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 VII: Dealing with rejection

7_

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: I submitted my work to the magazine Beautiful Decay.

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

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. _Epictetus (A.D. c. 55 – 135)

The taste of rejection and what is really at steak

If you have ever submitted your work to any kind of outside official judgment, and done it more than once, then you must have seen your work being rejected as well. Odds are, if you happen to have submitted your work many times over a certain period of time, in response to exhibition open calls, calls for artist residencies, grants, etc., you tasted rejection many times as well, and with it one or more of the following: Self doubt, confusion, anger, frustration, withdrawal from submitting any more work, symptoms of depression, feelings of hostility towards the “unjust” outside world and the kind of overall anxiety you cannot put your finger on and effectively deal with. Oh, did I mention envy towards other artists’ successes? Needless to say that what all these maladies have in common, is their ability to drain you from your energy, deprive you of your focus, sink you in negativity and ultimately incapacitate you in regard to the single thing most valuable for an artist: his/her ability to work.

What is known as an artist block can often be the result of a loosing battle with rejection. How then can we beat rejection?

Since the outcome here is one that is out of our control, we cannot beat rejection itself, that is, prevent it from happening. We can however overcome it, that is, rise above it and prevent it from destroying what we value most. The desired here is to render rejection powerless in inflicting us any kind of pain, psychological or other, and compromising our creativity.

Fixing our relationship with rejection

Like most problems of this nature, that is, of the kind that lie outside of our control, the solution lies mostly in our perception of rejection. To bring Epictetus, who opens the debate of this article, some fitting company, here is a dictum by Seneca: We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.

What is imagined here is that rejection is indeed in and of itself an evil. Regarding rejection as a bad in and of itself we ourselves award it the ability to hurt us.

But how does rejection ends up being considered a bad in and of itself? A series of misconceptions seem to be lying on the basis of our distorted relation with rejection.  Seeing rejection for what it is would require that we identify these misconceptions one by one and neutralize them:

  • Mistaking rejection within a certain institutional framework for rejection of the work per se. Juries and committees of organizations, judge in reference to that organizations’ particular set of values and criteria. The rejection therefore is relative and should not be perceived as a rejection neither of a specific work’s value, nor of one’s entire artistic practice.
  • Ignorance about the real odds of succeeding. If there is one lesson I learned from my first year of rigorously applying to artist calls is that rejection should come as no surprise. Instead, it should rather be expected as the rule: 18 out of my 28 applications were rejected. That is, there was an actual verdict communicated to me, that usually went like this: “…I regret to inform you that your application has not been selected….” (this is actually from a fresh one received today in my mailbox!). From the 10 applications out of 28 that were not met with a rejection, 3 were never answered (these calls never materialized into something), 1 fell through because of an application error on my part, and only 6 were met with success. It took 28 submissions for 6 successful outcomes. That represents a 21% success rate coupled by a 64% rejection rate. Which means that the no’s I received were 3 times more than the yeses. Still, it seems I did pretty well: In “How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul”, a book that contains quite a good amount of practical advice directed to artists, the success rates that should be expected from such a procedure are quite a lot slimmer. Which goes to say that the disappointment that many artists feel after applying to only a handful of artist calls and been rejected is unsubstantiated.
  • Overestimating the actual authority of authorities: Disregarding that often the gatekeepers are wrong
  • Lending the application venture itself more value and importance than it actually has. If, when served with a rejection, it is the actual value of our work we are agonizing over, and not the loss of certain honors or benefits, then our agony is simply not justified. As I already tried to demonstrate, more often than not success is determined by the institution’s agenda rather than the work’s actual value.

Since rejection is outside of our control, and since it cannot be considered a determining factor of our work’s inherent value, it should be regarded as being indifferent.

This, essentially stoic, view may seem as an impossible one to adopt or even one not befitting to humans: Artists, after all, like everyone else, have the desire and the need to succeed in their careers. Therefore it is somewhat natural that every rejection would feel like a failure to march in that  direction (of success).

