Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How not to suck at ArtPrize.

For all the ArtPrize aspirants out there....

I applaud everyone for their efforts, talents, and input, and mean no disrespect. But here's my latest thinking on a winning entry.

1. Don't promote.

Ran Ortner never asked me to join an Open Water Facebook group. I didn't get spammed with invites to "Open Water Opening Party!" Ran never asked for my vote, and so I was able to give it freely. Every effort to promote sub-communicates that your work must not be good enough to win on it's own. It must be forgetable if you have to keep spamming us with reminders to go see it. It must sort of suck if you have to keep telling me it's so great. Like the middle aged guy showing off the sports car, what exactly are you compensating for? Remember, it's supposed to be Art, but if you're pitching it like it's OxyClean, then guess how I'm going to feel about it? If you're just glad to be participating and want to make sure I notice your very cool efforts, then that's great and and I'd love to stop by your party and see your work. It's fine to inform me, as long as there is no sense of agenda. But realize you may be preventing the possibility of us falling in loving your work due to your promotions. If you want me to truly love it, you'll have to back off and let me fall in love quietly from across the room.

2. Don't over explain.
Let me read into the piece. I care what I think about it. I care what I see in it. I care how I feel about it. I care what it stirs in my soul. If you put up a wall-of-text artist statement filled with your thoughts on the work, then you're telling me I'm wrong about your work. It's your work, so your interpretation would be the correct one. Jeez, I almost voted up for it because I thought it was about something I really thought was interesting. It stirred something in me, and almost moved me to vote up. That is, until I read your artist statement about how it's really about how you "loved a bunny rabbit you had when you were a child and how it's soft fur inspired you to investigate the familiarity and psychological nuances of subtle textures and light." Oops, I guess it's not something I really understood or connected with after all. Next.

3. Don't convince me, move me.
Connection with artwork is not logical. If you're trying to convince me how great your work is, you are engaging the logical circuits of my brain. If my logical circuits are firing, then you aren't moving me. My emotion and soul are not stirred. You're operating on the wrong channels, and you're done. So put away the big artist statement, stop with the references and connections to ideas you'd logically think would be a winner. Show, don't tell. Circumnavigate the logical and get to me on a deeper level. Don't make the neurons in my fore-brain logical cortex fire, get me back on the old mammalian and reptile brain levels, where emotion and instinct rule. Now you've got art.

4. Don't stand there.
Seriously, please. We know you're proud. We know you want the ego validation. We know you're curious what everyone thinks about your work. We know you think if you're there for us to ask questions then maybe you'll get one more sale of work or votes. But please, just shut up and go away. Let the art speak for itself. It's my chance to develop a personal relationship with the work, not you. This year I was all ready to vote up for the Elephant Walk sculptures. I liked the simplicity of it moving in the wind rather than being motorized. I liked that it was so finely balanced and well engineered. I appreciated that it was made out of corten steel. I was having a quiet moment of art appreciation, when suddenly he burst in with "YOU NEED A STICKER!!" as the artist lunged at me to stick his promo piece to my arm and thereby make me his walking billboard. I rebuffed him, "No, I really don't" as if he were holding a roll of scratch and sniff dog poo stickers. He'd have gotten my vote, if only he hadn't been hovering and promoting. I promptly gave him a down vote for being so obnoxious.

5. Be a little Mysterious.
Let me imagine you're exactly the kind of cool artist I think ought to win ArtPrize. Maybe I'd like whoever wins ArtPrize to be a poor struggling starving artist. Maybe I'm the kind of guy to who wants the winner to be the kind of down to earth guy I could have a beer with while out fishing. Maybe I think the ArtPrize winner ought to be educated in the most elite design schools and weary funky glasses and all black. Whatever it is, if you're standing right there and you aren't it, then you've tainted my view of your work. Go easy on the resume, don't stand there, don't put your name all over it, don't give me your life story, and don't make it all about you. No matter how cool you are, you probably aren't the kind of person I think ought to win. As long as I don't really know you, I can still hope you're exactly who should win.

The same lesson in mystery goes for the work. If it looks like gold, but really is spray painted foam, feel free to not explain that detail. If part of what is compelling about your piece is that I'm not quite sure how you did it, well then don't ruin that mystery by explaining how it actually is quite simple and required hardly any skill.

6. Not so Big, not too Small.
If your work is going to be the size of a building, then it better be seriously impressive. It better be Chartes Cathedral , Sagrada Familia, or Sistine Chapel impressive. If it's that big, it better bring me to my knees from the sheer overwhelming awe you have inspired in me. I think the size of Open Water 24 was just about right for Artprize viewing. You can stand back with a group of friends and all admire it at once. You can walk up to it and see the fine detail. You can stand back and it will still fill your field of vision. It's big enough to show me that you've put some serious time, effort, and dedication into it, and yet 'bigness' isn't what makes it good. It'll be interesting to see if a pattern of scale develops in the ArtPrize winners. I'm thinking something around 6' x12' is about the right size. Bigger than a person, smaller than a bus. We're all selfish little creatures. Your work should be impressive, but 'have-able.' If I'm going to love it, I want to be able to picture it on my wall, or in my yard. Size it to be own-able, but barely. Something to fill the empty space in that castle I'll never own either.

7. Don't rehash last years idea.
Seriously, we know you've 'got your style' and a certain way you work. We appreciate it, but I don't want to see last years work rehashed for this year and next year and the year after. Get over it, move on, come up with some new stuff. It's going to get real dull if each year ArtPrize is just a remix of last years entries. Even worse is if you're basically copying someone elses idea. Yes, faces can be made of pushpins, and Legos, and little colored balls. Yes you can build a giant seamonster, or steampig. But if I don't feel like I'm seeing something for the first time, it's not going to get my winning vote. Wait wait wait.. if only it were a giraffe made out of nails. Monkey of nails? Nail platypus?

8. Let me discover the work.
The first time I saw "Open Water, no.24" was when I walked into the room and saw it hanging there on the wall. My first impression of the work was the work itself. If you've been uploading Facebook photos, handing out promo cards, and telling me all about the work, then by the time I see your work, I've already formed a first impression. There is no surprise. I can no longer form a clean opinion of it. Do you really want me forming an opinion of your work based on a flicker upload or a 2" glossy handout? I want the thrill of discovery. I want to experience it raw. Don't do anything that ought to require a spoiler alert.

(What ever happened to keeping things secret and literally under wraps, building anticipation while we wonder what mystery is unfolding behind the curtain, waiting for a great unveiling?)

9. Don't piggy back on a cause.
I think it's great that you want to save the whales, or the children, or the oceans, or the trees. If you're just trying to raise awareness, then that's great and noble of you. But don't try to win my vote by trying to make your great cause my great cause. If your work is all about a charity cause that I may respect and think is important, but I'm not in love with, then it gets in the way of me loving your work. Being all about a cause, issue, or charity limits my view of your work to that one issue. You can't be appreciated universally. You've made your work into a niche issue about a certain negative problem in our culture. You're no longer timeless. You're no longer transcendent. You're just the salvation army bell ringer. I'll give ya a buck, but not my winning vote.

10. Spectacle can't seal the deal.
Creating a novelty or a spectacle will get you a lot of attention. It will earn you a lot of votes. Done right it can easily get you into the top ten, but I don't believe it can seal the deal. Because to win it and take home the prize, I need to love it. Dancing monkeys are entertaining, but don't earn my deepest respect. If your entry is basically a Vegas showgirl, then it's hot, sexy, and fun to watch, but I'm not in love, and I'm not taking it all the way home.

Finally, in all things ArtPrize, stay out of the way and let me fall in love with it on my own.

Good luck!