|THE WORK BEHIND ARTIST INTERVIEWS
Every once in a while, I’ll come across an artist who really gets it.
I say, “gets it” because they understand that we now live in a digital world where you can either allow yourself to be overwhelmed or you can go with it and try to make the most of it.
Such is the case with artists Steve Brudniak and Sam Shendi. I recently completed and posted my interviews with them. More on that in a moment.
Let me say here that interviewing artists isn’t only about the actual interviews. First, I must check to see whether or not they have personal websites that fall under their direct control. An artist cannot truly be independent without having their very own online platform.
We all have social media pages, which are fantastic, but we do not own, nor do we control those platforms. In addition, having a page on a well-known art-selling platform is also great, but it’s not the same as owning your own website.
If the artist does indeed have his or her own website, I examine their work very closely. I’m always on the hunt for something new and different … something fresh and innovative. But mostly, I’m looking for something that intrigues me or moves me in some profound way. I don’t even have to “like” the work. I simply must be moved by it and the work must inspire a desire in me to chat with the artist. In short, I must feel that the work is somehow pushing contemporary art forward.
If I’m inspired, I email them and ask if they’d like to do an interview with me for ArtBookGuy.
Most say “Yes,” but not all. There’s still a good chance that artists just don’t “have time” or they just don’t want to do the work associated with my interviews which tend to be in-depth. I don’t charge artists for interviews, but they will cost you in terms of the work involved in doing some soul searching about your process and life.
Not all artists want to do this. It can be a challenge. Earlier today, two artists declined my invitations for interviews.
Also, despite my constant appeals to have artists contact me for interviews, most of the interviews that I do are the result of me reaching out to them. Artists tend to be passive types. They want to be “discovered.” Of course, many artists will deny this and I would love to be dead wrong, but my experience interviewing hundreds of artists supports this conclusion. It’s hidden in their language. This isn’t a happy conclusion. It simply is what it is.
My interviews are overwhelmingly with white male artists. While I’ve interviewed many female artists, I believe I’ve done far fewer interviews with women simply because they are far more cautious – and rightfully so – about engaging with men online. Makes perfect sense. Also, I think female artists do much more multi-tasking with families and other things compared to their male counterparts.
I’ve not done as many interviews with artists of color or ethnicity because I also believe they tend to be more cautious online. I rarely even get responses when I send out appeals to African-American artists.
Again … it is what it is. My intention is true and when things don’t go according to plan, I expand my vision and go with what is meant to be rather than trying to force – or enforce – my own will about these interviews.
Usually, before beginning an interview, I send the artist a quick, “get to know you” email that explains what I do and how things should go. Some artists drop out at this point. Perhaps the initial formality and promise of the work involved scares them off. Who knows?
When they agree, the interview begins. The process usually takes a couple of weeks. However, I’ve noticed that my better interviews tend to be the ones that go at a brisk pace. This is because BOTH sides are fully-engaged and invested in the dialogue.
I must say here that my fastest interviews to date are with Kenny Schachter and Simon Kirk. Both of those interviews were started and completed in one single day. Travel is never an impediment. I began and completed the interview with Kirk while I was driving on a 12-hour road trip.
Also, language is not an issue. I’ve done interviews with artists who’ve either had the help of friends who speak English or through the use of Google Translator. I’ve also used it myself.
My longest interview took FIVE YEARS. This is usually the result of the artists taking FOREVER to reply to my questions. In this case, I had written the artist off, but somehow, we got it done. Needless to say, I won’t tolerate that time length ever again.
Additionally, I try to keep the interview topics “evergreen.” In other words, I steer away from current events or what the artist might be working on during the period of the interview. I don’t want the interviews to become outdated too quickly. This would defeat the whole purpose of me promoting them on social media.
I’ve done a few interviews that we stopped in mid-stream simply because neither side was really “feeling it.” My most disappointing interviews to date are incomplete interviews … one was with a male artist who must have been perpetually stoned when he answered me because he was behaving like a jerk and his answers made no sense whatsoever.
