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

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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

11

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

Application Sunday, part IX: Publish my work? Thanks, but no thanks: A vanity publication cautionary tale

Vanity publication

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 to this open call by Saatchi Gallery Open Call to artists

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part IX: Publish my work? Thanks, but no thanks: A vanity publication cautionary tale

We give it all we’ve got, our dreams, our time, all of our valuable resources, all into our work. Now it stares back at us, completed. Completed, but not fulfilled. A separate entity in itself, nevertheless still depending on us for its journey to meet its final destination: Its message communicated. The opportunities for such a thing are out there calling us and, as is the case with all self-proclaimed artist opportunities, they are overwhelmingly numerous. But are all of them good for us and our work?

Maybe it is a series of paintings we have just finished working on, maybe a mural, a group of works created in a new technique that we ourselves devised, an ephemeral artwork, that now exists only in the form of its documentation, one perhaps lasting hours but that took months to prepare. There may be a gallery we would like to show this work with and some ideas about how to pursue this, or we may feel that we have yet some distance to cover before getting there: Maybe we would rather “be discovered” or “get in the radar” of the gallery we are interested in, than actively pursue attention. No matter how close or far we are from showing our work in the framework of a real, physical setting, there is one thing that can definitely bring us a step closer to this desired outcome: Being published. More that that, being published is an exhibition opportunity in and by itself: It can communicate one’s work to the public, and also make it known to the very specific audience of the art world. But could being published be a recipe for success – or “discovery”- all by itself? Even more importantly: Could being published furnish the opposite results from what we wish for? Are there instances where publicity would rather be avoided than pursued? These are legitimate questions that could be posed by someone already aware of the dubious nature of most “opportunities” out there, among them those that are usually advertised with a “Get Featured!” moto, and, usually, come with a price. 

As is the case with having your work exhibited in a gallery, having your work “exhibited” in the virtual space of an art blog, online art magazine or printed publication/review, should not in and by itself be considered beneficial for your work or your career as a whole. Given the striking analogies between showing in a gallery and “showing” in a publication, it would be fair to assume that one’s association with certain publications could very well discredit one’s work, on the sole grounds of these publications’ predatory and self-serving nature. In my previous post To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call I talk about what is know as “vanity galleries”. These businesses, investing on the “vanity”, and sometimes desperation, of artists that want to show at all costs without giving any serious consideration to the actual value the particular gallery will provide them with, sell their services at a high price, when in reality they are doing more harm than good: Individuals that occupy key positions in the art world, owners of reputable galleries, collectors, curators, critics, etc., all of which an artist would naturally be interested in attracting the attention off, are well aware of these “pay to show” enterprises and are most likely anything but positively impressed when spotting them in an artist’s resume. Why wouldn’t the same logic apply to the field of publications: On the one hand there are the respected publications, the ones that have established themselves in the art world over years of providing it with a quality resource. One should naturally be delighted, if not humbled, to be featured in one of these publications. This would indeed be a success and could potentially propel one’s career. On the other side of the spectrum, there are publications with no long standing presence in the art world, no valuable contribution to demonstrate and that use practices that could be characterized as predatory, practices quite similar to those employed by “vanity galleries”. They promise instant fame and fortune, instant “discovery” (just as “vanity galleries” do), often for a hefty price. One could therefore call them “vanity publications”.

Just as is the case with predatory galleries, “vanity publications” feed off certain artists’ desire for their work to be communicated, and off their perceived “need” to be heard then and there. In doing so, these organizations pretend to be some kind of gatekeepers (and charge you to “let you in”), but in reality these are not gatekeepers one should care to pass through (and for that matter one shouldn’t be fully invested in passing through any of the real gatekeepers either). If you come to think of it, these publications’ existence is quite natural, given the state of the “market”, which, in this case, is the artists themselves: Whenever the demand in something overwhelms what is on offer (in this case, whatever publicity is there to be had from the traditional publishing sector) there is opportunity for profit. That isn’t to say that the so called traditional publishing houses or established art publications always practice “fair play” in their field. One look at the content of these publications would suffice for one to question whether factors such as the newsworthiness of an event or the intrinsic value of an artwork are the only ones that come into play when determining what will be published. But then, the same goes for the gallery world: The work’s intrinsic value, its meaning and artistic quality, is not always the primary criteria in choosing what will be exhibited. After all, galleries, as well as publications, are businesses as well as art organizations and one should not overlook the implications of this fact on every level of these organizations’ activity. Having said that, there are some art publications that do not operate like businesses, meaning, with profit as their ultimate, superior objective, and are primarily invested in showing the best of what is out there. Needless to say, that this is the kind of publications that one would be most benefited from having their work featured in.

