Friday, January 28, 2011

Inventory Software

I got an e-newsletter from Bernadine Fox. In it, she wrote about new (only $45) software that she is going to use to maintain her inventory. Anything that makes keeping accurate records of your work is interesting to me, and I trust Bernadine's judgement about professional tools for visual artists. Click here to learn more about it. (It is American.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

(Click on the image to see it larger.)

A friend in the media sent me this email publicity she received. She works in television and said in her email to me, "Passing this interview along to you. I find this format really doesn’t do much for me. Poor sound quality bad lighting, not flattering angles. All fodder for you." Besides the written opinion of the video as a promotional tool, the images (captioned at the bottom) did not come through and there are formatting problems that make the announcement feel weak. The errors and problems work against the objective of the communication (the gap in Carolyn's name; the gap in one listing of the gallery name).

This is a smart professional gallery. What was received is surely not what was sent. I post this not to embarrass the gallery or its staff, rather to remind you of the variety of the capabilities of the receiver's systems and software. PDF files always seem to work for me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Peer Assembly

Today I interviewed four artists. We met over coffee, tea and muffins, convened at my request to discuss representation. I went, humbled with gratitude to my assembled guests because, after all, they are giving me their time and considered thoughts to use in a book which I sell to make money. I am very conscious of that, so I donate a dollar from each book sold to CARFAC, the professional development association for Canadian visual artists.

In spite of my feeling like the only winner in the exercise, as the interview progressed, I saw each of the artists discover something new about their profession from the contributions of another. And when the session was over, they stayed together talking about their own and each other's work for quite a while, and several times one or another expressed a desire to get together again. As artists who normally work alone, they found it stimulating to be part of a discussion on business practice.

These are artists with considerable experience, still, they saw and experienced value in peer assembly, and it is a constant theme in my teaching. If you are an artist reading this blog, I urge you to find ways of getting together with your peers to discuss a mutually agreed to agenda of professional issues. I have never ever seen such a forum fail to impress every participant.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Something Fun: Word Clouds

This is a cool site. Go to it, input any words you want, and you get a "word cloud" that you can alter. The image above is what I got by putting in my resumé. I have a pictogram of my professional life.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Banff Residencies Information Session

The Banff Centre will be holding an informal presentation about their upcoming residency opportunities for artists at Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre on February 2.

The Banff Centre offers dozens of residencies in a variety of disciplines for artists in all stages of their careers. Come find out more about The Banff Centre’s unique professional development opportunities and learn about our inspiring programs!

3:30 - 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 2 Arts Club Upstairs Lounge 1585 Johnston Street.,

Refreshments will be provided.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nato Thompson Speaking in Vancouver

I love this video as enticement to attend a visual art exhibition (installation). What I love, is its informality. Shooting it in situ in advance of an opening, is enticing. The viewer feels privileged in an "advance look" and savvy prior to an opening, when uploaded ahead of the exhibition. The casual tone, the sense of excitement in his voice and his complete lack of hyperbole makes both him and his exhibition credible. Written credits support his dialogue; he participates in an exhibition designed to be participatory; he sets the casual tone in his choice of words and clothes, and the editing is smart. The curator is Nato Thompson.

Hear Chief Curator Nato Thompson speak next Friday, January 28th, at 12:30pm at Langara College.

In this talk, "Creative Time: Challenging Conceptions of Art in Public," Nato will highlight several projects of the last four years embarked upon by New York City's premiere public art organization Creative Time. These projects include Paul Chan's acclaimed Waiting for Godot in New Orleans (2007), Democracy in America: The National Campaign (2008), Jeremy Deller's: It is What it Is (2009), and Paul Ramirez Jonas's: Key to the City (2010). In commissioning large scale public art projects, Creative Time has supported artists to produce historically important work in sites where cultural production can challenge the status quo.