The other was with a fantastic female artist who lives in New York. Her subject matter is somewhat controversial and I really wanted to explore her process and help readers get insight into her inspiration and motivation. Yet she wasn’t very cooperative and I believe she was being intentionally difficult by giving very short, snarky answers. I cut the interview off and told her that I was moving on to other artists who were awaiting interviews at the time. I was left wondering why she had agreed to the interview in the first place.
When things don’t work out, you must move on. And you don’t do it in anger or vengeance. You do it simply because you respect your time as well as their time. We cannot get more time. You’re not going to click with everyone you meet. That’s life.
ONWARD AND UPWARD.
Once the interview is completed, I must edit it and prep it for the website.
Is the interview too long or too short? Is the artist too long-winded here or too elusive? Is this really a “non-answer?” Nix it. Is this too convoluted? Kill it. Should I insert a question here to make this passage more understandable?
You get the picture. It’s all about clarity. If readers are perusing something on the site that they don’t understand, I’ve failed them.
After editing the interview, I usually read it twice more to make sure the vibe is contemporary and accessible enough for readers. Then, I format the interview. This means I make sure it’s in ArtBookGuy’s standard font (Verdana) and size and I make sure that the paragraphs aren’t too long and that there are enough white spaces between letters and sentences to give relief to the eyes of readers.
I also must make sure that the interview is properly set up for search engine optimization by employing proper keywords that make the interview detectable and searchable on Google and other search engines.
After all of that, I post the interview, but I don’t make the interview viewable yet to readers on the website until I’ve sent out the ArtBookGuy newsletter to my art world contacts. I usually do this on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday morning.
One of the things that I find so interesting is the fact that many artists actually think they’re doing ME a favor by agreeing to be interviewed.
Seriously? My efforts result in THEM getting serious online exposure. And here’s the thing … many artists fail to take full advantage of it by promoting their interviews as I ask them to do before we formally communicate. Numerous artists have told me that their interviews helped them secure either sales or gallery representation. I’ve also written recommendation letters and book forwards for “my artists.”
And that’s why I’m so happy to share this with you. Just a few days after posting my interviews with artists Steve Brudniak and Sam Shendi, I noticed something unusual.
These interviews were getting unusually high traffic very quickly. I immediately knew that something was up because while I do A LOT of social media promotion and analytics for my interviews, the numbers in these cases seemed way high.
I mean, Steve Brudniak’s interviewed topped 1000 visits in a few days and Sam Shendi’s interview did hundreds of visits in a single day.
What was the deal?
Oh yeah! I know why … along with me, both Steve and Sam were promoting their interviews on social media. Wow … what a concept. They actually “get it.”
Do you know why they “get it?” I think it’s because Steve is also an actor who totally understands the importance of “self promotion” and Sam is also a designer who knows that if you want people to SEE and buy your work, you must let them KNOW you’ve DONE the work.
What a concept.
What’s the point in spending so much of your time doing “the work” if you’re not going to let people know about it?
Again … I’ve interviewed hundreds of artists and I continue to pitch and promote every single artist interview I’ve ever done. I’ve promised artists that I would do that and I remain true to my word … even though some of those very artists have either “unfriended” me on social media or unsubscribed from my email newsletters.
No matter. I carry on and I remain true … even to those who’ve bailed. I live my intention.
Look … I certainly didn’t originate online artist interviews, but I must say that in the past several years, I’ve seen more and more art websites doing them. Ultimately, this is a good thing. The more exposure that we can give to gifted visual artists in this world, the better. Most people don’t understand contemporary art, so they need our help.
And besides, know one interviews artists like ArtBookGuy.
However, I must say here that if you really want to interview artists well, roll up your sleeves and dig in.
It’s WORK … and believe me you, this work … of interviewing artists … is not for the lazy or weak-minded.