Leaving the scholarly art publications/journals aside, the essential difference between the two kinds of businesses, the galleries and the publications, is that established, respected publications, just as it is with galleries, are also interested and vested in benefiting the artist, whereas the “vanity” kind, care solely for their own, namely financial, benefit.

So here again, as is the case with galleries, artists that “want publicity and they want it now”, are the first, easy, targets. They are the ones that get tricked into paying the price for the feature, are featured in a usually badly edited, heavily populated publication (the more the featured artists, the higher the revenue), and list the “success” in their resume thinking it will provide them with CV value, when it will most likely do the opposite. These “feature opportunities” can usually be easily identified and avoided. There are some calls though, crafted by real “professionals” (I will leave it up to you to decide what they are professionals in): Their expertise is such that one can easily mistake them for real opportunities, and in the end find themselves featured in a “vanity publication” just as well. These “incognito” vanity opportunities make a category in themselves, and multiply like rabbits, most probably because the traditional “vanity publications” using the old recipes of “vanity opportunities”, namely charging a fee outright and having a flashy visual identity, are more and more seen by artists as what they actually are and avoided. So they have started to mutate into something else, difficult to read right from the start. I happen to have had the experience of applying to be featured in such a publication. I was accepted and, after realizing what the deal was, managed to prevent my feature from being published in the nick of time. This experience is worth sharing, as I believe it could serve as an eye opener and a cautionary tale for artists starting out, that can be easy targets for these sugar coated “opportunities”.

At some point during last year’s operation “application storm”, that involved sending out at least 4 applications per month, without giving it a lot of though or doing any substantial research (as I realized afterwards the situation called for e-mailing the organizers and asking them to clarify some points), I responded to a call by an “arts organization” to be featured in what they described as their first publication dedicated to emerging artists. The call, with the tag line “Emerging Artists – Free Opportunity!” (now, reading this again, I should have been warned!) invited artists interested in being included in the catalog to submit “their best work”, that, if selected, would be included in the catalog feature. As advertised, no fee was being asked to apply or to be included in the catalog (if selected). The call’s page on the organization’s site “shouted” that the organizers were doing this out of sheer generosity and interest in helping emerging artists to advance. In their own words, because “we know how important it is to keep creating opportunities for artists. We constantly look for new doors to open, and when we find one we want to hold it open for you too.” Describing their “eureka” moment, as they called the moment they had the idea for their “Artists to look out for” catalog, presenting it as a revelation that came to the emerging artists’ rescue high and wide, they went on boasting (in the humble way a savior would): “We suddenly realized that you — as a unique artist with a unique story — should be treating yourself like a brand and that we — as the trailblazers that we are — should be helping you do that because, well, it’s is what we do. We thought of ways we could implement our new found ideas, and one of them was to create a book. Hell, we’ve already made catalogs for all of our exposure exhibitions…” At which point a link to one of their past publications was included. I did visit the link and concluded from what I could make of it, that it was a decent exposure for the featured artists: A publication of decent taste, not having the flashy aesthetic one usually sees in “vanity publications” and also the artists were quite few in number, about 15 from what I could tell. So, judging from this reference, and also by the fact that there was no fee, this seemed like a genuine opportunity. So I applied. Some time passed and I was informed that my work had been selected. In the e-mail informing me about my success, the organizers’ generosity was being stressed yet once more in saying that the Director of the Organization’s Programs “decided that after all of our hard work this year, she just wanted to give something back to the art community. That’s why she decided to create the Artists to Look Out For catalogue; to help emerging artists like you even more – and make it free! I can’t tell you how excited we are to share this opportunity with you.” So once again, I was meant to be humbled at the altruism and kindness of these people and regain my trust in the good in this world.

But, because from my initial reading of the call, that for your reference, and to maximize your benefit from this report I provide a link to here, some questions were left unanswered, after thanking them for this opportunity, I proceeded in asking them to clarify some grey areas. Here is my e-mail responding to the news of my “success”:

Dear Ms …….,

I was very pleased to receive your e-mail and the news about the acceptance of my application. I am excited to be part of this project and looking forward to seeing the printed catalog.

I would be interested to know, if possible, some further details about it, such as how many artists will be featured in it and whether the catalog will also be distributed at any of the events that Starry Night Retreat will be participating in, such as an art fair.

