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.


Spatula said...

Every time I tried to be a schmoozer and self-promoter in the manner you describe, I felt like a total turd. I won't even try anymore. I just look for like-minded souls and whatever grows out of that is fine with me.

When I was self-publishing and trumpeted other people's horns, though, pretty much nobody reciprocated when it was time to, for example, check out my work for potential inclusion in a show, or coming to *my* openings, so I am not doing the flip-side of that either, and not labouring on behalf of other people until I know I have some kind of existing and mutually satisfying relationship with them.

Funny thing about relationships, how they have to be reciprocal.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear. Hear, hear it here. PL makes more sense waddling around waiting to pop than some of us wandering along aimlessly neither popping nor percolating.



Pretty Lady said...

Oh, O, I blush.

Yes, Spatula, that was exactly my experience when I was promoting other artists through my 'alternative' artspaces, as well. I found that not only were things not reciprocal, but a lot of artists would go to very great lengths to suppress the fact that I was an artist, when talking with their other connections.

Now I find that I get much better results when I'm much more low-key and selective about my enthusiasm. I only write blog reviews about work that blows me away. I do equal swaps with other bodyworkers, and only make referrals when I've gotten some genuine good out of the trade. That way, I'm slowly building a circle of colleagues that I genuinely respect, and who genuinely like me, rather than an enormous mailing list full of parasitic mediocrities.

Art said...

Just this week I got 2 press releases/emails from unknown people. I didn't know what to make of it, then I was kinda flattered to be on their radar at all. Unfortunately the projects weren't interesting. But yeah, it's a bit much.

Eva said...

So many times I avoided seeing this truth, but you are very right. There's a few people I've curated into shows and they do not go to mine, ever. They make sure to send me an email of everything they are doing. And you're also right that they seem to refrain from seeing me as an artist. It's not useful to them.

Carol Diehl said...

Yes, emails from people and galleries I don't know are instantly deleted, whereas I still do open mail, and it's possible could be beguiled by an image.

Thinking of you as you get closer to popping time!

k said...

Is there any news? The suspense is becoming unbearable.

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone,

PL had a big healthy baby girl yesterday. Mom, baby and dad and are all a little tired but doing fine. I will leave all the details to PL to report when she's ready.

k said...

THANK YOU ORIANE!!! Wonderful news! Oh I'm SO glad!

Steph, when you decide to leave all this baby shenanigans business behind for a while, we'll be sitting on the edges of our chairs waiting to hear how it all came to pass.

And you're safe. And the baby is safe. And your mom too, I bet.

And Joe. Joe, something tells me you were an absolute champ through all this.

Anonymous said...


Stephanie and baby Olivia Grace are coming home today. OG sleeps well, doesn't fuss and rarely cries. Everybody is healthy. More news later.

BoysMom said...

Congratulations! What a lovely name. (I am partial to Olivias: my boys' piano teacher is one and she is a treasure.)
Look forward to hearing more.

LXV said...

PL: Be well!
I just had to check in and see what was up wit'yu, figuring it couldn't go much longer. Congratulations and hugs and everything. So glad you and Olivia Grace are healthy.

Balhatain said...

I strongly believe that the general public will choose the art stars of the future. When 100,000 people find an artist interesting and no traditional art critics have heard of the artist it tells you that maybe the 'insiders' are now on the outside. After all, due to the internet anyone can be on the inside now because the system, if you will, has expanded beyond what the traditional market expected. Look at the art mags that are rushing to have awesome websites now. They were slow to move and now they might just be too late.