Did Jeff really paint that Koons? Working at a modern studio isn’t exactly a Renaissance apprenticeship

Recently word filtered down through the art community that superstar Jeff Koons, who along with Damien Hirst is the highest-earning artist in art history, laid off much of his staff. To be precise, in a series of downsizing moves, he fired some 30 members of his painting staff, which at one time numbered 100. This is the third round of layoffs since 2015. Most of those painters were brought on to work on the “Gazing Ball” series; they hand-copied 35 old master paintings, to which a shiny, metallic colored sphere was added. About 30 staffers were let ago after this painting-heavy project. There were grumblings of their being vastly underpaid. (Artnet reported that some individuals were earning just $21 per hour, while Koons’ works fetch millions at auctions.)

But what surprises many observers is not that Koons would so underpay the people creating his works or that he would downsize his staff, but rather people are confused about how an artist produces works that are labeled as his own, when he may not have a hand in their making. Much was made of Damien Hirst’s recent series of paintings because he had painted them all himself. This may indeed sound like an odd statement. Don’t all artists create their own works, you may ask?

This is part of a long art historical tradition, and it is not in the least unusual or surprising. We have the Romantic era, with a dose of Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects,” to thank for the general misconception that major, professional artists create their works alone. The idea of the lone, brooding artist, possibly depressed and drinking absinthe in a Parisian garret while wearing a black beret and chain-smoking is the oddity. Most professional artists through history ran studios, often called a bodega.

To understand how studios worked (and work), we might look at a Renaissance master or to one of the most recently popular painters in the world, though few critics would raise their eyes to give him the time of day: Thomas Kinkade. The “Painter of Light,” as he was sometimes called before his death in 2012, employed an army of staffers to paint his mildly cheesy homey landscapes, the artistic equivalent of the Saturday afternoon made-for-TV Christmas films on Lifetime. Depending on how much you paid, you could get a work entirely hand-painted by Kinkade, for a small fortune. Or for very little money, you could get a work designed by the main man but painted entirely by staff. For even less, you could buy a print of one of his paintings, touched up with hand-painted “highlights.” There was a sliding scale of options to choose from, depending on how directly involved the master had been in the piece.

This is simply a continuation of the tradition of great Renaissance artists like Domenico di Ghirlandaio. Commissioning a work by Ghirlandaio did not mean that the master would paint the work entirely himself, but rather that it was the product of his studio. The more one paid (or the more prestigious the patron), the more the master would work on the painting hands-on. In most cases, he would design it, supervise its painting and likely handle the hands and faces, considered the two most difficult aspects to get right. But backgrounds, still life elements, architecture, draperies, furniture and the like would almost certainly be painted by paid assistants or indentured apprentices learning the trade.

Since oil paint takes a long time to dry, and must be fairly dry before more layers can be applied, a studio might be working on many paintings at once, with panels tucked away to dry, while several might be propped up to be actively worked on a given day. Expensive pigments would be ground by hand and mixed according to proprietary recipes designed by the master. Ghirlandaio’s preferred shade of yellow might differ from Michelangelo’s or Bronzino’s. The raw ingredients (panels, canvases, paints) would be prepared for painting by staff. The main difference between historical bodegas and contemporary studios is in the age and experience of the staff. Historical studios were part academies, part businesses. There would be paid assistants, but also a team of apprentices, who were indentured to the master, housed and fed and trained, usually beginning at ages 8 to 12, and apprenticed until ages 16 to 18. At that point, they could elect to remain in the employ of the master, now paid, move elsewhere or submit their “masterpiece” to the local painter’s guild. This was a single artwork entirely by their hand, by which the guild would determine whether the painter were skillful enough to be licensed to open a studio.

Jeff Koons is best known for his monumental sculptures resembling balloon animals but made of glossy metal. But for most of his works, he might best be considered a conceptual artist, in that he conceives of the works, designs them but he rarely actually participates in their creation, on a hands-on basis. For this, he employs a vast staff, making him perhaps more like an architect than our traditional image of an artist. Architects concoct their creations, make designs for them, but contractors do the building. Koons and Hirst appear to be less involved in the actual creation than their old master counterparts were. They are the heads of corporations, making more money than the GNP of West Timor. Their studios lack the educational component of past masters and are built more like big businesses than local enterprises.

