The conventional wisdom is that the rise in selling art on the internet will swamp the market with mediocre work. The implication is that a more restricted art world, with dealers and curators as guardians, would protect us from this fate.

In fact, a marketplace swamped with mediocre work is exactly what we should hope to see. If there is a large quantity of artwork produced, the average quality indeed may be low. But the average is not the important metric. What matters is the variance, the overall distribution. If there is a broad distribution, there may be a small fraction, say the top 1%, that is remarkable artwork.

In speaking to many artists, I have heard about the hopeless feeling of never being able to break into the art world, the world of dealers, curators and collectors. This sentiment discourages artists and discourages artistic production. Fewer artworks mean fewer great artworks — probabilistically speaking.

If the internet becomes the dominant art market, then no one need worry about breaking in. The focus can be on the more important question, “How to make the best art possible?” The more that artists feel empowered to produce, the larger the number of paintings that will be in the top 1%.

Of course, the discerning buyer will have to search for that top 1%. But since when did shopping become unpopular?

Fall of the Art World