by Tony Karp

A museum of one's own

 - The Goya Museum in Castres, France - - art  - photography - by Tony Karp
The Goya Museum in Castres, France
I think that the foremost aspiration of any artist is that their work will be remembered and will be available for everyone to see. The pinnacle of this is for an artist to have their own museum. Imagine, a whole building dedicated to just your works of art. And, of course, your name is in great big letters across the front of the building. Since it's your museum, you can say just which works will be shown and how they'll be arranged and displayed.

A number of artists have their own museums. Andy Warhol in Pittsburgh, Miró in Barcelona, Toulouse Lautrec in Albi, Van Gogh in Amsterdam, and Picasso, with so many that it seems like a museum chain. It looks like there are at least two things that you have to do to get your own museum: 1. Become very, very, very famous. 2. Die. This methodology has worked very well for the folks that I've listed, but it's not a great career choice.

And there are downsides to having your own museum. Being in a physical location limits the number of people who can visit your museum. The Goya Museum, shown above, is located in the town of Castres in France. The museum gets about 28,000 visitors a year. About 77 visitors a day. For this, they have to maintain the museum and its grounds and cover the cost of staff and numerous other expenses. Fortunately, Goya has long since stopped paying the bills.

You could always put your art into a book, but that greatly limits the number of people who can see it. And eventually your book will be out of print. You could put your art into an electronic book and distribute it over the Internet. But there are problems with the different ebook formats, and you can't put that many pictures into an ebook.

But that was then. Now, thanks to the Internet, every artist can have their own museum, at a cost of just a few dollars a month. No expensive real estate to buy, no staff to hire, no docents to recruit to give tours and, best of all, your museum can be visited from anywhere in the world, at any hour of the day.

Given the attractiveness of this, why haven't more artists and photographers taken advantage of this opportunity to build a legacy while they're still alive? A number have, and they fall into just a few categories. At the low end, a simple website, showing just a few pictures against a horrid background. Or you could use an online service like Flickr, which makes it simple, but doesn't give you much flexibility in how your images are displayed. Or, Ta-Da!, a beautiful website, built with Flash, to display your treasures. (This last method is a serious mistake, but that's a subject for another article.)

At the highest end, some have chosen web site designs that are so contrived they detract from the work, and others are just sites where you can license the use of one of their pictures. But most exhibit just a tiny portion of their work. ("If I put it on a web site, they'll steal it!") Not much of a legacy. Think of an artist or photographer who was well known, say fifty years ago. Now look for them on the web.

As the artist, and also the curator, of one of the oldest museums on the web, I chose another route. The Techno-Impressionist Museum started out in 1995, a humble thing, just a single page with a few of my early drawings. Since then, it has grown to one of the largest art sites on the web, with shows and exhibits. each one trying a different way to present web-based art. My goal is to eventually put all of my work online.

The museum has evolved to be the main hub of everything that I had put on the web. It has evolved, with thousands of changes during the last twenty five years.

A key to the final layout is that everything in the museum is accessible from the main museum page. Every image on the main page represents a show of images. A menu at the top of the page points to things outside the museum, such as blogs or stores.

The problem with this approach is that it takes a lot more work, and there are more tools involved, each with its own learning curve. The good news is that the cost is trivial compared to, say, eating lunch in a nice restaurant or buying your morning coffee fix at Starbucks. I pay less than $10 a month for the hosting service for all of my web sites. Tools to build your web site are inexpensive, many of them free. You can find them with your favorite search engine.

In the end, it's all about control. One of the first things an artist learns is the idea of control. Artists must learn to control their hands and how to control the medium in which they work. It can take years to master this. But the one thing that most artists can't control is how their work is presented to the public. When an artist is gone, their work will vanish from the public eye. All that remains, assuming that the artist was successful, will be an occasional gallery show or museum exhibit. If the artist was lucky enough to have a book published, it will eventually be out of print.

But the Internet will change that forever. Just as the computer requires new skills like learning word processing, the Internet poses a new challenge to the artist in presenting their work. It's a great opportunity, and I'll have more to say about this in future articles.

Copyright 1957-2023 Tony & Marilyn Karp