Nevertheless, it is also valid to maintain that if an artist is to achieve any real greatness, he/she should also be able to view the judgments about his/her work coldly and as being irrelevant to the work and to oneself in order to be able to continue with his/her mission. This must be almost impossible for someone that has made his/herself dependent on outside approval.

Having said that, the opinion of the environment is indeed a legitimate concern, especially when one is interested in impacting society in some way. But the usual place we look for approval is not always the right one.

An effective strategy in dealing with rejection

The pressures that are applied today on the artist from all sides, to a large extent due to the incompatibility in nature and objectives between the artist and the societal structure, are so great that a broader strategy is needed in order to deal with rejection. Seeing rejection for what it is is an essential first step of freeing oneself from its effects but it can’t be enough to triumph over it.

Rising above success and rejection (the former often being more harmful than the latter) especially when one happens to be particularly vulnerable to their influence, requires a positive set of actions as well the negative affirmation of what rejection is not. Here is a list of things I consider to be valuable:

  • Working on one’s projects with single mindedness, bringing them to an end undisturbed, and only then subjecting them to outside judgment.
    The Other’s view on an artist’s process should not get in the way or predetermine the creative process itself. This can be especially disorienting if this Other represents the art market.
  • Having said that, one should have people around them they trust, in their opinion and judgment. It is they who will provide him/her with the necessary outside support and reality check an artist often needs, especially when rejections seem to be falling down like rain.
  • Don’t let anxiety turn a waiting period into a dead period. One shouldn’t just wait for the results of an application to come in, especially if they are anxious. This will sink them deeper in their imaginary quicksand and make them a victim of something over which they have no control. I don’t usually quote Andy Warhol but here is something of his touching on the matter, that I like: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art”.No matter the verdict, you know that at least you are safeguarding your creativity and advancing in your work. This possibly sets the scene for a future success, even if all you get now is rejection.
  • Make the best of the successes you do have, no matter how scarce. You can find creative ways to use these successes as an opportunity to communicate your work and reach more people, in a more regular/consistent manner.

Some hands-on practical methods against rejection

Whether you are in the process of sending out applications and are finding yourself overwhelmed from the answers you receive, or are trying to bring yourself to start submitting work and are paralyzed at the prospect of rejection, here is an actionable set of methods you can start applying today that can make a difference in how you deal with rejection next time around:

  1. If you aren’t already sending one, start sending out an artist newsletter. When I started having some few but nevertheless consistent application successes, I began sending out a newsletter through e-mail to a list of contacts. This newsletter is now a standard, trusted, and personalized means of communicating my news in the workshop and my accomplishments and keeping my audience updated on my course. Also, it is a means of broadening this audience. And even though this method of communication would have never been initiated if I wasn’t doing work I felt confident about and wanted to share, the extra bit of wind behind my sails for the first newsletter to be composed was probably these first successes: They lifted my morale and gave me one more newsworthy element to share. There is a lot to be said about learning how to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty and leveraging your successes even if they come few and far in between.

    You are the one that can give courage to yourself by not letting your successes, no matter how scarce, run through your fingers like water. Turn them into something concrete instead.

  2. Document your application process and its results. Create a document in Google Drive, Evernote, or some other application and each time you send out a submission, note the date and the other basic information regarding the application. When the result comes in seal the respective application report with this final piece of information. This way you will be able to have an objective record of this process that over time will provide you with essential information about your actual success rates, and about whether or not your application frequency justifies feelings of disappointment.
  3. If you want to become immune to rejection, or the closest to that you can be, apply often. The fewer the applications, the more their importance gets blown up in our imagination. The more frequent the applications, the easier it becomes to complete them, and the smaller the perceived importance of each individual one. Simply put, by applying often we become better in it and we also mathematically increase our chances of success.
  4. Spare yourself from any unnecessary pain early on by choosing the right kind of artist opportunities.

Closing this report of what I consider to be effective when dealing with rejection I ‘d like to add: No matter how important it may be for an artist to have some successes of the kind discussed here, no submission goes to waste regardless of its outcome. The process one undergoes because of it and the particular kind of work involved always adds something valuable to his/her practice.

