Application Sunday, Part XVIII: Crafting the triad of essential texts, part I: The artist’s bio

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

This week’s open call: This week I applied for a residency at Prám Studio in Prague. Here is where I found out about the residency.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVIII: Crafting the triad of essential texts, part I: The artist’s bio

We all pretty much know and understand what a CV or Curriculum Vitae is. Along with the artist statement and artist’s bio, it is part of the triad of essential texts an artist should have available at all times and be sure to keep up to date throughout his/her career. This is especially true and of paramount importance if one is interested in taking the necessary steps that will allow his/her work to reach a broader public.

Out of the 4-5 standard elements that are almost always requested when submitting work for an artist opportunity, the CV, the artist statement and the bio are the ones that, if crafted well, have a long shelf life: They can be of use to the artist for a long time without major revisions being necessary. That is why it is important to craft these texts well, “scientifically” so to speak. You don’t want to be going back every month and rewriting your CV and bio, or your artist statement for that matter, from scratch. You need to have 3 solid texts, conceptually as well as in terms of language, which represent you and your practice. Of course there is the possibility of you being reborn at some point as a new man/woman and artist; this is not unlikely, but chances are this will happen 2-3 times in an artist’s lifetime at most. If this happens, yes, you will probably have to write these texts again from scratch, but even then you will most likely want to keep the basic elements of your CV and bio in place.

So if you were thinking that it is about time you sat down and wrote your triad of texts, a chore you have been postponing at the expense of your work for too long, read on: While all three texts have their own special difficulties when being crafted, the bio seems to present the greatest challenges. And this is what we are going to start with. This article aspires to render the process of crafting an artist‘s bio a little easier.

What is an artist’s bio?

An artist‘s bio, sometimes also referred to as a biography, is a running text, as opposed to the bullet form text of the CV, meant to offer a short presentation of the artist and his/her work, a sort of rough sketch’ of what the artist is all about. It should include elements from the artist’s formal education, or mention whether he/she is self-taught, major accomplishments that have marked his/her career (a grant, distinction or award), solo or important group exhibitions his/her work has been presented in, major collections that include his/her work and other possible pivotal elements that provide the outline of one’s career. In short, it should feature the highlights of the artist CV. But an artist’s bio is more than that.

A bio is meant to be something more than a summary presentation of an artist’s formal credentials: It should offer an insight into the artist’s practice, into what can be seen as the essence of his/her work as opposed to the formal qualifications gathered along the way. In a way, the artist‘s bio lies closer to the purely creative concerns an artist may have. It can be rich and engaging even when the formal qualifications are few, something that is not the case for the CV: Meant to focus on the formal qualifications and accomplishments, the “strength” of a CV is significantly compromised when these are hard to come by.

Hence many artists’ concern, if not anxiety, to be constantly participating in exhibitions, or other kind of events related to their practice (lectures, workshops, residencies, etc.), or else suffer what they fear to be an irreparable “hole” in their CV, a year with no exhibitions for instance; Something that, in an increasingly competitive landscape and in the framework of a technocratic mindset from which artists are not immune, seems at times purely terrifying.

The artist’s bio on the other hand, a text that marries elements from the artist statement and the CV, is much more forgiving: It is ok if it is very short – as a matter of fact this is often preferred – and a significant part of it can refer to purely artistic concerns and aspirations. That is why it is all the more important not to undermine the value a good bio can provide us with. Craft it with gusto and craft it well!

The correct approach: Step into the reader’s shoes

All great endeavors rely on this: Start with the correct methodological approach. What is the purpose of a bio? To whom is it addressed? Consider the answers to these questions before beginning to compose your bio.

The whole purpose of a bio is to convey a certain body of information regarding the artist and his/her work to the reader. More than that, we want this information to have the desired impact on the reader. We want the reader to be intrigued and become motivated to know more about the artist and his/her work. To do that, we have to meet the reader halfway.

In a way, the reader is at the same time the text’s end, literally and metaphorically. Catering to the reader’s needs and expectations is catering to the effectiveness of our bio: Step into your reader’s shoes.

Stepping into the reader’s shoes means crafting a text that meets the expectations and tastes of your average audience. Usually, especially when referring to bios that are sent along with artist submissions to organizers of artist opportunities (gallerists, curators, etc.), that means people that generally know what is to be expected from an artist‘s bio and have extensive experience reading this kind of text.

But also, stepping into the reader’s shoes means trying to meet any given individual’s usual expectations and tastes, not only the specialist’s: And this is quite simple to trace; Just ask yourself what you are usually annoyed by when reading an artist‘s bio or what it is that you love most, in language, content, as well as style. Nobody likes someone who is full of him/herself and almost everyone likes simple easy-to-understand language.

What to avoid and suggested practices

Once you are convinced that you should strive to meet your readers halfway, maybe I can convince you to look closer into what it is that you should avoid and what practices you would be best advised (according to my personal view and experience) to follow when crafting your bio.

The following list cautions on errors that I myself have made along the way as well as some that I have seen other artists commit. The best practices presented I have chiefly been inspired to suggest after seeing them demonstrated by established or elegantly emerging artists:

  1. Don’t oversell yourself. Because of the importance of this text as a first contact to an artist’s work, artists tend to oversell themselves. As a result, instead of attracting, they manage to repel the reader because, as mentioned above, nobody likes someone who is full of themselves. And even if you as a person are modest, that won’t make much of a difference in the end if you have written a text that conveys a different message (I have seen it done). Given that most people reading the text won’t know you personally, what is important here is what image of you the text betrays. Read your bio from the viewpoint of a stranger and see if you like its tone. If you find this difficult, give it to a close friend to read who you know will tell you the truth no matter what.
  2. Emphasis on good use of language. Ok, so you have some excuses. Your native tongue is other than English and on top of this, you are an artist, meaning you and words don’t get along that much. Well, guess what: These excuses do not make a difference when the words are read and they shouldn’t either when you are preparing your final draft. If you feel unsure about your English, commission a translator to proofread your text. In the age of the Internet, it is easier than ever to find help on that. The fee is not as high as you might think and this is a one-time expense that will go a long way. Good language will allow the meaning you wish to convey to shine through. Also the opposite: bad language will not only stand in the way of your message, but it will most certainly be seen as sloppy and a lack of professionalism. And many people tend to believe that when one demonstrates this in a given field, they are likely to demonstrate it in other fields as well (and that includes your artistic practice).
  3. Be concise, short is beautiful. Sometimes a bio, especially when it is referred to as a biography, can be relatively long, usually though not longer than one page. When it comes to artist submissions, always be attentive to whether a word limit is provided. Usually, especially when there is no word limit provided, a bio is expected to be short, no longer than 3 paragraphs or half a page. For this reason, you should try to be concise. You do not want to tire the reader, you want to offer basic information and generate interest. Brevity is a good recipe for that. Don’t forget that the bio is meant to offer a first glimpse into your practice. The reader can go to your CV and to the artist statement afterwards for a more in-depth view of your practice (let’s not forget about your portfolio).
  4. Stick to the facts. Instead of using adjectives such as “renowned” to describe yourself, allow the adjective to emerge in the reader’s mind by mentioning distinctions or awards, or other major accomplishments. Otherwise, again, you run the risk of being regarded as pretentious and falling into the boring cliché of the artist who is full of him/herself.
  5. Even in matters of conviction stick to the facts. This is not a manifesto. Yes, you can include elements that would look just as good in your artist statement, but again isn’t it better to allow these elements of artistic convictions to emerge from what you practice? Instead of stating what you “stand for” in art, why not mention something about the body of work you are presently working on, its subject matter and connotations? Talking about your convictions in your bio, or artist statement for that matter, without supporting these statements with references that apply to your practice, can easily be perceived as empty words aimed merely to create an impression.
  6. Watch your style. Do not sound like Augustus Caesar. Try to avoid repeatedly referring to yourself in the third person. Modesty is the best policy.
  7. Use plain English and craft sentences that, ideally, even a small child can grasp. Nobody (but some exceedingly zealous philosophy teachers or some members of the “art crowd” looking to mask their ignorance) likes overly technical language. Stick to terms everyone knows and understands. Using complicated terms and making elaborately long sentences that are hard to grasp don’t make you or your work more interesting. You don’t want the reader to lose interest and jump ship halfway.