Since coming to Creative Time in 2007, Nato has organized large scale social based projects including Democracy in America: The National Campaign, Paul Chan's Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, Jeremy Deller's It is What it Is: Conversations about Iraq (a project in collaboration with the New Museum), and most recently the Creative Time Summit. Previous to Creative Time, he served as curator at MASS MoCA. His writings appear in numerous magazines on the subject of art and activism, and his book Seeing Power: Socially Engaged Art in the Age of Cultural Production is due out by Melville House Publishing in January 2012. Nato is in Vancouver to participate in the PuSH Festival as keynote speaker on Jan 28th: "Cartographic Exploits" - Marking Territory in the Contemporary City.

Nato's talk at Langara College starts at 12:30pm in lecture hall A136a, and runs until 2:15pm. Admission is free. He is sponsored by the Langara College Centre for Art in Public Spaces Speakers Series.

Residency Resources

Google provides a lot of information about local and international residency opportunities available to Canadian visual artists. The residencies that came up in my searches cover a vast range of media, length of tenure, eligibility, cost, subsidies available, and responsibilities. You have no option but to spend some time online researching them, in order to find the one that best suits your needs.

The research you do will reveal the wide range of options and forms residencies take. The more ideal the residency sounds, the more likely it is that there will be a lot of competition to obtain it. To compete for a highly desirable residency will require (in addition to a meritorious artistic mission) excellent references and writing and presentation skills.

Use Google to search opportunities by using thoughtful key words such as: “international visual arts residencies;” “educational (or academic) artist residencies;” or use a similar phrase and add the word “in” and then type the medium or site that interests you.

The Canada Council (ITALIC) ( has a list of the international residency opportunities that it supports with grants to artists through a peer adjudicated process at:

Artists in Canada (ITALIC) ( lists international residency opportunities at:

The Banff Centre (ITALIC) hosts the Leighton Artists’ Colony (ITALIC) residency program for artists of various disciplines, including the visual arts, through an adjudicated application process explained at:

Res Artis (ITALIC) ( is the largest existing network of artist residency programs, representing the interests of more than three hundred centres and organizations in fifty countries worldwide, that offer international artists facilities and conditions conducive for making art.

Trans Artists (ITALIC) ( is a knowledge centre on Artist-in-Residence opportunities. Here you can find all about international Artist-in-Residence programs as well as opportunities for artists to stay and work elsewhere.

The best information may come from fellow artists in your community or artists you find through research on the Internet. I have often posed questions to artists whom I have never met in person but whose career experience I have read about on her or his website. The Skype Internet telephone service ( has also allowed me to have free and visually rich conversations with artists whom I meet via the web and who live thousands of miles away.

BC Fine Art Marketing Report

In response to inquiries, here are some resources that I have found valuable in understanding the visual art market.
  1. Fine Art Market Report undertaken by is particularly relevant for BC artists, but its findings are relevant to all Canadian artists. I find its greatest worth is the insight it brings to readers about the objectives of art buyers. If you go to their website, on the centre right of their home page is a place to click in order to download the report.
  2. Hills Strategies Research, is the only company I know of that produces insightful analyses of Statistics Canada research for arts producers and consumers. This site is a good one for arts advocacy organizations such as Arts Councils or arts service organizations.
  3. Alyson B. Stansfield has a great art marketing blog.
  4. Robert Genn is an institution on the Westcoast. His website, particularly his "Painter's Keys Community" is a very popular site for many artists.
  5., like a long list of valuable art marketing sites, is American. But many of the essays presented here can be insightful for visual artists anywhere.
  6. No better resource for Canadian artists on copyright than CARFAC's Copyright Collective. As the US and Canada fiddle with copyright laws and the Internet forces change, this is a valuable resource for artists' rights information.

Contextualizing Visual Art Sales

In the mid-90s, geological analyses of petroglyphs by archaeologists Bednarik and Kumar in the Auditorium Cave in Bhimbekta and the Daraki-Chattan rock shelter in India, dated the paintings found on the quartzite cave walls to 290,000 years before the dawn of the Christian era.

