Marketing Mondays: Do Something

If you are reading this in Google Reader, please click here to go to my blogsite, where you will find more than just this article. Thank you.

These hands belong to artist Tim McFarlane of Philadelphia. Did he sit around waiting for a residency to be offered to him? No. He took two weeks off from his day job and created a residency for himself. And the work he did is fabulous. Image from McFarlane's blog

Pissed off at what you see as inequity in the art world? Do something! You can demand that institutions do this or that, but the real change comes when artists, dealers, critics and curators—but especially artists—make those changes themselves.

Last week in Marketing Mondays, I proposed that we think about career success like a mountain range, with many peaks (and valleys) rather than as the pyramid that leaves out 99.9 percent of the art world. One of the commenters posted this:  

"The real issue here is that we, the art community as a whole, need to stop letting the New York art world define success for us. We need to demand that institutions look at art with a wider scope."

I agree that we don't have to let others define success for us. And I understand the anonymous commenter’s frustration, but the anger, which is almost palpable, just stagnates. It does no good to be pissed off and rant without actually doing something about it. Demand what? Demand how? Demand when? So, with due respect to the commenter, I’m posting a fleshed out version of the response I posted. I hope you will add your own comments here. Some thoughts about doing something:
1. Write a blog
The artist-published art blog is one of the great hierarchy flatteners. Why? It's free to readers, for one thing. And it's filling a niche left by many print publications that are shrinking or ceasing publication altogether. Want an audience for what you write? Make your blog so good that people will want to read it and return to it. This is your opportunity to write about art that's important to you. That's what I try to do with this blog.  Will I singlehandedly change the art world? No. But I contribute, as you also can, to a dialog that’s lively and increasingly more inclusive.

Consider these blogs, presented in alphabetical order (and pace to those great bloggers I didn't list; there are many more links on the sidebar of this blog):
. Anaba, by artist Martin Bromirski. Want to know what’s going on in Bushwick? Williamsburg? The Lower East Side? Newark? Hudson, New York? Bromirski is there.
 ArtBlog, by artist/writers Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof. The Philadelphia-based duo champions the art and artists of their city. Enthusiastic and thoroughly professional, "Liberta," as they sometimes refer to themselves, offer visibility and critical support to emerging and established artists. They take ads, which fund writers who contribute to the blog. They’re even expanding to offer art tours.
. Art Fag City, by writer Paddy Johnson. AFC takes a non-reverential look at the New York art world. I don’t always agree with her point of view, but I love that she calls it as she sees it. Through hard work, a lot of reporting, and good promotion, Johnson has created a blog that is influential and widely read.
. Gorky’s Granddaughter, produced by Christopher Joy and Zachary Keeting. The author/editors describe it as “a documentary art project." They’re not letting the New York art world define success. "We visit studios and talk to artists,” they say. Indeed, they even post this: “If you’d like . . . to recommend an artist who deserves an interview, please send us an email through our websites.” Great!  But spend some time with the interviews first. Each is a visit with an artist who is doing good work and has interesting things to say about it.
. Hyperallergic, edited by Hrag Vartanian and published by Veken Gueykian. This “blogazine” emerged out of Vartanian’s blog but has a strong presence now as an e-magazine. You’ll get the scoop on Bushwick, street art, new artists. It started with two guys and a vision. They didn’t “demand” anything; they observed, reported, opined and created an online publication that continues to grow. Kudos.
. Painters Table, edited by artist Brett Baker, takes what it sees as the best of the blogosphere and provides a link to the original post. It's a digest for art. I love it.
. Two Coats of Paint, written and edited by Sharon Butler. A painter and art professor who also curates and mentors, Butler covers a large swath of the country. On leave from the Connecticut institution where she is a tenured professor, she divides her time between New York City and Washington, D.C., and shows in Miami, Bushwick and Seattle, among other places. She writes about students, small galleries as well as large, and includes links to articles written by others. It's  a go-to blog for a wide range of news.