These are a few insights I have come to obtain over time on the subject of the artist‘s bio. What has your experience taught you? Would you add any tip of your own that could be helpful when crafting a bio? Has your experience taught you something that opposes one or more of the above suggestions and cautions? Has your experience confirmed one or more of them? An artist’s bio is a complicated matter and a discussion that would stand to benefit from everyone’s experience.

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Composition IV, fabric on fabric, 12 x 6 cm, 2009

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APPLICATION SUNDAY, PART XVII: Artists, defend your right to exist

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

This week’s open call: This week I got to apply to more than one artist calls. Here is one addressed to artists internationally: ZARYA Artist Residency, Vladivostok. The deadline is on November 30, so check it out and if you find it to be a good fit send in your submission!

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVII: Artists, defend your right to exist

Within the province of our ephemeral flesh all of God is imperiled. He cannot be saved unless we save him with our own struggles; nor can we be saved unless he is saved.

The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises, by Nikos Kazantzakis, Translated by Kimon Friar

In a recent conversation I had with an artist friend, we were talking about the difficulty of making any money as artists and agreeing on how frustrating it is to be around the age of 40 and still unable to achieve any kind of financial stability or independence. My friend expressed his frustration and regret that we, as artists, don’t get to participate in social and economic life the way the other “normal” people do, and instead are doomed to live like outcasts, creative but not productive. Our predicament is juxtaposed with the fortune of  “honest working people”, those that do some kind of work for just reward. Such people get to “exist”, both in terms of survival (it really is not financially viable to be an artist) and socially, through the material validation of their activity by society.

Now, I know that my friend spends hours on end in his workshop and is one of the most “honest working people” I know. He is creative and by definition, this also means productive. Or does it?

How does society view productivity?

Being productive in our society and in every society for that matter is perceived primarily as producing something valued (and rewarded for it) by society. Naturally, if one is productive in splitting hairs or in counting grains of rice and keeping a record of this, this isn’t something society can be expected to regard as useful, so this kind of productivity is rather regarded as idiocy. I do not think you can find a society that would defend the value of such work, its usefulness to the whole, and that would be willing to reward the rice counting worker for his/her labor.

The equation in our societies is quite clear: The proof of value is reward and the meaning of reward is value.

What about artists? How does the artist’s labor fit into this equation? How come hard working artists that do meaningful work encounter such difficulty in their work being valued and their labor rewarded? I am not talking here about charlatans who nearly always manage to get rewarded. But then, they perform a valuable service: They provide spectacle. 

The exception for art to society’s equation of productivity and its consequences

If there exists a common understanding that art and artists are performing a valuable task, primarily by keeping society from a spiritual and political regression towards the Dark Ages (a place we are headed back to with increasing speed), why then is there an “exception” from the above mentioned equation?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking here about state protectionism, where the artist, no matter what he/she produces, even when this something is merda d’artista (Manzoni’s work nevertheless could be regarded as meaningful at the time), has a salary rolling in every month from the state.

I am talking about society generating real life opportunities for artists to sell their work or be rewarded for their services by merit. The inexistence of such a policy towards art and artists and the fact that they seem to be condemned to remain outside the financial arena, agonizing to make ends meet, often to the point of deprivation, often makes artists feel inferior even when they compare themselves to the most humble of unskilled laborers.

And this conditioning of artists to feel bad about themselves and about their profession is naturally reinforced by their social environment. Time after time, the artist is told, sometimes in a direct, other times in a more subtle way (I do not know which is worse) that they are an anomaly. It is common knowledge that for better or for worse, man is a social animal and whatever notion a society has about a group or an individual, eventually, if this notion is repeatedly expressed in behavioral patterns (as it usually is) towards the said group or individual, it will most likely be internalized. Eventually the individual’s or group’s idea about themselves will mirror society’s verdict.

With time, almost inescapably, artists are bludgeoned into adhering to society’s verdict: They don’t do real work. And this adherence, conscious or not, contaminates them with self-doubt, guilt, and finally, a general feeling of worthlessness.

Is there an alternative to the artist’s dark basement?

I admit it is naive to ask for an exception to society’s all mighty laws. As is the case for education, in order for a just policy to exist for art and artists, society needs to change as a whole, and steer its objectives towards the betterment of men rather than the augmentation of a minority’s power and bank accounts. If this is too much to ask, or at least something not likely to happen in our lifetimes, one has to inquire whether there is an escape we artists can carve for ourselves regardless. I believe there is.

Below I present the duties we are faced with if we want to see ourselves and our work emerge out of obscurity and marginalization.  

First duty: Liberate your consciousness

The first thing we need to do is disengage ourselves from the socially prevailing notion that what we do is not work. Many of our woes come from the fact that, to a smaller or greater extent, we have internalized society’s dismissal of art’s inherent value and consequently the value of our labor. We need to realize that art and artists, at least the kind that matters, always went against the grain and were seldom acknowledged as something or someone of value (certainly not something to pay good money for) by society at the time the work was produced. That doesn’t have to mean that we must wait until the afterlife for our work to be acknowledged.

Second Duty: Defend your work

It should be common understanding that no one is going to “discover” you out of the blue, without you taking some steps to get your art out into the world. Nevertheless, I am always surprised to see how rare it is to see artists backing this rational fact with actions. If you believe in your work, then it should be a sort of ideological statement of yourself, one that you are committed to defend no matter what the adversities are. Defend your art as if it were your religion or ideology.

That means defending it inside and outside the workshop.

Spending countless hours producing your work should be your primary activity but this doesn’t do much for the work itself (or for you for that matter) in the end if you are avoiding the, admittedly, tedious, task of reaching out.

Third Duty: Defend your work in the face of “authority” and do not despair at “failures”

Again, defend your work! Maybe you have had a series of “failures”, maybe no authority you have reached out to until now seems to give a damn about what you do. If you do though, you have to keep propagating, disseminating that is, your work. You have to act like you are your work’s greatest supporter and believe that, more likely than not, eventually the world will catch up.

Recently a major publication offered to publish my work. This is what the publication’s editor told me when I expressed my appreciation: “This is how it goes, when you reach out you may inspire someone”. And I did. All I had to do was stick by my work and send that submission out.

Fourth Duty: Follow your own value system

Don’t back down on your pivotal values and principles in order to “be accepted” into the “crowd” or out of fear that you will miss out on “an opportunity”.

This shouldn’t have to be backed with a phrase of wisdom but I will mention something that exemplifies this point pretty powerfully to my mind. Patti Smith has stated that one of the most valuable pieces of advice given to her was this one by William S. Burroughs:

Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.

Fifth duty: Pass on the knowledge

Never forget that socially, the artist is not an isolated entity. What happens to artists as a whole, sooner or later, one way or another, will affect you as well. And that artists’ well being depends greatly on the sense of solidarity between themselves within a given society. Now, solidarity is one of the last things that this society propagates and is interested in preserving since it is considered a potential danger to all types of unjust, antisocial policies. When all sorts of authorities practice divide and conquer, it is up to the spiritual world first and foremost to defend solidarity with actions.

Share your knowledge and lessons you’ve learned along the way. This will create community, a condition from which everyone involved stands to benefit and which, at the same time, will weaken the powers that keep us in a state of deprivation. We can actually change our condition. But for that, we have to believe that our work and our world are worth fighting for.