In 1863, Napoleon III granted the three thousand artists rejected from the Salon de Paris, the right to show their work in an annex to the official exhibition. History has chosen that event to symbolize the moment when artists took control of the making of art—the awakening of the "l'art pour l'art" (“art for art’s sake”) movement in the visual arts. Also in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and, in Canada, we were still four years away from confederation.

It’s now 2011, so if the art on the walls in Bhimbekta is the oldest art in the world, the history of art is now 292,011 years long and 1863 was yesterday. If the history of art were condensed to a 24-hour clock, 1863 is just over a second before midnight.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Public Art, City of Richmond

Call to Artists – Community Artist Roster
Public Art, City of Richmond, BC Canada
Deadline for Proposals: Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at 4:00pm

Richmond’s Community Public Art Program is an initiative that creates opportunities for collaborative art projects between communities and artists of all disciplines. The program is based on the belief that through the arts, communities can explore issues, ideas, and concerns, voice community identity, express historical and cultural spirit, and create dialogue. Central to the program is the principle that exploration and the process of art-making are of utmost importance.

This call is open to artists of all disciplines to be included in the Artist Roster for community public art projects. This is not a call for specific designs. Please see the “Call to Artists” for specific submission guidelines. Current City of Richmond employees and Public Art Advisory Committee members (as well as immediate family members) may not apply.

Download the Call to Artists at

For more information contact Richmond Public Art

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Copyright: Watch the Shephard Fairey Case in the U.S.

Shephard Fairey appropriated of an Associated Press image to create his iconic blue, red and beige "Hope" poster for Barak Obama. The photo that inspired the work created by Fairey was published by AP in 2006. It was taken when Obama was a Senator at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Surprisingly, it was Fariey who sued AP. He was seeking a court declaration that he did not violate AP's copyrights. AP countersued, claiming copyright infringement. Now a US judge has dismissed the case, but a trial date remains reserved for AP suits against companies that made and sold merchandise bearing the image.

The dismissal of the suit is unfortunate because the trial would have resulted in case law that would further clarify issues of concern to artists around "fair use," appropriation and about how much the changing of the image made it "art" and a fair and legal separate entity from the photograph that inspired it.

Andy Warhol faced issues and court cases like this when he appropriated Brillo boxes and press photos of people like Jacquie Kennedy, but the changes to copyright legislation in the US and Canada that erode artists' rights have changed all the rules. Consequently, new copyright cases involving artists may affect all of us who appropriate to any extent at all.

Artists "appropriate," "reference," "honour," "caricature" and do any number of other actions with different names that all involve, to some degree, the bringing to mind of other well known imagery as part of their creative process. It is something many artists do without, sometimes, understanding the legal implications.

Google Shephard Fairey to learn more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What do you charge for Workshops?

From the Art Business Blog.

  • For my first workshop with a guild I made $255 for a 7-hour one-day workshop. My second time it went up to $275. In my new proposal I’m asking $325 (for the same workshop) and this includes travel expenses up to 100 miles from my home.
  • $50/hour
  • I usually charge $500 a day plus travel expenses for workshops organized by others, but I will also negotiate a ‘per student’ fee sometimes. I have accepted $50 per hour when it’s an amazing setting with food, travel, and lodging included. No materials included.
  • I only charge $75 for a 3-hour session- a Bargain- but I want to be accessible . . . you have to buy your own canvas, but I supply paint and brushes.
  • I charge $99 for 2 hours of photography or Photoshop.
  • For “community center classes” been getting $10/hr per person.
  • I’ve just started the workshop gig, and right now I have a rate of $95 for a day-long workshop. That cost includes a 25 page spiral bound workbook. If I didn’t have the workbook I’d charge around $80. It’s a per-artist rate. The workshop can handle up to 14 students with a minimum of six if I’m not traveling far. If I have to travel more than an hour or two away, then I’ll raise the minimum, depending on the travel cost.
  • For a two-day workshop I charge $185 plus a supply fee of $15-20. As for classes I’ve found I’m at the mercy of the art centers/leagues and guilds to what they pay anywhere from $20 to $30 per hour and that doesn’t include the set up time and clean up which could take another half hour on either end.
  • Depends on what I’m teaching $90-145/day and $215-235 fortwo-day workshops.