I will be available at this e-mail adress in case you need anything regarding the catalog.

Best regards,

………

To which I received the reply that the catalog would be featuring 100 artists and that yes, it would be brought to upcoming art fairs, but it was obvious that for the artists included in the catalog, just as it would be for the visitors of the Maiami Art Fair (one of the events the catalog would feature in) the catalog would have to be purchased. That, combined with the fact that no less than 100 artists would be cramped into this publication, lit a red light for me. Fathoming the approximate amount of money the organizers would be receiving from this venture (who would be published and then not purchase at least one catalog to be able to show? After all, one of their main “hooks” in the initial ad, as you may see on the ad’s page, was the artists’ “need” to have a “catalog” to show to galleries, art lovers and collectors). This is when I had my own Eureka moment: This can’t be but for the money! The “savior” profile the organizers seemed so anxious to project made this all the more evident. I realized I didn’t want to link my work or my name to this!

At which point I wrote the organizers the following:

August 2, 2014

Dear Ms …….,

After considering the facts about the catalog publication, I decided I would rather not be included in it. I was under the impression that it was going to be something concentrated to a small selection of artists, such as the one you are presenting on your site, the “Exposure Artists 2014”.

I am sorry to be withdrawing my participation but I am afraid the project seems to be something rather different than I thought.

All the best,
……

And then Silence. Silence again. After 6 days (they were very prompt in replying in our previous communication), I wrote to them again:

August 8, 2014

Dear Ms ……,

I am writing to request confirmation that you received my last e-mail and that my wish not to be included in the emerging artists catalog will be respected.

Kind regards,
….

No reply to that either. As the days passed I was growing anxious that they could potentially be as reckless as to publish my work never mind the withdrawal of my consent: Publish my work against my will. I wasn’t going to let that happen, and the more the silence from their end continued, the more I became certain that these people were opportunists and that I should definitely get my work out of their claws. Since there was no sign of life coming from their end, I tried to generate one once more by sending a message, this time through their contact form on their site. This was about a week after my initial request to withdraw my material:

Dear …, (this time I addressed another individual in the organization)

I have been accepted to be included in the Starry Night Retreat catalog “Artists to look out for'”. Nevertheless, after learning the details of the publication from ….. I expressed the wish not to be included in the catalogue, something I communicated as early as August 3rd through e-mailing …… In the e-mail I explained that having received the details of the project, the catalogue seemed to be something different than I thought. I didn’t receive an answer confirming that my wish would be respected, so i e-mailed to ….. again requesting confirmation, another e-mail that went unanswered..

I would like to make clear that Starry Night Retreat no longer has my permission to reproduce my material (text and photos I had sent responding to the call), and if it does, it (and you) will be facing the consequences of copyright infringement.

Silence. Again. In August 17, 15 days after my initial call not to be included in the catalog, I sent the above contact form message by e-mail to a different individual, the one I was initially communicating by e-mail, the Program Coordinator of the organization. I sent her the message in the hopes that maybe this time my wish and the implications of its neglect would be taken seriously. It worked. It only took 24 hrs to get the reply that yes, my wish would be respected, and I would not be included in the catalog.

But the reply came in a mysterious package: In the message I received the Program Coordinator maintained that the answer had already been sent to me over a week ago (before I wrote the “copyright infridgement” message) as a prompt reply to my August 8th e-mail to that person. This present message of August 18 seemed to just be forwarding me that allegedly already sent message. Yet that message had somehow never appeared in my inbox or anywhere else (spam folder included). This is how I interpreted all this: It took me letting them know that I knew my rights and present them with the potential legal consequences of their actions for them to be mobilized to do something and decide to pull my material off the “selected emerging artists” pile, thus respecting my wish. But of course, an organization only interested “to give something back to the art community” would not want to let it show that it took me invoking copyright infridgement in order for them to respect my wish.

Eventually the catalog came out, for which, as I found out, I would have to pay $40 to get my hands on, by itself a hefty fee (here is the purchasing page by the way). Only, this time, the fee was not clearly stated in the initial call and the applicant was led to believe that this was to be a FREE OPPORTUNITY. 

