Marcus Johst, founder of Berlin Artparasites, confesses that the artworks you may love may not be his favourites. He tells us about how the idea for this platform came about, and how he picks artwork.
Berlin Artparasites, a global platform for artists from different disciplines, was founded in 2011. As its founder Marcus Johst explains, it was originally meant to display the art that is produced in Berlin, but it has fast invaded the social media timelines of people living in India and the rest of the world. Berlin Artparasites assimilates the experience of walking through an art gallery and reading a novel at the same time, all while scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. The idea for this format of combining paintings, photographs, or the occasional video with a quote, poem or excerpt was a result of a lengthy study in how best to make art go viral. Marcus considers virality and an online presence as being very important for artists today. “It’s all about global visibility in that great gallery space named the Internet,” he explains. Johst says his project has more than three million Facebook followers and that some of his posts get over two million views worldwide. Moreover, his website www.artparasites.com has over one million unique visitors per month.
The very name of the website is a tongue-in-cheek indication that Berlin Artparasites is not part of the “art scene” as we know of it from the media. “We go beyond the traditional conception of art, and are able to crawl under the door to place art in a broader context,” he says. This attitude towards art, coupled with the choice of themes such as love, longing, and loss is aimed at creating a public appeal for artwork. “I chose these themes because they are what people relate most to,” says Marcus.
The beauty of Berlin Artparasites lies in the fact that it brings art and the appreciation of art into our everyday lives – during rides on the train, between breaks at work, and right before we go to sleep at night. The question “How Art You Today”, which greets the reader as she clicks on the website, perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon. “The question was a spontaneous idea I had in the shower,” says Marcus.
He is of the opinion that one does not need a formal degree to understand the aesthetics of a platform such as Berlin Artparasites. When asked how he honed the ability to match art from different disciplines, Marcus says that the key lies in learning to develop a certain gaze. The decision to combine particular artworks and texts is not based on harmony, but rather cacophony. “We actually aim for a bit of cacophony to give our combinations character,” says Marcus. This is why he and his team don’t encounter situations where they can’t find visuals to complement text or vice versa – they aren’t looking for compatibility in the first place.
When picking artwork to feature on the website, he and his team try to gauge the emotional value of the visuals or text in question, a criterion that he finds is subjective. Marcus believes that emotion and technique both have an equally important place in art. “Many great artists – from Goya to Jeff Koons – have evoked strong emotions after perfecting their technique,” he says.
He confesses that he does not necessarily love every artwork that goes up on the website. There have been several times when he has put together posts that he knows his audience will appreciate. In fact, the ones that perform the best on social media and the website aren’t even his favourites. When asked which combinations he likes best, he said, “I love to combine old masters with modern literature like a poem by one of Tumblr’s upcoming poets.”
This iconic style of presenting art and evoking emotions has turned into a genre in itself, and there is a possibility that it could get repetitive or monotonous, especially because new art forums emerge on the Internet every week. However, Marcus is not worried that the format that Berlin Artparasites uses will get boring. “Artparasites has changed many times and it must evolve in the future if it is going to stay unique,” he says. The real challenge lies in becoming the world’s most popular online source for inspiration and art in today’s world, which he calls “a sea of adversity”. What keeps Marcus going is the sense of satisfaction he gets from his job and the fact that it allows him to connect with artists all over the world.