UPDATE: A few months after I wrote this article, a new idea was born, meant to provide artists with a useful tool to sustain their practice. I now see this piece as a prelude to this idea. You can follow the effort of creating a new kind of art patronage platform for artists and art lovers by following this blog. You can also:

And if you wish to know the basic outlines of this new idea, you can start form here: New Art Patronage Model

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Le Rebelle, print, 94 x 110 cm, 2006

Change of pace

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I hope you had a nice Sunday. I would like to let you know that from now on I will be publishing my Sunday series every second week rather than each Sunday as I have been doing until now. So stay tuned for the next article, coupled with the weekly open call, to be published next Sunday.

But since I am here, in case you were looking forward to this week’s open call, here it is: This week I submitted work for the Arte Laguna Prize. Deadline is November 18th so if you find it to be a good fit, hurry up!

Featured image: Metamorphosis/Montreal, Sequence 2, elements 9 and 10, digital, 2015

Application Sunday, Part XVI: The one artist opportunity you can determine the outcome of

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What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XVI: The one artist opportunity you can determine the outcome of

As I have tried to demonstrate in this series of articles, not all artist opportunities are created equal. There are the opportunities that one should be pursuing, those that aim in providing value to both the organizer and the artist, and there are also the “wrong” kind, one would be better off avoiding: These are the ones designed to accommodate the organizer’s short sighted objectives, with no particular consideration to the artist’s specific needs or to the conditions required by the artwork itself in order for it to be presented correctly. In The good, the bad and the ugly of a London show, using the example of a personal experience, I make the distinction between these two kinds of opportunities and point out the things one should be looking out for when evaluating whether an opportunity is worth the trouble. 

The question when we realize that we have swallowed the bait of the wrong kind of opportunity is this: Is there something that can be gained regardless? Something that can be pursued every single time by the artist and that its outcome depends almost entirely on him/her?

This is what I will devote today’s article to.

The one thing that can always be gained from any kind of opportunity

In the article mentioned above I talk about what was gained from that opportunity regardless: How my work evolved by trying to overcome the difficulties of transporting it to another country, how this whole thing was ultimately a precious experience for me that provided me with valuable lessons, and most importantly how through this “low value” opportunity I met a couple of artists with whom I have a valuable exchange to this day.

Any kind of opportunity can open the door for another, one that is often not valued enough by most artists: Crossing one’s path with that of other artists.

“International” artist opportunities in particular that involve multiple artists, such as the London show mentioned in the aforementioned article, or one I experienced some months earlier than that, that involved a group show of six artists of different nationalities in Berlin, are particularly interesting in this respect: In cases like these, one crosses paths with artists that often have very different backgrounds and experiences than his/her own and view things from a different perspective. They live and work in an environment different than the one we have experience of, they are faced by challenges that in many ways are radically different than what we are facing and at the same time there is one major thing in common: We are artists of the same generation, facing the same problems and presented with the same opportunities on a global scale. At that moment in time our paths cross and for one reason or another we end up participating in the same exhibition or collaborating in the same project. After this is over we will most likely withdraw to the solitary existence of our workshop.

Don’t you think that we owe it to ourselves to try and see these individuals, to try to actually meet them, or at least establish some kind of connection, before our paths take their own course again?

One would think that this understanding should be there, especially in the case of emerging artists, whose limited experience should propel them almost as a form of survival instinct to reach to other artists, share experiences and support each other any way they can. Anyone with common sense can make out that artists have everything to gain from such a culture of sharing. Nevertheless, anyone with minor observational skills can equally make out that among most artists presides a culture of alienation, following a notion of scarcity, rather than one of sharing, based on a notion of abundance.

The effects of this scarcity mentality over the artists’ lives and chances of survival, both physical and creative, as well as the reasons for it, is a big chapter that deserves an article all on its own. What interests us here is that this feeling that “there is not enough for all of us” coupled with the alienation present in all human activities in contemporary society (yes, artists suffer from that too) contribute to us artists often missing the greatest opportunity of them all, one that is present in each and every case of a so called “artist opportunity”:  Connecting with other artists.

If our paths cross

Maybe the next opportunity we both succeed in brings us together. Here are some ways in which you can make connection:

  • We are at the end of a long day, just having concluded setting up our works, that – what are the odds? – will be exhibited almost side by side. You could ask whether I would be interested in winding down while hanging out over a glass of beer. Or just be open to my suggestion if it comes up (I won’t steal any big career secrets from you, I promise!)

  • We are both setting up our works in the gallery or art space. I am having trouble with a tough piece of concrete that won’t back down to my hammer & nail attacks. You could offer to give me a hand. If you happen to be a man, I myself, as well as most women, will not prove to be such a radical feminist that this offer would make me feel degraded or insult me in any way. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

  • We are (again, since this is a standard occasion) setting up our works together and you happen to have your birthday. You could show up in the gallery with a box of treats for everyone to share and celebrate the occasion. This I have actually impulsively done myself with a box of delicious Berlin cinnamon buns last year. It is a Greek custom to bring sweets to friends or colleagues (or classmates) on one’s birthday or name day. That morning in the gallery when encountering the other artists for the first time, this gesture and the cinnamon bun sweetness proved to be an instant ice breaker.

  • We are both there at the opening of the show. Of our show! You could express an interest in learning more about my work, or ask me whether I would be interested to tour the gallery and view the result of our collective effort together.

  • The show, or project, is over. There are things that you are unsure of, whether they went well or bad, or could use some help in evaluating the experience. Reach out. Ask me how I found it all and share your own impressions. We will both come out of the exchange enriched and with a valuable different perspective added to our own.

  • Again, the show or project we both participated in is over and done with. You have some very clear views on it. Maybe you were disappointed in some aspects, or you drew some valuable lessons from the whole experience. Again, reach out and share these insights somehow. They could be valuable to me as well. If you happen to have written an article on your blog or elsewhere describing your experience from the opportunity we both participated in, please go ahead and send me a link, even if we didn’t have the chance to meet during the show. This also happens to be something that I actually did, after the London group show. The participants of the show were no fewer than sixty, a number that was at the expense of the show’s quality, but that when I decided to reach out to the other artists, share my experience through the article and ask for their feedback, turned out as something good. This large number of artists competing for a favorable spot in the limited gallery space was also a large potential number of fellow artists I could connect with.

A question to think about

Of course there are these cases where, due to objective difficulties, we are not be able to meet the other artists that participate in a group show or a project. Maybe we cannot afford the airfare and the surplus living expenses at that point or cannot leave home due to other engagements. Having to send the artwork at a show unaccompanied is something an artist often has to do. But when we are able to travel, or, even better, when the event takes place at home, how do we manage to make the best of it?

What is there to gain goes far beyond the standard benefits one can expect from what is commonly regarded as “the good kind” of artist opportunity, a successful show or project. The question is: Are we ready and willing to make the best of the single kind of artist opportunity we ourselves can determine the outcome of?

How do you view this crucial part of artist opportunities? Do you try to make the best of crossing paths with other artists? Have you come across individuals that were particularly charismatic in connecting with other artists? What did you learn from them? Has your outlook about the matter changed over time? To what direction?

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Sequence ITypographic ink on paper, 100 x 100 cm, 2005

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

Application Sunday, Part XIV: The key to the optimal artist call submission

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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 to the project kaos open call (in Greek).

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XIV: The key to the optimal artist call submission

In last week’s article Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process I shared the method I have come up with in order to save time and be more effective when submitting work to artist calls.

Adopting a tool like my “Essential package”, a folder in my computer where all the essential elements that are frequently required by an artist call are placed, is invaluable. It makes things easier and takes some of the complexity off the whole process.