There are many other blogs I could mention, but I’m just going to link to them here: Steven Alexander, a painter and art professor who writes about art in New York City, from well known to unknown;  Carol Diehl, a painter with one foot in Manhattan and the other in Western Massachusetts, who contributes to Art in America but also writes funny and witty stuff for her blog; Lynette Haggard, a Massachusetts-based artist who who does interviews with artists from throughout North America, some of whom you’ve heard of, most you haven’t; Tim McFarlane, who writes intimately about his own work and that of others; Massachusetts-based Nancy Natale, opining, curating, writing about shows you have heard of and some you haven’t (a post: on Hedda Sterne, the only woman pictured in the famous Ab Ex portrait, "The Irascibles" came with an exhortation to send Stern good wishes for her 100th birthday; the artist died shortly afterward, heartened, I like to think, by the words she received at Natale's urging);  Joyce Owens, an artist and teacher from Chicago, who knows a lot about a lot and has the experience and writing chops to back it up.

2. Write for a print publication
Does it have to be Art in America? No, and it probably won’t be. But there are many local and regional print publications that would be happy to have an artist with good writing skills contribute the occasional or regular article. Will you be paid? Maybe. Will you be paid well. Definitely not. But if you want some say in who and what gets written about—you will have the editor’s ear—get out there and do some writing. Many print publications also have blogs whose content mixes original writing with excerpts from or links to the print publication. For instance, Boston-based sculptor Donna Dodson writes for the Boston Globe Business Blog, offering an artist’s point of view on art, fairs, and sales. 

Even among the established publications, writers find ways to bring a point of view that specifically looks for the non hierarchical. Look at how Holland Cotter has changed the face of arts coverage at the New York Times, writing about "ethnic" art, craft, covering art made by women; in other words, looking for, and finding, topics that are not part of the established order. (He received a 2009 Pulitzer for this kind of coverage.) Look at what New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz has done in creating a Facebook dialog with artist, dealers, critics, curators--a dialog that spills over into his witty and irreverent writing for the magazine. Almost singlehandedly Saltz has shattered the wall between critic and artist, revealing in the process that while critics’ words may carry a good deal of weight, they are just as poorly paid as the people they write about. Establishment?  We are all in this together.

In New York City, David Cohen edits the influential Art Critical  an "online magazine"  (as opposed to a "blogazine," a distinction that may be one of branding alone). A number of artists, critics and art historians write for the publication, and Cohen presides over a monthly Review Panel at the National Academy. While some of the exhibitions reviewed are by big-name artists, others are not. But it's all work worthy of being considered and discussed. Check the magazine's sidebar for podcasts of recent Review Panels. Germane to this discussion: Why not organize something similar for the art in your city?

Regionally, look at how Mary Louise Schumacher, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, writes about the art in her city. Her JS Online blog, Art City, in not remotely New York centric.

3. Do it Yourself Projects
Look at the DIY projects and popup galleries that are doing interesting things and getting attention. I wrote a long post on DIY projects here recently, which includes thoughts about creating a solo show, curating in bricks-and-mortar-spaces as well as on line, starting a gallery, creating a catalog, organizing an art fair, giving yourself a residency and more, so I’m not going to repeat the information. But I love that the person whose DIY residency inspired my original post (that would be Laura Moriarty of Kingston, New York) in turn inspired Tim McFarlane (Philadelphia) to do the same. McFarlane wrote about his experience here. Perhaps he will inspire another artist, or artists, to do something similar.

4. Find and Support Alternative Projects
The "demand" here is on your time (and maybe on your wallet). If you don't want institutions defining who and what is successful, get out there and support alternative spaces, not-for profits, and experimental events and projects. Here's an example from the LA Weekly Blog: 25 Alternative L.A. Art Spaces to Check Out Now. Not in Los Angeles? Find out what's going on in your area. Before you demand that institutions look at art from a broader perspective, you should be doing the same thing. Quick: Name three unsung artists in your city who are doing strong and interesting work. (If they're all white and male, your own perspective isn't broad enough.)

So while organized demands can make institutional change--against sexism, racism and ageism, for instance--no New York institution is going to give up its own perspective just because somebody doesn't like it. But you have autonomy and power. Do something. Give yourself a residency. Occupy a storefront for a month with a popup show. Stake out a slice of cyberspace and write about artists you think merit attention. Learn to promote yourself. Network. Find common ground with other artists, and with dealers, curators, critics. Curate a show. Formulate a plan, make it interesting, enlist others to work with you, and make some change.

This post is just the beginning of a conversation. I hope you'll add to it.