Renaissance painters’ guilds also rigorously controlled the total number of staffers any studio could employ, in order to maintain quality. For example, in Rubens’ Antwerp, the maximum number of staff in a studio was 14 (though Rubens skirted the law to exceed that number by a large margin). Koons, by contrast, employed about 100 painters to create his “Gazing Ball” series, but understandably no longer required so many, since his projects tend to be sculptures. His reduction of staff became news mostly because of the low hourly fee he allegedly paid and because of the general (mis)conception that most artists should paint most of their work themselves.

Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 “Lives of the Artists,” considered the first work of art history (and the subject of my forthcoming book), is originally responsible for our idea that an artwork is the complete creative expression of a single mind and hand. Most of how we think about art and museums today has its origins in Vasari’s hugely popular and influential group biography of Renaissance artists, many of whom he knew and worked with. By featuring masters of studios and weaving a cult around them, he downplayed the collaborative aspect of their work; this may have been a sort of defense mechanism, as he was sometimes accused of being lazy and relying too much on his assistants. Then the Romantic era promoted the idea of lonely, forlorn, brooding artists struggling to make ends meet but producing powerful art at great personal sacrifice. This idea has melodramatic appeal, and it stuck in the popular imagination. While it has been true for many artists, particularly those in the modern era, before they make it big, the truly big-name artists, from ancient times to the present, have been more like architects or film directors, designing and supervising but not always getting their hands dirty.

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Google to Stop Reading Users’ Emails to Target Ads

Google said its computers will soon stop reading the emails of its Gmail users to personalize their ads, a move that addresses a longstanding privacy concern about a product that is central to its growing corporate-services business.

The core unit of Alphabet Inc. has mined users’ emails for personal data to serve them more relevant ads since it launched Gmail in 2004, which almost immediately sparked privacy concerns.


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Bloomberg’s Next Anti-Washington Move: $200 Million Program for Mayors

After President Trump announced last month that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Mr. Bloomberg helped marshal an alliance of American cities and private companies to support participation in the pact, and offered to pay out of his private philanthropy for the American share of a United Nations budget to coordinate the deal.

The American Cities Initiative, Mr. Bloomberg said, will reward cities for addressing such large-scale issues.

“You can argue that if people in cities use less energy, the coal-fired power plants outside the cities would pollute the air less,” he said. “You can make the case that immigration is a city issue, because that’s where a lot of people live and work.”

But Mr. Bloomberg, speaking by telephone from the Manhattan offices of his media company, said the program would also focus on less contentious subjects related to making government effective, despite interference or fiscal pullback at the state and federal level. Cities, he said, must increasingly “replace Washington and, in some cases, state governments, to provide services.”

“It’s really efficiency in government, how you marshal resources and how you deal with the public, explain to them, bring them along,” Mr. Bloomberg said, describing the focus of the American Cities Initiative.

A signature component of the proposed Bloomberg initiative will be a “Mayors Challenge,” through which city executives will be invited to compete for six- and seven-figure grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies, awarded to mayors who draw up compelling proposals for policy experimentation. Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation has run similar competitions in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., whose city has received money from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation in the past, said new grants could help address an issue closer to the ground level of government: removing or replacing vacant commercial buildings throughout the city. Ms. Freeman-Wilson said state and federal officials appeared to have little interest in facilitating such actions.

“They don’t have any sense of what we’re confronted with,” she said.

Mr. Bloomberg said the project’s $200 million budget would be spread out over three years, to start with, and could grow over time.

In a reflective aside, Mr. Bloomberg also appeared to acknowledge that he might have more success shifting public opinion on big issues by working through city governments. As a political donor, he has made gun control his central cause, with mixed electoral success, and has also backed campaigns supportive of an immigration overhaul and environmental regulation. Though he is not a member of a political party, Mr. Bloomberg endorsed Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential race and denounced Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

One lesson of that election, Mr. Bloomberg suggested, might be that elites have done too much to change “the moral and social fabric of the country” without explaining the changes to ordinary people.

“I’m certainly as guilty as anybody,” he said. “Maybe that’s one of the lessons of the Trump victory — that we’ve not really talked to lots of people in this country, particularly in the Midwest, where Donald Trump did very well.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s announcement in Miami Beach comes at a pivotal moment for the Conference of Mayors, which faces sky-high and mostly self-imposed political expectations: Many of its prominent members have promised in sweeping language to counteract the influence of the federal government under Mr. Trump.

And with the Republican Party, which is anchored in the country’s rural areas and outer suburbs, controlling Washington and most state governments, many mayors have few natural allies to secure financial support and policy cooperation for their cities.

