Application Sunday, Part XV: An (online) room of our own: The value of having a website when submitting to artist calls

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Every Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I learned from a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: This week I applied for the printmaking residency of the Women’s Studio Workshop. The deadline is today, November 1st, so if you think it is a good fit hurry up!

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XV: An (online) room of our own: The value of having a website when submitting to artist calls

In previous articles I had the chance to talk about methods and tools I use when applying to artist calls in order to make the process more effective. In Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process I share my Essential package strategy that allows me to save time and effort simply by keeping the items requested often in a particular location/folder in my hard drive. In the same article I talk about how one can extract as much value as possible from this tool. In the latest article of the series, The key to the optimal artist call submission, I dissect the elements that define the quality of an artist call submission and explain how one can make the best of their artistic capital when submitting work by adopting a set of habits that soon become second nature.

There is one element though that can prove to be invaluable in this process, the importance of which is nevertheless often overlooked. This element deserves an article all on its own and this is what I will dedicate this week’s post to.

This often undervalued element is the artist’s website. Undervalued by artists themselves, that is. If this weren’t the case, then how come at a time when it is simpler than ever to build a website, there are still so many artists using their profiles on platforms such as facebook or behance as their primary online presence?

Don’t get me wrong, these sites have their own usefulness and place in an artist’s practice. They can be a valuable tool for connecting with other artists as well as for accessing and broadening one’s audience. An artist’s presence on facebook for instance can serve as an informal, more casual platform where he/she can communicate his/her work, curate the work of others by sharing material they themselves find interesting and stimulating, as well as express views and interests of a broader nature, revealing in this way aspects of their personality that often remain hidden within a more formal/professional framework of an artist website.

The ways in which an artist could make the best of something like a facebook profile are numerous and the subject probably deserves a whole post on its own, but an artist’s facebook profile, or any other social media profile for that matter, is not and should not substitute a place online that the artist can call his/her own.

Here is why:

  • Your work as well as the effort (and money) you put into digitizing, organizing and presenting it online should matter more to you than trusting it entirely in the hands of third party platforms. You have no control over these sites and for all you know the material you have painstakingly over time uploaded, say, on your facebook profile, may disappear tomorrow, sucked in a black hole along with the effort and time you have put into it taking with it the professional opportunities you have attached to that online presence. The chance of something like that happening may seem remote to you but there are precedents, when certain material was deemed offending by facebook administrators or, even worse, by some logarithm, and whole profiles were taken down. Furthermore, a sudden change in policy in these platforms, limiting your access to you profile, or even restricting it should not be considered out of the question. As much as we might feel that our profiles in these third party platforms are our own, they are part of someone else’s property. Do we really want to be trusting something as valuable as our online presence as artists entirely to sites controlled by interests foreign from our own?
  • As artists, we have our own aesthetic preferences and identity. Having our own online presence, on a website where we can present our work in a way that resonates with this identity can be infinitely more satisfying and faithful to how we define ourselves than presenting our work in the framework of the ready made aesthetic of a social media platform.
  • Having a website of our own is a powerful tool to spread our artistic vision. It can be an ongoing artistic project on its own, a masterful interface through which our work can be disseminated to all directions. A profile on a social media platform can never be something like  this, because, as mentioned, it is defined by rules and by an aesthetic that we have no control over. It is as different to having one’s own website as renting a room in someone else’s home is to having a place of one’s own.
  • If you aspire to be seen as a professional artist, one that takes their work seriously and devotes to it the resources it deserves, having your own website is crucial. I don’t think it is necessary to explain why having a website, at an address that includes your name (www.myname.com) or the name of your art business, is instrumental in your potential audience taking you and your work seriously.
  • What would you prefer to include in your business card: http://www.facebook.com/profile.yourname or http://www.yourname.com? Unless you want your online address to resemble an ad for facebook, you should be voting for the latter.
  • Being an artist is all about striving to express one’s own voice. This seems incompatible to “posting” your voice into someone else’s domain.

How having your own website can help when submitting to artist calls

I talked about the basic reasons why an artist should communicate their work online through their own site rather than through a profile on a social media platform. Why an artist should have a presence online in the first place should be obvious: If you aspire to get your work out there, reach more audience or be “discovered”, the difference between having an online presence and not having one can be as different as sending a letter in a bottle and sending it by mail – or, even better, by e-mail.

If not only are you an artist but also one that has realized what good submitting work to artist calls can bring to your practice, here are some more reasons why you should have your own website:

  1. There are many cases of artist calls where among the information requested by the artist is the address of his/her website. Again, you wouldn’t want to provide the address of your facebook profile, would you?
  2. Having a website is particularly rewarding when you just have to include your website address in order to communicate your work to the organizer: There are some cases where instead of pictures of works or pdf files of your portfolio, what is required is merely the address of your website/online portfolio. I myself find this simply beautiful, because it means that I can do close to zero extra work for a given submission, knowing I have tended to a good website presence. Also, the very fact that I have a website is what allows me to submit to these particular calls. Some of these calls represent pretty good opportunities sponsored by experienced organizers that understand the significance of an artist website and also want to be sure they extend their call to artists that take themselves seriously.
  3. If you have a website that is an online portfolio, and see to it being updated, then this ongoing project demands from you to be documenting/digitizing your work consistently. That means that while you tend to your website you are also tending to your work’s documentation: This is the number one thing you should be doing if you are interested in submitting work. When a call turns up that is a good fit, you already have your work documented and organized in your hard drive.
  4. More than having your work documented in order to be able to include it on your online portfolio, having a website means that you have reflected over the produced work: You have sat down and written an artist statement outlining elements that recur in your practice , thought about your aspirations, crafted an artist bio and archived past work, giving a name to works that weren’t given one when they were created (or choosing to leave them unnamed) and selecting which works to include in your presentation (therefore which works are most defining) and which ones to leave out. This kind of work pays off in the artist application process: When you have prepared a good, informed and balanced website the basic material you need in an artist call submission is already there.

If you haven’t tended to a personal website yet and are trying to get your work out there I hope that this article has helped to convince you to mend this omission.

What has your own experience taught you about the usefulness of artist sites? If you are in the process of submitting work to artist calls is there a benefit you would add to my four good reasons of having a website when submitting work? If you don’t have a website yet what are your reasons for not having one? Let me know if this article has done something to convince you to get a room of your own!

Featured image: Cover of the Penguin Books edition of “A Room Of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf

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2 thoughts on “Application Sunday, Part XV: An (online) room of our own: The value of having a website when submitting to artist calls

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and information Penelope. I appreciate the time and effort that you put in these writings and I also think it is really generous of you, considering the fact that artists are usually too competitive to share with anyone any “secret” information.

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