How do you deal with rejection? Is it something that can get in the way of your creativity? Do you have any strategies of your own or practical methods you would recommend to other artists?

Application Sunday, Part VI: When the gatekeepers are wrong

Eugène_Delacroix_-_The_Barque_of_Dante

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: I submitted work to the General Open Call of the No Man’s Art Gallery.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part VI
When the Gatekeepers are Wrong

An application portfolio contains mandatorily: ………. a letter of recommendation (e.g. from a university institution, an art college, a gallery or other institution related to art and culture etc.) _Part of an organization’s awarding residencies to artists official application call

Whenever I failed to provide a letter of recommendation to authorities in the art world, I felt inadequate, even ashamed. I have been experiencing this as a failing, a black whole in my practice. Could it be that I should be wearing this inadequacy proudly instead?

    Being a Fatherless Child

In the article The Death of Mentors I explain that it is not the death of the Mentor per se I am proclaiming, but rather the gradual extinction of a particular kind of mentor, one that used to be taken for granted in the course of an artist’s development, and that was for the him/her (but usually him) an invaluable Guide into Art. This Mentor was generally to be found in institutions the aspiring artist would turn to in order to learn his trade (the fact that once art began to no longer be considered a trade, the mentors became scarce calls for closer inspection). As I go on to say in that same article I myself in fact do know what a real mentor in the broader sense is because I had the fortune to meet one in the person of my father. That in turn goes to say you shouldn’t take the term “fatherless child” literally either: Fatherless here means with no mentor in one’s trade.

But what does that mean exactly? There are books (nowadays there is also the internet) and there is the history of art, accessible now more than ever. Furthermore, if we agree that a mentor is essentially a guide and a mystagogue in one’s art, it is no secret that artists could always choose their mentors among the legions of the dead. Dante never met Virgil in person, in fact the latter lived over 1000 years before him, nevertheless, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the ancient Roman poet is awarded the role of the young poet’s guide across the dark waters of Art and life. Dante’s infernal journey that ended with his triumphant vision of God is one in which Virgil as his guide helped him take.

Not having a real life mentor doesn’t mean that you are left with no guidance in your quest to meet your vision in art and life. Given this, one might ask, why is being a fatherless child even an issue? Having no guidance seems to have never really been an inescapable situation (except for extreme cases defined by much serious problems than not having a mentor), but rather one that an artist might find him/herself in voluntarily (although, everyone, whether they choose to admit it or not had at some point some spiritual guidance). Maybe I should add something to my previous definition: A fatherless child has no real life mentor to guide or protect him/her. The mentor here needs to be among the living and therefore be able to protect in a certain way.

But let me clarify this, again with Dante’s help:

In Canto XIII of Divine Comedy when the young poet and his Master are about to enter Hell’s eighth circle they are stopped by “more than a thousand” that inquire who might this man be daring to enter the gates into the regions of the dead “without death first felt”. Virgil is urged to enter alone and leave Dante behind to return on his own “by his witless way”.

At which point Dante extends a plea:

O my lov’d guide! who more than seven times
Security hast render’d me, and drawn
From peril deep, whereto I stood expos’d,
Desert me not,” I cried, “in this extreme.
And if our onward going be denied,
Together trace we back our steps with speed.

His guide replying:

Fear not: for of our passage none
Hath power to disappoint us, by such high
Authority permitted. But do thou
Expect me here; meanwhile thy wearied spirit
Comfort, and feed with kindly hope, assur’d
I will not leave thee in this lower world.

Dante’s guide was able to protect him. Nevertheless, he wasn’t alive. Actually the fact that he was among the dead made it possible for him to guide him in this infernal journey.

Things in today’s art world are rather measured by different standards. The divine guidance of the dead may at times not make the cut. In order for one to not become disheartened or loose faith in one’s art, he/she should be able to discern when they are being judged for their work and when for something entirely different. And to know that being a fatherless child can be enough for the gates to remain shut: Because, getting closer to a more complete definition, being a fatherless child in art today means starting out with no real life mentors (not the kind that officially counts anyway) to protect you in the face of the gatekeepers.

