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Promotion & Networking
This chapter is about how to present papers, give lectures, and engage the community of artists around you, as well as art administrators, with thoughtful presentations.
Promotion is a dirty word for some artists and a calling card for others. In this chapter we will discuss how to promote your work in a way that fits your situation. There is no need to be pushy or awkward about it. It must be done with grace and style, and the elements of that will be discussed here with specific advice to advance your career.
Another word for this is the rather cold sounding—networking, a term that has meaning now as a social media tactic as well as an interpersonal strategy. How you approach this concept will greatly determine your future. The idea that an artist shouldn’t promote their work, or that too much promotion hurts work, is one of those ideas that prevents good work from getting out into the world. Without promotion, which really means sharing, how will anyone ever see it? The less promotion, or sharing or networking that you do, the smaller your audience will be.
This concept of how to share, how to network, and how to engage your audience is the most important in this book, because without it, nothing else will work. Essentially, it boils down to this—make more friends. That is both the easiest thing in the world and for some, one of the hardest. Yes, it is “who you know,” but that is not a bad thing, because you need to know more people and have more friends so that your system of support can grow. It is true that we live in a world that can be more isolating, that we spend more time at home, more time with a computer, and less time singing, dancing, and being part of a community that makes us feel good and part of something larger.
It is also true that we are most comfortable in a mutually supportive environment, and that we must create that environment for ourselves. Let’s get down to what that means in terms of how you will create your community of supportive curators, artists, and gallery owners. It is not about getting introductions to all of them, because even if you did get introductions, then what do you do? For the museum shows I have gotten, and my patrons and sponsors, too, I never had any introductions: I contacted them directly. I often asked a foundation or museum for their email, contact information, or office information, and found I was able to get to just about everyone. Why shouldn’t you be able to do that? At the highest levels, everyone has a secretary, an office assistant who will pass on your letter if it’s good enough. So at the very least, work on writing letters to people you want to reach.
I interviewed Ida Applebroog, an artist now represented by Hauser and Wirth, a very high end gallery. Her work is also consistently disturbing, that is, the content is often faces that look as though they are distorted or upset, and other work is often challenging on social and political themes. She would never say she promoted her work, because I asked her and she said she did not, but she also had a different definition of that meant. Before she had exhibits or was known, it was the seventies in New York and she was trying to get her work noticed, but as a woman—and in the seventies—it was difficult. She began making small, inexpensive, xeroxed (copied) booklets in black and white. (That process is simply folding four pieces of 8 . x 11 bond paper in half and nesting them all together and putting a staple or string through the binding.) She copied black and white reproductions of her paintings and words. The words often didn’t even connect, so the reader would be puzzled, trying to figure it out.
She sent these inexpensive productions to whomever she wanted to reach, even if she did not know them. That meant gallerists, friends, critics, curators, writers, and anyone she wanted to share work with. She said that sometimes people would write back and tell her to “stop sending these dark images,” and that it ruined their day! Ida said she took that as a compliment.
Was she promoting herself? Of course. We must find away to share and get work out no matter where you are. You don’t have to use Facebook, but of course you can. What Ida did is something you could probably do today. Make small books regularly and send them out. Make the books hard to decipher and memorable perhaps, or whatever you like. In this age of emails and text messages, paper mail is even more special. Receiving a small handmade book in the mail is something special that will be remembered, and if your name is associated with it, why wouldn’t you also be remembered?
To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here. To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here.