Between celebrity Twitter feuds, televised nip slips, and troll-baiting stories about breast feeding, there’s enough asinine junk on the Internet to get lost in, forever. But what about beautiful, high-quality images of colorful X-rays of flowers, photorealistic portraits drawn with ballpoint pens, or intricate images of a toothpick sculpture of San Francisco? Art is presumably a tough sell online. But on Christopher Jobson’s site, Colossal, the visually arresting works easily go viral.
Typical Colossal fare includes that San Francisco sculpture (which was made of 100,000 toothpicks, and reeled in nearly as many Facebook shares), freeze-frames of jowly dogs shaking off water (48,000 shares), or photos of translucent ants slurping up colorful juices (17,000 shares).
“It’s like the digital Barnes collection,” jokes Jobson, in reference to Albert C. Barnes, a millionaire chemist whose suburban Pennsylvania home brimmed with one of the most extensive private art collections in the world: Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Glackens, Prendergast. Jobson might not be a filthy rich scientist with a houseful of Cezannes, but he does share Barnes’s obsession with tracking down eye candy and gathering it all in one place. “You can see how this guy would have made a great blogger,” he says.
Jobson launched thisiscolossal.com in 2010 and put up six to eight posts a day to keep tabs on interesting artists he came across. “It was just my mom and wife checking in for a long time,” says Jobson, who had been working in finance. But the former design student had been jonesing for a more creative outlet. Today, the site’s approaching its 3,000th post. The art speaks for itself, he says: “The quality of the art makes it go viral. It has nothing to do with me.”
But Jobson is being modest. His knack for cherry-picking helps the art he chooses achieve widespread visibility. On a typical day, he looks at 2,000 to 4,000 projects on over 300 art blogs, plus fields a hundred artist submissions a week. (Some of his go-to sites are BOOOOOOOM, Beautiful/Decay, StreetArtNews, Juxtapoz, and My Modern Metropolis.) His track record of consistently featuring the most jaw-dropping, inventive, shareable pictures on the web has made Colossal, which was nominated for a Webby last year, required browsing for anyone even remotely interested in the visual arts.
So how does Jobson’s aggregated artwork achieve such a viral wallop? To get featured on Colossal, projects must fill three Pinterest-friendly criteria: They have to be nothing Jobson’s seen before, should be interesting to everyone–even viewers who know nothing about art–and resonate strongly with Jobson himself. And what resonates with Jobson usually resonates with everybody else. His ritualistic posting, coupled with discerning taste, built the sizable audience and social presence his site boasts (right now, Colossal has around 350,000 likes on Facebook).
Running Colossal became Jobson’s full-time job last February. A few months later, he introduced the Colossal online store, which sells stuff like a dragonfly made of watch parts, fridge magnets that double as pots for mini trees, and a chalkboard shaped like a human skull. He’s got a roster of more than 20 designers, half of whom are local in Chicago, where Jobson is based, supplying the inventory.
He’s a bit of an unlikely art collector, though (even if the collection is only digital). He originally went to school for design, but after flunking Drawing II, he realized his appreciation for great art outweighed his own ability to whip out a textured sketch. Jobson thinks that’s partially why Colossal is perfect for thousands of Facebookers who might not necessarily be experts in trompe l’oeil or Baroque’s high period. Despite possibly lacking the technical knowledge, users still share that Ai Weiwei installation with their friends. The content is accessible, and they don’t feel talked down to, Jobson says: “It’s an outsider art blog.”
It’s hoi polloi, not hoity-toity. Jobson isn’t a rich, masterpiece-hoarding eccentric, and not all his readers hold MFAs. He’s just a regular guy who’s really excited about art, and is good at predicting what online audiences will be compelled to share. Colossal is the Tate Modern of the Internet, the everyman’s Charles Saatchi. “I learn along with everyone else,” Jobson says. “I don’t have a really strong art background, but I have this weird curating talent.” Which is an art itself.