The gatekeepers are important here, because, like in the case of Dante attempting to enter inferno’s eighth circle, they are the ones that will judge you. And if you happen to even remotely be interested in engaging with the official world of art it doesn’t take long to find, gatekeepers are everywhere;

Taking all the possible forms of authority, from artist residency directors to grant awarding committees, to heads of post graduate studies departments, they, never mind their proclamations of nothing being more important than your work itself, request, or rather require that you do nevertheless have a protector, a real life one, that is ready to vouch for you (usually in the form of a letter of recommendation) if you are ever to be let in through those gates.

As I mentioned in the beginning, whenever faced with a gatekeeper’s request that I was not able – or not willing – to satisfy, I felt inadequate. At some point this question set in: What if not having protectors was to a degree the inevitable outcome of my actions? And what if it had been who I was ultimately that had led to my present “predicament”? To the degree that I still recognized myself gladly in the actions and choices that made me who I was, could it be that my predicament was just how things were meant to be? This realization, one that can be considered as a kind of realization of the self, made the regret, the shame, the feeling of inadequacy to seize to have any power over me.

This inadequacy was part of me, and one that was welcome, since it came as a result of a series of choices I recognized myself in. Still, somehow I wasn’t good enough for the gatekeepers. Could my inadequacy be just a reflection of the gatekeepers’ own failings?

How one ends up being a fatherless child in art anyway? For one, there is the death of mentors, then there is the element of chance (not everyone is fortunate enough to have real life guidance in art), and ultimately, leaving out the case of one not being worthy enough to be awarded a guide, there is the kind, not so rare in the ranks of the artists, that doesn’t make friends with flattery, nor so much with authority. And the sad truth is that most “mentors” today, require something in return. That something not being solely respect or gratitude but rather an acknowledgment of their complete authority, that is, the student’s humiliation.

Gatekeepers were always used by authority to control behavior. By rewarding a certain kind and punishing another they participated in the kind of social engineering we are familiar with since our childhood.

Some of the brightest kids I met when teaching art in public schools were also the ones being “punished”, either by low grades, or by actual means of punishment by the school’s “gatekeepers”, the teachers. These kids were guilty of being too free in the face of authority.

So even though the gatekeepers may be wrong in demanding that a young artist provides them with proof of an authority figure’s support, they are also right: One must expect this from the gatekeepers, at least on occasion, and not be surprised when allegiance to authority is considered a requirement.

So let the gatekeepers do their job while we entertain this thought: If Dante felt in any way obliged to meet such demands in order to enter the infernal gates would he ever reach the vision that awaited him at the end of his journey? Maybe the gatekeepers of the art world aren’t always the ones we should keep our sights on.

Were you ever discouraged by a gatekeeper’s demands you weren’t able to meet? Did you ever feel that the standards by which you were judged as an artist were not the ones they should be? How did you overcome this obstacle, and if it is one you are still facing have you changed the way you view it over time?

The excerpts from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Canto VIII, are translated by the Rev. H. F. Cary, M.A.

Featured image: The Barque of Dante, detail, 189 cm × 246 cm, oil on canvas, Eugène Delacroix, 1822

Application Sunday Part V: The good, the bad and the ugly of a London show

Thirty-six blue moons_

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: I submitted work to the Open Call of the Looking at Painting journal.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part V:
The good, the bad and the ugly of a London show

December 25th, 2013 found me in the intensive care unit of a hospital in my home city of Athens, Greece. It was Christmas Day and there I was, instead of celebrating with my family and enjoying one of my mother’s delicacies, I was lying in one of the beds of the respiratory ward. How did I get there? The answer may not be what you expect: Art.

Sure, if I wanted to be more literal I should perhaps refrain from blaming art and instead blame it all on my frivolous behavior. But the fact of the matter is that it was indeed my precarious involvement with art that landed me this Christmas gift.