If you have found this or other Marketing Mondays posts useful or inspiring, please consider supporting this blog with a donation. A PayPal Donate button is located on the Sidebar at right. Thank you. (Or click here and scroll down the sidebar.)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this tips.
Since 2009 a wrote everey day my wordpress blog. I'am artist, I draw, make Objects and Koncepts.
Since I wrote blog, galerists and custums are looking to me.
I'am working together with other artist writing blogs.
I adviced every artist writing blog.
Greatings from Berlin, Germany sends Susanne Haun

gregory said...

belief is probably the most important thing you can do for "success" ...

Anonymous said...

A few of the blogs you mentioned are simply mirrors of established NY coverage. Masturbatory writing for people who are already involved in the NY circle jerk.

They write about what the old establishment has already explored. Offering a paragraph of opinion that points to a longer article by someone else is NOT good art writing.

Johnson is a cultural leech. I noticed that she is already working toward covering the Chicago scene with unpaid interns (all while supporting art handlers). Not so oddly enough, she did not say a damn word to help out CAM.

Anonymous said...

Let's be for real. I worked with a DIY artists group in the 90s. We all started with a lot of enthusiasim, but then...

We discovered that putting on a show was a lot of unglamorus work. A lot of the artists began making excuses and not showing up for the work. Most did manage to make the openings however.

Then came the difficulties of scheduling people to sit in the gallery - more excuses. Even the ones who did make time and gallery sit began complaining that there were NO visitors.

Then came the complaintts that there was no coverage of the show. We even had participants in the show who had contacts to arts writeres who claimed it would be unethical to ask their contacts to write about the show.

All in all, it became 2 to 3 dedicated people who took on the majority of the work and a lot of complaineres who were not satisfied with the results.

If you do it yourself, be prepared for a lot of tedious, physical work. And be prepared for the silence of crickets for most of what you do. Evemtually all of that hard work and persistance pays off, but it will not be immeditate.

annell4 said...

Another wonderful post! Thanks so much Joanne!

Karen Schifano said...

This is a great subject and discussion of a really important subject: how to get away from feeling oneself a victim of the system. To those anonymous negative people above, I'd say, you're missing the point. It's not about how hard it is, or being part of a "circle-jerk". It's about reclaiming your own sense of agency, and more importantly, giving some energy to others in your gang.It all comes back to you - maybe not directly but in many surprising ways. And it gets you out of the self-pity, and into moving forward for yourself. Thanks Joanne and thanks Tim for your great example!

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 9:31--Normally I don't let negative anonymous posts in for exactly the reason personfified by your comment--you slammed someone while hiding behind a curtain. I let you through because I will respond. While all of the blogs cover some establishment figures--and why shouldn't they?--they also write about artists you haven't heard of. Indeed, Bushwick was barely a dot on the map until the New York bloggers started writing about the artists and the scene they created there. Imagine: They have become "establishment" by writing about the fringe, which is now coming into the establishment.

Anonymous 10:23--No one says that DIY is easy. People wouldn't be doing it themselves if they had someone to do it for them, eh? But there are many ways to DIY, some that don't get dragged down by the slackness of others. The lesson here is that when we DIY we really do need to pick out colleagues carefully.

Karen Schifano: Bingo!

Thanks to all for commenting. Keep 'em coming.

Unknown said...

Great post, Joanne. And I want to give a shout out to my friend Karen Schifano, because we had a similar discussion over lunch not long ago- and I took her advice, offering to write for the blog adobe airstream. It was really fun and I hope to do it regularly. And anything you do to feel empowered and part of the conversation is a very good thing.

Nancy Natale said...

Joanne, it's pretty obvious that sitting around pissing and moaning gets you nowhere. But if you can't land on top of the heap, at least you (and I don't literally mean Y-O-U) can have some fun at the bottom by picking art friends who share the same seriousness about their work but enjoy laughing at life's ridiculousness.

At one time in my life I got stuck in a bind of putting shows together. They were great, I learned a lot and got some grants and publicity, etc., but I burned myself out. I also found that many, if not most, artists didn't have the same sense I did of payback in that they felt no compunction to mention my name to anyone or invite me to be in shows. So I stopped doing that and weeded those people out of my circle. As you say, I now refuse to be "dragged down by the slackness of others."

Although I haven't given myself a residency (as I would love to after reading Tim's documentation of his), I have made much more of an effort to focus on my work and not get dragged down by the time-sucking minutia of life. Making my work is now #1 on my list and all the other stuff has to fall behind that - including writing my blog, going to openings and the rest. I try to do enough to keep my hand in and my brain unaddled, but not so much that I lose focus.