Dealing with Rejection

Every time visual artists submit their work for the consideration of a gallery owner, curator, buyer, jury, admission panel, professor, friend, neighbour and (above all) our fellow artists, one of three things will happen: your will get a positive response, a negative response or a neutral (balanced or mixed) response. Your chances of getting praise are 33%; your chances of not getting enthusiastic praise are 66%. Over a lifetime, artists can receive a lot of rejection; cumulative rejection can have a catastrophic effect on the artist’s soul. Too much rejection/criticism can cause an artist to lose faith in their mission and/or talent, or give up on their passion.

It is not rejection that can adversely affect you. Rather, it is how you react to rejection that is important. One must accept rejection as part of the process and move on when it occurs. Without acceptance, feelings such as anger, frustration, bitterness, or cynicism can destroy an artist’s career. Personalizing rejection is dangerous. It is very hard for many of us not to personalize rejection, but it is bad for us when we do. When we fail to manage our responses to adversity, we can become involved with “blame,” seeing all our misfortune, including rejection, as the “fault” of others.

For some, the antidote to rejection can be to make more art; pain can be a motivator. For others, rejection can be difficult. In some cases, artists mix their self-image and their work—their self worth and their work. Over time, their reaction to rejection can change because they take rejection personally. Whereas once rejection could be easily dismissed, cumulative rejection can lead to feelings of personal rejection, loss, withdrawal and depression in sensitive artists.

Huge numbers of artists—performing, visual, literary, the whole lot of them—are rejected every day. Think about actors going to several auditions every day. Rejections occur for many reasons that have nothing to do with talent. Gatekeepers of exhibition spaces, juries, calls, etc., have mandates to fulfill that may require them to balance the gender or ethnicity of selected artists, or they may have to make selections to meet geographic objectives. Gatekeepers may have strong preferences, just as many artists do, that precludes selection of your work. And there can be a compromise to neutral visual art programming due to the prejudices of board members, donors, the media etc. Also, your work may meet the standards of a gallery to which you submit work, but the subject of your work, your style or your media may render you ineligible due to the exhibition history of the gallery.

There can be a number of reasons for which you are rejected that have nothing to do with your skill and the value of your work. The key thing to remember when your work is rejected is that it is just that—your work has been rejected, not you. And not even “your work,” just the specific works that you submitted for consideration have, for one reason or another, been rejected—and rejected only for a singular and specific purpose.

If rejection leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression or failure, you have several remedial options to consider. Any one of them, or any other healing exercise that you may prefer, will definitely work if, and only if, you sincerely want to be happy or optimistic.

  • Recall past successes
  • Accept that rejection is part of the process (just as death is part of life)
  • Pour your energy into applications to other venues or initiate a new project.
  • Set the rejection in context—ask yourself, “What is more important—this rejection or my friendships?”
  • Take self-help steps such as talking with peers and getting support, doing yoga or some other meditative practice

And remember, some artists have established their careers from rejection. There is a strong tradition of the “salon des réfusés” in art. The most famous such salon was in response to the Paris Salon of 1863. The Paris Salon was an annual official exhibition of leading artists of the time. In 1863, the jury of the Salon rejected 3000 pieces including Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe and James McNeill Whistler’s Girl in White. The rejected artists mounted their own exhibition with the patronage of Emperor Napoleon III in an annex of the official salon and the emerging avant-garde movement in art was introduced to the world.

Finally, there is one good thing about rejection letters—a proven benefit! Save your rejection emails and letters in case you are ever audited. If you have annual losses declared in your income taxes ass an artist, you face an increased risk of being audited by Revenue Canada and if you are, your rejection letters can attest to both your professional ambitions and the reason for your losses.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Prove You Art an Artist.

