Professional art practices: Introducing yourself to the public
Last week I emphasized the importance of writing and listed a few examples of when writing becomes pivotal in your career as an artist. It cannot be stressed enough that you will most likely spend just as much time (and possibly more) pounding away on the buttons of your keyboard as you will spend pulling brush strokes on the surface of your canvas. Writing plays a transformative role in the lives of creative individuals across the board. That is the reality of contemporary artists looking to capitalize on opportunities, promote their work and expand their network for a more global reach. Having discussed the weight of writing in the previous article, I think it is time to move on to the next crucial stage of your career as a creative practitioner, introducing yourself to the public.
Making an introduction may seem simple enough but I have witnessed too many young artists rob themselves of opportunities simply because they introduced themselves the wrong way. And by introduction I don’t necessarily mean wiping your sweaty palm before shaking the hand of a critic, curator or potential collector, although that does help. Let’s be honest, no one likes clammy palms. The introduction I’m referring to is not limited to just rubbing shoulders with art pioneers on opening nights or waving at them from across the street. In fact, I’m referring to the smaller, less obvious introductions that we tend to underestimate. These include everything from the WordArt text splashed across the front of your business card, to your poor attempt at covering the watermark of the stock image you hijacked online. All of those seemingly unimportant details that you tend to dismiss as “minor” ultimately shape a person’s perception of you and very often determine whether or not they see value in a continued relationship.
It is important that we recognize the changing times brought with it a huge shift in the way we acquaint ourselves with John Public. Making an introduction now as opposed to twenty years ago is wildly different. We have to consider the advancement of technology, the introduction of social media and its effect on ever-changing social etiquette. Every Facebook status update is an introduction to the first time viewer of your profile, in much the same way that handing someone a business card with questionable text and images is an introduction to who you are and what you do. The constant bombardment of new information and technology has made us a little too comfortable. And as a result we have become complacent with the professional image we are trying to project to our audience.
When making an introduction it is important to keep in mind that you are presenting three key images: your physical image, your work’s image and your online image. While no one likes to admit it, we are all judgmental and borderline superficial. If you’re shaking your head at this point and trying to convince yourself otherwise, then you are in denial. Try as we might, we just can’t help but “size up” someone during our initial introduction. Humans are visual creatures by nature and we’ve been taught to have an opinion about everything. Technology has only exacerbated this. So it makes sense that we have opinions about a person’s appearance. We pick apart everything from the person’s dress, to their personal hygiene (or lack thereof) and body language, all before they are even given an opportunity to speak.
Society has taught us that it’s rude to say these things out loud to said person, so we keep those thoughts to ourselves and let them marinate in our brain juice. How many times have you caught yourself saying, “He coulda really tek two minutes fuh press that shirt though.” These things happen to the best of us and soon after we scold ourselves for allowing those thoughts to run amok in our head. So you can see how important it is to remember that every person you meet will be paying close attention to the way you present yourself. I’m not saying that you need to subscribe to Western beauty ideals. But I think there are basic things that you would do well to keep in check if you are serious about taking your artwork beyond the four walls of your bedroom.
The next key image you’re introducing to John Public is your work. I think most art professionals would agree that it’s improper to stop them in the middle of their busy schedule for an impromptu visit and review of your artwork. If there’s a list of “How to lose someone’s interest immediately” I think this would be at the top. No one likes to feel forced into situations, especially by someone they don’t know. If you would like to meet with an art professional to discuss your work, call their office and make an appointment. Have respect for that person’s time. The last thing you want is for them to refer to you as “the nuisance” every time your name is mentioned.
Let us imagine that you have successfully managed to arrange a meeting at your studio/home with an art professional. Please keep in mind that it is completely unnecessary to show them your high school sketches because you want them to know that you’ve been doing art for a long time. Newsflash: everyone was required to do art in high school at some point. Save the teenage doodles for your golden years when you’re reminiscing on how far you’ve come since those cringe-worthy sketches. Instead, display only what you consider to be your best and strongest pieces in a well-lit, spacious and obstacle-free environment.
The third introduction happens via your web presence. I can understand that the option to choose any imaginable grouping of words as your email address is enough to excite the strangest parts of your brain. However, your emails will most likely get marked as “Spam” if it is a variant of firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Now if you already have one such address that you absolutely refuse to give up, then that’s fine. Save that for your peers and opt for a smarter email address that you can use for professional correspondence, without fear of being judged (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). This brings me to the next and perhaps most popular online platform that has the power to help or harm your image, Facebook. If you refer interested persons to your Facebook page because you don’t have a website, then try to keep the page as professional as possible. That means no online “cuss outs”, no vulgar videos or half-naked photographs of yourself showing your “gains.”
The focus of the page should be your work or things related to the making of your work. If for some reason you simply cannot sacrifice your double digit “likes” for a boring, professional page then create another account/page so that you can direct persons there instead. The same can be applied for any other social media platform including Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr etc. Managing multiple social media accounts can be overwhelming which is why most persons might prefer to have one primary account, and this is understandable. However, try to limit sharing personal pictures of your loved ones, your pets or your Aruba trip back in 2012. You don’t want viewers to have to sift through a ton of unrelated posts before they finally get to see your artwork. Unless they’re particularly “fass,” they will lose interest before they even get halfway. Instead, work on creating an online presence that is simple as well as easy to navigate visually and otherwise.
Now might seem a bit late for introductions for those who would have already gotten off on the wrong foot, but there is no time like the present to work on re-introducing yourself to everyone. I’m not saying that you need to undergo a dramatic transformation and become someone else. But take time to consider the points previously raised and envision how they can work together to ensure a more impactful presence in your own social circles.
Dominique Hunter is an independent visual artist who recently graduated from the Barbados Community College with a Bachelor of Fine Art (First Class Honours).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on January 24, 2016.