 2011 at 11:15 AM · Report this
53
I'm rather confused by this debate over "pre-commodification." Supporting or investing in art is very often an act of faith. Are artists expected to finish the work with their own finances and only then submit it for consideration of funding?

And where does this idea that the creation of art should only happen in a place of pure, unadulterated creativity, without the soulless annoyance of business considerations? That's terribly naive.

Artists have to be business people all the time. Artists need to make money to live and to create their work. Their WORK. Creating art IS a business. Hopefully a joyful and inspired business, but a business nonetheless.

Regarding money upfront for a future work of art - how do grants work? An artist submits a proposal for the creation or completion of an artistic project. This proposal is accompanied by work samples - either selections from the project for which the artist is seeking funding, or prior work if there is nothing yet to show from the current project. These work samples give the funders an idea of the artist's abilities, vision and prospects for actually completing the project. If the funder does not have confidence in the artist’s abilities, or does not find the project to be appropriate for the mission of the funding organization, then the artist and the project are not funded. This is exactly how Kickstarter works, just on a much smaller level.

Nearly all projects on Kickstarter are accompanied by a video that gives a sample of the work and, ideally, includes a personal statement from the artist. If a project captures your attention, if a subject matter is important to you, or if the work moves you in some way, then you can choose to support that project. If not, then you don't. It's pretty simple and transparent.

What's interesting to me is that no one has talked about the fact that Amazon.com handles the payments and takes a cut of the proceeds. I've had several potential funders balk at that. But no one has accused me of "begging" for money.

Yes, I do have a Kickstarter campaign currently running myself; http://kck.st/eryHDw and let me tell you - it's nothing like kicking back and getting some fools to give me money for my project. It's a lot of work. It's a lot like running an NPR pledge drive. You have to constantly be on it and constantly keep your project visible. I basically have three jobs - my 40/week day job, my 40 hour/week documentary project, and my 20 hr/week fundraising job.

Fundraising and promotion are the necessary evils of being an artist - and all artists, in the United States, at least, have to do it. If we didn't have to go through these hoops to fund and promote and COMMIT to our work, then we would be far more likely to produce crap - simply because we could.

I weighed the differences between Indiegogo.com and Kickstarter and chose to go with Kickstarter, because I wanted the accountability of having to raise all of the money, or get none of it. I didn't want for people to feel that they could potentially be the only asshole to contribute to my project, but still get charged for their $50 pledge. What am I going to do with $50? Certainly not pay for the original score, sound design and color correction that I've proposed in my project. I would probably just use it to go out to dinner. And that would be a betrayal of the leap of faith that the funder took.
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Posted by Robert Lawson, Bus No. 8, LLC on May 11, 2011 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 54
I think this conversation is a healthy one. I'm not sure what's going on with all of the people who seem offended that Kickstarter (or their art) be questioned. Isn't that what art (and life) is about? Questioning what exists to understand what could exist.

I find Kickstarter interesting because, on one hand, I like the idea of being able to support artists directly, without a middle man. I like that good art that might not have mass market appeal can be funded directly by the niche that's passionate about the art.

I do, however, think that publishers, labels, galleries, granting agencies can sometimes be helpful in terms of curating, editing, etc. I worry that if Kickstarter becomes the main way art is funded, there will be a pull towards self-congratulatory ingroup art. Kind of like how the vanity presses have brought in a flood of bad books that are beloved by the author and her closest friends.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 12, 2011 at 7:33 AM · Report this
55
Creation of new art requires a leap of financial faith (art supplies, time, rent, and food are not free) on someone's part. Very often that's the artist; more established artists have arts organizations, production companies, or wealthy patrons to take that leap with them. Kickstarter gives people who want to support art but aren't fabulously wealthy or heads of art organizations the ability to play that role instead. It doesn't matter if 90% of what's produced is crap, because that's no different than any other funding mechanism.

This nonsense about pre-commodification is from weenies who have never had to work for a living. Artists have to buy food and pay the rent just like everyone else. And that means they have to make money. The only way anyone has ever made money was when they went out and asked people for money.
Posted by rocketgeek on May 17, 2011 at 2:53 PM · Report this
John Horstman 56
@16: The fact that one does not have solutions to an extant problem (or even the fact that there ARE no solutions) doesn't make the problem not real and it doesn't make pointing out the problem an intellectually invalid enterprise. Paul is simply raising the oft-ignored question of whether Neo-Liberalism is actually a good idea on its own merits or in comparison to alternative systems (e.g. public grants for projects). He doesn't need to suggest an alternative because a) the purpose of the piece is to simply create a dialogue around potential problems with Kickstarter in order to begin thinking through potential solutions (how is this not a valuable exercise?) and b) there are already other possible systems out there, like single-source direct patronage or public grants.

The ideology underlying the objections is a questioning of the functioning of Neo-Liberal Economics and the hyper-commodification that goes along with it (e.g. cap-and-trade commodifies pollution, police and fire department privatization commodifies security, voucher systems further commodify health care, etc.). You may not agree with this ideology (lots of people seem perfectly happy with the cessation of public sector functions to the private sector via NGOs or for-profit corporations, which is driving this whole government-by-corporate-contract movement), but that doesn't make discussing it pointless.