What defines a successful application process is managing to submit work consistently and in a way that the work you have created thus far can serve as leverage to propel your career forward, rather than just keep piling up in your workshop. Building your Essential package is only part of a strategy that can contribute to this desirable outcome.

The key element to a successful application process

Out of the things that lay within our control, there are three basic factors that are instrumental in having a favorable outcome from an artist call submission:

  1. The quality of the work we submit

  2. The quality of our application material, including the artist statement, the bio, a project or work description, etc.

  3. The compatibility of our work to the nature of the artist call: Applying to calls that aren’t a good match for our work is a waste of time.

And then there is one thing we can do that can bring these things together and make their value shine through and can act as a catalyst, raising our success rates significantly: Adopting a system

Having a system in place when applying to artist calls can be the difference between an optimal and an adequate artist submission, optimal being one that allows for our artistic “capital” to shine. This can be the difference between success and rejection.

Sure, an optimal submission is not guaranteed to turn into a successful one but it certainly stands a better chance than one that is merely adequate.

Here are some reasons why applying with a system can be more effective than applying without one:

  • Less stress. When one has a system in place things are more under control and this sense of confidence in regard to how one can manage the application process reduces the usual stress/anxiety when confronted with the task.
  • Less time spent applying. It is natural that when a system is installed in a task that we aim to be doing repeatedly we become more effective in completing it and therefore faster. We can now spent more time in the core of our practice that should be our workshop.
  • More submissions. Making applying faster means that we can apply to more calls if desired.
  • Morale boosting. Ultimately, managing to apply more effectively, that is, faster and with higher success rates, will most probably lead to more successes. In time you will start to feel confident in your own capacity in getting your work out there and acquire a stronger sense of control. This feeling of control is bound to uplift your morale and it is a sense that cannot but affect the work you do in the studio as well. You will be able to work more calmly and with more focus in the studio when you feel that you have the skills to get your work out there.

Applying with a system: My interpretation

Applying with a system can mean a lot of different things to different people. For some the famous Shakespearean There is a method in my madness may be a good fit and furnish results.

My interpretation though is somewhat more conservative: Having a system to me means managing to keep the individual elements that make for a successful application process as much under my control as possible. Again, we are referring here to the elements that can be under our control and not to those that lie in the control of the organizer or even chance. We cannot be stressing about whether we are going to be selected once we have sent out an optimal submission.

Having seen that it indeed furnishes results I would like to propose here the five basic characteristics of the system I myself have in place.:

  1. Periodicity. Determine every how often you want a submission sent out and then be strict about keeping that periodical activity in place. The key here is to set a realistic goal and stick to it. After a while it will become second nature. For me this frequency is 1 submission/week. Sometimes I manage to send out more, but I try to never send less. Periodicity also refers to other essential activities connected to the process, like checking the latest calls that are posted on certain artist call sites you have come to trust.

  2. Keeping the application material that is requested often in one place and updated. This has to do with the practice of the Essential package. Allow me to refer you to this article.

  3. Keeping a record. Make a habit out of documenting the basic elements of your application process. Have a document on Evernote, Google drive, or another application were you include each call you apply to in chronological order along with basic information about it such as the date you sent that submission out, whether you applied by e-mail, through a submission form or by regular mail, the artist call site you found the announcement on, etc.

  4. Creating an archive. Create a folder in your hard drive where you place the application material you sent out each time, organized chronologically. For example, I have a folder called “2015”, and in it individual folders that refer to each month. Into “September” I have 5 individual folders referring to the 5 submissions I sent out that month. The folders have the name of the artist call or its organizer, something that I can identify it by preceded by a number, from 1 to 5, indicating the order at which I sent out the applications. Creating an archive is invaluable for many reasons (I am certain I haven’t found all of them yet, but I try to be ready when I do), if not only for making it easy on yourself to find that amazing project description you had crafted that could be the basis for the one you wish to send out next.

  5. Assessment. Assessment is essential in advancing in all activities and overcoming obstacles and this is the case here too. Keeping a record and creating an archive will be instrumental in you being able to make an assessment when you deem it necessary. Maybe you are rejected way too often and you wish to look into what you may be doing wrong or what practice can use some improvement. Checking the compatibility factor that we talked about earlier, you may find that what you should be more careful about applying to calls that are a good fit for your work. Maybe by inspecting the data in your spreadsheet where you include information about the submissions you send out you see that an artist call site recurs way too often as a source for the calls you apply to, which leads you to reach to the conclusion that perhaps you should diversify and/or expand your sources.

Do you follow any particular system or strategy in your application process you would like to share and maybe recommend to other artists? Is there an element you would like to add to my five system components, one that maybe you have tried and have found effective?

Application Sunday, Part XIII: Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process

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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 a residency  in Studio Prám in Prague, Czech Republic.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XIII: Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process

If one is set on submitting work to artist calls consistently, a practice I have come to fully recommend, they are soon bound to come to the realization that this process can be particularly time consuming. This post is about speeding things up by adding a particular kind of automation in the mix.

The time consuming nature of the application process can be especially frustrating for artists with plenty of personal engagements. Combined with the time they need to spend in the workshop there aren’t too many hours left to spare for what is often considered to be a secondary activity: Applying to artist calls. Inevitably, this can end up being regarded as a luxury. It shouldn’t though, as applying to artist calls is an essential step in getting our work out there, and doesn’t have to be.

After a year of submitting to artist calls consistently I was in desperate need to speed things up and make applying faster and more painless. This was not even a fully conscious resolution. Instinctively, after some time and experience applying I resorted to a personal method that would save me some time every time I submitted my work to be considered for an exhibition, feature, residency, etc. This was deemed necessary if I was to achieve in making this process a permanent ingredient of my professional practice. It has been nearly two years now since I embarked on this journey and I am convinced that, as simple and intuitive as it may be, this method played its part in me managing to make this process a task I tend to regularly and with increasing success.

Crafting an application database

As I mentioned the method I came up with is simple and intuitive, and by now it is so integrated into my application process, that it feels like it is invisible. And even though I have to assume that plenty of artists have come up with a method similar to mine in trying to make applying to artist calls more effortless and effective, I am also convinced that there are just as many struggling with the time consuming nature of the process that at times can bring one at the brink of throwing in the towel: Try this method first before you call it quits.

My method was based of this observation: However rare it may be for two sets of application material requested in an artist call to be identical, there is a particular set of items requested by virtually every single call. And then, there is another set that one can expect to bump onto regularly as well, but that one not so often.

Items like our CV and artist statement come first on the most wanted requested material list. These are the ones required by virtually any artist call we may wish to submit work to. Samples of work, or portfolio, is something almost always requested as well, but the content of this item may vary according to the nature of the artist call and of the project proposal. The latter is usually requested by artist residency calls and refers to the proposed plan of work we wish to take up during the time of the residency. Then there are the references, or letters of recommendation, usually require when applying for a grant or a particular kind of artist residency.

This repeating pattern of a set of items being requested time and time again led me to come up with this very simple solution that cumulatively saved me a significant amount of time: I created a particular location in my hard drive, a folder I called “Essential package” where I placed them. Each time one or more of these items, deemed “essential” because of their recurring presence in the application process, was requested all I had to do is retrieve them from that particular location. This, as different as one artist call and the set of items it requests may be, took part of the load off this process off my back, all with the magic a little bit of organizing can do!

Here is the list of items/folders located in my Essential package folder:

  • Artist statements. Here I place my artist statements in individual word documents. I include the date each artist statement was written in the document’s title. This also serves as a record of the evolution of my practice and my understanding of it.