A recently adopted drawing method in combination with my failure to take all the necessary protective measures it called for brought this on me. Thankfully I came out of it unscathed (and wiser); What’s more, I had a “trophy” to show for what I’d been through: What I was working on when I got sick: Thirty-six blue moons.

This was the last work I finished in the year 2013, but it felt as if it were the first one in a long time, maybe because its creation coincided with a newly acquired sense of self-coherence that came after a long period of confusion (see part II). It was also the first work I submitted in response to an artist call after my 2014 new year’s resolution to get my work out there. My desire to take this particular work out of the workshop was probably what gave the final push for that first application to happen.

Not very long after the submission I received the news that it was successful. The opportunity had been posted by an independent curator and it involved participating in a group show in London.

When the news came I was overwhelmed. This was a huge morale booster, especially following a lengthy “exhibition drought”, and was interpreted as an early confirmation of my newly implemented strategy.

I found it kind of entertaining, and not lacking a generous dose of refreshing irony: The work that not so long ago had landed me in a hospital bed was now landing me an exhibition abroad. Things did come at a price, it seemed.

But, as I would find out, refreshing irony aside, I was also in for a generous dose of disenchantment.

This was the kind of artist opportunity that had all three: The good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s take it one by one because valuable lessons were learned from all three:

The good: My work was benefited in unexpected ways and, as often happens, the blessing came disguised as an insurmountable difficulty: Thirty-six blue moons, a work playing with the concept and form of the calendar, consisted of 36 drawings set in calendar structure. When news of its success came in, the individual drawings weren’t yet mounted on the surface that would carry them. The work was more or less still open. This proved to be a good thing. Faced with the logistics and considerations of transporting a 1.5 x 1 m frame to the UK from Greece I realized this was out of the question. The cost of transportation, all of which had to be covered by me, not to mention the potential cost of damage (it was certainly possible that the glass would break in transport), also to be covered by myself, all these added to the costs of travel and subsistence for over a week (thankfully a friend living in London had graciously offered to be my host) was turning the whole enterprise into a science fiction scenario. Where is the “good” in all that, you might ask. The good was that being faced with what seemed to be an impasse in the beginning forced me to find a solution that eventually led to the work itself evolving.

I finally flew to London with the work securely packed in my carry on. In the days preceding the exhibition, Thirty-six blue moons evolved into an artist book in a process that not only didn’t compromise the vision I had for the work but proved to be the continuation of its creative process. If one comes to think of it, there are always rules and limitations in the workshop, often set by us to function as catalysts during the creative process. In this instance it was this logistical problem playing the role of this limitation that had to be overcome creatively. The challenge was met not only by harnessing the best possible results for the work but also with the best possible outcome for my budget.

The bad: This was an international call for an exhibition held in London. Meaning that the artworks would come from all over the world. Therefore shipping the selected works to London and back was a logistical prerequisite for the exhibition to be held. This in turn makes the works’ shipping costs by nature an integral part of the exhibition’s budget. However, these expenses, which are considerable, were to be paid by the artists themselves.

When asked whether the works would be covered by an insurance the curator gave me no clear answer, other than that once she received them the works would be “under her care” and while in the gallery they would have “public liability insurance”. Reading the terms stated in the contract between the gallery and the organizers, I understood that this didn’t amount to much. There was no guarantee whatsoever that the artist would be compensated in the event of damage or loss of his/her work. The Liability section of the contract read: “…the Gallery shall have no liability whatsoever for any theft, loss, damage or destruction (including incidental losses) to or relating to, artwork, exhibition elements and personal property”. Doing some research I found out that the lack of insurance coverage in international exhibitions was not an uncommon occurrence at all. Quite the contrary, at times even prestigious venues left that aspect unfulfilled. This realization served as a kind of perverse reassurance for me to put this issue aside and go on with the show.

The ugly: I think one of the worst scenarios for an artist when his/her work is shown in a group show is for that show to take the form of something that doesn’t represent him/her.