In addition to advancing an ideological agenda that clashes with the social character of many big cities — on issues like climate and immigration — the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to government agencies that municipalities rely on, including major grant programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The new president of the mayors’ group, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, has pledged to be a forceful champion for city priorities and to coordinate political action between mayors. Mr. Landrieu, who is a Democrat, has a warm relationship with Mr. Bloomberg.

As part of its introduction, the American Cities Initiative will give a six-figure grant to the mayors’ conference to coordinate mayoral advocacy in the national news media, advisers to Mr. Bloomberg said.

Mr. Landrieu said in an interview that mayors would have to collaborate more closely, on both policy and politics, to make up for the absence of support — or outright meddling — from state and federal authorities. Until a friendlier environment develops at the national level, he said, mayors will have to work together “without a federal framework.”

Mr. Bloomberg and his money would help facilitate that, Mr. Landrieu said.

“We’re moving to a different model in this country, and it’s really going to be nonideological,” he said. “It’s going to be problem-solving driven.”

Mr. Landrieu said the conference would continue to lobby state and federal lawmakers for city priorities, as it has done for years.

But Mr. Bloomberg expressed no particular optimism that the Trump administration could be swayed to take a more accommodating view of urban policy. Asked if he had made an appeal to the New Yorker in the White House, Mr. Bloomberg said he had spoken only once to Mr. Trump since his election, describing it as a “pleasant conversation.”

“He gave me his private cellphone number, and I haven’t called him,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He has mine and he hasn’t called me.”

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When Is Risk Highest for Women With BRCA Gene?

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 20, 2017 (HealthDay News) — For women who have genetic mutations that increase their risk of breast and ovarian cancers, researchers have better defined at what age those gene flaws are most likely to cause trouble.

Knowing when gene-based cancer risks peak in a woman’s life will help doctors and patients decide when to take drastic steps such as removing a breast or the ovaries to prevent cancer, said study senior author Antonis Antoniou. He’s a researcher with the University of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care in England.

Breast cancer risk peaks around the 40s for BRCA1 mutation carriers and around the 50s for BRCA2 carriers, Antoniou said.

“This gives women more guidance as to when it’s safe to wait and when it’s time to go ahead and do the surgery,” said study co-author Dr. Mary Daly, founder and director of Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Risk Assessment Program in Philadelphia.

The researchers also found that family history plays a strong role in breast cancer risk outside of these genetic mutations.

“When they looked at the risk of breast cancer for BRCA 1 and 2, the risk increased if they had a strong family history of breast cancer,” Daly said. “Family history plays into it in some way. We didn’t see that with ovarian cancer.”

Up to now, women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have had to make treatment decisions based on studies that provided a less accurate assessment of cancer risk, the study authors said in background notes.

For example, estimates in previous studies of the cumulative risk of breast cancer ranged from 40 percent to 87 percent for BRCA1 carriers and between 27 and 84 percent for BRCA2 carriers, the researchers said.

To create a better estimate, the researchers tracked nearly 10,000 women carrying mutated versions of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These included more than 5,000 cancer-free women and more than 4,800 women previously diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

During an average follow-up period of five years, 426 of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer, 109 with ovarian cancer, and 245 with breast cancer in the second breast.


The researchers concluded that about 72 percent of women carrying a faulty BRCA1 gene will develop breast cancer by age 80, and 44 percent will develop ovarian cancer.

A faulty BRCA2 gene will result in breast cancer for 69 percent of women by age 80 and ovarian cancer for 17 percent of women by the same age, the study showed.

The increase in breast cancer risk rose quickly in early adulthood and then plateaued, typically for the rest of a woman’s life. For women with a BRCA1 mutation, the plateau occurred around ages 31 to 40. For those with BRCA2 mutations, the plateau occurred about five to 10 years later, the study authors said.

The researchers also looked at the risk of developing breast cancer in the second breast. Over 20 years, the risk of a woman with a BRCA1 mutation developing breast cancer in her second breast was 41 percent. For BRCA2 carriers, the risk was 21 percent, the study found.

The new risk estimates are “probably a bit more accurate and a bit more reflective of what the real numbers are,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Women have to weigh the risk of cancer against the long-term impact of having their ovaries removed, Daly said. The reduction in female hormones caused by ovary removal can lead to increased risk of heart disease and loss of bone density.

“Some women may say, ‘I don’t want to have my ovaries taken out,’ and others may say, ‘Yesterday was too late,’ ” Lichtenfeld said. “This paper helps us have a more rational discussion of what the options and outcomes may be.”

