Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Retain the Integrity of Your Artwork When Promoting It?

2007 Boston Printmakers North American Print Biennial

“‘Making it’ as an artist seems so dependent upon self-promotion. But although networking is crucial, it seems entirely fake— as though it detracts from the integrity of the piece. What are your thoughts on this and how do you cope?”

The hard truth is that the success of an artist is highly contingent upon self-promotion.  It’s like the saying about the tree that falls in the forest: if you make all of this artwork and no one sees it, does it even exist? Without self-promotion the work will remain inside it’s bubble and have no reach, so it’s crucial that you find some way to market your work and get it “out there”.

In terms of preserving the integrity of a work, presentation and context is everything. You should always make sure that you are comfortable with how your artwork is being presented.  This means being selective about where you allow your work to be shown, as certain presentations and contexts can actually be detrimental to the work if they are of poor quality or not properly established organizations.

I remember when I had just gotten out of school, and was desperate to show my work literally anywhere, a friend of a friend recommended a local gallery that was having an exhibition about the human figure.   I was making tons of figurative oil paintings at the time, it seemed like the perfect match. I showed up at the gallery, which looked like a badly assembled patchwork quilt of trashy, cheap artwork.  I asked the woman there if she had any paperwork or contract for me to sign.  She said no, but picked up a random notebook on the table and said I could sign my name in it.  I should have walked out at that point, but I didn’t, and while I was leaving the gallery I had this itch at the back of my head that my artwork wasn’t going to be handled safely and felt nervous about the fact that I had left my artwork with them.

I did eventually pick up my artwork and thankfully, my artwork was fine.  However, that venue didn’t help me at all. In fact, I don’t even list that exhibition on my curriculum vitae anymore because to me it’s an embarrassment that I showed there. Since that experience, I have always heavily researched any venue that I am considering putting my artwork in. I look for red flags: if the gallery has no website, if the gallery takes more than 50% commission, if the gallery wants to charge me money to show there, etc. I also look at what artists have shown there before, to make sure that the gallery has with other established, professional artists in the past.

Figure Study No. 48

One of my lithographic rubbing ink figure drawings from the “Falling

In online venues I try to exert as much control as possible about where my work gets shown and how it’s presented. This means having a custom designed website that looks professional, clean, and contemporary. A domain name also matters a lot, so invest in that.  Naturally, this is significantly more expensive as you will have to hire a professional, but it’s all worth it in the end. I only show my best work on my website, and that means having professional, high quality photographs of all of the work and no works in progress. I’ve seen artist websites where people post every little sketch they’ve ever made, thinking that it will make them look prolific, when actually it has the opposite effect.  Strictly control and edit the content that you put online, and in this way, you can retain the integrity of the work. Less is definitely more.

Of course though, once your work is “out there”, there will be circumstances where people will post your work without your permission, sometimes ending up in contexts that are not as desirable. Just the other day when I Googled myself, I found some of my nude drawings from my “Falling” project listed under “Erotic Art” on a magazine’s website. Be prepared for this to happen, and accept that it is unfortunately part and parcel of having your artwork online.

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“How can I get into art exhibitions?”
“Is the Internet necessary to being a successful artist?”


3 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Retain the Integrity of Your Artwork When Promoting It?

  1. I am interested in following you. I am an artist and writing publicly in a blog. thanks for the good advice.

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