I once overheard an artist say, “I’m going to die if I don’t get a review!” Although art criticism is not normally the type of journalism that places lives on the line, it can sometimes feel like total failure if, after so much labor and effort, an exhibition goes entirely unacknowledged. The worst review is no review at all, and silence may feel like an ego crash. The most common question that artists ask me, as an art critic, is how I choose which shows to write about. I used to explain the entire mechanism of writer-editor relationships in various publications until I realized that implicit within that
question is a deep-seated desire for validation: When are you going to write about my show? In a city as large as Chicago, I count only one full-time art critic (I am not that one). Art writers, like artists, are juggling a hundred interests and responsibilities. So, how do you get the attention of an art critic? Here are some tips and observations:
1. Read art criticism. Know who is writing in your city and for which publications they write. This will make you better informed about whom to contact when the time comes.
2. Make yourself visible. Have a website and update it with new artwork. I like when artists have websites enabled with an RSS feed (most blog-based websites do), so that when the site is updated it shows up in my Google Reader. That way, your site is automatically notifying me of updates.
3. Send a press release about your exhibition by email. Don’t make it too long. Include some images! Send it about two weeks to one month ahead of your exhibition opening. Please don’t send it to me more than once. If you don’t hear from me, that doesn’t mean I am ignoring you. If I like your artwork, I will find a way to write about it now or in the future.
4. Reveal a detail or have an angle. Art critics want to break a news story. What makes your abstract oil paintings stand out among the hundreds of others? Also, critics don’t want to tell the same story as all the other critics, so if you want to make a friend, give an exclusive scoop to a journalist.
5. Stay connected. If I reviewed your show once, or I invited myself for a studio visit in the past, that’s an opportunity for us to establish a relationship, so keep me informed about your work.
6. Be able to talk about some aspect of your artwork. Stake a claim in your artwork, have an opinion, reveal your actions with intentionality. If you can’t talk about your art, then be prepared to talk about something else, such as your hobbies, recent travels, or
a personal history. Richard Serra worked at a steel mill before becoming an artist, and Barbara Kruger was a graphic designer. Who are you?
7. The most common way that an art critic will know about your art is if you’re having an exhibition or staging an event. But we also look to grant announcements, collections, open studios, and panel discussions and lectures for article ideas, so don’t be invisible by being unengaged. The art scene is a holistic model, and it’s rare for an outsider to make an impact.
Jason Foumberg is an art critic and editor of the art section at Newcity, an alt-weekly based in Chicago, and contributing culture critic at Chicago magazine. He also writes for Frieze, Modern Painters, Sculpture, and Photograph magazines. Send exhibition announcements and comments to Jason Foumberg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written in Winter 2011–12.