The fine art of presenting your work
Art should explain itself. It should be its own reason, its own promoter. Only, it doesn’t and isn’t, not in today’s information-overload world. There is too much art out there for simply excellent work to get noticed. An artist’s oeuvre requires a promotional machine behind it in order to attract an adequate audience.
Sometimes I resent how much energy promotion steals from studio time, but, on my better days, I integrate the marketing aspect of what I do with the rest of it. Since I believe that art isn’t art until it is seen—until someone engages with it—getting an audience is technically part of the creative process!
So far as I can tell, this is what it means to present your work properly:
And do it in a way that flatters your art. A lot of work these days looks better in reproduction than in person. While you don’t want that to be the case with your art, you do want to be able to compete in reproduction.
2) Have all the accoutrements of a professional artist.
This means business cards and postcards to hand out, as well as a viewbook to show off your portfolio at functions (meetings with clients, auctions to which you have donated a piece, etc.) and a website to show it off the rest of the time. Without these promotional bits and pieces, no one will believe that you take your work seriously.
My view book is a small black binder (the simple, inexpensive, vinyl-covered kind) with captioned images printed on card stock.
I started my website when I was still in school, and, while it has changed quite a bit over the years, the basic layout and scheme remains the same…I’m not terribly imaginative that way! Still, the site serves its purpose. My only regret is that, to this day, I am mostly dependent on the WYSIWYG editor that my university promoted in its web design class: I wish I had learned to hand-code html from the beginning.
And I say statements, plural. The idea that your entire oeuvre has to fit into one elegant and inviting paragraph is nonsense. You should know what your oeuvre as a whole is about and be able to sum it up in a sentence or two in order to be able to make work purposefully, but you don’t need to announce it to everyone. After all, if you have to explain to your audience what your art means, then your work isn’t doing what it’s supposed to anyway.
I write separate artist statements for each series I create. I view them as one more piece of art, no more or less important the painted works. With them, I aim to give the audience more access points into the images and concepts.
4) Forget grant-writing.
When I was starting out, I was on the fence about granting bodies. I liked the idea of being recognized for my work in a financial but strictly non-commercial way, but I also had a need to do my thing without feeling beholden to anyone (I am a neurotic DIYer). That said, I did end up applying for a grant in 2005. I was rejected and it made me realize that I was misdirecting my energy.
What an artist needs, first and foremost, is attention, not grant money. Recognition in the press will lead to all sorts of good things, including awards, so press releases are the place to focus writing efforts. Besides being the only way to get reviewed, announcements are an ideal way to practice writing about your work in an engaging—and to the point!—manner. Show journalists and critics how easy and/or vital it would be to write about your series; make them want to tell the story of your work.