Women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer should have genetic testing performed, said Dr. Harold Burstein, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston.

Debate continues over genetic screening for women with no cancer in their family history, however.

“If there is no family history and no personal history of cancer, the chance of finding a BRCA1/2 mutation is very low and we do not recommend testing for the average woman,” said Burstein, who’s also affiliated with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


But Dr. Stephanie Blank, director of women’s health for Mount Sinai Downtown-Chelsea Center in New York City, believes that more women should undergo genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

“In general, we should be more inclusive rather than restrictive about who should be tested because not everybody fits the general profile of who you would expect to carry the mutation,” Blank said. “We’re surprised not infrequently.”

The new report was published June 20 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

WebMD News from HealthDay


SOURCES: Antonis Antoniou, Ph.D., researcher, University of Cambridge, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, England; Mary Daly, M.D., Ph.D., founder and director, Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Risk Assessment Program, Philadelphia; Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer, American Cancer Society; Harold Burstein, M.D., Ph.D., medical oncologist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston; Stephanie Blank, M.D., director, women’s health, Mount Sinai Downtown-Chelsea Center, New York City; June 20, 2017, Journal of the American Medical Association

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams!

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Sorry Taylor Swift! Khloé Kardashian rolls with THIS squad!

This week, the KUWTK star posted a throwback photo featuring some of her favorite nieces and nephews: Mason, Penelope, and Reign Disick, as well as Dream Kardashian! Aunt KoKo sure knows how to take care of all those kids!

But this wasn’t the only cute moment featured on social media!

Lena Dunham showed off a new, shorter haircut, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez enjoyed a “baecation” in France, and Miley Cyrus spent quality time with her dogs!

Want to see other pics your favorite celebs posted on Twitter and Instagram?? If so…

CLICK HERE to view “This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams”

CLICK HERE to view “This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams”

CLICK HERE to view “This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams”

CLICK HERE to view “This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams”

CLICK HERE to view “This Week In Celebrity Twitpics & Instagrams”

[Image via Khloé Kardashian/Instagram.]

Tags: alex rodriguez, baby blabber, celeb kidz, disick babies, dream kardashian, family, instagram, jennifer lopez, khloe kardashian, kuwtk, lena dunham, miley cyrus, taylor swift, this week in celebrity twitpics, twitter

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Read an excerpt from Joyce Carol Oates’ new story collection “Dis Mem Ber”

Excerpted from “DIS MEM BER” by Joyce Carol Oates © 2017 by The Ontario Review, Inc. “DIS MEM BER” originally appeared in Boulevard (2016). Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, The Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

At the bridge Rowan Billiet takes hold of my wrist to lead me down the steep path to the creek. His forefinger and thumb gripping my wrist hard enough to leave a red mark.

It is just a playful gesture, I am thinking. The way my grandfather runs his callused fingers through my hair and I am not supposed to flinch or whimper or cry for that will hurt Grandpa’s feelings.

Beneath the bridge there is a large dark rectangular shadow in the water that is the shadow of the bridge rippling like something alive and breathing. The shallow water near shore is heaped with rocks but also concrete rubble and rusted iron rods and it is here that Rowan pulls me toward to see something that looks at first like slow-bobbing clothes or rags or something woolly. Unless I shut my eyes (as Rowan would not allow me to do) there is nowhere else to look.

See? That’s something ain’t it, lookit the size of that.

Rowan makes a thin whistling sound. I don’t understand what I am seeing. My eyes blink and swell with moisture. And the strong smell of it, that comes up in hot wafts like heat from a vent in the floor, that makes me feel faint.

Rowan is saying he figures it got dumped upstream. There is an excitement in Rowan’s voice I have not heard before.

And floated down here and got caught in the rocks. Really something ain’t it?

D’you know what “eks-sang-u-ated” is? Blood all gone.

That’s what happened here. Like a pig upside down, or a chicken. Bled out.

See how it’s in parts? See, I can push them. The head is loose from the body. . . . I did that.

Just for the hell of it, fuckin around with my stained-steel Jap knife.

Christ sake! Nobody’s gonna hurt you.

It’s a fancy knife. Cost twelve dollars. Stained-steel made in Japan.

Want to hold it? No?

Like this, sawed through the “vert-e-bray.”

Know what “vert-e-bray” is, Jill-y? Like, your spine.

Here’s your spine, see? Up here too. Your neck is like your spine too.

Rowan’s fingers at the nape of my neck. At first a tickling sensation. Then he squeezes my neck allowing me to know that he can squeeze a lot harder if he wishes.

