Pretty Please

(Note: this was reposted in advance to cover a brief vacation from all things electronic.)

running fence.jpg
Given easy access to global networks the formula for change may be: drawing attention to ideas, building concensus around a plan and coordinating the activities of participants with different skills, motives and levels of committment. In this regard the “Economics of Attention” by author Richard Lanham offers some useful insights in the course of explaining why and how the artist Christo built — and dismantled — his Running Fence.

Lanham writes: “This work of art, as he said repeatedly, was composed of the human behavior that was required to create it, not only the building of the fence but also the hearings, lawsuits, rulings, reports, meetings, and pleadings that were necessitated by the project (note: he apparently built it into the ocean without permission from California’s glacial Coastal Commission) … The fence was created as an attention structure that dramatized how persuasion works in human society.”

Lanham said the project began with “a grand idea, dramatic in the making.” Cristo sought to share this idea through his contacts and publicity, and used opposition — whether from bureaucrats or other artists — in a judo-like fashion to draw yet more attention to his scheme. He sold what Lanham described as relics — “something you could collect, put on the wall, buy and sell” — notably a book that contains “actual pieces” of the 24-mile fence that he and his wife had built, at a considerable financial and legal risk, along a 24-mile swath of the California coast, right into the sea.

I recall the episode but had never considered it in detail until I came across it in Lanham’s book. How breathtaking.

The idea that attention is the only scarcity in an era of easy-publishing is a rich vein that has been explored by others. I’ll return to the topic again because this may be new media, but it still tells the same old story of the fight for love and glory.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media