Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Different Reason to Make an Art Portfolio

At the risk of sounding like the little old lady talking about walking miles in the snow to school, I am going to share with you a bit of what it was like to be an artist in the 'golden era' of the 1990s. It flat-out flabbergasts me to think how much has changed in just a few decades; in fact, I do not think I exaggerate when I state that the art world is unrecognizable to what I knew back then, young whippersnapper.

Of course, the primary difference is the advance of computer technology. The 1990s were before digital cameras, before smart-phones, and the internet was mostly for computer-science majors. That meant that art works had to be photographed and converted into slides for gallery directors to pop into a slide projector and view. That meant that you needed photographic lights, a good camera, film, and you would have to drop that film off at a place that would develop it. You kept your fingers crossed the whole time praying that the slides would come out well, because it was impossible to know until after they were developed. More than once, I brought home an entire role of dark, blurry slides--this was not uncommon, and I still had to pay for them.

Not only that, but your cover letter, artist statement, resume, and brief biography all had to be typed on a type-writer on paper. This was the time of eraser ribbons and the intoxicating scent of white-out. If you were one of those cutting-edge folks, you might have a word processor, a gadget that was a glorified
state of the art word processor
typewriter-computer-wannabe. The cost of postage for sending out these bundles, that consisted of all this paper (of course everything was only printed on one side), slide sheets, some sort of note-binder and a manila envelope with return postage, was a small king's ransom. Put it this way, I spent almost as much trying to promote my work as I did framing my paintings, and I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars framing my work. I kid you not when I say that we ate bargain basement macaroni and cheese for many a dinner, just to get my art some exposure. Add to this the fact that almost every persnickety art director demanded that slides be labelled precisely to his or her specifications, and well, that meant that not only was I throwing bags of money at these things, I was also spending hours in the depths of tedium hand-writing inch-long labels that had to be exactly just so.  You expected to wait months for a response, and often, it was touch-and-go whether your materials would be returned. A rejection letter hit so hard back then, because it not only was a rejection of one's work, it was the evidence that so much time, late-nights, and resources had just gone gurgling down the drain.

For some years, I was working so hard on portfolios that I decided what the heck, I might as well see if I could make this a business in itself. Italics, which is still the name of my formal URL address for Loud Colors Studio, was born because I realized that I wasn't the only one struggling with writing all of these materials and putting together these infernal packets. And I felt that I must have figured something out along the way, since all of my toil in the salt-mines of promotion had led to steady representation in three regional galleries, and show acceptances around the nation. I greatly enjoyed helping clients reach their goals, and the earnings were nice, but it would take some sort of SuperArtist to balance all of these demands with my own studio work, and well, I found out I wasn't that super.

It's so different today. I have been out of the conventional art world for many years now--by my own choice. But one of the last formal museum shows I participated in was arranged with one email and a couple of attached jpegs. It quite literally took minutes, and I didn't spend a dime. Artists now exhibit their art on their own websites, snap dazzling images of their work on digital cameras, and are able to send pictures of their latest creations to everyone on their mailing list with a click of a button.

Ironically enough, a portfolio is much more important to me now than it was in those heavy-duty 'marketing' years. Now, I'm thinking in terms of keeping records of my work, of somehow preserving images of all of my pieces in an easily handled format. Many of them have sold over the years and I want some way to remember them, as well. It kind of saddens me a bit, that we are not taught this principle in our art classes. A portfolio has so much anxiety swirling around it; we are taught that it is a vehicle to impress others, but we don't stop and ask ourselves if we could also use it as a record, a history of where we are now, and how far we have come.  We don't think of it as a diary, a gift to ourselves.

It took me nearly a decade to get my website at www.italics.us where it is now. Most of the time spent was in learning how to actually write webcode; I wanted to know every aspect of how to run my site, and I completely geeked out. I love computer languages, but I must admit I have to study hard--they do not come naturally. But another huge chunk of time was taken because I kept completely building the site only to completely tear it down and redo it again from the ground up. Improvement is a good thing, but I was thinking too much about impressing that invisible critic 'out there', that ghost from galleries past. I was too self-conscious, and no actor is really any good if he can't forget his audience. It wasn't until I decided to think of this website as a legacy, as a statement of what I valued and what I achieved---that things finally started to come together in a lasting, satisfying way.

I am considering some possibilities in showing my work 'out there' again someday, but I know that I if I decide to go through with those ideas, I will never consider my portfolio in quite the same way. Maybe it's because I am an older lady who's grown a bit cantankerous, but I don't think my portfolio will ever again be a vehicle to get some art director to please, please, please like me or my work. It will never be put together in that spirit again. The days of twisting myself into a pretzel, hoping to get outside approval are over. It doesn't mean that I intend to be all arrogant and 'all that', expecting them to just fall all over themselves because I have asked them to view my work. No, it's more that I just want to use my portfolio as a straight-forward tool that says, "This is who I am. This is what I stand for. Maybe you'll resonate with it; maybe you won't. Thank you for looking." I plan to use this amazing technology to categorize, depict, and explain my work, to continue to expand out into a larger audience, if that is possible. There are scary consequences, however, to having everything just in a digital format, and I am also thinking that I will build something from really good quality photographs, and yes--more paper. My portfolio is something I hope will outlast me long after I am gone.

I guess what I am saying, is honor yourself as an artist. Honor your history, your future, the self that is you that is a creator. Yes, if it is a marketing tool that you are going to send around to venues, a portfolio should be somewhat edited and probably just include samples of your best work. And a smaller, more portable version can be created for that purpose. But a portfolio can also be enlarged, using a website, for example, to be more of an archive, an autobiography of your process. Make your portfolio for you, in the long run.

I love to follow Stefan Baumann on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCo1OiRSBW4drYnsakd68uig.  Although we differ radically in our aesthetic passions and even some of our views, he is a fabulous art instructor and working artist, who knows how to address the heart of an artist. One thing he frequently says is that when an artist passes away, it is not the china or the jewelry that the kids fight over. No, suddenly family who had not real interest or understanding in what the artist was doing, desperately want one of their artworks. They even fight over them. They want them because the art is ultimately the most unique expression from that person. Suddenly they recognize the artwork's intrinsic personal value--value and meaning that go far beyond fame or fortune.

 A portfolio is a symbol of a life well and deeply lived.  Treat it--and yourself--with a vision that extends far beyond the next 'call for artists'.    




No comments:

Post a Comment