"Your site needs some work," I told an artist friend, thinking that it is something you could tell a friend. Newsflash: I would have been better off telling her that she gained some weight. We are mighty touchy about our virtual selves.
So what about an artist's web presence is important? Isn't it enough to make good art, do we need to have our twin self looking smashing, too?
Well, sort of, kind of, yes, but there's no need to go crazy about it all. A handful of artists get away with no web presence at all; good for them. But we mortals have to keep up appearances. Look at me: I'm perky and slightly annoying in person. On the web, just more so.
It breaks my heart when I meet an artist doing fine work, then head over to their site and find that it looks as if it was made by their seventh grade cousin.
I spend a lot of time trolling artists' websites. I want to get to your bio and calendar in a heartbeat. When I can't, I get cranky. And we know, that's not pretty. If you have a show coming up, why not have it on the front page? Four clicks to get to your schedule are too many. And when I have to scroll through the entire schedule to find the event and it's not linkable, I just get sad.
It breaks my heart when I meet an artist doing fine work, then head over to their site and find that it looks as if it was made by their seventh grade cousin. "Don't link to that old thing," one artist told me. Well that "old thing" is still out there, doing its not-so-great-job of representing you. It's not like those old brochures you can toss in the recycle bin. The net graveyard overflows with zombie clutter.
I'm a repeat offender myself, having kept an outdated website up for way too long. With the exception of yearly interview with myself, I subscribe to the lazy writer's school of storage blogging, where I mostly reprint stories I've published elsewhere. I've made every social media mistake out there, and continue to invent new ones.
Also, it should be known that the phrase, "you don't understand how a computer works," has been uttered by more than one of the Wozny menfolk. I speak here today as a user, not a knower.
The Other You
Here's what I know. A website is not you. It doesn't even really represent your work. It's a place holder for someone to find out about you. Really, we are talking about three things: You, your work and how you represent the amalgamation of the real you and your work. A site doesn't have to be complicated to get the job done, it doesn't even have to be elegant.
There are plenty of serviceable templates out there to craft a handsome site. All I need are some images, a bio, a video reel if applicable, correct contact email/phone and a schedule of where and when I can see you. If that last one is too much, just use Facebook/Twitter/Google Plus or the old prehistoric email blast to tell us what's next.
In the olden days, a website was it, but now artists have the chance to craft their image through a gaggle of social media tools. The website can serve to aggregate all of them, so it's one-stop shopping to find you on Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr, your blog or Twitter. Or not. But no one says you have to clutter up your site with your Twitter feed or use every tool out there. Pick and choose.
Some day, maybe the website will have served its purpose and our virtual identities will be in bits and pieces all over the net. For some, it's already happening. We can play with our identities on various social media platforms. I'm no-nonsense and self promotional on Facebook, goofball-ish on Twitter and a passive personality-less voyeur on Google Plus.
Girl with a geek streak Terri Golas of River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) just recently reminded me that we can gather a lot of info about each other from comments. I've learned about a show, a new role and a future collaboration via artists' comments. So, keep 'em coming. Thanks to Jennifer Edwards of Edwards & Skybetter-Change Agency for urging the dance community to join the comment conversation. This is another way to get noticed and make an arts fuss.
Snazzy new sites in Houston
I'm lucky to have witnessed firsthand how many ways artists have webized their careers. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, a frequent Dance Salad participant, found that YouTube got her sultry moves out into the world. Some take a gentle approach, like choreographer and teacher Sara Draper, who launched a brand new site last month. Draper worked with two sets of students though the University of Houston DISC program at the UH Small Business Development Center through UH's C.T. Bauer College of Business.
Draper would be the first to admit it wasn't easy. But it helped her clarify what she wanted to put out there about herself. "The site is about getting paying students and getting paid work as a choreographer and dance/movement teacher," Draper says. "It also opens the way to bring in collaborative partners, board members and supporters for Dancepatheatre, and surprises."
Other Houston artists with shiny new sites include photographer David A. Brown and pianist Kris Becker. Like Draper, I get a sense of all that they do. Culture Pilot built installation artist Jo Ann Fleischhauer a fresh new site. Fancy. Sleek.
Lydia Hance of Frame Dance Productions has a project oriented blog leading up to her film LOVE ME at Spacetaker. Dance Magazine editor-in-chief Wendy Perron set off her own firestorm when she blogged about artists overblogging. Hance doesn't do that though, her blog exists as a teaser companion, not the thing itself. Thanks to her gentle Twitter/FB presence I always know what Hance is up to.
Help is out there
Experts lurk among us. Schipul's search engine expert Caitlin Kaluza covered some terrific points in her Spacetaker workshop, Get Discovered: Optimizing Tools to Enhance your Web Presence, earlier this summer. I had a fantastic conversation with Schipul designer Lyndia Makol. Her mantra is to focus on the user experience.
So before you sell the car and hire a web designer (it's not a cheap proposition), notice how you like to navigate. "Put yourself in the position of the user," says Makol, who designed iFest's dragon-popping site. Earlier this summer, Monica Danna presented Word Up!: Harness the Power to Create WordPress Blogs, Websites and Portfolio, full of good ideas. She plans a series of classes at the newly formed Center of Social Media at UCTCenter. Kudos to Spacetaker for taking the lead here.
There was a bounty of smarts in #THISISHAPPENING workshop held at the annual Dance/USA conference, moderated by the other half of Edwards & Skybetter Sydney Skybetter, with Fresh Arts' Ian Garrett, Tendu TV's Marc Kirschner and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's director of marketing Thomas Cott. According to Skybetter, there's nothing stagnant about approaching the moving target of technology, no "getting it down," because as soon as you think you have done so, something new is out there. When it comes to social media, Skybetter suggests we start as passive users.
Hop on, pay attention, join the party when you are ready. Sound advice.
Now calm down
Honestly, I don't think we need to work ourselves into a tizzy about our web presence. A sexy website never won a Guggenheim. Sure, artists run businesses, but that doesn't mean we have to follow the exact dictates of social media rules for business. I think artists can and should have more freedom. (Some businesses do too, check out The Black Sheep Agency, who just cracked me up with its Facebook Fatique rant.)
If you have a site, try to update it. If you like to write, heck yes, blog away. If you are comfortable using social media, find the platforms that fit your style. And finally, don't listen to anyone, including me, who says you have to do things a certain way, (within reason, dissing the boss seems a universally bad idea). Remember, we are the user/creators, shaping our virtual selves and communities as we go.
Just think of the net as one more empty canvas.
The highly webbed Lydia Hance's trailer teaser of her new film LOVE ME