Obviously people CAN have an outlet for funding stupid shit; to pose another question in response, what's wrong with asking if enabling people to fund stupid shit is actually a good idea?

@34: It's not; I seriously doubt Paul or anyone who sympathizes with his position find those systems unproblematic.

@37: That's not the question being raised: Kickstarter is NOT "giv[ing] money directly to an artist", it's fans giving money to a micro-lender (that takes a 5% cut) that focuses on financing 'art'. The questions being raised are about both the value of the project overall (cost-benefit of ideal operation) and about the specifics of its implementation (cost-benefit of actual operation). Seriously, did all of you read the article? Was it really that difficult to understand the points and/or avoid defensive knee-jerk responses based not on what Paul actually said but on projection of intellectual insecurities?

@48, 49: Paul didn't say Kickstarter should be shut down. He's just raising questions about its operation where he sees potential problems. Why do you find questions so threatening? If it really IS ultimately a good idea, you will conceivably have answers to those questions; even if some problems are unavoidable, you should be able to explain why the project is worth contending with the problems.

@54: Thankyouthankyouthankyou; I was getting worried that literally no one else was recognizing what this article actually is.

@55: "This nonsense about pre-commodification is from weenies who have never had to work for a living." Um, define "work for a living". Paul obviously has a job that he's working, presumably because he needs to make money to buy things. I make my money working a 7:45-4:30 job, and I think Paul's raising valid questions. On what evidence (at all) are you basing such a sweeping generalization? Also, your assertions about the necessity of money only hold in the context of particular economic systems. Granted, we do live in one of those systems, but underlying the debate is a question of whether Neo-Liberal Economics is actually a good idea; in this specific case, it's framed in terms of the commodification of 'art'.

This is a good discussion to be having, and I'm not sure why it's being interpreted as so threatening by quite a number of people, unless you are all really insecure about your positions supporting Kickstarter because you either haven't thought them through or you have and have identified problems for which you don't have solutions (in which case you should perhaps re-evaluate your positions). I, for example, don't generally feel threatened by people questioning my ideas or political positions because I both give them a lot of thought (and therefore feel pretty secure in defending them) and realize I can't think of everything (as I'm limited by my own perspective; hearing critiques from other perspectives is helpful in refining my ideas and positions, which is valuable because I want my ideas and positions to be as good as possible). Ultimately, I don't understand why people become so attached to their ideas that they resist any possibility of changing them, to the point of attacking others for simply asking questions about those ideas. It's okay to be wrong (I'm not saying any of you necessarily are, but you all seem so defensive about the suggestion that it's at all possible that you're wrong). It's when the response to being wrong is to double-down on a bad idea and refuse to acknowledge critique that being wrong becomes a problem.
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Posted by John Horstman on May 19, 2011 at 9:32 AM · Report this
57
Every masterpiece, great architectural achievement, musical masterpiece etc... has been funded in one way or another. Up until now, mostly it was from corporations, large donors with demands, or otherwise controlling entities etc... How is it bad to try a new technique?
Maybe we might be able to fund things the people AND the artist want more effectively. How is that bad for art? I'm thinking of the publishing world (something I'm more familiar with) and how much work it seems to be to get looked at in the writing field. It isn't much money to publish on your own these days, but it takes time, which can be expensive, to write as well. Those large entities don't want to invest in such small projects and asking for money elsewhere is the norm already, why not ask directly to the people who would be interested in reading it to help produce it?
As far as the money going elsewhere better than certain projects, we could go without a shit-ton of our spending. Maybe people contributed to the RoboCop statue instead of buying a handgun and murdering someone? It is Detroit after all :)
Posted by people are everywhere on May 21, 2011 at 9:47 PM · Report this
58
You know whats super awesome? It's that when I decided I wanted to be an artist all of a sudden I just didn't need an income anymore. It was magical. Because I am a creative, original person, the evil capitalist monster just ignores me. When I walk into a deli and say "hey guys, I'm an artist, wanna see my sketchbook?" they just give me free sandwiches, no questions asked. Usually also that's when they offer me cool artists lofts to live in where I only have to pay 50 dollars a month in rent, and a steady supply of all the free heroin I can handle. Ah, the life of an artist. It's so pure, free of the trappings of this bourgeois world. But seriously. Paul, you just called every single game artist, commercial photographer, chef, actor, illustrator, animator, professional musician, and ANYONE who gets paid honestly for their art "shameless and hucksterish". The ridiculous artists who act like getting paid outright for work makes it inherently valueless are getting paid too. Either they live off their parents, some rick sucker (but it's different from me because he's not actually their boss), or they really make a living as a waiter. No one lives in this world for free. So Paul, I sincerely hope that you did NOT get paid to write this article. That in fact you would never be so "bourgie" as to ask for payment for anything you write. I hope you only take payment in the form of magical principled fairy dust. It makes a nice imaginary snack when they've turned off your power. Because otherwise...well, I guess that makes you a hypocrite and an asshole. Or at least a shameless huckster just like the rest of us.
Posted by bjskauhgijugfiew on June 14, 2011 at 6:07 PM · Report this

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