So here are some concrete lessons I learned from this episode:

  • If it looks like one, it is one (a vanity opportunity, that is). One good look at this one page call should tell you that these people, yes, employing better aesthetic elements that usual, but still, are praying on artists, even worse, on emerging artists (easier pray), using their hopes (We constantly look for new doors to open, and when we find one we want to hold it open for you too), fears (When you are talking to galleries and they ask “Where have you been published?” What do you show them?), flattery (We suddenly realized that you — as a unique artist with a unique story — should be treating yourself like a brand) and vague, empty promises of success (This catalog willSecure your position as an emerging artist that an established art organization has identified as an “Artist to Look Out For”). I promise, from now on, for my sake, I will keep clear from those that, apparently, all they want to do in this world is be my savior!
  • The sting is in the tail, as the saying goes. If something looks vague to you and creates uncertainty, as it did for me, it is better to ask up front and have the issue clarified before you take any further steps. A common denominator of vanity publication opportunities faking as real ones is that in one way or another you don’t get the whole story in their initial call. If they gave you the whole story then they would spoil their sugar coated image and scare you away (and what good would that do? -to them of course) In my case, in the call there was no mention as to the scale of the publication (the number of artists featured) – on the contrary, one was misled into supposing that this would be a modestly populated catalog. Also, there was no mention as to the cost of the catalog, that the artist would have to pay in order to et their hand into this -career boosting-artifact. Questions relating to these issues did emerge when I encountered the call, especially as far as what it would take for me to have the catalog if I was featured, but I did not take any steps in inquiring about them before I submitted. I decided not to ask, hoping for the best. Asking, and having “details” like these clarified up front is especially important because of this special feature this new kind of calls representing vanity opportunities have: As mentioned above there is a surge in “incognito” vanity opportunities. These are indeed empty opportunities that incur high cst for the artist but they are difficult to spot. They represent the evolutionary adaptation of the traditional predatory vantures, that, at least, one can spot pretty easily. You can read my seven indicators here.
  • Know your rights and let potential predators know you know them. Even at the last minute, once you have realized that you have been had, you knowing your rights and being willing to invoke them, may make the difference and save your work and your name from being associated with parasites of the art world. You and only you can say who has and who doesn’t have the right to use your material, that is images of your works and text that belong to you. And all of your work is by definition copyrighted material. If a person or organization goes ahead and uses your material without your permission they are exposed to the law: They are guilty of copyright infringement, an offense that brings with it sometimes serious consequences. So, don’t be afraid to use the big guns if you have to in order to protect your ultimate right to your own work! Even at the last minute, it may save the day.
  • As with everything else, if you want to be on the safe side, and be sure you are applying to publications that will represent you and that you will feel proud featuring in, do your research.. If I had done mine, I would have bumped on pages on the organization’s site like this, and this (not to mention the bio page of its founder) , and that would have told me loud and clear: Stay clear!!
  • Lastly, and maybe most importantly, be skeptical of organizers who like to present themselves as great altruistic benefactors: The best masquerade for someone that can easily separate you from your valuable resources for little in return is that of a great benefactor. No one can challenge the moral integrity of someone that does it “all for you”, to the point of self sacrifice.Again, the case study presented here, involving a particular organization, is intended to serve as a vivid example and a sample from what I understand to be an entire genre of “vanity publishing opportunities” masquerading as real ones. At the same time, specifics are shared in the belief that if questionable opportunists in the art world were exposed more often, the art world would be a more suitable (and safe) place for artists.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever swallowed the bait of a “vanity publication”, and been published in a way that didn’t represent you? Did you by any chance realize what you had gotten yourself into and managed to get out of it in time? What has your experience with art publications taught you so far? Has it been easy or difficult for you to get the right kind of exposure? Would you add something to the list above as far what is it that one should be aware of when responding to publication opportunities?

Featured image: Latteral move, 25 x 20 cm, image transfer, 2011, Penelope Vlassopoulou

Application Sunday, part VIII: To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call

8

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

This week’s open call: This week I have sent work for consideration to the open call to artists / writers / poets of the Brunswick East Cafe independent bookstore in London

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part VIII:

As is the form, so too is the soul
Ancient Greek adage

Recently I stressed the importance of choosing the right kind of artist opportunities and described the nature of the wrong kind. I made this distinction: The wrong kind are those designed for the sole benefit of the organizer; the right kind benefit both parties, the organizer as well as the artist. Here I will discuss the indicators one should look out for that could be used to discern which is which from the very start of your search, that is, as soon as the page with the various artist call announcements appears on the computer screen.