Besides crappy art, what is the first thing you think of when you think of things hanging on the walls of a doctor’s office? Did you think of the graduation certificates of universities and hospitals? What do you think they are there for?

They are there to instill confidence. That is what consumers of products and services want most. And like those medical certificates that hang in nearly all medical and dental offices, artists would benefit from advertising their professional strengths to potential customers as well. But how can you do that?

I was startled to see how little “proof of professionalism” there was in the artist studios I visited during Vancouver’s fabulous East Side Culture Crawl. I suppose if I had spent more time with the artists, some professional documentation might have been shared with me, but I believe in being proactive.

A wall display, a beautifully done book or portfolio or a video are some of the ways that you can make your professional achievements visible to visitors to your studio. One wonderful example of this was a studio wall full of photos of people standing in their homes with the artist’s work hanging beside them. It was a confidence-inducing display.

There are so many ways you can communicate your professionalism. It is something you should consider because the art buying public is not stupid. Art buyers, in general, have a higher level of education than the population at large. They know that anyone can call themself an artist and they want to have confidence in the artist they support, so be sure to have a way to deliver it in a thoughtful, tidy and impressive way.

More than many commodities, consumers often do not feel adequate to know what is “good” or “bad” art. They value the opinion of others and that opinion can be provided by the information you select to prove your professionalism (sales, commissions, exhibitions, collections, training, degrees, etc). Make it simple, beautiful and clear.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Public Art
–Abbotsford Civic Facilities Projects
Fire Hall #8 project
$23,000. CAD
Deadline: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 2pm

The City is looking to pre-qualify a limited number of Artists or Artist Teams to become non-exclusive members of a design team for City projects. As members of the design team, the Artist or Artist Teams may be afforded opportunity to participate directly in the design and development of integrated artwork(s) for the City of Abbotsford.

The first project will be artwork(s) integrated into a new fire hall.

Abbotsford is the 5
th largest city in British Columbia and fastest growing with a population of 130,000 residents. Abbotsford is home to the University of the Fraser Valley, the Abbotsford International Airport, the Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford, and the 7,000 seat Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre which is home to the Abbotsford Heat AHL franchise.

For more information, contact
Cathleen Macdonald, Buyer III
Finance and Corporate Services
City of Abbotsford
32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford, BC, V2T 1W7

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Local YOUNG Artrepreneur Invents Art App

Manga mania has hit North America, and PaigeeDraw provides budding artists with instructional tools and supplies to create their own art and comics. Through iPhone and iPad applications, PaigeeDraw teaches users how to hand draw characters in the form of manga – a very popular form of Japanese comic-book art.

PaigeeDraw is the brainchild of Paige Rohrick, a 16-year-old artist and entrepreneur from Port Moody, B.C., Canada. Like many teenage girls, Paige became interested in manga and anime and wanted to learn how to draw her own characters. She became frustrated with the instructional resources available and decided to teach herself how to draw by collecting hundreds of comics and studying other artists. As Paige honed her skills, she received numerous requests from her friends and schoolmates to teach them how to draw, and the idea behind PaigeeDraw was born.

Paige put her artistic talents to use and created an interactive step-by-step manga tutorial that breaks characters down into as many as 27 different steps – each with instruction, tips and tricks from Paige.

PaigeeDraw makes it easy for anyone to start drawing by providing a one-stop shop for manga. Within the applications, PaigeeDraw provides links to the art supplies required, which are available in the PaigeeDraw online store. Many of the art supplies required for manga are only available at specialty art stores and can be difficult to find, so PaigeeDraw takes the guesswork and legwork out of getting started. PaigeeDraw teaches users how to hand draw, so expensive software isn’t required, and an iPhone and iPad application enables users to practice anytime, anywhere.

The PaigeeDraw applications are available for download in the iTunes application store. They launched in late-December and were immediately selected as iTunes’ #1 and #2 “New & Noteworthy” education applications, and have already received thousands of downloads.