  • CV and Bio. Documents of my curriculum vitae and my bio. Every time I renew my CV significantly or alter my bio I include new documents with these latest versions, adding the date in the title. I do not erase the older versions, as they may be contain phrases that I may want to rework and use in the future. I prefer to have my CV in all three forms: Word document, Indesign, pdf. This way I can accommodate the different requirements of every artist call easily. I keep bios of different lengths in this folder, as the word count requested for this text may vary. The same goes for my CV: There are calls that specifically ask for it to be no longer than 2 pages, but also calls that set no such limit. I keep versions for both these cases.

  • Descriptions. In this folder I include word documents with descriptions of works I include often in my submissions. For each work I include a longer along with a shorter description in the same document, as often there is a tight word count for descriptions, especially ins the case of application forms.

  • Exhibition material. Material related to past exhibitions, like invitations or catalogs.

  • Feature screenshots. Screenshots of online publications, blogs, etc. that have featured my work.

  • Portfolios. Portfolios of works that I have previously prepared and submitted for a certain call. Sometimes the same portfolio can be submitted to a different call, with minor changes. In order to be able to make these changes easily, I keep the open Indesign document I have formatted the portfolio as well as the pdf.

  • Portraits. For the artist calls that require an artist photograph, I keep a set of different portraits/photographs, each one in two versions, large and small, in order to facilitate retrieving the best fir every time.

  • References. Every time I receive a letter of recommendation I include it in this folder. I also include a word document with my references since there are organizers that only require the names and contact information of 2-3 individuals familiar with my work.

  • Reviews-texts. Here I include any texts relevant to my work, like past interviews.

How to make the best of the Essential package

If you are now ready and willing to create your own Essential package folder, allow me to leave you with two things I regularly do in order to keep mine up to date and functional:

  1. Renew. Working on your applications, advancing in your practice as an artist, you will see that these items sooner or later become obsolete: New material needs to be added to your CV, your artist statement may need some refreshing in order to follow new concepts emerging in your work, new descriptions need to be crafted as new work is created that you may want to include in your submissions, etc. The advancements and changes occuring in your practice need to be reflected in the contents of the Essential package. This is the only way this tool can remain functional and serve its purpose to the maximum.

  2. Review. As you advance on your application practice you may see new patterns emerging. I myself did not come up with this set of items all at once., but rather added new items gradually as I realized that they were recurring in my application process and so including them in this database and make them more accessible would make my life easier.

Do you have any methods-tools of your own to combat the time consuming nature of the application process? Would your Essential package include any other elements you don’t see in mine? As always, I hope this article serves as a starting point for a valuable exchange of experience.

Application Sunday, Part XII: Rejected by the artist: Submission approved? Make sure you approve back

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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 submitted work for the Paradise AIR Short Stay Program in Matsudo, Japan.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XII: Rejected by the artist: Submission approved? Make sure you approve back

The sting is in the tail

In Publish my work? Thanks but no thanks: A vanity publication cautionary tale I share my experience of rejecting a publication “opportunity” after my submission was accepted. As the applications, and with them the rejections and successes pile up, one thing becomes more and more clear:

If you need to be cautious about applying to the right kind of opportunity, you need to be doubly cautious about acting on a given success. More often than not the “award” is a double edged sword.

My submission was accepted? Now answer these questions

Thank you for your email and interest in our project. We would be delighted to have both “Le Rebelle” and “Ce qui est créé par l’esprit est plus vivant que la matière” as part of our collection. Please see below an overview on the project and details on how to submit all physical work which is due in by Friday 16th October 2015.

Fifteen days ago I received an e-mail in response to a submission I had sent out in order to have two of my artist books placed in an “artist run, independent bookstore” in London. My first reaction on receiving this message, the opening lines of which you can read above, was of course one of joy and relief: My books, in a storage box for years, would at last be taken out of oblivion and seen by the public, potentially also bought.

Since the page the initial artist call had pointed me to was devoid of any actual indication about what the place where the books would be exhibited would be like (no photograph of the place or any other substantial information), I thought I would do some research of my own and see what this “artist run bookstore” might be like before actually sending my books out. Here is what I found: The place seemed to be nothing more than a cafe-bakery. Some cultural events had indeed been organized there, such as readings, but there was no evidence of the existence of an independent space, separate from the room where the lattes and the cakes were being served, suitable for hosting such sensitive material as artists books. Hmmm…this didn’t seem right.

I could picture my books being placed on a table in the same room where food and drinks were being consumed, openly exposed to dirty fingers that had just grabbed a cinnamon bun, or transported on a table full of coffee mugs and sweets, to be viewed at leisure by one of the cafe’s customers.

My initial enthusiasm was in grave danger of extinction. Since I couldn’t find any evidence online that there actually was a separate room in the establishment suitable for books (more than that, suitable for artist books), I decided I had to have some questions answered by the organizers before I acted on their “approval”.

Before I started writing my e-mail to them in order to inquire about the way the books would be handled, I read the e-mail they had sent me once again. This is when I realized that the “reward” of having my books showcased by their bookstore came at a price, one I had not paid much attention to before: We are delighted, the message read, to have your books as part of our collection. Part of their collection? I couldn’t remember reading such a clause in the open call published by the organizers, the one I sent my submission in response to. I reloaded the initial open call on my computer screen and read it again just to make sure. Their call simply stated that they were “looking for independently published artists/writers/poets who would like the opportunity to sell works directly through the space”. And also that the participating artists would have the opportunity to present their work through an event in their space, something that seemed like an opportunity I would gladly fly to London for. But there was no mention of any donation of artworks to any collection. Things started to look even more ominous. At this point my enthusiasm disappeared and gave way to a sense of astonishment at their gall: Did they really think they would be able to pull this off? What was their intention with this strategy? “Serve” the artist an e-mail of acceptance, catching him/her off guard and add that they would be “delighted” to have the artworks in their collection, a “detail” mentioned then for the first time? The whole thing seemed like a comedy, and a very bad one, being played, as usual, at the expense of the artist.

By then I was almost certain that this was no success to be enthusiastic about. Nevertheless, I thought, if the space was suitable for hosting artworks, having even one of my books shown at a central London location, potentially sold, and also being given the opportunity to make a presentation on my work to the public was probably worth donating a copy of one of my books – I was not going to donate copies of both though; These were valuable limited edition books and the price of having copies of both being donated for something like this just seemed too high. Especially since I was being “served “ the “donation” detail at the last moment. So I decided instead of being entirely dismissive at that point, to go ahead and write them that e-mail, including in it all the questions I needed answered before deciding on whether I would take them up on their offer.

As I was writing the e-mail new questions popped up I had not thought about previously. I was surprised to realize for example that in their e-mail there was no mention of how long the books would be kept in the bookstore before being sent back to the artist. Was it expected that they would remain there indefinitely, until they were sold (or destroyed)? Also, no mention of who would cover the costs of delivery for the books. By that point I felt I didn’t have much to lose, I had realized that there was more at stake if the whole operation was a poorly organized one than if I was “rejected” for asking too many questions, so I wasn’t going to hold back on any of my concerns. After all, if my concerns concerned them, that would be a definite sign that this was not a suitable venue to trust my work with.

This is the e-mail I sent them:

Dear …,

I am very glad that my two artist books have been accepted to be featured. This seems like an exceptional opportunity to communicate and potentially also be able to sell my work. I also find the prospect of a presentation there related to the books a very good one. Before I sent my books, I have some questions I would like to ask:

– The factor of donation to the bookstore’s collection was not included in the initial call and I would like to know more on how that would work: In order for both of my books to be showcased in the bookstore would you require a copy of each one to be donated to your collection?

– Along with the copies I will send to be featured and possibly sold in your venue, will I be sending additional copies for your collection?

