I feel like the majority of us have accepted that a large chunk of viewing artwork will take place virtually for the foreseeable future. We have already seen what galleries and institutions have done to adjust, but what does it mean for individual artists? For years, I’ve felt that a lot of artists have underutilized the internet. I’m not necessarily talking about having a social media presence — a whole different topic — but rather personal websites showcasing artists’ work and projects.
I admit that experiencing art online is not the same as experiencing it in person, but I don’t think that viewing work is the sole purpose of an artist’s website. From a curatorial standpoint, artist websites are great resources. Like most curators, I visit a lot of galleries and museums to look at art, but I often start my research online. It can give me a solid jumping-off point on an artist. If the image section is done well, I can look at recent work as well as earlier bodies of work, which gives me an overview — a sense of the artist’s trajectory. And related text by the artist can shed even more light on their process and what they’re trying to convey. Even once an artist’s work is selected for exhibition, it’s helpful to be able to return to their site to reference a CV, biography and written statements.
My colleagues in Texas seem to share my feelings. Here are some related thoughts on artists’ websites by some of my fellow curators:
“I love when an artist has past work that can be reviewed, writings, and/or a blog to accompany their work. This helps me better understand their growth and current interest as well as how they have been shown in the past.”
-Ashley DeHoyos, Curator, DiverseWorks, Houston
“I do find looking at an artist’s website is helpful. I believe you can never go wrong by having a clean website that is straightforward and easy to navigate. I tend to think one can decipher how committed an artist is by their website; if the quality of the images is great, then one can tell that the artist believes enough in their own practice to invest in good images. Having a current CV, bio, and artist statement helps but at the end of the day, it comes down to the artwork, so artists have to invest in good images.”
– M. Giovanni Valderas, Programs and Exhibitions Manager, Fort Worth Community Arts Center
“An artist’s website is often my first point of research before diving into catalogs, articles, reviews, gallery/studio websites, previous museum or alternative space exhibitions, or to other websites where the work is presented through a second or third-hand source. Being able to use the artist’s website as a credible source when considering other resources is very helpful.”
-Mariah Rockefeller, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont
“An artist’s website can be tremendously helpful when considering artists for exhibitions since it is not always possible to travel to see an artist’s work in person. I look at it as a type of portfolio that provides a snapshot of an artist’s practice as well as their interests and influences. It can be a great conversation starter as well as resource to refer back to time and time again as one is working on an exhibition.”
-Kathryn Hall, Curator, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
“I definitely find websites helpful! I consider them to be an archive of the artists trajectory, how they have developed, changed their practice, and shaped their career. I prefer websites much more to social media, especially Instagram. Call me a little old-fashioned, but a website is just a little easier to navigate.”
-Leslie Moody Castro, independent curator and writer, Austin/Mexico City
Caleb Bell is the Curator of the Tyler Museum of Art.
Caleb, thank you for this.
This is a timely article, Caleb. Just this past year I have withheld invites for university shows from several Texas and NYC artists because they either had no website at all or the sites lacked important information, such as image captions or a thoughtful statement. Having multiple modes of contact is also vital (phone and email, not just a comment form). My advice to artists – be reachable and responsive and find a way to communicate verbally about your art even if it means drafting an interview with a friend for publication on your blog or a static webpage. If you rely on Instagram only, keep it strictly professional and upgrade to a Creator or Business Profile that lists both phone and email. Avoid Tumblr.
One of the jokes among artists is that museum curators are too important and busy to see…artists. Another truism, (because it tends to be true), is that the flashier, more-up-to-date and interactive an artist website is, (with video!!!), the worse the art. Promoting yourself seems to be the opposite of creativity. The better the sales pitch, the worse the product. Van Gogh website? He would have quit painting, watched porn and ordered beer off Amazon. Thomas Kincade? He’s dead, but I betcha his website is up-to-the-moment, interactive, takes paymo, or venbo and adds you automatically to the email blast and instagram uplist. Would Dali have a website? Warhol would- because he could afford to have it done for him after he got rich- and you guys already know who the rich and successful artists are. Does Helen Altman even have a website? Is it made out of old gum, sticks and lint? Curators insisting on slick web presentations are going to miss real artists doing real art. Creativity is done in a jam, in a mess, in chaos. Not even the artist knows where it might go next, and they are riding that wild beast. Folks you never hear about because they, like art, aren’t linear. I’m photographer and can guarantee you that the photogs who have the best websites are either already successful commercially or they produce work that is an exact copy of work already done 30 years ago. Please don’t require fancy CVs or slick internet presentations. A lot of authentic art is made by people with…no degree. (I know. Crazy talk, right? Good art comes out of college!) And don’t dismiss artists lacking the “correct” politics and social consciousness. All around you are muddy, bloody, messy artists desperately pursuing new ideas. They aren’t pursuing you. For goodness sake, get off the internet, out of your office and GO curate.