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Ask the Art Professor: Is the Internet Necessary to be a Successful Artist?

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I've been working in a small gallery that's all about social media and using it to promote their gallery and artists. I, on the other hand, choose to have a very minimal online presence. I only recently got a Linkedin account, but I don't have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I dislike the idea that anyone can have access into my work and my life. As an artist living in the 21st century, is my reluctance towards using technology and social media hurting my art career? Has the Internet become a necessary tool in becoming successful?"

Think about it this way: if you don't use the Internet to promote your art, what would you use? Print media? Print media is so achingly slow and expensive. On top of that, I don't have any evidence that print media is any more effective than emailing an announcement. If anything, I'm convinced that people are much more likely to hang onto your information if they receive it digitally. I don't even bother with hard copy postcard mailings anymore because of the high cost of postage and printing. The only time I use print media now is when I make an exhibition catalog, which only happens every two or three years because printing is so expensive. I snail-mail hard copies of the exhibition catalog to select curators and art dealers whom I want to show my artwork. Compared to print media, the Internet is so much faster, convenient, and mostly free. When you're at the very beginning of your career and you don't have significant financial resources, these factors are huge.

I can understand your reluctance to put yourself online. Many artists worry that by promoting themselves online, their artwork will be cheapened in the process. This can be true, and I've seen artists promote themselves online in a manner that is embarrassing and even detrimental to their career. I once visited a website that had gigantic icons for all of the artist's many social networks on every single webpage. I was so distracted by the "share" icons that I couldn't see their artwork clearly. Just last week I saw an artist website that was visually crammed. Nearly every page had cheesy quotes of praise, links to three different ways to buy their artwork, links telling people to be on their email list, as well as one of the tackiest biographies I've read in a while. Their artwork seemed like an afterthought in the context of all the clutter on the website.

At the very least, you absolutely must have a website for your artwork. If you can afford it, it's worth it to hire a professional to design your website to be sure that the presentation is both tasteful and user-friendly. If you can't, there are many low cost or free options you can find online for building a website. Your website can be very simple, but you must have the core basics: curriculum vitae, biography, contact information, and your artwork. To ensure a professional look, write a narrative biography that is purely factual without any superfluous embellishments. If you accompany your artwork with text, make sure that the text is visually understated. What you choose not to share is just as important for maintaining a clean, professional presentation. On my blog, I have rules that I set for myself: I don't whine, I never post anything about my family, and I only post photographs of myself in professional contexts.

Without a website, I can guarantee that you will miss out on crucial professional opportunities. Essentially every professional interaction I've had in my career has, at some point, involved someone looking at my website. I was once interviewing someone to teach a workshop, so I asked to see their artwork. The artist told me they didn't have a website, and asked if they could just email me images. This was not only inconvenient to me, because my inbox was then flooded with images, but also did not make a positive first impression. When I was a gallery director, I was frequently looking up artists online. If I discovered that an artist didn't have a website, my professional opinion of them immediately dropped.

For me, of all of the social media outlets, Facebook has been the most effective so far. While I am also on Twitter and other sites, I have many more followers on my Facebook page. I know a lot of people hate Facebook, but it's hard to ignore how effective it is in terms of reaching a lot of people very quickly. Many of my colleagues now use Facebook instead of a traditional email list for announcements. With Facebook, there's no hassle of updating everyone's email address all the time, and many people are more likely to see the information on Facebook first. You can choose to limit your Facebook interactions to being purely professional, and not post anything remotely personal. Another option is to set your privacy settings so that any personal content you post is only viewable by your personal friends.

Ultimately, you are in control of creating an online presence for yourself. You can strictly regulate what kind of information you put online, keep your presentation professional, and only share what you're comfortable with. In this way you can stay current but also maintain your artistic integrity.

Ask the Art Professor is an advice column for visual artists. Submit your questions to clara(at)claralieu.com