This blog is specifically targeted to my readers in the Steemit community. If you’re a talented content creator or your just tired of the toxic Facebook scene, please consider bringing your voice to our blockchain.
Today I’m taking a break from esoteric movies, fringe drugs, rock revolutions, crypto-zoological mysteries, and UFO conspiracies to touch on a subject that’s a little more practical. Many of you know that beyond my blogging habit, for the last fourteen years, I’ve been a professional art and film critic based in Nashville, TN, and I’ve written for journals and sites across the Southeast, covering exhibitions around the region.
That said, the world of art criticism is in a long term crisis where artists have less and less opportunities to have their works spotlighted by the kind of exciting, insightful writing that can help to grow and shape artists’ individual careers and even citywide art scenes. There is a lack of outlets offering regular critical writing about art, and as a result it’s harder and harder for artists to have their work evaluated and contextualized in an ongoing cultural conversation at the individual, local, regional, national and even global levels. Serious art and serious criticism actually depend on one another, but as art journals go out of print and daily and weekly papers pay less and less money to critics or do away with visual art writing altogether the problem becomes compounded for the artist.
However, this is an optimistic post that can help any artist anywhere get the attention of whatever critical community they may have in reach. I’m going to outline some of the fundamental skills and practices that can help you get your art reviewed. I’m also going to offer a new Steemit-based solution that combines some of art criticism’s cutting-edge thinking, blockchain technology and crypto currency into a win-win for Steemit artists and critics alike.
Contact a Critic
If you have a writing in mind as you’re preparing your next exhibition attempt to contact them through publication/blog/site they write for. If its an online journal or a blog look for some official email contact. If it’s a magazine or a newspaper go to their website and search for a “staff” listing or a “masthead” link or an “editorial” roster. If you can contact the critic directly do so. Otherwise inquire with the “managing editor” — that’s the ringleader of the paper’s day-to-day business and should be your default whenever you can’t find a direct contact for a writer or a lower level “arts editor” to contact. Also, don’t be afraid to pick up a phone and call an editor or a critic directly at their publication. People are constantly calling newspapers and magazines to get their stories in print, and it’s completely legit for an artist to do the same.
With all of this in mind, do not contact a critic at personal email or phone or even through social media, and hit them with a press release, a link to your website and a dozen attached images. This person is a professional and you should be too. A critic’s personal email, phone and social media isn’t a storefront, and badgering a critic via Facebook should be a last chance move for an artist looking to get attention. Always try to contact your critic through the proper editorial channels, but if Facebook or a personal email address is your last hope, be brief and polite, and ask them what the best way to contact them is. I get flooded with press releases every month and I have one email address that’s pretty much exclusively for my art writing. If everything wasn’t all going to one spot I’d never be able to keep all my information and assignments organized. When artists send information somewhere else or start pitching me out of nowhere on a Facebook chat it only makes it harder for me. But when an artist contacts me with a polite request to communicate about their work, I’m always happy to plug them in and start a dialog.
Remember these three Ps: Professional, Polite, Persistent
Following this rule alone will bring you much closer to your goals of having your work evaluated and exposed to a bigger audience.
Timing is Everything
As artists we have to accept responsibility for our successes and our failures if we want to be empowered in garnering our rewards and improving upon our shortcomings. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for artists who want to get their work reviewed is that they don’t understand the workings of an editorial calendar. Print publications necessarily work ahead of schedule because they ultimately have to allow for printing and distribution of their product. If the cover story on the magazine that comes out next Thursday is going to be timely we have to already be working on it well ahead of the street date. Often artists will contact me about getting a notice about a show in print, but I’ve already turned in all my copy long before they reached out — I’m already working on the next week’s paper or the next month’s magazine or the next quarter’s journal. Here’s a great rule of thumb that can help you better plan your pitches to a critic:
2 X Publication Schedule = Perfect Timing.
If you are pitching a critic at a weekly paper they need your information 2 FULL WEEKS before the date of your event. If you are pitching a monthly magazine they need your information 2 FULL MONTHS before the date of your event, etc. Generally, if you send your information later than this it could be too late, but if you send it earlier it might get forgotten in the shuffle. This is another occasion where you should never be afraid to call or email a critic or an editor directly if you have any questions about how early to send your information. Whenever somebody asks me a question about how to properly pitch their work I think they’re smart and considerate.
Be that artist!
Writing a Release
You can find lots of templates and examples of press releases online. Any search will give you plenty of possible styles you can mix and match to your liking. I can assure you that critics who read tons of press releases everyday prefer them to be simple, short and easy to navigate. Here are my top tips for effective, clear, impacting press release writing:
1. Tell me the who, what, where and when of your event — including opening and closing dates — making sure all the spelling and information is accurate.
