The thought processes and language of MBA courses and business consultants sometimes have a kind of mad, alien appeal. I found this “BCG Box” in a Swiss pop-business psychology book called The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking (by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler). It’s a slightly superior example of the crap they sell in airports so salarymen can sit in the departure lounge clutching them and looking like go-getters. Most of the things in the aforementioned book fall into the categories of stating the obvious or bafflingly stupid, or into a Venn overlap of the two. The BCG Box, however, struck me as quite interesting for its unsentimental attempt to perform a kind of economic triage and be relatively objective and non-political about it. It was developed in the 1970s by the Boston Consulting Group (hence BCG) as a way of assessing the value of investments in a company’s portfolio.
It shouldn’t take much of a leap to see how this might apply to arts funding and the commercial art world, or the interplay of both. One might also use it to reflect upon one’s own position, priorities and prospects in the art world. If you’re working in the arts it will probably be pretty clear that most of your colleagues or aspiring youths trying to break in (and yourself, if you’re honest) can fit into one of these four categories without much ambiguity. The process is also interesting, especially in light of the supposed necessity in Britain and elsewhere for IMF/The Markets-imposed “austerity”, cuts and de-investment: you can safely ignore the obvious dogs (if they are obvious, and that’s a big if) but if you don’t invest in the question marks you’ll never get stars, which in turn will never turn into cash cows. QED.
… although admittedly the imagery of “liquidating” artist “dogs” smacks rather strongly of the Cultural Revolution or a Khmer Rouge Year Zero massacre.
The same book also reminded me in some way of (former editor of Wired magazine, so be aware that he has a very distinct Californian technocratic-libertarian axe to grind) Chris Anderson and his Long Tail. Not that kind of tail. His claim or hypothesis was that the internet and globalised markets means nowadays virtually anything that is offered for sale is bought by somebody. The best sellers and blockbusters are in high demand but paradoxically they’re dwarfed by the cumulative sales of vast numbers of products that only sell relatively few units each (not least because the peak is extremely sharp and narrow, but the tail goes on for longer than any chart could reasonably show.) Amazon is often given as a prime example of a business based on “rest sellers” and not just best sellers. Maybe the long tail is where the dogs need to hang out… and there’s so much mixed metaphor and confusing imagery in that phrase that I think I’ll just stop now.