He is excited explaining: Like them “out-top-sies” they do in a morgue. Y’know — “out-top-sie” with a human corpse you see in movies.

“Dis-mem-ber” — like cutting up a chicken, but with a special knife.

See, I brought my camera. I been taking some cool pictures.

But I couldn’t take any picture of myself.

Here’s my camera, Jill-y, now you take some of me right here on this rock.

Know how it works? This button you press.

Look through the little lens. Then you press the button. Don’t pretend to be dumb, you’re a fuckin smart little girl.

Everybody says.

Hey Jesus! — watch out. (The camera almost slips from my fingers into the creek, I am shaking so.)

Rowan snatches the camera from me, cursing.

Then seeing the sick scared look in my face, and laughing. Seeing how I am gagging, and choking. Coughing up a thin frothy-white liquid onto the front of my shirt as Rowan Billiet shakes his head and laughs.

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Takata Plans Bankruptcy Filing as Soon as Sunday

Takata Corp., the supplier of rupture-prone air bags linked to numerous deaths and injuries, is preparing to seek bankruptcy protection as soon as Sunday with a tentative deal to sell operations to a rival, people familiar with the matter said.

The Japanese automotive supplier, in a long-expected move to address mounting liabilities from an unprecedented safety recall, is putting the finishing touches on a bankruptcy petition…

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Don’t Use Secondhand Test Strips

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 20, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Millions of Americans with diabetes use glucose meters and test strips to monitor their blood sugar, but affording those supplies can be a challenge.

And that leads some people to use secondhand test strips to save money.

It’s legal for people to sell unused secondhand test strips. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against buying or selling pre-owned test strips because they may give incorrect results and may not be safe to use with a glucose meter.

“Test strips should be properly stored to give accurate results,” according to the FDA.

“If you buy pre-owned strips, it is hard to know whether the strips were stored properly. Test strips also could be expired. A lack of proper storage or using expired strips could put you at risk for getting incorrect results from your glucose meter. And incorrect results can put you at risk for serious health complications — and even death,” the FDA said.

In addition, test strip vials may have been opened by another person and could contain small amounts of blood, putting you at risk for infection, the agency said.

Secondhand test strips may have been tampered with and unsafe to use. For example, the expiration dates might have been changed or covered up, the FDA said.

Some pre-owned test strips also may not have been cleared by the FDA for sale in the United States. Signs of unsafe strips include instructions that aren’t in English or strips that look different than other strips of the same brand.

The FDA recommends buying new, unopened vials of glucose test strips designed specifically for your meter.

“Talk to your health care provider if you are not sure where to buy test strips for your glucose meter or if you cannot afford to buy the test strips recommended for use with your meter,” the agency advised.

The FDA also said to make sure you get the most from your test strips. Be sure to use the control solution that comes with your meter to check accuracy as directed.

Also, use your meter to test your blood sugar in front of your doctor or diabetes educator to ensure you’re doing everything properly.

And, make sure you clean and disinfect your glucose meter as directed by the manufacturer, the FDA suggested.

WebMD News from HealthDay


SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, May 2017

Copyright © 2013-2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Liam Payne And Niall Horan Have A One Direction Reunion In Indiana — Look!

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What a time for a reunion!

Though One Direction has been on hiatus for quite a while now, it’s still plainly obvious that the guys have a lot of love and support for each other — and nowhere was it more clear than Indianapolis, Indiana last night when Liam Payne and Niall Horan got together again!

Related: Harry Styles’ Stepfather Passes Away

The duo were in the Midwest together to celebrate a radio birthday bash with a major concert — Flo Rida, Fifth Harmony, and Aaron Carter were all also in Indianapolis to perform — and so the former Directioners decided to put up a couple cute vids on their Instagram stories to leave fans going crazy!

Ch-ch-check out some of the highlights (below)!!!

So cute!!!

Love to see these boys still supporting each other so strongly! Nice job, fellas!!

[Image via Instagram.]

Tags: anglophilia, awwwww, heartwarming, indiana, indianapolis, liam payne, music minute, niall horan, one direction

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Even ugly animals can win hearts and dollars to save them from extinction

The Earth is home to millions of species, but you wouldn’t know it from the media’s obsession with only a few dozen animals like tigers and gorillas.

This narrow focus makes the most of popular fascination with large and cute creatures. Conservationists take advantage of these nonhuman celebrities to raise awareness about important issues and to seek donations to help save endangered animals. Given the multi-billion-dollar funding shortfall for nature conservation, public support is crucial.

