It’s big in Saudi Arabia
Millions of people first make a connection to music, early in life, thanks to radio. The same goes for films, via television. Introductions to visual art, however, tend to come much later, if they ever come at all. But now there is ikonoTV, which aims to create art lovers using the power of TV.
Founded by Elizabeth Markevitch, a former specialist in Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s, ikonoTV bills itself as the world’s first HD station dedicated to broadcasting pieces of art. Not works of video art or films, to be clear: photos of actual paintings, which the camera sensually zooms over, lingering on each work for approximately five minutes.
During recent viewings, the channel, which is accessible by SmartTV or Internet browser, offered up luscious details of an Ingres-painted foot and light glistening atop a Monet pond. In other instances the stream took on a more animated quality, revealing only certain parts of a painting, such as the individual abstract parts comprising Juan Gris’s The Violin.
The works include more than 1,000 international artists and around 500,000 artworks drawn from more than 200 collections, including those of the Louvre, the British Museum, and Rijksmuseum.
How does the business work, you wonder? IkonoTV offers a simple exchange for museums. In return for granting full broadcasting rights, the institutions receive promotional material free of charge. In the case of contemporary art, which is often still under copyright, Markevitch negotiates a contract directly with the artist.
“It started with a question: Why is art not as popular as music?” Markevitch said in a recent phone interview. The issue is accessibility, she decided. “Everyone has music in their pockets and you don’t have to be knowledgeable to collect it,” she continued, “rather it comes from having pleasure.” She sees ikonoTV as a means of breaking through the intimidation that high art can cause—a philistine-friendly MTV for art.
“People will get used to looking at art the same way they’ve become accustomed to listening to music,” Markevitch said, adding that she thinks that appreciating art is not too different from learning a new language: it takes repeated exposure.
Markevitch also compares it to romantic attraction. “Art historians and critics are constantly telling us the story behind the work, which helps, but I can also look at a work without information and have my own personal relationship to that piece,” she said. “It’s like if you go to a party and immediately fall for someone you’re attracted to. You don’t know why, it’s just intuition. Afterward, when you get to know the person better, maybe you’ll begin to understand why your gut brought you to this person. This is the same with art. You have to fall in love and be attracted by a work or type of art, before you get to the knowledge.”
Last year the ikonoTV app had over 400,000 downloads on SmartTVs. It’s especially big in Saudi Arabia. Markevitch estimates that the channel reaches an average of 500,000 Saudi homes through the country’s local satellite TV. Given the country’s limited access to art, for cultural and religious reasons, ikonoTV is likely providing many viewers with their first exposure to art. “This is huge when you realize we’re talking about art here,” Markevitch said.
And now, without further ado, here’s a video of that Ingres foot: