Artiquette: 10 Mistakes Not to Make While Promoting Your Art

Don't fall into these traps.

Master self-promoter and artist Damien Hirst at the Tracey Emin dinner hosted by Phillips and Vanity Fair at Cecconi's at Soho Beach House on December 3, 2013 in Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy of Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for Soho Beach House.

Artiquette is a series that explores etiquette in the art world.

How do you make it in the art world? It’s a magical formula that involves, talent, drive, grit, and yes, the ability to promote oneself. Unfortunately, talking up your own artwork, projects, and ideas can be a delicate balancing act.

To help you walk that line, artnet News has rounded up a list of mistakes to avoid in self-promotion. This advice applies not only to artists looking to make a name for themselves but also to everyone navigating the thorny issues involving self-promotion: Galleries, museums, and publicists, take heed.

Actor John O'Hurley emerges from a prop can of Spam during a launch event to introduce "Monty Python's Spamalot" at The Grail Theater at the Wynn Las Vegas January 22, 2007. Courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Actor John O’Hurley emerges from a prop can of Spam during a launch event to introduce “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Wynn Las Vegas in 2007. Courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

1. Don’t spam your audience.
No one likes to feel bombarded. As Hyatt Mannix, the communications manager at High Line Art, told artnet News in an email: “You are likely to lose interest from your followers if you post more than twice in the span of 30 minutes.”

This applies to emailing art writers as well. On Monday, July 4, while many in the US were out grilling hamburgers, a man who goes by the moniker “Moltenglue Drywallmud” for email purposes chose instead to send me no less than nine emails between 2:30 p.m. and 2:44 p.m. Unsurprisingly, those were the only messages I received at that time. (Despite having different subject titles, each included the same painting in the attachment.)

2. Don’t put out an underwhelming press release.
It doesn’t matter how great the work is: If you aren’t able to communicate your message clearly, it’s highly unlikely anyone will pick it up.

One of my favorite stories that I wrote last year, about how a curator identified a long-lost Fabergé egg surprise in the British royal family’s art collection, almost didn’t get written because of the hard-to-parse email announcing the discovery.

You might think your work speaks for itself, but that’s not always the case.

Gagosian Gallery. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.

Gagosian Gallery. Courtesy of the gallery.

3. Don’t send galleries unsolicited artwork.
A few months ago, in a Facebook post that has since been since been removed, a Brooklyn gallery owner complained about being inundated with emails full of artwork from artists she had never met who were seeking representation:

“Dear portfolio-link sending artists,” she wrote. “It doesn’t work like that with galleries. This is like walking up to a girl and asking if you can fuck her. You need to meet the gallerists in person, get to know their taste and interests and find where your work fits, thoughtfully.”

Avoid this aggressive approach by identifying a gallery you think might be a good fit, working your connections, and seeking a personal introduction, rather than cold emailing.

4. Don’t just email anyone.
Whatever it is you’re pushing, it isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Do your research, and figure out who, be it a journalist, a gallery, or a collector, has expressed interest in similar projects in the past. This is who you want to target.

As arts publicist Molly Krause, founder of Molly Krause Communications, put it in an email to artnet News: “Just because someone writes about art doesn’t mean that he or she necessarily covers upcoming gallery exhibitions, and just because someone covers upcoming gallery exhibitions doesn’t mean that he or she necessarily writes about anything other than, say, photography. Be respectful.”

5. Don’t overwhelm your audience.
How many photos should you share of the work? Mannix warned against both using too many images and having too many: “Don’t underwhelm or overwhelm,” she wrote.

Be considerate of download times and choose low resolution images. Remember, as Mannix points out, “you don’t want to clog up anyone’s inbox.”

A Christie’s staffer with Henry Moore's sculpture Reclining Figure No. 2 (conceived in 1952) at Christie's King Street, London, in 2015. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

A Christie’s staffer with Henry Moore’s sculpture Reclining Figure No. 2 (conceived in 1952) at Christie’s King Street, London, in 2015. Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images.

6. Don’t forget the 5 Ws.
When approaching someone with a pitch, lay out what you’re promoting, and be as clear as possible. “Don’t forget to tell us what exactly your work is. Is it a painting? Is it a sculpture?” Mannix wrote. “It’s helpful to ask yourself if you’re explaining who, what, where, and (a very brief) why.”

7. Don’t make your audience angry.
If you’re consistently getting radio silence in response to your efforts at self-promotion, leave well enough alone. Trim your mailing list in an effort to reach out only to those you really think are interested. And definitely let people opt out.

Danielle Wu, a gallery associate at Galerie Lelong, told me in a Facebook post that her pet peeve is when people are “emailing regularly and not including a way to unsubscribe.”

8. Don’t forget about links. 
One big no-no is putting a link in your Instagram caption. “We can’t click it!” Mannix explained. “Always put the link in your bio, where visitors to your page can easily follow a link to visit your website.”

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin visit the Byzantine and Christian museum in Athens, on May 27, 2016. Courtesy of THANASSIS STAVRAKIS/AFP/Getty Images.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin visit the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens on May 27, 2016. Courtesy of THANASSIS STAVRAKIS/AFP/Getty Images.

9. Don’t be cryptic.
Between mid-March and mid-May, I received eight bizarre emails from a man I will call Bob. The emails had subject lines like “Question the monopoly” and “Western decline,” and were addressed to me, first and last name, and artnet.com, and were also sent to our editor-in-chief, Rozalia Jovanovic.

Bob, who appears to have some sort of project about non-Western art, always asked a vague question, such as “Do Western governments discourage Western identity? Please consider.” He included a link to his website in his email signature every time, but I never felt compelled to visit it—nor, to be honest, to open his subsequent emails, save for the purposes of this story. If Bob can’t take the time to explain what the heck it is he’s doing, why should I bother to try and find out on my own?

10. Don’t exaggerate. 
Using Donald Trump-esque “truthful hyperboles” to enhance or lie about your work or your resume might help in the short term, but it is a faulty long-term strategy. The truth will eventually emerge, and you don’t want to be caught in a compromising position.


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