It’s All About Attitude

I read kind of a lot of blogs. Not on a regular, subscribing-to-all-the-posts way, but in the course of doing research and finding out about artists. I check out the beginning of the blog, reading those first few posts, and I hit the middle, to get an idea of the direction and how it morphed over time, and I read as many of the recent posts as I have time for. There have been times, in the past, when the blog entries were so compelling I read every single one. That was a while back, when blogs were new and there weren’t half a dozen years worth of entries to read.

I was thinking about the things I look for, the things that tell me this is someone about whom I want to find out more. Oh, sure, you’re thinking, “Gee, why not find out more about everyone? Why limit it just to a few?” In an ideal world, one in which I had assistants and unlimited time to do nothing but sit and find people to contact, that would be great. But the reality is that time is limited, and in that limited amount of time, I need to determine if someone is doing great work, work that will photograph well and is interesting enough to capture the attention of readers or, in the case of podcasts, if the artist has the kind of personality that will make someone want to listen to them talk about themselves for half an hour.

It’s tough, you know? As tough as it is for me, it’s many times tougher for the artist who’s trying to get their stuff out there. You’re making art, and then you’re trying to do all the other stuff we’ve talked about: blogging your work and tweeting, updating a website and preparing class proposals and, and, and.

So this morning, just two things. One, about the art; and two, about you. About the art: there are just two things to think about here:

1. Make good art. Make what you make, and do your best work. Remember to flee the hot glue gun. Clean up the rough edges. Step back and look at the finished piece from all angles.

2. Take great photos. If you’re like me and not so great at the whole photo-taking chore, you’re going to have to figure out a way to get past it. Nothing makes me grit my teeth more than landing on a blog or the website of an artist I’m checking out and seeing all the photos of their work looking like they were taken with a Polaroid in a 1970s wood-paneled den after Sunday dinner. You’ve got the cluttered background, the burgundy checked tablecloth as backdrop, the flash creating a glare. The lighting is atrocious, highlighting odd angles and obscuring details, all at the same time. If I see dreadful photographs, I figure–whether correctly or not–that the person who made the work didn’t care enough about it to take time to get good photos. Back in the day when this required spending a lot of money on film and developing, this might be understandable. But today? With digital cameras? Please. There’s no excuse. Everybody is A Photographer. Practice shooting your work until you figure out how to show it in its best light. (And that usually means “no flash,” please.)

The other thing I’m going to notice is the side of yourself you feature on your website and blog. What I’m looking for is someone who is passionate about what they do, someone who loves the work they’re doing and is excited about experiments and discovering new ways to do stuff and new materials, or who is deep in a series and is discovering things about themselves. Or talking about their creative process. Or musing about blocks and inspiration, technique and teaching, experimentation and innovation. All of these are compelling and make me want to know more about the person behind the (excellently-photographed, ahem) work. There are, on the other hand, several really common things that will almost always drive me away.

1. A blog that hasn’t been updated in weeks. Sure, there are periods when life gets in the way. But if you’re serious about what you do and want to get noticed–which is why you have the blog, right?–abandoning it for long periods of time sends the message that you don’t really care. You don’t need a long, carefully-crafted, heavily-linked post every morning, but you do need to establish some sort of pattern of posts. There’s nothing more confusing to me than to land on the blog of someone I’m researching and find that it ends abruptly, with no explanation and no links to anything else. The first thing you wonder, of course, is if the artist is still alive. And then you wonder if maybe they gave up what was supposedly their passion and are now selling insurance or being a full-time mom or traveling the globe. If you haven’t abandoned your art in favor of international travel, make sure it doesn’t look like you have. I was trying to find out yesterday about someone I interviewed years ago, and I have no idea what happened to her. It’s as if she dropped off the planet in 2005. The message, is about attitude: is this something you care about or something that can be discarded on a whim?

2. A blog that is unfocused, that one day is about politics and another day about grandchildren, and then here and there about working in the studio. If you need to keep several blogs, designate one for your work blog. On that blog, don’t spend your time moaning and complaining about creative blocks and unfair gallery owners and disappointments and setbacks. You can mention the less-than-lovely aspects of the creative life, sure–I’m not talking about painting a rosy, unrealistic picture of what it’s like. But if you love what you do and want to share it, then you need to focus on the reasons *why* you love it. If you’re uninspired by your life and your work and it shows in your blog, what would make anyone else want to know more? Here’s where attitude is all-important: you’ve got great work. You’d like to share it. Sell it. Publish it. Whatever: you want to Get It Out There. People are excited by excited people. They’re inspired by inspiring people. If your blog is post after post about how you don’t have time to make art or you can’t sell anything or you think life’s unfair, what do you think readers are going to think about you? Are they going to want to know more, to hang out with you, to spend time listening to you? I’m guessing not. I know someone who asks me periodically why I don’t interview them (deliberately vague pronoun here) for a podcast. I try, gently, to explain that their negative attitude and woe-is-me, struggling-artist demeanor isn’t going to inspire anyone. Sure, there are difficult patches for everyone, and we don’t want to gloss those over. But most creative people have hit a few of those themselves, and what they want is a discussion about ways to get past those, not a litany of misery about wallowing in them. If you’re going to write or talk about the lean times, the tough times, the scary times, there are two ways to go about it. If you really need to vent and wallow and lick your wounds, do it off-line, in a bound journal or a document on your computer that only you will see. If you’re going to do it in a public way, online, where everyone can read it, you want to offer some advice, some tips, some solutions. Something that makes your experience useful to someone else.

It’s a cliche, sure, but it’s also true: attitude is everything.


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6 Responses to It’s All About Attitude

  1. debilynn says:

    Great advice!!! I have read all your books and when I need a boost—I just grab one for that “little” boost! Thanks again for all your support and love to the art world….debi

  2. tatterededge says:

    I agree that pissing and moaning and taking a “woe is me” attititude is a total turn off when reading a blog. Who needs that? I’ll read if there’s some point to it-like someone explaining how they had a rough patch in life or in art and how they overcame it and what they learned, but whining for the sake of whining, forget it! SHOW ME THE ART!!

    I think (and this may be an unpopular opinion) that while anyone can have a blog, blogging is not for everyone. You have to love to write and communicate and share. I think alot of people are in love with the idea of a blog, but lots of people start one and then abandon it or they post continuously “sorry I was away” posts, which I loathe. It’s not just about attitude, but also integrity. If you’re going to blog, then make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. Otherwise, why bother?

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      It may be an unpopular opinion, but I agree completely. If someone doesn’t have a clear vision of the audience for whom they’re writing, they should probably keep a personal journal just for themselves, not a blog.

  3. Luthien Thye says:

    Wonderful article! does make one think if the blog is going along the right direction. i too have moments that i don’t update for weeks … you know what … tomorrow is blogging day 🙂 thank you for the reminder!
    luthien 🙂