Three versions are currently available: PaigeeDraw Free, PaigeeDraw Pro ($1.99) and PaigeeDraw Christmas ($0.99). PaigeeDraw Valentine’s Day, as well as international language versions, PaigeeDraw Korea and PaigeeDraw Japan are currently being developed.

About Manga

Manga are a form of Japanese style comics and cartoons. Often mistaken for “anime,” Manga are illustrated novels that are read backwards and include many different styles such as action, romance, comedy, etc.

Beware of Scams

I get a lot of emails from artists asking about unsolicited solicitations from international organizations that propose to publish their work in a book (or to put their work in an exhibition). By default, I am always suspicious about these kinds of proposals and I urge you to be. In most cases, I find that these proposals are by disreputable people or firms that exploit the artists' desire to be seen and to further sales and their name awareness.

There is nearly always a substantial fee, rather than a licensing agreement that I would expect. So I urge you always to be suspicious. Seek advice, if you have to, but due diligence will usually reveal the pointlessness of the exercise to objective eyes.

What is a Curator?

Image credit.

Curators are stewards of collections. They are the primary caretakers of the objects in the collections of archives, libraries, galleries, museums, individual and corporate collections and many botanical gardens. The curator’s role may include some or all of these tasks:

• Collecting objects.
• Making
provisions for the effective preservation, conservation, interpretation, documentation, research and display of a collection.
• Making the collection accessible to the public.

Most visual artists and the general public become aware of curators in their capacity of organizer of exhibitions—a curator (or director acting as a curator) runs most public (non-profit) galleries. In the past, curators often had degrees in fine art; today, many curators have degrees in curatorial studies. Curators are either employees of visual art organizations and are attached to a specific institution, or they freelance, proposing projects to the resident curators of institutions.

Curators can also be understood as tellers of stories. They tell their stories in both imagery (the artifacts themselves) and interpretive accompanying text. The exhibitions or “stories” are revelatory: by seeing a large number of pieces by one artist or by viewing the images of several artists in one exhibition, viewers find deeper meanings through the relationships between the images, and by doing so they discover the thread of the curator’s intension in creating the exhibition. The curator’s story is told in the artifacts themselves for those who want to discover it, as well as in the catalogues, artist statements, the narrative of gallery docents and sometimes in text panels that are part of the exhibition.

As stewards of our heritage, curators working in public institutions have a responsibility to tell us the most interesting or most important stories of, and for, their constituencies. They are responsible to the local taxpayers (the general public whose taxes support the institution), the artists of their community and their members, sponsors and donors. They must show us the best of our local, provincial and national artists—those artists who excel at saying who we are and those who make a significant contribution to contemporary art practice. And, when possible, they should show us the work of very significant artists from outside our communities. The role of the curator in a public institution, or the institution’s curatorial objective, is often defined in the institution’s constitution or mandate.

Curators also function significantly in the lives of Canadian visual artists because of the role they often play in the peer jurying process of the Canada Council and other funding agencies. Their regional knowledge of artists helps coordinate public investment in specific artists and/or art practices. Artists who are often featured in the exhibitions of significant public institutions are those who become part of our cultural heritage. Art critics, dealers and collectors pay particular attention to the artists who capture the interest of curators.

Curators are responsible for knowing what is going on in their communities— provincially, nationally and internationally. The specific responsibilities of a curator vary from institution to institution; some curators have a specific focus on a geographical region (such as for a relatively isolated or rural public gallery) whereas others may specialize in a medium or genre of art. Curating is a creative and intellectual activity designed to provoke thought about a thesis. It is a process of narrative, assembling the work of artists around a theme, issue or concern. The curatorial process can address the relevance and interconnections between the works of diverse artists, or it can focus on the work of a single artist revealing new insights into their process.

