A few tips from someone who looks at A LOT of artist portfolio sites

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

As an artist, I know that we often want to control the viewer experience of our paintings, sculptures, photographs, etc. But a portfolio site is not the same as a gallery. You may want a lot of physical space around a particular work in a gallery, but our attention works differently when looking at work online. If you want to control the order that a viewer looks at your images, I recommend the new side-scrolling galleries. They are perfect for photo essays, for example. But I don't recommend setting your site up so that I have to click through every image to get to a particular piece of work. This is frustrating when I've looked at all the work but want to go back to a particular piece.

If you haven't switched over to New Thing, consider it. As a person trying to quickly get a sense of whether or not I want to interview any particular artist, I'm thrilled about being able to see whole images instead of thumbnails all on one page. It makes my job SO MUCH easier. It's a thrill to get a quick view of a particular project or exhibition in one fell swoop. It allows me to see threads that run through an artist's work very quickly. It doesn't mean I don't look closer. I always do, but with a sense of 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

Many 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 way.

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 something.

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.