Welcome to another week of HELP DESK, where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling—or any other activity related to—contemporary art. Together, we’ll sort through some of art’s thornier issues. Email email@example.com with your questions (you can use a free anonymizer like Anonymouse.org if you want) and save the comments section to chime in on the topics of the day. All submissions will be treated as anonymous and become the property of Daily Serving.
My question centers around income: does an artist truly need their own website to be successful? Do prospective buyers really look up your name and view your work? I’m a financially struggling student–I do not have an official website (only a facebook dedicated to art). Is this a serious drawback in the sense that others will not take me seriously as an artist even if my work is of good quality?
Worrying about being taken seriously is putting your cart before the horse, because how will these hypothetical people even find you in order to evaluate your work? I asked around about websites and this is what I heard:
One New York gallerist said, “One doesn’t NEED a website, but it helps curators and galleries find your work… I doubt that ‘buyers’ really come via the web, but I think it is advantageous so have some web presence if you want to be found.”
Likewise, the gallerist I contacted in Berlin said, “Yes of course people (collectors, curators, gallerists) are researching artists they are interested in – who doesn’t use Google? If an artist does not have a gallery representing them with a comprehensive overview of what they’ve done on their site, it’s probably good to have some information available that allows interested persons to see the work without contacting the artist directly. I don’t know if it will make anyone successful though! Most “buyers” are going to buy from galleries I think, and really it’s gallerists and curators who are going to reference the site, so it would be bad form to set up a website that was geared towards selling work.”
The most comprehensive answer came from a San Francisco gallerist (it must be that famous “California abundance” at work): “This is an interesting question. Ultimately, a website is one piece to the puzzle and the need is probably in relation to what an artist’s gallery (or galleries) is providing for them. Having one’s own website of course provides the greatest control of presentation so long as the artist is capable and willing to do the work. Most people do not realize the extent to which a website is an on-going project and an out-of-date website can easily give the impression that an artist has given up their practice. One needs to keep the images (individual works and exhibitions), biography and press updated and the photography should be as professional as possible. The design and photography on any given website has evolved so much in the past five years, and with it our sophistication as visual consumers on the web.”
“Those caveats aside, an artist’s website generally provides a much broader scope of the work than most gallery sites. In some cases, commercial sites often skew towards displaying available works over possibly better works that have sold. An artist’s website will often have their name as a domain (www.artistname.com), which is a tremendous boost in the organic search engine results. I would highly recommend this type of domain over something clever. It’s also important to remember that a website is not just used by potential buyers. Other audiences include curators, other galleries, artists, students, writers and the list goes on.”
“Contact information on a website is an issue worth discussing as well. There are generally two options for an artist who is working with galleries: list the gallery’s contact info and personal info or just the gallery’s. This again depends on the working relationship with the gallery. If there is a close, collaborative and trusting relationship, let the gallery do their job of fielding inquiries while the artist focuses on making work. If opportunities are slipping through the cracks, the artist should think about taking a more active role. Through contact information, we get to the question of sales. The occasional buyer will attempt to purchase a work directly from an artist through their website, and always at a hefty discount. It’s slippery behavior and the person who does this is probably not a collector that is going to make a long-term positive impact on an artist’s career. Sales inquiries should always be referred back to a gallery.”
“There is also the question of the artist’s blog. I have found this to be a great way for artists to share their work, while building context and community around their practice. I suspect that more and more these blogs will be used as research tools for curators and galleries, especially in compiling group shows. I suppose to sum things up, a website, if done right, can certainly only be helpful.”
There you have it folks, right from the mouths of people in the know. Though they are all anonymous this week, I’d like to thank the dealers who provided clear and thoughtful guidance for this column! Please, don’t anyone whine to me about galleries taking fifty percent and blah blah blah because so far I’ve only encountered people who were not only doing their job but also willing to help me with mine.
I have been out of grad school for about two years now. I feel like I am stuck in a post-MFA funk where I can’t return to a place of pure art making. I seem to have a mental block where I self-critique any new idea I have before I even execute it. Any thoughts on how to get out of this mode of overly critiquing every idea?
This is a problem faced, on and off, by the majority of artists I know. Even if you haven’t gone to grad school you can end up with some choice phrases of negativity rattling around in your brain, and if you have gone through the blast furnace of an MFA program it takes quite a while before the voices in your head are shushed enough for you to get back to work.
That’s not to say that all critique should be silenced. It’s good to be honest with yourself when you’re evaluating your work, but that process should happen mostly after you’re done one piece and before you begin another. If self-criticism is keeping you from moving forward with your work then you have a problem, and if it keeps you from making anything at all then you have a three-alarm fire to put out, because if you’re not making work, what’s there to evaluate? You’ve crashed before you’ve started, and that’s a waste.
Try to identify where the critique is coming from, because it has an origin somewhere. Was there a particular person in school whose criticism stung the most? Or was there someone that you were trying (and maybe failed) to impress? A snide studio mate with some unsolicited “advice” for your practice? This might be one source of emotional-intellectual discontent. Or maybe when you start to really examine what the voice is saying you’ll discover that it’s actually your uptight banker uncle, asking when you’re going to get a real job. Or maybe it’s that parsimonious version of yourself who is inevitably (even if you’re a guy) the bitchiest Mean Girl that ever walked the earth. Whatever, no matter. The point is to try to put a face on this funk. Think of every nagging, petty, ridiculous thing these people are saying: that’s stupid, I don’t get it, it’s been done before by people smarter than you, you don’t have anything to say, your ideas are so boring, you think anyone cares about that? Man, that shit is ugly. And so on. Write it down if you can.
Now accept that these people aren’t actually in the studio. That’s you in there, saying those scary things and playing head games with yourself. By acknowledging that, you take it out of the damaging realm of assumption. It can be difficult to acknowledge all this nasty stuff, but it’s important to bring it out into the open—demons don’t like the light.
You’re creative, so if identifying the basis of this problem doesn’t solve it, try a little mental exercise every time the voices in your head start to get the better of you. Picture these people standing behind you and saying all these smarmy things. Imagine turning up a volume knob so that they are shouting at you, yelling and waving their hands to get your attention. Feel what that feels like for a moment. Does it make you sweat with fear? Do you get angry? Does your stomach knot? That’s okay. Just feel it. Now put your fingers back on the volume knob and slowly start to turn it down. Take a deep breath and keep turning, all the way down until you can barely hear them. Then turn the knob all the way down until it clicks and these people are moving their mouths but no sound is coming out. Do they look ridiculous? How does that feel?
This “place of pure art making” is inside you. It was and always will be inside you, but it was silted up by layers of criticism that you are hanging onto. It’s still there, but you’re going to have to do a bit of work to excavate it. Acknowledge the part that you are responsible for and then do a brave thing: continue to work in spite of it.