Being able to keep my studio, buy art supplies and keep working is my motivation. If my work is not selling for even a tiny percentage of what Munch's brought home, there's not much I can do about it. But on the other hand, Munch never saw any of that either so we're in the same boat.

marc said...

I figure whining and complaining about peripheral and mainstream art venues/publications comes with the sucks and/or is unfair until you get a show or an article. Inclusion has a way of changing one attitude for a while at least. Then you can always moan about the others that don't love or understand you.

Tim McFarlane said...

Joanne: Thanks for including my project as part of this discussion. I sincerely believe that whatever positive energy we can put towards creating a better situation for ourselves as artists and sharing information as a community, the better we all will be in the end.

I could have just did my residency without anyone knowing and it still would have worked out fine for me. However, I also know that there are other artists out there who might see something in my experience that could help them in some way or another, just like Joanne's DIY post got me started on my own residency project.

It's not all peaches and cream, but there's a point where you do have to create your own space and opportunities to move forward, even if only a little bit. The art world will keep going about it's merry way with or without us, so the more that we can do to keep our art-making front and center and contributing to the conversations, the better.

Art Musings said...

Good posts and I espically like Tim mMcfarlane's comments.
I am at a point in my painting where I am isolated enough that doubt is my most frequent visitor. I realize I just need to do the work, and not worry about everything else.

Christine Sauer said...

Thanks for a great post Joanne and thanks to everyone that has contributed thru comments! I look forward to checking out several of the blogs that are not familiar to me.
In reponse to the 10:23 anon, I am pretty sure that in many organizations of all types it is always the few that do alot and the rest not so much. We have several artists collectives here in New Orleans that sprang up after Katrina and they struggle with the same issues that you mentioned. But they have done some good shows and are persisting. Holland Cotter gave a lecture here last month and mentioned that he was encouraged to see this kind of activity(my words not his)
Two years ago I started my self funded sabbatical from a full-time art teaching job so that I could reboot my studio practice. I organized my finances and paid off everything. My husband and I are living on half of what we were so that I could work unencumbered. It has been an interesting experience allowing me time to develop my work, and find exhibition opportunities and grants. It has been tough to find like minded individuals as Nancy mentioned.
I have found three things that I learned at a Creative Capital workshop to be helpful in staying on track. One is goal setting for one, three and five years out. This is helping me to not get sidetracked by other peoples agendas, ideas and demands on my time. Secondly, we did a time tracking exercise where we tracked everything we did for a week. It was eye opening to see how much time things actually take as opposed to what I think they take, I guess a common problem for many artists. Again it has made memore aware of what is doable in a more realistic way. The third item was that 20% of time should be used to promote your work in whatever way goes along with your goals.
Despite having many positive things happen in the last two years,it is a challenge and even more difficult than I imagined, to keep things rolling along. Sharing information and experiences certainly helps keep the energy going. I also loved the mountain range analogy for success from last weeks post!!

Oriane Stender said...

Good post, Joanne. And good comments, except for those two anonymous whiners. Dudes/dudettes: OK, so you don't like a couple of the blogs that Joanne mentions. But did you see her main point? Start your own blog! Make it good. Let other people (like Joanne and others with influential blogs, columns, presences and personalities) know about it and your voice can be part of the dialogue. Starting a blog is very easy. Keeping a readership interested and coming back is not so easy. So before you rag on other people's efforts, try doing it yourself. Tried it and it didn't work so well? Didn't get a lot of readers? Hmm, what can you do about it? Maybe join up with some other people and do a blogazine - like some of the people Joanne mentions - so there are a multiplicity of voices expressed. Just want to have your own voice and no one else's? You can do that but it might not be as popular as the forums that have more variety. Figure out and refine your goals. Is size of your readership that important? Yes? Make it more relevant to more people. No? Then just do your own thing and keep doing it. No one said it was going to be easy. But the negative energy doesn't really constitute relevant or constructive criticism; it just reflects badly on you. Don't like what's out there? Make it better.

Anna Stump said...

I organize and curate for a group of women here in San Diego (the Feminist Image Group). I do most of the work because that's most efficient, although I accept all help offered. I find that organizing one to two shows a year is more than enough. It provides me some cred, and I support my artist friends and make new contacts.

I encourage artists to curate, it will help your career. Thanks for your great articles, Ms. Mattera.