Over the last three years of interviewing artists for the OPP blog, I've reviewed hundreds, maybe thousands of portfolio sites. I approach all the interviews as an artist interviewing an artist. I don't think of myself as an art writer or a critic. But I have a wealth of experience navigating artist websites from the point of view of a person who wants to get an overview of each artist's work. So I've decided to share some tips about the user experience of your websites. Below are tips that are based on my personal experience looking at artwork online, and everything should be taken with a grain of salt.
Tip #1: DON'T isolate images with no context
Tip #2: DON'T over-nest
Yes, one great thing about OPP
is the ease with which we can organize our work. It's great to be able
to divide work into specific projects, exhibitions and media. But I
highly recommend using the nesting option with discernment. Clicking
into a folder that has one work and having to click back out to get back
to other work frustrates my viewing experience. I believe I have more
patience than the average person online and a longer attention span, so
if I'm getting frustrated enough to stop investigating work, I KNOW
others stopped long before. If you have folders with less than five
images, consider putting these images somewhere else on your site.
Tip #3: DO include a statement about your work
artists HATE writing statements about their work. They say that the work
should speak for itself. Or they don't want to limit the experience of
the viewer, but honestly, stop worrying about that. You won't. Think
about it this way: many viewers will disregard your text, but those that
seek to write about you or may want to contact you for a studio visit
want to do their research before reaching out. Everyone is a little
afraid of looking stupid. Remember when you were in art school and you
sometimes didn't say something in critique because you were afraid of
looking stupid? Writers, curators and collectors sometimes feel the same
Also, there are times when I look at work, and I am very aware of my own viewing biases. Like every human, I have preferences and ideas that I believe—confirmation bias is real. I may see something in your work that you didn't intend. I may view your work through a feminist lens or a spiritual lens or a political lens, so it helps me to understand how you see your work. Most viewers want to know your intention, even if they choose see the work in a different way.
To be really frank (with the intention of
helping), a lack of statement always reads to me as unprofessional, like
an artist doesn't really know what they are doing. If you think you are
a bad writer or don't know how to articulate about your own work, I
recommend soliciting help. Ask friends and peers to talk about your work
to you. What do they see? How do they understand what you are doing?
Sometimes you just need help finding the right words for what you
already know to be true.
If you still don't know exactly what
you want to say about your work, consider stating what informs the work
you make, including theoretical, art-historical, personal or cultural
influences. I also find it really illuminating when artists address why
they choose the materials they choose or say something about their
process. Your statement doesn't have to be long or even perfect, but
even a few sentence about your intent is valuable. Please write
Tip #4: DO include media, dates and dimensions, especially for 2D work
Many viewers, especially writers and curators will want to get a sense of your development over time. That's one of the major benefits of looking at an artist's work online—I get to see how the work has changed and it allows me to see which formal and thematic concerns disappear and reappear over time. You know your work so well, that you may forget what it's like for a random viewer to stumble on your site through a link. Sometimes I encounter work and can't tell if the work is a photograph or a sculpture. Painting sometimes looks like drawing. Collage sometimes looks like digital photography. Especially difficult to make sense of online is wearable art or performance documented in photography. Remember all work online (except video and web art) IS encountered as photography, so be clear when it is something else.
Tip #5: DO include detail shots!!!!!
I can't emphasize
this enough. Especially if your work is three-dimensional or has a lot
of small parts. Especially if the texture of your work is a wonder to
behold. I've seen some amazing work that begs me to look closer, but the artist hasn't included details. Some of
it is work that I will probably never have the opportunity to see in
person. The wonder of the internet is that you can show me the exact
spot of the detailed surface that you want me to see.The point of a portfolio site is to communicate about your work, so please give me all the details I want.
Tip #6: DO update regularly
I would recommend updating
your site after every new project or exhibition. I've reviewed so many
sites which have interesting work, but it's from 2011. Sometimes, I
can't tell if the artist is still practicing or not. As an interviewer, I
want to know what has been made in the last two years. I imagine the
same goes for curators, writers and collectors who look at your site.You might be missing out on opportunities you aren't even aware of because your site is out of date.
Tip #7: DO include an updated CV and short bio
I want to represent the artists I interview as they want to be
represented. In my experience, most writers, critics and curators will
value the information you provide about your work. They may have their
own interpretations, criticisms and experiences of your work, but I
don't believe they want to misrepresent you. It's true that many writers
these days don't check their facts. Or they use the internet to fact
check and sometimes confirm incorrectly based on errors on gallery
websites and other postings. I've had works of mine factually
misrepresented numerous times. But for those of us that do check our
facts, make it easier for us to find information about you and your work
on your own site.