Thursday, August 7, 2008

Promote your art

… or, so you want me to review your art?

People often ask me how I decide what art exhibits to review. It’s an interesting question, but I probably don’t have an equally interesting answer. It’s often a seat-of-my-pants/spur-of-the-moment decision. For starters, I try to review shows that I think I will like and shows that I think the readers will be interested in. I do not get a big thrill out of trashing other artists, and I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So if I’m pretty sure I’m not going to like it, I avoid it.

You may well ask, “If you haven’t seen it, how do you know you’re not going to like it?” That’s a judgment call based on previous experience with the particular artist or gallery. Web sites and press releases also provide pretty good indications of what to expect. If your press release contains the words “watercolor” or “still life” or “landscape,” then you’d better have something else in that press release to really make me sit up and take notice. I’m kind of a snob that way. I’m also much more likely to want to review installation art or painting or sculpture or works that claim to be cutting edge or avant-garde. But don’t try to fool me by calling your watercolor pictures of kitty-cats avant-garde art.

References to previous shows at reputable museums or galleries also help — if you’re lucky enough to have had them. Likewise, quotes from previous reviews help.

As you may have noticed, I started out addressing readers who simply may be curious but segued into addressing artists who hope to get their shows reviewed. If you’re an artist and you hope to get your shows reviewed, I can offer a few suggestions.

If you are showing with a museum or commercial gallery, ask what kind of publicity it provides, but don’t rely on the venue to do it all. Get your own announcements out to as many outlets as possible. Contact every newspaper and bulletin board and arts-related e-mail list you know of. And if you have the contact information (it shouldn’t be hard to find), send announcements to both the editor and the reviewer. Don’t worry about duplication. Why does such duplication help? Well, let me give you an example. Say I have information on a show by Joe Blow and another by Nancy Fancy. Their announcements are equally attractive, and I can’t decide which one I want to review. If my editor sends me a note saying, “I heard about this show by Nancy Fancy, and I think you might want to look into it,” guess which one I’m more likely to write about.

I can’t speak for other critics, but I prefer e-mail to other forms of communication. I’m liable to forget something important that you tell me over the phone — like your name or how to contact you. Besides, I’m hard of hearing. And snail mail just clutters the world with too much paper.

What information should you include in your press release? Who, what, when, and where, and how to contact you. You might be surprised at how many people forget such vital information. You also might be surprised at how many critics are turned off by bad grammar and spelling. You might think that’s unimportant because, after all, you’re not submitting a short story for publication. But remember: critics are writers. We care about good writing. Also, and this is very important, include photographs of your art and a link to your Web site if you have one. Pick the best photos you have and make sure they’re big enough to see clearly but not so big that it takes forever to load. Again, I can speak only for myself, but I prefer jpg or png format at 300 dpi with a print size about five inches in the largest direction. It drives me crazy when I have to scroll to see the entire picture.

Another thing I highly recommend to anyone who is trying to promote his own art: subscribe to area e-mail lists and post your announcements there. That’s the purpose of these lists. The Tacoma Arts listserv is a great way to promote your art. To subscribe, go to
http://smtp001.tacoma.lcl/cgi-bin/mailman/ listinfo/tacomaart

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