One of the first things that hits someone commencing the hunt for artist opportunities they can submit work to is their sheer quantity. The landscape of the artist opportunities posted online is so vast that one can easily be overwhelmed and confused as to where one would be best advised to focus and look into further, especially when one is aware that many of these announcements represent opportunities one should rather avoid. Confusion can lead to indecisiveness, and at times can be paralyzing, leading one to call the whole thing off, or at least postpone it (which often is very much like calling it off). Failing to make an initial sifting from the get-go, which would allow us to determine where to click our way through and eventually apply, we may find ourselves virtually swamped by an ocean of ads we feel compelled to wade through one by one (that is, click through the announcement and go through the details of each one on their respective pages), therefore squandering our valuable resources, namely time, money (if during this process we happen to be lured into paying an application fee), and, maybe most importantly, peace of mind.

This ability of being able to single out from the very start which artist calls are worthy of our attention becomes even more important for yet another reason: The majority of the calls happen to be on the “bad” side of the spectrum: Think of them as misleading baits representing opportunistic ventures. At least this is the conclusion I reached after my first year of consistently submitting work, and after spending much time and energy wading through this vast field of “opportunities”. Getting better and better at spotting the misleading calls from the get-go gave me the advantage of being able to focus and be more productive.

After this first stage of excluding the artist calls that are no more than “white noise”, a skill that in time should become second nature, one can invest one’s resources in the opportunities that matter.

Of course, in this process, the individual goals and aspirations of an artist come into play as well. If one determines that the most desirable thing is to populate one’s CV with exhibitions, artist residencies, features, etc., regardless of their value, then this whole discussion may probably seem irrelevant. Here I address the problem that one may face when interested in the quality of the artist opportunities that one responds to as well as in not overtaxing any resources in identifying the few opportunities that matter. Also, it is considered as taken for granted that an essential first determining factor when singling out the opportunities that are good for us is the particular field or practice we identify with: A sculptor will exclude the artist calls addressed to painters, a video artist will exclude those addressing performance artists, etc. So this natural disqualification factor is here considered as a given and not as part of the “problem” to be solved. We are interested in what may be the indicators of an opportunity being unworthy of our attention after we have resolved: (1) That the opportunities providing us with value are indeed the only ones we care about and (2) The disciplines we identify with and would see ourselves competing in.

I found that just as is often the case with people, here also, the esthetic qualities can be indicative of matters of essence. What, more than anything else that gives away a “bad” kind of opportunity, is poor esthetics

This is good news, because it means that we can get rid of a great deal of these calls with practically one glance at the artist call list. Bad esthetics though is not the only indicator. Also, bad esthetics goes further than just hair-raizing color combinations, poor quality of photos used in the ad, or tacky terminology.

Here is a complete list of what I consider to be the basic indicators of a “bad call” one can train oneself to identify practically at a glance:

  1. Flashy visual identity. An ad that “shouts” to be noticed usually betrays that there is no concrete, real value to be had. Art call announcements that look like the ads on the last pages of a newspaper are not what you should be spending your time on.
  2. Poor use of language. If the organizers can’t use language correctly or are not interested in investing the necessary time or money for a decently versed ad, they should not be rewarded with our attention. This “detail” is an indicator that they will most probably lack professionalism elsewhere as well.
  3. Use of the language of advertizing. This is as simple as that: We are not sheep.
  4. Fees. As a fellow artist put it recently, “If money is going to pass hands, then that’s the bottom line”. Especially when it is significant and coupled with the promise of an award of dubious value, application fees (or “participation fees” if they are paid only by the artists selected) betray that the organizer’s primary interest is financial rather than artistic. Alternatively, it should serve as an indicator that this simply is not a serious, well organized venture. In my post about choosing the right kind of opportunity, where I presented my experience of a poorly organized exhibition, one where I failed to see the participation fees requested as a red light, I emphasized that one should be skeptical, if not dismissive from the get-go, of “opportunities” essentially funded by the artist. In the era of crowdfunding and with so many state funding opportunities that still abound, in some countries more than others, why should we continue to accept “the artist pays to be exhibited” practice? It doesn’t make much sense, since in most cases it is not a sustainable practice for the artist and apart from that, since art addresses an audience and, essentially, is a product directed to society as a whole, shouldn’t the costs of bringing it to the public be funded in ways other than the artist digging into his or her pocket? Unless of course one regards art primarily as a self-advancing enterprise of the artist, in which case any kind of fee goes…
  1. Calls being “sold” heavily on their connection to a particular location. You should be wary of calls whose main attraction is that the events they invite you to apply for are being held in places considered to be international art centers, like New York, Chicago, Miami, London, etc. It is usually certain galleries that engage in this predatory practice, by issuing calls for group or solo exhibitions. If one takes a closer look at these “opportunities”, one will see, from the language used as well as other tacky advertizing methods, that they prey on the artist’s desire to have their work connected with the location where the exhibition is to be held and rely on the misconception that this alone can provide an artist with career value. The truth is, what many artists must have had to learn the hard way, that having shown at a major international center does not, by itself, confirm that you are an internationally renowned artist or that the show you participated in is some kind of testimony to your “success”. On the contrary, it can often furnish the opposite results: These galleries are generally known among the people of the art world, that is, critics, curators, other gallerists, and in general people an artist would naturally be interested in attracting the attention and gaining the respect of. Seeing the name of a gallery engaging in these practices, often known as a “vanity gallery”, on your CV, will most likely be taken as a bad rather than a good signal by the reader of the CV. “Vanity galleries” are so aptly named because they appeal to the “vanity” of artists, who, instead of waiting for their work to improve or until they’ve gained further recognition for their work, meanwhile showing in the framework of traditional galleries, are willing to pay in order to get exposure. “Vanity galleries” often advertize themselves with a flashy ad and on their site, they seem to be promising you the world if you exhibit there, often showcasing testimonials from other artists stating how their whole career changed after showing with them. In general, they project a misleading glorified image and an elusive “award” they are willing to bestow for a hefty price. A classic example of such a gallery, which is mentioned in the artist career handbook “How to survive and Prosper as an artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul” by Caroll Michels, and also one I have very often come across in my application hunt, is Agora Gallery. Their site provides a unique graphic example of what is presented here.
  2. Calls playing the card of big names participating in the jury combined with a fee to participate. This is a very similar case to that of the “vanity galleries”. The organizers prey on the artists’ “need” to be somehow connected to renowned names in the art world, and are lured into paying a fee in exchange for a dubious outcome. Often, as is the case of a Greek artist friend having sent work for an exhibition in Japan, never to see it again or been able to get a reply from the organizers to her attempts of communication, after the fee has been paid and the work has been sent to the exhibition venue, the organizers are nowhere to be found, nor is the artwork.
  3. Artist calls that include “awards” of $50 (or something along these lines): It is plainly insulting and betrays an ignorance of what an artist is (Is he/she a millionaire Sunday painter? Would he/she be above any material needs, able to survive without sustenance?) If an award is included, it should amount to a dignified one and shouldn’t match the “give the dog a bone” approach. This also includes artist residencies that award money for “subsistence” which, given the cost of living in the places they are located in, wouldn’t be even close to covering the basic needs of the artist. This is just another case where the cliché of the artist being able to get by on scraps is insultingly perpetuated and employed in a vulgar way for the organizers’ benefit. Usually these applications require a fee of somewhere around $35. Do the math and see how much this brings in for 1,000 applications, a very likely number for international venues such as New York, London, etc.

Needless to say that any announcement where more than one of the above indicators are red pushes it into the “high toxic” calls list and should definitely be avoided.

Steering clear of the traps set up by the professional parasites of the art world is not an easy thing. After all, this is their bread and butter and they are expert in misleading artists, usually by appealing to their “weaknesses”, namely, ambition, vanity, and sometimes even despair. The above “red lights” that I identified are most probably not the only ones you should be looking for out there, nor is this a bulletproof method, sure to keep you safe from the “bad guys”. I believe though that it is a good starting point in training your “artist nose”, which is an indispensable tool in the process of submitting work and getting your voice out there in a way that represents you.

So next time you click on a site listing artist calls, do a test: Set the timer to 15” and see how many of them you can exclude during that time. And the time after, do the same again. If you are doing things right and training your “nose”, soon you will be able to exclude more and more in less time, filtering out the unnecessary “white noise”, saving more of your valuable time and resources and being left with the handful of “gems” that are good for you.

Mind you though, even a gem may have some imperfections and often we can’t taste the goodness of an artist opportunity without also getting a taste of the bad. The key here is to keep trying to get closer to what we believe is good for us and our work, without setting unrealistic standards that may eventually make us cynical and dismissive of the whole effort of getting our work out there.

Is there any indicator of a “bad kind” of artist call you would add to the above list? Was there a time for you where ignoring one of the indicators led to a significant waste in resources and/or a negative general outcome? Was there a case where you applied to an ad that involved one or more of the “bad call” indicators and it still furnished a positive outcome?

Featured image: “Still Life With A Skull”, circa 1671, oil on panel, 28 cm (11 in). Width: 37 cm (14.6 in), Philippe de Champaigne – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons