Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Good Idea At the Time

Okay, it’s time to fess up about the fake DS Art-chaeology video. This repetitive picture loop wasn’t part of any penny arcade machine, or ancient stereoscopic device. It was just the sad result of a bad marketing decision.

DS Art-chaeology

Back in the last century, I made the bold decision to promote my artwork on the national stage. I had a dozen or so pictures, a couple of which were selling well enough to bring in grocery money. A handful of framing shops were interested in selling prints of my work, and suggested that other art outlets might also be willing to give my pictures a try.

It sounded like a good plan, so I took their advice and carried my prints to a national wholesale art and frame show, where thousands of gallery owners from all over the country traveled to make their art purchases for the coming year.

I knew I was taking a risk. An unknown artist could hardly hope to gain the serious attention of art dealers in such a crowded venue, especially with complicated black and white drawings (“Color captures, simple sells.”), and very little time to describe the intricate designs and amusing puns.

The experiment met with some success, paid rent for a month or two, but didn’t allow me to retire at an early age. Let’s call it a good start, with lots of room for improvement.

What the project really needed was something that would grab my customers right out of the aisle, capturing their attention and their imaginations (and their wallets, too) – some new, incandescent graphic strategy that would turn eyes and footsteps directly toward my display.

The answer? Video! I would create a moving picture of my static drawings – an animated version of my product catalog that would be absolutely irresistible to art buyers everywhere.

I spent days working out a detailed storyboard, showing how my drawings would appear in a precise sequence, one after the other, each expanding slowly to fill the video screen, each new picture growing out of a single component part of the preceding composite image. Nothing like it had ever been shown at a wholesale art show before. No small art producer had ever taken such a courageous step. All I had to do now was save enough money to have the images converted to an endless tape loop in a state-of-the-art television studio – an expensive proposition in the 1990’s, but clearly worth the investment.

The whole package (video production, copies on VHS tape, and a brand new combination TV/videocassette recorder-player) set me back about three grand. For a single dad trying to get an art business off the ground, that was real money. (Come to think of it, that’s still real money.)

The new VCR was the ideal addition to my trade show exhibit: a portable television and cassette port, all in one compact unit, with automatic rewind built right in. Just place it on the table, plug it in, and I'd be ready to go.

The best part of the TV/VCR combo was the color – or lack of it. In a dramatic departure from the ubiquitous black plastic television casing, this unit was completely white! This sculptured snow-white cube would fit seamlessly into my art display, just another paper-looking background with my work showing on the front. Only this time my drawings would be moving, unfolding in an endless, ever-changing design.

I couldn't wait to unveil it at the show.

I was all ready with my sales pitch: “Your customers will be just as intrigued as you are! One complex image born from the one before, in an ever-changing montage of shapes and subjects!” My booth would be jammed with buyers. Print sales would skyrocket. I would be smothered with demands for the video - art dealers would need one copy for themselves, and one for each of their stores. (Autographed, of course.) This was going to be AWESOME.

What could possibly go wrong? (Did I mention that I bought a white television?)

Turns out, white TV screens weren’t so rare after all.. In those days, we called them computers.

This solitary oversight completely unraveled my ingenious marketing plan. And it didn't take long to find out, either. Halfway through the booth set-up process, before the show even opened, a fellow vendor stopped by to see how my business was going. The videotape was already rolling, and instantly captured his attention.

“How about that!” he exclaimed. “All this time I thought you drew these pictures by hand. But look- you’ve been doing ‘em on a computer!”

Everyone who saw my expensive, innovative display came to exactly the same conclusion. Sales plummeted. After that dismal debut, my State-of-the-DS Art VHS video loop disappeared onto a shelf for a decade and a half.

By the time it was re-discovered, the original tape was showing its age, and video technology had changed so much that took six different processes to translate the data into a usable format: VHS to digital camera to DVD to HDTV to iMovie to YouTube.

The quality of the resulting vid was far less than we had hoped, but under the circumstances, this was the best that we could do. Ironically, the technical imperfections made our hi-tech video look an awful lot like an old celluloid film projection – so we went with the new theme, added some sound effects, and the rest is … history.

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