The painting above, Tangled
, is now at Darnell Fine Art
in Santa Fe--one of several 12" square pieces I sent out last week.
For the past few days I've been thinking about the issue of self-promotion for artists...how much is too much? When I got back from my last workshop, and posted some photos of it on Facebook, that seemed fine to me. Then I realized I should do the same thing on my Facebook "fan page" (since not everyone who is a "fan" is also a "friend.") Then, naturally I wrote about the workshop here on my blog, since it was a major event for me, and my blog readers are all over--many are not connected to me through Facebook. However, my blog appears on my Facebook page as a "note"...so if we count the photo of the class that I posted on my Facebook "wall" there were four items about the workshop that went out to all of my Facebook friends. Which was probably about three too many. At least I no longer "tweet" so Twitter followers were spared!
As anyone who has delved into social media knows, there are a great many places now to post information--for me, besides Facebook, my blog, and website, there are also a number of professional sites like Plaxo, and also artist information sites that request announcements of shows and workshops. It's all good, and I've been amazed at how information travels on the web. (In the past few weeks alone I've had emails from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Singapore--in both cases artists asking about my techniques.)
On the other hand, it can seem like a chore (and sometimes an uncomfortable one) to continually go on about myself and what I do. I've spent the past 30+ years in the Midwest, where there is a strong cultural taboo against "tooting your own horn" and I sometimes cringe to hear how casually I now do so. Yet I recognize the necessity for a professional artist to self-promote. We've all heard the saying, if you don't do it, who will?
Once you've been well-received by a gallery owner or workshop organizer, it's a lot easier to approach the next one...but in the beginning, self-promotion is a very daunting obstacle to overcome. It's not just sending around announcements and descriptions of what you do--it's having some confidence that this is news someone wants to hear. Many of us pick up the skills and avenues of self-promotion gradually as we go--for me there was never a huge hurdle to jump, just a series of small steps that get somewhat easier as time goes on. (Though now on the internet they seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate, and in sheer numbers are hard to keep up with.)
I still do find it tricky to know the right level of self-promotion for each situation, though, or to correctly sense whether it is appropriate at all. I'm most at ease with situations that come with unwritten rules or guidelines--for example, in making initial contact with a gallery or in giving a slide lecture, I know that talking about myself and my work is expected. That's true also for this blog--I figure that my regular readers must be interested in my work and my feelings about it if they are sticking around. From my own experience and from the comments of others, I know that an artist's successes, failures, insights, and experience provide valuable information for others on the same path.
There are definitely situations, though, in which speaking about what I do beyond just stating the facts is not well received. Talking about my work with any degree of emotion or enthusiasm can easily be heard as boasting--causing eye-rolling and a "who does she think she is??" reaction. Because these situations are not so well-defined, it's possible to stumble into them and to end up being quite embarrassed. I'm guessing that most artists have had these experiences, and try intuitively to avoid them. (It's interesting to note that many who offer business advice for artists advocate fairly relentless self-promotion--with strangers in all sorts of situations, as well as with acquaintances, friends and family...but I can't see it.)
The key to self-promotion seems to be, who wants to know and how much do they want to know? And the people who don't even know they want to know...can you second-guess them? There are lots of pitfalls, and the truth is that in the course of self-promotion (even if you follow well-accepted, appropriate channels) you will at some point be embarrassed, misunderstood, disrespected, and/or ignored. Accept that and the way is cleared to reap much more positive outcomes. I continue to have moments of discomfort, but the rewards of growing recognition and exposure make that all pretty much OK. I wonder what other artists reading this have to say on this topic? It seems to be on many people's minds, and there are no easy answers, only individual opinions and anecdotes.