Know-how for visual artists looking for advice and insight.
Laura Fowle: on the balancing act of self promotion
Accessibility > Authenticity: The balancing act of self-promotion
Leaving the controlled (but comforting) structures of university: as an emerging artist, the first year out of the education system is of course, a bizarre and difficult one to survive. It is inevitably challenging to manage both your time, money and practice whilst simultaneously trying to keep yourself relevant, in the loop and a productive artist. When the consistent and unremitting promotional platform of the university is no longer supporting your work, I have come to quickly learn the quandary of self-promotion. How much is too much / too little? What should I be broadly revealing and at what cost is this causing my practice?
In the contemporary climate of relentless online and digital publishing, it’s a challenging balancing act to try and promote your work, yet maintain its authenticity and validity within the same arena. Working as an intentionally ‘serial’ artist in my practice, the uses of the digital and online platforms to legitimately view work is something that fascinates and motivates me. The virtual is indeed something I view as a valid and loaded platform to experience a work, almost manufacturing it into an intentional state of flux. ‘Nothing is in a fixed state: i.e., everything is anything else’.
However, how do you separate the two? This belief in the experience of the online has left me a little stunted. Where does the line cross between a legitimate experience of a work online and a publishing act of self-promotion?
Firstly, to consider self-promotion, is to consider the audience, who you are trying to reach? As an emerging artist, my main targets are curators, galleries and of course, my peers. You never know who may come across your website, Twitter or Instagram account and may happen to like what you do, and you never know what that may lead to. It is for this reason; I have begun considering how my practice appears from the outside. My first task: my website.
When starting my site, I had hopes for it to be an interactive, simulative experience; a platform to exhibit works yet, a work in itself. However, in creating this almost simulative, mimicking platform, I feel I lost sight of the purpose of the site entirely. Your website is often the first point of contact most galleries and curators will have with your work, if there is not a sense of what the work is when exploring the site then I guess the site has failed somewhat. My initial site was an attempt of mimicking the physical elements of my works in a new, flat/scrolling layout. I played with composition, cropping and shapes to simulate the ‘actual’ within the homepage. I have since learnt, that from the outside, this made the site hard to navigate. The viewer is left confused as to what is the work? And, where can I find it? Through my attempt at this quasi-work / quasisite, I realised the end product was not achieving either. It could not commit to being an online artwork, nor was it a functioning accessible site for curators or galleries to view the portfolio of work I had actually made.
What I have learnt from this experience is the ability to differentiate. Not what I was doing in the first place was bad, but there was another time and place to do this. For the first time, I have had to consider my practice from a business perspective. My new website is simple, you can scroll through my works, clearly see titles, dimensions and materials and at the same time engage with my practice. As for the place where I can fully embrace and work simulatively with the concept and platform of the online, there are always links.
Social media of course plays a huge role in self-promotion. Before leaving university, my Instagram feed was loaded with hazy pictures of nights out, holiday snaps and an array of funny animals. Depending upon the audience that college was providing, I failed to recognize the integral role platforms such as Twitter and Instagram can have on the promotion and accessibility of my work professionally and how I can use it to my advantage.
An interesting example of an artist Instagram account I have found is Tanya Ling. Within her account, (differently to the purpose of the website), I feel she is manipulating the constructs of the platform to suit her and her practice. Through scrolling down her feed I feel I have gained an insight into her work, the images shown construct a (new) simulative experience or are almost pseudo works in themselves. It is important to recognise that the images shown are never of a ‘real’ work in-situ. Keeping her cards close to her chest, the feed is almost used as a sketchbook. Through scrolling her Instagram, viewers gain an alternative perspective over her practice as a whole. She is revealing elements of her working, however maintaining a curiosity over the manifestation of the ‘authentic’ work.
From an artist’s perspective, Ling’s feed has been a useful example to refer to when considering the contents of my own social media outlets. I feel the use of Twitter and Instagram is integrally different to the purpose of the artist’s website. These two platforms bear such a potentially vast audience that I feel it is important to utilise them to promote and to create a sense of excitement around what you are doing, not necessarily exposing the authentic work itself. I feel, Tanya Ling has achieved a good balance between revealing the concerns and style of her practice and creating hype and interest in the work, whilst sustaining an element of mystery and surprise when it comes to showing the ‘actual’ work itself.
Fundamentally, what I have learnt so far upon exploring possibilities self-promotion is differentiation. Although my practice is heavily based upon the experience of the online
and the validity of a work online; I think when it comes to promoting your work, or a show, or even an article, the conception of the two are completely different. Going forward, I feel I have learnt the importance of the accessibility of social media applications, it is not about shameless self-promotion, yet more taking control over what is revealed.