Curators who work in an institutional environment (the large public galleries) have to shape the thesis of their exhibitions in the context of their gallery’s mandate, its academic/aesthetic worth, and its relation to the institutional audience. Their exhibitions often have to serve as a basis for public funding applications, so they must be meritorious. Curators approach artists, galleries and collectors for work to include in their exhibitions—work that supports their thesis.

A curator can become aware of you by means of reviews of your work in the media, by seeing your work in an exhibition, by word of mouth from other visual artists or through the artist’s efforts to meet the curator. Many contemporary artists have representation by a commercial gallery and seek to exhibit in public galleries as well. Their shows in commercial galleries can serve as a means of introduction to curators (and vice versa). No matter how it comes to be that an artist has an interview or studio visit with a curator, the artist should be properly prepared.

Pet Peeve AGAIN!

Another example of bad graphic communication. This is a screen shot of an email I received. I use a Mac, as many creative people do, so if my platform is the problem, shame on the creator of this e-ad. This communication works against the best interest of the artist—the critical information is unavailable. (On my computer, if you click on the image above, it opens on a new web page as a larger version.)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More About Writing

Visual artists often think and communicate better in pictures than in words. They are often more comfortable in the tactile and sensate world, as opposed to the heady world of words. As well, artists may have self-doubt or lack in confidence preventing them from developing vital text. Artists may also mistrust language as a result of past experience. Blessed with strength in visual communication, they may have had difficulties throughout their schooling where words have ultimate value and pictures have little-to-no academic worth. And language is the medium of criticism—the harshest blows an artist may experience may be the words of a parent, teacher or visual art critic. All this “baggage” may make it hard for the artist to create effective marketing and self-promotion materials (including the artist’s statement) that drive readers to the action the artist seeks.

Writing about your own work often requires that you analyze every impulse, every decision and motivation. It is work you may not want to do. Any lack of certainty, doubt or sense that “I don’t matter” or “why I do what I do doesn’t matter” will be an obstacle to effective copywriting. Or there may be a sense that “explaining” art is not necessary or is anti-art. Artists often say they have “nothing to say” about their art when they are required to write something about it. At the other end of the scale are artists who are impossible to stop when talking about their art—both extremes of character can result in the production of weak marketing/promotional text if done without professional assistance or careful craftsmanship. All these blocks to the development of effective and persuasive text about you, your art and your art-making process have to be overcome if you are to develop a successful enterprise around your artistic practice.

Finding the Right Words

It is rarely advisable to create your sales and marketing materials on your own. You cannot be objective and you may have a pattern of explaining your work and yourself that is dated and overly subjective. What you need is strongly persuasive text or enticing personal text. Choose your style and work on it with professionals if need be.

  • Artspeak: Artspeak is complex, heavily multi-syllabic text. It is prevalent in some artist statements, curatorial essays and art criticism. It can alienate some readers as it is can be very hard for them to understand. The language of analysis has its own specialized vocabulary, but the most sophisticated of ideas are also presentable in lay language. When people read your words in your statements, catalogues, website, media communication etc., they want contextualization—access to insight, not a serious intellectual challenge. Avoid the jargon of the visual arts if you can.

  • Adjectives: Adjectives are descriptive words that frequently involve judgment; they go with subjectivity, rather than objectivity. They can be the most “dangerous” words and they come up often. It is hard for a reader to believe adjectives; consider every one you use carefully.

  • Using Third Parties
    • Slide Nights are an excellent source of “raw material” for text for your marketing and promotional materials. (See Chapter Eight.)
    • Beware of text written for you by galleries or dealers—always insist on approval of any text used to describe your work. Everything written about your work should be from you directly or in partnership with your gallery or a professional writer who recognizes the power and value of your voice (not theirs).
    • Former teachers, peer artists, art critics and/or curators are often great sources of text. They may provide you with written text free or charge or for a fee.