Sometime after I learned my work had been selected I found out that the number of participants was no less that sixty. No indication of the show’s scale was given in the initial call, and combined with the fact that there was an exhibition fee of 60 GBP ($100) to be paid in order for the successful applicant to be included in the exhibition, that didn’t have a good ring to it at all: Was this some kind of predatory “opportunity” luring artists, eager to participate in a London show, into an exhibition that provided them with no essential career value, while incurring high costs that they would be called on to cover? I wanted to show this work and looked forward to experiencing this to the end regardless – this would be the first time I’d travel abroad on such an occasion after all – so I didn’t let these doubts deter me. Unfortunately, they were confirmed.

Walking in the gallery for the first time, when the works were being set up, was when I received the first actual confirmation of the negative signs I had been getting. There was no coherence in this assortment of works, no apparent connection between them or between them and my work.

I was under the impression I had walked into the wrong gallery, until I spotted the curator, whom I recognized from a photo posted in the initial artist call. I wondered if the other artists stood frozen like me when they first walked in. I snapped out of this pretty quick. I was there after all, Thirty-six blue moons was there, and I had to get to work. Plus, deep down I knew that what I was facing at that moment could in fact have been foreseen.

So I decided not to worry too much about the incoherence I found from that point on. But at the same time I knew that this was an indicator of the show’s questionable value and it also posed questions about the motivation behind it. I would have to be on my toes until this was over, since failure to provide for the show’s aesthetic and conceptual coherence made me think that a lack of professionalism would be demonstrated throughout.

And yet the lack of aesthetic quality, and the poor taste that was eventually demonstrated in all aspects of the exhibition, was something that had manifested itself months before I took my moons and flew to London. Early on, yet over a month after the fee to participate in the exhibition had been paid, a new element about the show emerged. The exhibition press release sent to us by the curator read that the show was being held “in aid of OCD UK”, meaning that somehow (it wasn’t disclosed how exactly) the show was connected to a charity organization. This alone should have probably sufficed for me to up and walk away from the event since it revealed the utter disregard of the organizers for the participating artists: It was obviously considered to not be their business to know about the exhibition’s profile and be able to make an informed decision about whether its overall profile suited them before they opted in. Adding insult to injury, this news was followed by an e-mail inquiring whether any of the participating artists who may have suffered in the past (or still did) from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (the condition connected to the charity), would be interested in providing a radio interview in the days leading up to the exhibition to talk about their condition. This I leave up to the reader to assess…

Regardless of the fact that this venture provided me with little to no value professionally, I do believe its overall effect at that time was constructive: I gained indispensable experience just when I needed it, I did something new that pushed my practice further leading to a breakthrough in my work, and, maybe most importantly, I met a couple of fellow artists with whom I have a valuable exchange to this day.

Lessons from this I will keep:

When something looks unprofessional it usually is all the way through. If the person in charge of the “opportunity” can’t use language correctly or is vague on essential issues, odds are there will be larger and more serious failures in their performance along the way.

Be skeptical, if not dismissive from the get go, of “opportunities” essentially funded by the artist. As I realized the fee the artists were paying for their participation was going to cover the gallery’s rent. One can’t expect any real career boost from these kinds of setups.

There are two kinds of opportunities: One-sided “opportunities” tailored to serve the organizers’ agenda, and true opportunities that benefit both parties. When the artist feels like he/she is only a means to an end, his/her opinion is not respected or even taken into account, or that they are part of something they didn’t opt in to, they should leave early and cut their losses.

If you are starting out, trust your instincts and read the signs. If you find yourself at the receiving end of this kind of opportunity, make some friends along the way, because this is one of the few valuable things that remains from any venture. And in the end, look back on the experience and evaluate.

Do you have the experience of a similar kind of opportunity? When was the moment you realized it wasn’t going to provide you with the value you expected? Was anything gained from this regardless?

Featured image: Penelope Vlassopoulou, Thirty-six blue moons, detail, Artist’s book/installation, accordion book in case, powdered pigment, handmade paper, abaca paper, 139 x 93.5 cm (open accordion dimensions), edition, unique, 2014