Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Networking in the New Economy

Lately I've been getting a rash of press releases from galleries, arts organizations and gung-ho Emerging Artists. Some of them I've had friendly contact with in the past, but most are from people that I've either never heard of, have actively snubbed me when I've visited them in person, show work that I have utterly no interest in (Art Cars in Los Angeles?) or are located across the country in places I never visit. Evidently, these people are catching on to the fact that art bloggers, (or artists who have blogs, in my case) are gradually acquiring some of the influence that formerly was the sole provenance of art critics writing for major publications.

I would let these people know that their carefully crafted publicity is going straight into my circular file, except that I'm positive that none of them actually read my blog. They just had an office flunkey go down the list of Art Bloggers, courtesy of Modern Art Notes or Ed Winkleman, and compile the authors' contact information. Email is free, after all!

And of course, you get what you pay for.

Recently I came across a video snippet by Seth Godin, on Good and Bad Networking. He pointed out that what most of us think of as New York Power Networking is basically useless: going to tons of events, handing your business card to everyone you meet, 'friending' thousands of people on Facebook, delivering your 30-second pitch at every opportunity, compiling huge email lists and sending frequent updates.

Thank God he said it. I hate those people. I have, occasionally, been one of those people, but have never been able to sustain the momentum for any length of time. I was too aware that I was acting like too big of a jerk, and could not come close to maintaining connections in any meaningful way.

Because once you've been on these people's mailing lists for awhile, you notice that they never reciprocate. You send them a note saying "Congratulations!" with a short update on your own affairs, and they don't reply. You comment on their blog and they don't respond. You show up at their event and they're talking to someone more important than you, and fail to make introductions. It goes without saying that they'll never come to your show, refer a client, write a review, or hook you up with that agent they know. They're So Busy! Who has the time?

No, as Seth says, the kind of networking that actually works has to do with helping other people achieve their goals. It's all about making referrals, connecting people, taking an interest. If you want an art blogger to review your show, make a habit of reading their blog and commenting! If you need client referrals, make them. And for goodness' sake, if somebody does something nice for you, thank them.

I suspect that the world is changing more profoundly than most people are ready to apprehend. We are inevitably moving from a top-down, authority-driven culture to a lateral one. Large corporations are reducing their workforces and eliminating pensions; newspapers are dying; whole sectors of the economy are shriveling up and disappearing. Fewer and fewer people are going to be able to make a living from one job alone. We will be cobbling together an income from three or four or five sources, and trading assistance with peers will make the difference between solvency and starvation. It seems to me that people who 'network' with a virtual bullhorn are falling prey to the old paradigm; that all you need to do is broadcast your agenda to everyone you meet, until you meet the ONE who will make you FAMOUS. All other people only exist in order to conduct you to that one.

Well, I've got news for you; that ONE publisher, gallery, agent, investor or corporation you were depending on just went bankrupt. Other commoners are all you've got to work with. Treat us kindly.

Personal Update

No, I haven't popped yet. Mainly I'm just waddling around, baking things and waiting. But everything is Fine, I saw the midwife yesterday, I have an acupuncture appointment tomorrow and a 41-week ultrasound on Monday, just in case things haven't moved along by then. All of your support is much appreciated!