Some Hints

  • Have a notebook in your studio or with you when you work. Jot down ideas and insights that occur as you work. Try to explain what your work “is about” in a short paragraph or two, and build it up over time. Ask yourself questions if you have trouble writing about yourself and your art. Is your work about your ideas, your life events, a philosophic value or belief? Is it part of a narrative expressed in a body of work? Do you know where you will end up when you start a piece, or does it shape its destiny with you as you work? How do you know when to stop, or when it is done? Use your notebook to annotate your behavioral and mental creative process. Discover and record why you make art—your reasons may change over time or day to day. The clearer you are about your drive to create, the better for you and your marketing materials. Where do you work? Why do you work? Who are your influences? What emotions drive you to create? How do you feel when a work sells? What are your other passions? As is often said, people invest in artists, not art, so personal details, although they may not seem important to you, may be interesting to your potential buyers.
  • Don’t preach or write too much. Avoid superlatives and ensure every word is important. Read and re-read your work eliminating all ambiguities and extraneous text.
  • One of the best ways any writer can test her/his work is to read it aloud. Reading text that you think is “finished” to someone is a very effective way to do some self-editing—even reading it aloud to yourself is worthwhile. Never print, publish or email anything important that has not been adequately proofread.

Persuasive Writing

The biggest challenge for artists can be the need for effective persuasive copywriting. Persuasive copywriting has the writer taking a position “for” or “against” something; the writer wants to convince the reader to believe or do something. Persuasive text is what you want in your sales and marketing materials and when writing letters to solicit gallery representation, an exhibition, a sponsor, a grant etc. Here are some guidelines to help you develop effective persuasive text.

Persuasive writing usually follows a particular format— introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction is designed to demand the reader's attention. You can do that by beginning your copy with:

  • Something striking or unusual: “Perhaps never before have cow placentas been used as an artistic medium.” (As was the case in a Vancouver “Artropolis” exhibition.)
  • A provocative statement: “Most modern art is soulless.”
  • A quotation: A line from an art critic or a curator, properly credited, is a very effective opening.
  • A statistic or impressive fact: “This year I had more exhibitions and sold more work that in any other year of my career.”
  • An anecdote that is brief, relevant and interesting (or amusing) can be a good “soft” opening: “Goldie Hawn, known for her excellent taste, recently bought some of my work.”
  • A question: “Do you know why so many people bought the art of [your name] last year?”
  • Hyperbole (be careful here): “Critics are calling [your name] someone to watch!”

Besides the opening “grab,” your introduction will make your thesis clear for the reader. Your opening paragraph should tell the reader exactly what your purpose is and how you are going to prove it; it is an extremely short forecasting of the rest of your text.

“Perhaps no other artist has so engaged Vancouver gallery-goers as [your name]. (Engaging opening statement). A review of [your] exhibition reviews, publications and a look at who is buying [his/her] art proves that [you] are an excellent investment for the discerning art buyer!” (Thesis statement.)

Next comes the body of your text, where you address your thesis. This is where you elaborate. You want clear, enticing and convincing text here. You want to create confidence in your reader by proving your thesis in an engaging, believable and interesting way. Each paragraph should concisely and convincingly elaborate on a single solid reason that supports your thesis statement. Provide background information a reader may need and provide illustrations if, and whenever, it is appropriate. Do not duplicate imagery or information used in your other marketing materials to which the reader might refer. Define any specialized terms that you use, and cue your reader when necessary (e.g: first, second; next, then etc.). Draw comparisons when appropriate to assist in supporting your thesis, showing images by artists who have influenced you, for example.

You close your text with the conclusion. A good conclusion may summarize the main points made in the body of your text that conclusively proves the thesis (repeating the thesis), or you may close with a differently worded statement similar to the one used as your opening. More than anything, however, effective persuasive marketing text ends with a call for action—that is, to buy your work, attend your show or give you a grant etc.

Again, effective persuasive copywriting:

  • Has a thesis (a point of view) for the reader to accept
  • Begins with an attention-getting opening statement
  • Provides evidence proving the thesis.
  • Ends with a summary and call for action