Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When Sales Attack.

If you're like me, you haven't been at my blog since February. A lot has happened since then, but most of it has been pretty disheartening, and since I -try- to use this blog predominantly for things which are great or, at least, unique and worthy of highlighting, it has been really difficult to bring myself to break the silence. Also, busy-ness. The state of the tee art world reflects the state of the real world, but even so, some things are more important.

One thing that becomes vital to note now happened at Threadless. Longtime followers will perhaps recall years ago when Threadless streamlined their tees to all be $18, with Selects sitting at $25, for their outside of the norm content, frequently experimental print processes, and untested popularity. This wasn't ideal, really... prior, threadless tees fluctuated a lot print to print, but for the majority of prints, $18 was more than one would have paid before. Still, $18 was fair, and remains the standard in the tee world. But then we started seeing some full tee prints sell at $20, undermining the original intent, and it wasn't long before the average tee sold at that price point. What I didn't notice until just recently, however, was that the prices slipped up again... the average tee in the last few weeks has been sitting pretty at $22.

This sort of silent inflation makes a sale like the brief Camp Wannatee one Threadless is featuring this week (potentially til Wednesday, but Threadless is known for extensions, so who knows) both more exciting and somewhat insulting. A $12 tee is always a good deal, especially when the base price is higher, but the sale serves mainly to point out just how much a Threadless tee goes for these days. One can't expect the $5 clearances of the days when this blog began, but there is a certain disturbing nature to it, especially when one considers the other changes made throughout the tee world in that time. The vapid lie of "printing this mediocre work helps us afford to print less popular but better work" is clearly exposed when one sees this happening... either that road isn't working, and the site is still scraping by no matter what they print, or the price hike has nothing to do with necessity, which implies that perhaps the print choices have nothing to do with necessity either. Whichever way the truth tilts, it's a worrisome omen for artists and other sites alike.

That said, there are still regularly Threadless tees to be excited about, and sometimes they come from the least expected places. Above, we see sketchboy01's brand new print "Arabian Crescent," clearly an incredibly weak pun, but illustrated beyond its title. The magic of the Arabian Nights is present in the illustration... there's the twinkle of the stars, the exotic shapes of buildings... and that sliver of moon which came from the equally slim punchline creates its own otherworldly imagery, not only for the outer-space textures and craters, but the idea of this beautiful city springing out from the rock, hidden in a cave or carved from a mountain. The overall effect is one that creates a haunting new world out of a very old one. Our Western eyes still often see the Arab world as a large question mark... framing it against space makes it literally otherworldly, and anyone who has ever used their imagination is fascinated by the unfamiliar. Taking two images which we can easily identify, yet in most cases do not fully understand, lets the viewer walk the line between comfort and curiosity, and the lovely execution sells a piece that quite likely was conceived as a cheap joke, elevating it to stunning illustration.

By contrast, Design By Humans, once the white truffle of these sorts of tee sites with its regular $24 offerings, has become a comparatively affordable option. This is no small feat, since DBH is a far more "exclusive" tee site. Its designs tend to seek out a specific audience, and a far less populist one than most. Its inventory is without a doubt smaller than its closest competition. Its prints, while no longer as regularly experimental as in the past, still tend to be far bigger and often more complex than any site I can think of. It seems odd that they'd be able to maintain what is now a reasonable price point while other places are ever rising.

Once again, it is the current sale which highlights my concerns. DBH has, in the last year, been incredibly sale-happy, and while most people would likely be ecstatic to have the chance to pick up cheaper designs, a sale week at DBH is also not a print week. The concern, therefore, is that they're no better off... having to drop prices even further so frequently, at the expense of paying out to new designs, doesn't imply the sort of success the site should be enjoying. Long story short, for a paranoid sort like myself, the two top dogs in the tee world giving signs of weakness does not bode well for the scene as a whole.

That being said, the trouble with conjecture is that it's only conjecture without knowing something deeper about selections, sales, and the like. The evidence is worrying, but the truth could just be that DBH wants you to buy awesome shirts like ecsu's "Decay (We're All Made of Stars)" and save some extra green while doing it. Not that it's not worth full price: the progression of the images makes for one of my favorite designs in a long while. The pink and the black provide a great contrast, and helps link the worlds of the self and the outside. The decomposition is shown in reverse... as the arm becomes built up, it is fleshed out, but it also becomes less corporeal. The idea is that the decay of one thing can create the growth of another. The stark colors also make the whole thing feel a bit more synthetic, though, as well. There seems to be another layer of commentary beneath the obvious themes, as though we are both built from and destroyed by the extraneous and the unreal. Whatever the case, though, it's a striking and original design, and something that makes me quite happy to see exist. Take advantage of the sales to show your support for this, or Arabian Crescent, or any truly worthy piece on either site. At the end of the day, this blog is about great tees. Find them, wear them, and support the continued spread of new ones. Because no matter what else might be happening under the surface, supporting great work is the best way to get more of it out there, and that should be the vast majority of what we're seeing. After all, I can't praise great art if it's not there.

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