Very popular species attract the most wildlife conservation funding. But what about the Nimba otter shrew, the Cuban greater funnel-eared bat or other threatened yet obscure species? And don’t all imperiled green spaces, not just the homes of snow leopards and orangutans, deserve attention?

Conventional wisdom counsels sticking with the old approach to fundraising, and conservationists tend to see animals like bats and snakes as lost causes. As conservation scientists, we wanted to discover whether marketing could perhaps rescue these species. If companies can successfully sell mops and other humdrum products, why can’t conservationists raise money to save the unglamorous giant golden mole — even if it looks like a small cushion with a nose poking out of it? We sought the answer to this question by measuring the links between marketing efforts and conservation fundraising success.

Two different animals

Our recently published study contrasted online fundraising campaigns by two conservation charities: World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF-US) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), through its EDGE of Existence program.

These campaigns are very different. WWF-US raises money for a broad set of projects, addressing global issues from climate change and illegal wildlife trade to forest and ocean conservation. The EDGE campaign we analyzed focuses on saving 100 threatened mammal species.

Given these contrasting approaches, we wanted to see if and when marketing makes a difference. To do this we also had to account for whether the species used for fundraising mattered. This involved measuring an animal’s “appeal,” which depends on lots of factors, such as whether it is cute, large or famous. To see which animals were the most appealing, we showed 850 conservation supporters a random selection of the animal photos featured on the WWF-US and EDGE websites and asked these volunteers to rank the photos.

Let’s first consider WWF-US, which raises money through animal “adoptions.” When people donate, they signal their support for the well-known species. In return they get a stuffed toy, photos of the animals and adoption certificates. But the money WWF-US raised funds projects that benefit more than just the “adopted” animals.

We found two factors influenced WWF-US donors’ choices: the animals’ appeal and the degree of the threat of their extinction. Marketing efforts played no role. No matter how they were described or presented, the most appealing species always drew more donations. This was probably because people already knew and liked them.

The EDGE program raises money in a different way. It supports some universally familiar animals, like the Asian elephant, but many of the species it helps are less appealing to humans, including a variety of rats and bats. Each of these species is shown on their website, so people can click on a link to find out more and then donate.

We found that while people were generally more interested in donating to appealing species, the amount of marketing also made a difference. The animals EDGE actively promoted fared better with potential donors — including some homely ones. Similarly, pitches for the species shown higher up on EDGE’s site got more donors interested in funding the animals’ conservation.

A way to save the rodents

EDGE’s track record suggests that using marketing techniques to raise money for wildlife conservation could increase donations aimed at helping less popular species. To estimate the difference that marketing could make in this regard, we created a mathematical model based on our analysis of the EDGE data. This is an equation that predicts donations based on a species’ appeal (which is fixed) and whether it was promoted by EDGE or shown high up on the website (which we could vary).

Partnering with an EDGE staff member, we then modeled different fundraising scenarios for the 10 most appealing and 10 least appealing animals, as rated by our conservation volunteers. With no marketing effort, our model predicted that the most appealing species would raise 10 times more money than the least appealing animals. This was in line with what we expected and supported the WWF-US strategy.

However, things changed when we modeled the impact from EDGE’s marketing efforts. If the group highlighted the least appealing species by making them prominent on its website, our model predicted a 26-fold increase in donations for those specific animals. This suggests that charities could raise conservation funds for species like bats and rodents, if they tried hard enough.

Our findings indicate that conservationists have more options than they may realize to raise money to aid wildlife.

When can marketing boost donations?

But when should they fundraise for more obscure species? The answer depends on how threatened the animal is, how much help it already gets, the cost of saving it and the chances of the project succeeding. When conservationists focus only on saving elephants, rhinos or other popular species, they often overlook these considerations.

That doesn’t mean WWF-US should end its focus on familiar animals. Since the money it raises funds broad projects that benefit more than just the “adopted” animals, catering to widespread fixations with particular species makes sense.

To be sure, our research did not measure whether marketing efforts pay off by increasing donations overall. But including more kinds of species in a campaign may boost donations — especially for endangered frogs and tarantulas or other underappreciated animals — and even plants.

It might also increase the total number of species in the public eye, highlighting the many ways everyone can help save wildlife.

The ConversationConservationists often complain animals that are important to save can get ignored. Our results suggest that they should stop complaining and start marketing.

Diogo Veríssimo, David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow, Johns Hopkins University and Bob Smith, Director, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

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