Artfinder describes a technology, ‘an exciting new concept for discovering, experiencing and sharing art’ which ‘gives you access to hundreds of thousands of paintings’, allowing you to build ‘your own art profile’. It promises to be the Last.fm of art, offers to sell you prints of most of the artwork shown, and is most emphatically not a museum.
But Artfinder also describes people: a start-up, based in London, which is the technology partner on the Culture Cloud project. The company launched in October 2010, led by CEO Spencer Hyman, ex- of Last.fm, and Chris Thorpe from The Guardian. Artfinder now boast a team of people who hold a wealth of previous start-up and technology experience, and who present themselves as deeply engaged with what they do and passionate about art.
Our connection with the organisation is through Will Doward, a trained surgeon with recording industry experience, who joined the organisation in November 2011 and now acts as an external face for Artfinder, attempting to persuade galleries and museums to work with them. Will is Artfinder’s lead on the Culture Cloud project, stepping gamely into the shoes of Priscilla Li, who left the company late last year.
Outside the context of the Culture Cloud project, Artfinder offer a coherent range of services, grounded firmly in the spirit of successful apps and services from other media areas. As well as providing a way for people to collect art digitally, and to share these collections with friends (Last.fm), they offer an iPhone app which allows you to photograph a picture in front of you and to compare it with their database – an identification service similar to Shazam, which will not only tell you about painting and artist, but also who the rights holder is. A recommendation engine will prompt you to consider other work, in a manner similar to Amazon, for example. And further apps provide a vehicle through which they and their artists can offer collections of material to you in small packages for viewing on your phone or tablet of choice (either gratis, or for a small fee).
These people and technologies, then, form the basis of Artfinder’s contribution to the Culture Cloud project. Artfinder are very much the online face of the project; once the participating artists have been selected, the curation and voting activity will take place through the Artfinder platform, supported by the social media functions of the site, along with the potential for print sales and for users, thus alerted, to make use of other aspects of the platform’s offer. The Artfinder service thus represents an opportunity to engage audiences in new practices around art – not only experiencing art online, but also the simple activity of reading about and buying art that they like. Furthermore, the Artfinder site serves as a traffic hub, and thus has the potential to drive these interests beyond the scope of the project, and prompt an engagement not only with further art on Artfinder, but also with art in NAE, in the partner galleries, and ultimately beyond.
Significant here will be Artfinder’s ability to engage with a broad community beyond the typically internet-savvy market who gravitate to such services unprompted. The company is already building a notable reputation, having prompted coverage of their work from technically-engaged journalists, complemented by other positive reports linked to two tranches of venture capital funding. They have also received coverage in the art market media, and in non-market arts spaces, and have been mentioned in French, American and Indian contexts, to name a few. A partnership with Facebook, to coincide with the recent launch of the new timeline function, may also prove instrumental.
We must also be aware, of course, that Artfinder face challenges. For a start, they’re not the only Artfinder. Nor are they the only provider of these services; of particular note is Art.sy, Pandora to Artfinder’s Last.fm, currently in private beta. Yet Artfinder.com certainly has the highest profile of the lot, at least in the English-speaking world, and with the exception of Art.sy, the others do not seem to offer the same mixture of social media and art market, instead separating selling art from viewing art. Again, we are reminded that the Artfinder site is not a museum; and Artfinder are, as one commentator has observed, ‘COMMUNITY first and product pushers second’. This project in many ways relies upon their ability to continue in that mould.