– What would be the setup-style of the exhibition/bookstore? How would the books be presented? Would the visitors be able to freely leaf through the books, with no particular protective measures (like gloves)? I am interested in the framework of the works’ presentation because of their archival characteristics. The book Le Rebelle can also be presented as an installation, an open standalone accordion, which is how I had exhibited it in my School of Fine Arts thesis presentation. If it were possible for it to be showcased as an open accordion, then its message could be communicated to the visitors, both in a compelling way and without them leafing through and potentially compromising the condition of the book.

– Because I do not live in London, and am not able to visit and view the space myself, I was wondering whether it would be possible for you to give me an idea of the space in some other way (if there are any photographs for example).

– How long would the books sent to be featured and possibly sold be kept at your bookstore before they are returned to the artist? 

– A final question, about the costs of delivery. My books would ship from Greece, and I would like to know whether the bookstore would participate in any way in the expenses of sending the books and returning them back to Greece. 

Thank you,
…..

This must have been too much for them to handle because I haven’t heard from them since. In any case, their silence gave me my answer: My books were better off in their box!

A set of considerations for the “successful” artist

This anecdote from my ongoing application regimen, submitting at least to one artist call per week, is one out of many were failure to check whether the organizer meets one’s requirements, could end up in disaster. In this case, had I simply been content with my books being selected and gone ahead with sending them out, any one of these not so pleasant outcomes would most likely be “served” to me eventually: My books could be destroyed by being exhibited in an unfit environment, they could disappear by being held indefinitely and under vague conditions by the organizers. Not to mention the very likely event of them being presented in a setting not appropriate for viewing them (these people were coffee shop owners after all, not curators or even bookstore owners) and of course having to bear the disproportional price of two artwork donations.

So next time one of your applications gets approved, before you act on it make sure you approve of the organizers back.

If there are unanswered questions you need answered or you perceive some vague aspects of an “opportunity” now is the time to have any of these gray areas clarified. You have too much to lose if you fail to do so.

Depending on the kind of “opportunity” you were victorious in landing, there is a number of questions you should have answers to before you go ahead and send out your works, or give your final approval for a feature/publication. If any of the following considerations remain in a gray area after you have been informed of your “success” go ahead and communicate them to the organizers, requesting clarification:

  • Safety. This is your valuable production you are trusting these people with. You should know where they are going, in what conditions they will be exhibited and how they will be handled. Also, what measures will be taken when on exhibit so that their condition is not compromised?

  • Time frame. Okay, so you have agreed to showcase my works in your art shop, book store, etc. You have even suggested that they be sold through your venue. That is great! I could use some monetary compensation for my efforts (artists do need that as well like everyone else). When can I expect to have them back (if they don’t sell instantaneously that is)? My works are my wealth and giving it to you to keep forever or in an indefinite framework is not my idea of treasuring it or putting it to good use.

  • Quality. Again, my work has been approved. Awesome! Is it going to be featured in a moldy garage? Is it going to hang on a wall with some 30 more works? No “opportunity” is worth the effort, time and money (because the artist almost always ends up having to spend some in the process of being exhibited), if the work is shown in an unfavorable framework. Special mention should be made here about the so-called “vanity” opportunities: Exhibitions and publications engineered for the sole benefit of the organizer should be rejected by the artist.

  • The bottom line. If it is not clear whether certain costs will be paid by the artist or by the organizer, go ahead and ask. This is essential, and sometimes the answer you get may reveal that the bottom line here is what is in your pocket rather than in your workshop. Make sure that the organizers are doing all of this for the right reasons. Any “opportunity” essentially funded by the artist should be considered a red flag.

  • Costs of delivery. Very often exhibiting your work means transferring it from one country to another, and then of course having it shipped back. Who is going to be covering these costs? Very often it is considered a given that the artist will be the one burdened with that expense. Nevertheless we should know better than to let this unreasonable and unfair “tradition” go on: In the case of an international call, it should be considered a given that the artworks will come from all over the world. Therefore shipping the selected works should be considered as a logistical prerequisite for the event to be held: Τhe works’ shipping costs are by nature an integral part of the exhibition’s budget. If the organizer does not pay for the whole amount of the shipping costs one should expect them to at least share the cost with the artist.

These are what I consider to be key issues one should have clarified before acting on a “success”, in order to make sure it doesn’t turn out to be a disaster.

It is okay if you applied to a call without doing your research first. It is not okay (for your benefit and that of your work) if you don’t look into the aforementioned “details” once “approved”. If the answers you get are satisfactory, go ahead and make the best of this opportunity. If the answers reveal that this is an all around ripoff, or if there are no answers, then back away.

No “opportunity” rejected by the artist for the right reasons is a lost opportunity. Choosing to stick by your standards rather than accepting an organizer’s inadequate and dubious “award” is more likely to land you an opportunity that you deserve.

Last but not least, the more we reject those that need to be rejected, the fewer “bad” opportunities we will stumble upon in our effort to get our work out there.

Did you ever reject an opportunity after you were informed your submission was successful? Is there any other question you believe should be asked before one goes ahead and acts on a success, not mentioned here? As always, I would like for these articles to serve as a starting point for a fruitful and useful exchange of experience between artists.

Featured picture: Yellow bird, colored pencils, 15 x 25 cm, 2011, Penelope Vlassopoulou

Application Sunday, part XI: Artist call sites: 4 indicators of the “wrong kind” and my best of list

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

This week’s open call: This week I submitted work for the SeMA Nanji Residency in Seoul, South Korea. I discovered the call on the day of its deadline, so unfortunately applications are now closed, but maybe you can benefit from taking note of this residency program and applying in one of their next application rounds.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XI: Artist call sites: 4 indicators of the “wrong kind” and my best of list

Since the beginning of 2014 I have been following a strict application regimen: Submitting my work to artist calls persistently and in a consistent, organized manner, trying not to take rejections, which at times come down like rain, too much to heart.

In this enterprise, aiming to get my work out there, there was a kind of resource that I referred back to consistently and used as my starting point to venture out into the opportunities “forest”: The Artist call website. Not one, but rather a whole category, these are websites where art organizations or individuals list their “artist opportunities”. These can be a valuable resource for artists seeking to submit their work for the purpose of an exhibition participation, a publication feature, being awarded an artist residency, a grant, etc. In short, any kind of “opportunity” that is to be communicated in the form of an “open call”, through which the pool of candidates is created, can be listed on an artist call site. So the artist, rather than doing repeated internet searches and visiting the individual organizers’ sites, has all these “ads” available in one place.

Not all artist call websites are created equal

The service that artist call sites provide to the artist is pretty valuable. Nevertheless, the value that they can provide us with has created in its turn a drawback: Because these sites are so popular now and can attract large numbers of visits from artists seeking the next call to apply to, they in turn present a lucrative opportunity to those who run them: They can turn into a virtual goldmine, capitalizing on their high visibility in the form of advertising, fees charged to organizers to list their calls or to artists in order to have “full” access to their content, etc. These sites have become more numerous than anyone would bother to count. Unfortunately, as is the case with the opportunities listed on them, not all of these sites are worth our time and attention. In my article To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call I attempt to identify the common signs that should tell you an artist call is better ignored. But what about the artist call sites? How can we identify which ones have quality material worth spending our time and energy on? Here also, as in the case of artist opportunities, spending too much time on artist call sites that don’t provide us with much value can result in us despairing and calling the whole thing off, or postponing it, making it more difficult to reach our goals. In this article I will go through the indicators I now use, after inevitably having had to waste a lot of time on sites that didn’t give anything back, to identify those that can be a valuable tool. I will then provide you with a list of my 10 favorite websites for tracking the opportunities that matter.