2. Embed the release in the body of the email. Don’t attach it to a message — the press release is the message.
3. If you’re including an artist statement and/or a bio keep them short and embed them after the release.
4. Attach up to three hi-resolution images to the email.
There’s a lot of room here for style and formatting, but less is always more when it comes to a good press release. Be sure to send your information in plenty of time for your event and don’t be shy about following up if you’ve had no response after a reasonable period.
Be Building Relationships
Every artist wants to get their show in print or on television or highlighted on an influential blog. I hope some of these tips will help you do just that! However, in the long run, your strategy should be to develop relationships with the writers and publications that can help you to expose your work to a bigger audience. I hope your very next email to a critic gets you a glowing review in a prestigious art journal, but if it makes a critic visit your online portfolio and remember your name, you’re already much closer to getting the attention you need to win for your work to be seen more broadly. Maximize your chances of getting reviewed by seeking out publications, sites and writers that are appropriate for the kind of work you make, but don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately make a huge splash. Do good work consistently. Create a network and stay in contact. That’s one good way to become the kind of artist no one will ignore.
Nobody Writes About Art
But what if you live in a place where there are no art critics? It’s probably more likely than not that you live somewhere where there is nearly no critical writing about visual art on offer. Even if you have a cool alternative weekly there’s no guarantee that they take visual art seriously. The alternative weekly in Nashville is currently up for sale and there’s no guarantee that it will continue to be in print in the near future. Art critics like me are an endangered species, and that’s lead to a lot of forward thinking about how art criticism should evolve in the 21st century. I interviewed Gilda Williams about her book How to Write About Contemporary Art. This book is way more radical than its title and I have a lot of admiration for Williams visionary insights into the future of art writing. Here’s an excerpt from our chat:
What might the professionalization of art writing look like?
I fully support the creation of a new professional cast of art-writers: gifted communicators; immersed in and knowledgeable about contemporary art; possessing a natural inclination for writing; and earning a good living from their work. A precedent for this figure is Pat Hackett, Andy Warhol’s written “voice”—uncannily able to “sound like Andy” better than the artist himself. Hackett—paid decently, in direct conversation with the artist, and given a much-deserved co-author credit on Popism and The Diaries—was not an art critic but a commissioned literary spokesperson. Warhol was smart enough to recognize his limitations as a writer but hardly foolish enough to relegate “his” writing to amateurs. Thus he availed himself of professional art writers (Bob Colacello was another): this represents yet another prophetic Warholian solution in an evolving art world.
Like other art professionals, such as gallerists and curators, the art writer’s reputation would stand and fall on the quality of their work and the choices they make. The art writer would be an openly partisan collaborator, and free from the traditional conflicts of interest to which the art critic must submit. Top art writers, plainly working on behalf of galleries or artists, could be paid an advance or royalties on the sale of art; why not?
With art writing being so poorly compensated, why do people endeavor to do it?
For the very same reason that millions of low income artists carry on: they cannot help but do what they love. We bring home the bacon teaching and editing—moonlighting any art-related job that buys us time to write.
One of my insights from this interview and Williams’ book is that artists, galleries and critics should be joining forces and closing ranks and collaborating in their own promotion, more or less unconcerned about the failure of print or the support of larger commercial sites. In Williams’ world critics would simply put their words behind the artists and the work they admired while doing away with the pretenses of objectivity and tripwires of conflicts of interest. My favorite aspect of Williams’ idea is that when critics and artists work together directly there is no dependence on or interference from publishing mediation and compensation. I love print and I don’t want to see newspapers and magazines disappear. That said, the anarchist in me always feels better when gatekeepers are dis-empowered and authority is decentralized.
Of course, it suddenly sounds like I’m talking about Steemit, and I am. Williams’ vision of the future of critical art writing shares values with blockchain/crypto communities like Steemit, making this site a natural fit for experimenting with real world solutions for the frustrations facing artists and art writers alike.
I want to introduce a new hashtag to the Steemit art community, and bring a critical dialog to our online exhibiting.
If you are a Steemit artist interested in getting your work reviewed:
1. Post an image of your work along with a link where I can see more
2. Make the first hashtag #criticali
3. Link your post in the replies below
4. Upvote if you can, but please Resteem to help spread awareness of this opportunity
If I check out your work and find it inspiring or exciting I’ll be in touch with you about it. This would be a #steemgig, but not an advertising job. I’d never write a review I wouldn’t stand behind.
I’m offering 700 word reviews accompanied by images provided by the artist for $50 SBD. The work would be published on my personal blog, here on Steemit, and also promoted via my own social media channels. There may be an even better way to make this opportunity available to artists on Steemit, but this can’t devolve into a contest. This is a serious offer, but only for the most serious artists. I’m offering the strength of my professional reputation as an established critic, and I’ll only be able to partner with the artists producing work that I can put my full faculties and resources behind.