Quality Control: Balance, Part II of II

Part II of an essay on the ingredients of a visual art scene/community in outline, diagram and equation form.

Communication – Infrastructure = Expansion

Longevity is maintained when artists, institutions and the public have solid infrastructure in the form of spaces and supporting financial and community organizations to ensure a reasonably comfortable existence for the local arts community. Artists and the public rely on institutions to supply venues for interaction.

Pros: consistency, strength
Cons: stagnation, exclusivity

Expansion occurs in conditions in which scarcity of resources acts as a catalyst for growth. Artists, and secondarily, the public influence the trajectory more than institutions. While scarcity itself can be a catalyst in the short-term, it can become a deterrent to expansion in the long-term. Growth is only achievable through communication between artists (see Part I). If artists withdraw (into themselves, into cliques, move out), the whole community withers away.

Pros: energy, progressiveness
Cons: carpetbagging, scarcity

Figure 1: Supply and Demand
This flowchart illustrates a process of creating infrastructure in the form of artist resources, networks, facilities and financing in an expanding community.


An expanding scene does not mean the overall work (art and written criticism/review) produced is progressive, nor is quality inherent in a stable scene. The institutionalized dominance in a stable environment can foster aesthetic nepotism and catering to the lower common denominators, as much as it can positively impact artists by providing space and financing for projects and exposing art to a wider audience through education. And while an expanding community dominated by artists may be embrace new members, a sense of history and context often gets lost in the excitement. Sweeping existing infrastructure away to “start over” can lead to redundancy of ideas and repeating the mistakes of the past.

“Quality” is a relative term in definition alone. Each group, artists, facilities and the public, discussed in Part I has their own perceptions of what is provocative and mediocre. Perhaps the starting point for the discussion should not be “How is good quality defined?” but rather, is the experience of interacting with the work and with the other groups meaningful for all parties involved? For example, let us consider the work of J.D. Salinger, particularly The Catcher in the Rye, a book that resonates with a broad audience of youth and young adults from cholos to cheerleaders. Although it was published over 50 years ago, by today’s standards the narrative is still edgy and rebellious, and Salinger’s writing style continues to be relevant. The medium (style/facility) and message (narrative/artist) is highly effective in enabling the reader (public) to relate to Holden Caufield’s life in an accessible and immediate way, so that mentally and emotionally, the reader applies it to their own perceptions. This connection between the work and the individual is what I would define as Meaningful Experience. Salinger’s novel gives the reader a voice; it says to their family, friends, to the World, what they cannot or do not know how to say. It becomes part of their psyche.

Figure 2: Meaningful Experience
The process of internalizing art.


One way we can assess quality in contemporary art in a community is to evaluate the balance of the investment and return each group has in creating, presenting and interacting with the work itself. If the facilitation of the viewer is not considered, the the artist risks losing the viewers’ attention and willingness to learn. But if the viewer is over-catered to, they are not challeneged, and when they are not challenged, they will, equally, turn away from the work. Ideally, facilities should empower artists with resources to realize their projects in the fullest way feasible, rather than . All entities must be balanced for the resulting work to resonanate with as many people as possible.

Figure 3: The Golden Bermuda Triangle
This diagram illustrates the above paragraph on relationships between the artist, presenting facility and the public in creating, presenting and interacting with a work.



As artists, we have to allow for the projections of other realities onto our work. It is crucial that we take this into account in our creative process, whatever that may be.  While we cannot define “provocative” or “mediocre” for everyone, we can focus our direction by answering a few questions.

1) Clarify why you are an artist.

Figure 4: Anyone Can Be An Artist (click diagram to enlarge view)
Some people make art just for the sheer enjoyment of it, some people make art that is purely public, and a great number of artists fall into all types of  categories in between.


2) Define audience(s) and think of spaces in which they might interact with the art. Family? Friends? Other artists in a collective (virual or physical)? Collectors? Drivers stopping at an intersection or going under an overpass? Age range? People passing through a hotel lobby or walking to work? etc.

3) Think about how presentation influences medium and message. How might the viewers’ perception be confused? How might their experience be informed by it? How will presentation be the gateway for them to relate, apply and connect?


Balance is an ideal, and as with any ideal, there are infinite scenarios in which all factors in the triangle diagram above will fall short of the target. One could spend eternity describing and analyzing each of those situations. Instead, I’m presenting (and greatly simplifying) a way of looking at the basic components of community and what make it viable, whether it flourishes or maintains its establishment.

Related Posts

Quality Control: Communication, Part I of II
A Thing of Beauty
Historical Correlations



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