** A response to this post can be found here. Enjoy!**
A few weeks ago I asked the Chicago Art Community (#chiart) for a moratorium on OtherPeoplesPixels websites. One too many poorly worded artist statements had greeted me on the homepage. I’d inadvertently downloaded my fair share of CVs. I’d had enough. OtherPeoplesPixels is a hosted web application that provides portfolio sites for artists. I’ve been against this ubiquitous content management system since my first encounter with an OPP-hosted loading bar. The company was founded in 2005 by artists Brian Kirkbride and Jenny Kendler. The platform is notably employed by Chicagoans Theaster Gates, Sara Schnadt and Austin Eddy. Despite its popularity, I’ve never met a proud OPP user. Everyone I know complains about the service and is perpetually on the verge of switching providers.
I don’t mean to hate on OPP. They saw a need and they filled it. That’s business. But as a graphic designer and gallery owner I’m more concerned with good design. And as Thomas Watson of IBM once said, “good design is good business.” Don’t we all want to do good business? OPP is not well designed. Why does it take three clicks to see a single artwork? Shouldn’t a portfolio site have the work front and center? It also wouldn’t kill them to update their themes every, I don’t know, five years or so. They should at least update the logo if it must be so prominently displayed on of each site.
During a lecture at the Art Institute Ed Ruscha discussed how he had used design throughout his career. He worked as a graphic designer for Art Forum under the pseudonym “Eddie Russia” and took advantage their office equipment to make his own invoices and letterhead. On the Bad at Sports podcast Jefferey Deitch attributed his success to ambition. He thinks that within the art world “if you take yourself seriously, other people will too.”
My fundamental problem with OPP can be found in their tagline, “Spend time on your artwork, not on your website.” If you are a professional artist, meaning that you (plan to) make money from your art, these activities are not mutually exclusive. Marketing your artwork is part of the job. Don’t be bothered by the word marketing. Marketing is showing or telling people what you do. If you don’t want to market anything, why pay $160/year (OPP’s going rate) for a website? Just skip it and then you can really spend time on your artwork. Otherwise, let’s think this through.
The first step is to define your Unique Selling Proposition. Your USP is why anyone would want to buy/read/listen to/look at your shit instead of someone else’s. Once you’ve figured that out, consider your goals and your audience. Most artists have similar goals (to make work, to show work and to sell work) and similar audiences (peers, curators, dealers and collectors). When you know what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach, you can begin looking for website solutions that best serve your purposes.
An artist website can be as simple as a few images and contact information or much more comprehensive. Regardless of their needs every client I’ve ever had has always requested that their site be “simple” and “easy to update.” Assuming that as a given, here are a few suggestions:
If You Are A Hopeless Luddite:
Don’t DIY. Save yourself the stress and hire a professional (me). If you find someone who will do it for free, let them have fun with the project and complete it at their leisure. If you hassle them or promise them exposure they have my permission to punch you.
If You Can Get Down With Facebooks/Twitter/Etc.:
Pick Arlo Sites for a complete solution. $100/yr gets you well-designed themes, unlimited images, video, audio, blogs and social media integration. Steve Ruiz of Chicago Art Review wrote a long post about using Tumblr as a portfolio site. I’ve seen that work successfully, but make sure you back up regularly because their server goes on vacation once a month.
If You Customized Your Livejournal/Had A Geocities Site/Know How To Weave Dreams:
Indexhibit is content management system that was created by artist Daniel Eatock. It’s particularly good at handling projects and sorting information chronologically. Indexhibit was built to be extremely flexible and if you can handle the rude forum dwellers it’s a brilliant option. My personal favorite is WordPress. While it was originally conceived as a blogging platform, WordPress can be configured to do just about anything. For two very different examples compare the Bad at Sports website and the visual arts calendar On The Make. Both sites run on WordPress! The Portfolio Theme by Raygun gives you the Indexhibit look with the power to scale.
It’s better to have no website than a bad one. A scan of business card would be more effective than some dirt style design. If you want to be treated like a professional artist you should have the highest quality of documentation that you can get, you should know how to talk and write about your art and every designed element, from the paper you print on to the typeface you choose to your domain name, should be working for you. The most important tools for your practice are your images and your words. An understanding of design lets you communicate with intention.