4 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call website

If you spot any of these characteristics on an artist call site, its content will most probably be of low quality:

  1. Poor aesthetics. As is the case with artist calls themselves, a site with poor aesthetics is most likely to have low-quality content as well. In the beginning, I was trying to ignore this factor and go against my instincts, but eventually I realized that when the website’s overall appearance is bad, then you are better off not spending any time on it. Too many advertisements is one of the factors contributing to poor aesthetics. An example.
  2. Claiming to be for “professional artists”. I found that most of the listings on “professional artist” sites are of low value. I am not referring here to sites that indeed belong to professional artist organizations. An example.
  3. Sites that require the artist to pay a yearly or monthly fee in order to have full access to their content. Unless you are willing to pay to have access to a site that already monetizes your presence through advertising, which is something I myself refuse to do, most listings available on these sites are nothing worth spending your time on. An example.
  4. Difficult to use. The whole idea of an artist call site is to make our lives easier. If, by looking at a website’s appearance, it seems that the time and effort it is supposed to save me will be spent navigating pages and pages of illegible or poorly organized content then, again, I immediately move to the next one. An example.

My 10 best of list

These are sites that I use regularly in order to identify artist calls worth spending my time and effort on. Naturally, the “good” ads are in the minority here as well, because this deficiency has to do to more with the plethora of parasitical “organizers” in the art world, rather than the quality of these sites themselves. Nevertheless, I have found that I am statistically more likely to spot high quality ads here than anywhere else. Also, these sites are fun to browse: Their use is intuitive and you can read the listings in one glance, identifying key elements like the venue, the deadline, whether there are fees, etc. all pretty quickly. 

Here they are, listed in alphabetical order:

  1. artopportunities

  2. Call for…

  3. contest watchers

  4. Culture 360

  5. e-artnow

  6. on the move

  7. Resartis -exclusively listing residency opportunities

  8. Residency Unlimited (RU) -exclusively listing residency opportunities

  9. re-title (also an artist registry)

  10. wooloo

A two-part strategy to get you started

Now that you have a list of artist call sites that can be a valuable tool in your quest for open calls to submit your work to, take the next step in order to make the best of what they have to offer and stay up to date on new opportunities:

  1. Subscribe to these sites’ newsletters or to their deadline notifications. This way you will be sure to be regularly updated on new ads listed on the site and not miss out on an opportunity that might have been a good fit. Usually, a quick scan of that e-mail will be enough to determine the value of those calls, and whether it is worth clicking through to the artist call site or to that of the organizer for more details.
  2. Even if you have subscribed to these sites’ e-mail alerts, make a habit of visiting them independently at least twice per month. Because the e-mails they send out are meant to update you on listings that were posted in the last 15-20 days or so, depending on the frequency of the e-mails, there may be calls that you would benefit from being informed about earlier. This is especially true in the case of calls concerning grants or certain residencies that have a long list of material required of the applicant.

What is your own strategy in staying up to date on the new opportunities out there? Is there a tip/method that you would add to my two-part strategy? Are there any other artist call sites you would add to this best of list? Have you identified any other indicator of the “wrong kind of artist call site” not mentioned here?

Application Sunday, part X: Artist registries: 8 reasons to join and a list to get you started

artist registries

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 submitted work in order to be considered for inclusion in the White Columns registry

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XArtist registries: 8 reasons to join and a list to get you started

Getting your work out there, either in the framework of an exhibition (a physical or virtual one), or in that of a publication, is hard work. Anyone who has ever crossed the threshold of bringing their work to a broader audience or has attempted to, is familiar with this fact, as well as with the challenges and risks it presents for the artist. What if there was a way to enjoy many of the good things in getting one’s work exhibited or published without having to deal with most of the risks these opportunities entail?

The usual challenges

In my article To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call I caution about the army of “art professionals” that have made it their business to mislead artists into pursuing “exhibition opportunities” that do them more harm than good. These “opportunities”, usually organized by the so called “vanity galleries”, are more than anything else an opportunity for the organizers to make an extra (or more) buck off the artist’s back, providing him/her with not much more in return, other than a discredited gallery name to include in their CV (and a hole in their pockets).

On the art publications’ front the stakes are usually not as high, still there are quite a lot to lose if you fail to read the signs. In my previous article Publish my work? Thanks, but no thanks: A vanity publication cautionary tale I zoom into a breed I call “incognito vanity publications”. In this article I share my experience with such a publication and also 6 indicators I use to identify a vanity publication behind a traditional, and free, publishing opportunity. Failure to identify what kind of publication is worth spending our time and effort on and awarding the wrong kind with the privilege to handle our work, not to mention our name and reputation, can result in a series of negative outcomes, from being featured in an unfavorable light, as part of an overcrowded or distasteful publication, to being subjected to copyright infringement (something I believe I came very close to experiencing in above mentioned story).

So getting exhibited is hard, getting published is also an adventure, but faced with the risks of having your work violated and your name tarnished, what the whole venture of getting your work out there eventually boils down to, apart from managing to be consistent with your efforts, is cultivating this one skill: Being able to identify what are actually the best and most reliable platforms you should be devoting your energy to and trusting your work with. What is also at the core of this article series, along with the notion that artists can indeed do something themselves to get their work out there and push their careers forward: Actively pursue goals worth pursuing while being able to steer themselves in the river of opportunities undeterred by those whose sole raison d’être is serving their own narrow interests.

Artist Registries: A ray of hope

In this minefield called “artist opportunities” thankfully there is a ray of hope: A kind of platform that, even though is not totally devoid of the usual dangers (is anything not entirely under our control devoid of risk?), is nevertheless a generally safe place for artists to turn to in order to communicate their work and also get in the radar of art professionals that may be interested in it. And this platform is called artist registries.

Artist registries, or directories, are now mostly digital databases with their content posted online. Think of them as searchable online databases/archives where among the searched terms used to access information is the artist’s name. This name corresponds to an entry that consists of digital material aiming to give a more or less accurate idea about the artist’s practice, namely images of works and accompanying text. Often, a CV or bio and an artist statement are included in the entry.

8 reasons why you should be getting your work in artist registries

If you are a practicing artist, producing work consistently, then you are most likely concerned with how to show it as well and are preoccupied with how your work can stand out and be noticed by your potential audience and also by people in key positions in the art world whose attention could play a part in your career moving forward. Artist registries provide the artist with an opportunity to reach both these audiences.

Here are the arguments I would use to persuade an artist friend to get his/her work into artist registries:

  1. Artist registries are archives, but not the usual kind. These are active archives that art professionals (curators, art historians, theoreticians, etc.) use as a tool in their practice to discover work that might be of interest to them. an artist registry is operating as it should, and is known as a quality resource, then it serves as a “pool” for professionals within the art world to identify artists, as well as patterns of expression within the contemporary artistic landscape, that relate to their own concerns and field of research. What this means in terms of the artist is that they can be “discovered” and have their work highlighted by a researcher and/or organizer in the arts such as a curator or an art historian. Therefore the mere presence of the artist’s work in an artist registry that serves as a point of reference for entire categories of art professions, can spur new features, collaborations, networks, etc., propelling the artist’s career forward.
  2. When your work is part of a popular and active artist registry it is in a way in a state of permanent (virtual) exhibition, the closest to that being the work you have up on your artist portfolio/website. The more online locations your work is posted in, not to overlook the importance of quality, the more the opportunities for your audience to find you, and for you to be found and reach a greater audience.
  3. In almost any kind of exhibition or feature (there are exceptions) the artist has a certain, often limited, say on how his/her work is presented: In many ways often the final quality of the presentation is out of the artist’s hands, sometimes resulting in bad surprises. In the case of artist registries the outcome of the presentation can be both foreseen and controlled by the artist: Before joining a registry an artist can browse through it and decide whether he/she agrees with the mode of presentation and the aesthetic qualities of the platform. Once an artist joins the registry, it will be up to him/her to determine the particular works that will be posted on their page/entry and the accompanying text. All content of the entry that corresponds to the artist’s name in this digital archive is decided, prepared and uploaded by the artist him/herself, offering an unprecedented, compared to the other kinds of presentations, degree of control to the artist over how his/her work is presented. This makes artist registries the single kind of platform not belonging to the artist that where he/she can have nearly complete control over the way his/her work is presented. The “nearly” here referring to content that could be considered as violating a given registry’s policy concerning what they allowed to be displayed in their database. But apart from extreme cases where the content is barred from being included, the possibilities provided to an artist in making use of their registry space are considerable.
  4. There are many registries when one can be part of through a simple one step online process from the registry’s site. In contrast to most of the other “artist opportunities”, here there are essentially no “gatekeepers” to worry about: You identify the registry that you wish to be part of, register, upload your work, and soon, after maybe a short waiting period for the registry’s moderation purposes, you are part of a database whose reach suddenly becomes yours and whose visitors become your own potential interlocutors. There are exceptions, and these are the curated registries. We will get to that further down.
  5. Most registries are free to join, and that is the case for even some of the most prominent ones. Because of the actual role they play within the art world, providing a broad spectrum of professionals with a valuable resource that helps them navigate into the contemporary creative stream, registries seem to be actually managed as existing for the “greater good” of the art community. It seems like the artist’s act of joining the database is seen as a contribution that would rather be encouraged and appreciated than regulated and filtered through attaching a price tag to it: The artist is benefited, yes, but there seems to be a common understanding here that the art world is nurtured as well from each new entry in one of these databases.
  6. One can log in the registry and modify their entry, by means of replacing the artworks shown or alternating the text included, at any time, therefore maintaining a “current” and relevant profile. This is a permanent exhibition, but, because of the importance of it being relevant and not containing material that can be considered as obsolete (for example when it no longer represents an artist’s practice), renewal of the material is encouraged and made easy by most platforms. So not only your works are on permanent display on someone’s walls, you get to swap them with your latest ones when you choose to. Quite a good deal wouldn’t you say?
  7. Some registries are more than what the word implies. They are actively facilitating the creation of networks: Connecting artists with other kinds of opportunities, functioning as a link and facilitator for the artist to exhibit their work in a gallery or a curated online exhibition, or be selected for an artist residency. So even though all registries by definition are making the process of getting your work out there easier by the mere fact of including you in an active archive, some of them take it a step further by actively engaging art professionals and organizations with their “artist pool”.
  8. It seems that one of the most important factors for Google when ranking websites is the number and quality of sites a website contains links to and also the number of links leading back to that site from good quality sources. Getting your work into several good quality registries and including a link on your site to your pages on these databases seems to be getting you one more, secondary, but not negligible, benefit. And let’s not forget that there is a link from the registry pointing back to our website as well.

A list of registries

Here is a list of registries I consider to be worthwhile, along with some I have an experience of and offer my insight about:

  • White Columns registry: This is considered to be one of the most important and reputable registries worldwide. It is also one of the few that is curated, which means that the work you upload after you register is essentially a submission: If you are accepted as part of the registry your material becomes live at their site. There are no fees for the members of the registry. Submitting for the White Columns registry was my weekly “open call” I shared on my Sunday posts series on my blog, The artist’s predicament. Why not consider going ahead with it yourself?
  • NurtureArt registry: This is a free to join, non curated artist registry, part of an art organization located in Brooklyn, NY. It is easy to join and upload your works and the organization it is part of is quite active, organizing exhibitions and events on a regular basis, which means that their registry must be active as well. In their own words, with their online registry that launched in 2011 they “aim to create a unique online resource of both emerging and underrepresented artists and emerging and independent curators, which will directly feed the exhibition program in our gallery.” My NurtureArt profile
  • Works.io platform. This is a free to join, non curated artist registry and network. In their words it is “an artist driven platform. Show your art, document your career, and get connected”. Which from my experience, I find to be a quite accurate description. This platform apart form being a database that makes it easy for you to upload your works, CV and resume and thus build your own presence in the form of a complete portfolio, it actively connects you with arts professionals and also makes it easy for you to apply to artist opportunities by just submitting your already uploaded portfolio to the open calls posted on their site. I joined the platform in November 2014 and since then I was featured in two instances by the site: The most significant for my work was its inclusion in an online exhibition organized by one of the curators collaborating with the platform: Works.io launches online exhibitions/features/interviews with artists, organized by a curator, featuring the work of selected artists from the platform’s database. For me, being selected as one of the 4 artists featured in Architecture (re)presented was quite significant: I had my work be part of an insightful presentation by a competent arts professional and was given the chance to talk about my work and its conceptual background over an extensive interview. Works.io also has a paid option that allows you to include more works in the registry. Nevertheless I myself find the free version to be adequate and didn’t feel the need to upgrade. My Works.io portfolio
  • Local Artists – Irving Sandler Artists File: I joined this NY based artist registry in January 2015 because I read that it was a popular and reliable resource for art professionals. Also, the information they give on their site was quite impressive: “Operating for almost 40 years, with over 5,000 current users, the Irving Sandler Artists File is not only the largest but also the earliest established artist registry in the world.“. Nevertheless, over time I resolved that it must probably be inactive. It’s homepage, featuring the registry’s “monthly selections” form their artist database has the same feature since I joined and in general, nothing seems to be “moving” on their site. Nevertheless, their database of artists seems to be growing bigger and bigger by the minute. I still haven’t made up my mind about it, whether it is being used by arts professionals. If you have any useful information about what is going on with this registry please share it on the comments section. My Local Artists profile
  • re-title.com directory: This is a curated registry with a yearly fee. One submits a portfolio of works along with a CV and an artist statement and if accepted they pay a fee is US$34 | Euros 24 per year in order to be included in the directory. I decided to join this registry on January 2015 because it seems to be a site with great visibility, nevertheless, I don’t know if I will renew my registration next year: The interface one uses to upload images and text on one’s portfolio is quite dysfunctional and time consuming to use and I haven’t seen any benefits from being a member of the registry. I now believe that maybe it is a good idea for a gallery or an arts organization to join the re-title network, since joining also offers the possibility to post new events and artist calls, but maybe it does not offer any value to an artist. Again, this is a registry I am ambivalent about, so share your experiences/views on the matter if you have any in the comments section. My re-title.com profile

Practical aspects of handling your registry entries

You have set up your page/profile on an artist registry/directory and it is live on their site: Congratulations!

Here are a few things to be taking care regularly in order for your presence there to have any effect:

  • Visit your page regularly, at least every two months, may be even more often depending on your productivity, and renew the material you have posted. Try to keep everything there as current as possible because you never know when a curator looking for artists to feature in their next project may land on your page: You want the information up there to apply to what you are interested and working on right now, and offer your current projects a chance to shine. Don’t neglect the text accompanying your work either. Renew the information on your CV and restructure your artist statement when it is time to do so.
  • Re-evaluate what you are getting from your presence in an artist registry. If the registry fails to meet your expectations, in terms of activity, aesthetics, maintenance, technical support, functionality, be ready to abandon it, especially if it is a paid service.
  • Visit the registry frequently, just to check on possible opportunities posted for the artists included in the registry. This is especially important for registries that also function as an active arts network. In general, keep an eye on what is going on on the registry website; You wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity addressed to its members.

Lastly, always keep an eye for new registries that might pop out. It is my belief that there will be more initiatives following the works.io model, making use of the ease with which an artist can share his/her portfolio online these days, in the direction of linking arts organizations and curators with artists.

What is your opinion on artist registries? Do you had a positive, or even negative, experience to share? Would you recommend or advice against a registry that mentioned in this article? Do you have any other registry you would like to recommend not included in my list? 

Feature image: Untitled, pigment on unprimed canvas, 20 x 20 cm, 2011, Penelope Vlassopoulou