Grams of Fortune
A basketball player desperately heaving a shot at the opposing team's hoop just before the halftime buzzer sounds. An average (or worse) looking dude trying to chat up a face-meltingly hot woman alone at the bar. An artist frequently posting her work on Instagram in an attempt to generate direct sales, not just Likes.
What do all of the above have in common?
The answer is that they're all no-risk, potentially high-reward moves -- but not reliable strategies for sustained success.
I had this thought yesterday, when I read the latest piece -- this time, by Nina Siegal of the New York Times -- on Instagram's debatable importance as a fine art marketplace.
For those who haven't been obsessively devouring art market press every week like yours truly (side note: sign up for the Gray Market email newsletter), a story on this subject now makes the rounds about once every quarter. Often, it's spurred by some anomaly that happened at an art fair or auction. Other times, it's more of a general check-in on a topic just scary enough to old school industry types (and exciting enough to new school ones) to lure clicks and discussion.
Siegal's piece walks through door number one twice. She opens with a Marc Newson chaise lounge setting the world auction record for a design object at Phlllips this April... after Pierce Brosnan shot an Instagram selfie with the piece a few days before bidding opened. Later, Siegal returns to the March rumor (now confirmed) that Leo DiCaprio bought a single $15,000 painting by Jean-Pierre Roy after he saw the work on Instagram... thanks to Roy's gallerist posting it the night before it would debut in his booth at Pulse New York.
Overall, Siegal takes a cautious stance as to how much faith we should put in the notion of Instagram as marketplace. I agree with her. Correlation is not causation in the Phillips incident, and the DiCaprio case is small sample size theater at its finest.
But for the average artist -- particularly if she lacks representation -- what's the down side risk of marketing her work on the app? The answer is that there's almost none. Especially when one against-all-odds sale to a celebrity can increase her visibility to unprecedented levels overnight.
However, I say "almost" no downside because it's important for artists to keep their expectations in check -- or even better, nonexistent. To use a pedestrian analogy, there's nothing wrong with playing the lottery if the tickets, like Instagram posts, cost you absolutely zero. The problem is if you start depending on those free lottery tickets to be (as an Illinois lottery billboard recently advertised) your ticket out.
Lines of code drive Instagram's functionality. But luck drives its narrative as an art sales platform. And luck is still not a strategy.