After publishing my article last week on the extraordinary urban art Kickstarter project, Tiki Island, I realized there were still things left unsaid about both the project and Kickstarter. These are concepts that cut to the cores notions of art and crowdfunding.

While I am by no means the arbiter of what projects are Kickstarter-worthy, I believe the site is best used for projects that could not get funded elsewhere. It presents a platform for artists to make an appeal to the masses to assist with a project of creative value. Something like Tiki Island is, to me, the quintessential Kickstarter project. It stands in stark contrast to something like the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff movies. What donors may not realize about those projects is that they are giving the creators funds that could be found elsewhere, which will be leveraged to secure other funding There’s nothing inherently wrong or unethical or immoral about this. It’s the free market at work. Yet I feel those projects violate the spirit of Kickstarter, because at least some of the funds that are utilized for these projects may have been diverted away from others like Tiki Island.

The creators behind these large scale, expensive projects are also engaging in what I feel is a cynical exercise. Films are notoriously poor investments, and often require some degree of unsophisticated investment. The filmmakers have relieved the necessity of finding this unsophisticated money in the form of capital that requires no return on investment, nor expects it. While there is no way to determine how these Kickstarter funds will be allocated, a pro-rated allocation would imply that some portion of donated funds are actually paying salaries of those running the projects. Again, there’s nothing wrong, unethical, or immoral about any of this. I just regard it as cynical and violative of Kickstarter’s spirit. More to the point, however, I regard these two Hollywood projects as giving us more of the same – popular art that doesn’t offer much in the way of anything other than entertainment.

Contrast this with the mobile urban high art of Tiki Island. In addition to the many other merits I discussed in my previous article, there are other aspects of Tiki Island that elevate it beyond other works as far as artistic merit goes. Unlike a lot of modern art that is generally accessible only in fixed locations, such as museums, through which a limited group of people will be able to see it over a given period of time, Tiki Island is mobile. It will be experienced by as many as 70,000 people in the space of just one week, along the Esplanade on the playa at Burning Man. Unlike most modern art, which generally attracts a specific upscale urban demographic, Tiki Island will be available to the surprisingly broad demographic of the Burning Man event. Unlike almost all art, which is traditionally driven by a singular artistic vision and also executed by the same individual, the same grassroots efforts used to fund Tiki Island are being utilized to execute the creator’s vision. It is truly community art, reflective of the modern urban environment that it deconstructs in its creation.

Let me offer an example of the difference between these Hollywood-driven projects and the artistic endeavor of Tiki Island. I again reference Abraham Kaplan’s Essay “The Aesthetics of Popular Art”, in which he states, “Popular art leaves our feelings as it found them, formless and immature…The feelings are lacking in depth, whatever their intensity. In a fully aesthetic experience, feeling is deepened, given new context and meaning…high art enlarges and transforms the self that has been brought to the aesthetic encounter “. Tiki Island is a piece of high art that reflects what Kickstarter is truly about – it is an aesthetic experience in which an object is totally turned inside out to provide new context and meaning, it is experienced in a way that is totally transformative.

I doubt a Veronica Mars or Zach Braff film will accomplish any of the goals of Kaplan’s high art. They will be dry and vapid experiences that will not reach deep inside anyone and transform them. I again reiterate that there’s nothing wrong with this – I just happen to find it depressing. That’s why I support other things.

In that regard, I generally don’t ask readers to support any given project, but Tiki Island is so representative of what crowdfunding can be, that I’d ask everyone who donated to Veronica Mars or Zach Braff to consider doing so to Tiki Island.

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