Self-branding has become a major issue of discussion among young artists, specifically with the self-named domain (YourName.com). Young artists spend a great deal of time and energy developing the structure, design, and style of their own self-named dot com or dot net sites, simultaneously trying to distinguish themselves from other young artists while following a prescriptive format. Similar to the importance of the curriculum vitae in terms of ubiquity, which is also unanimously available on all young artist sites, an artist website not only showcases artwork, but also employs style and graphic design in an attempt to reflect (or present) a certain impression of the artist. At $12 to $15 per month, and a set up time of under an hour through Google or Yahoo, anyone can be a dot com.
Having your own domain name marks you to society at large as a “serious artist,” and puts you on the same platform with other contemporary artists (see self-named artist websites such as MartinCreed.com, OlafurEliasson.net, or even highly styled sites like Terence Koh’s AsianPunkBoy.com, which features original drawings for sale at a piddly $1,000 each.) Because of its perceived seriousness, the practice of publishing your own dot com is elevated from mere blogging; many artists have both a blog and a dot com that are often interlinked: WilliamPowhida.com and williampowhida.blogspot.com, for instance. The artist website is also elevated from social media, which many artists also frequent (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr — a whole other can of worms.). The personal domain is an easy resource for gallerists, curators, critics, art bloggers, and other artists to refer, kind of a business card that incorporates your entire portfolio.
In setting up your website, you must ask yourself several questions: What font best describes you and your work? Should the images be framed on a white background, or should they dominate the entire page, or should they be clearly unedited installation shots? Do you include an artist statement, or project descriptions, or do you only exhibit obtuse unmarked images? Are you a vertical-scroll, horizontal-scroll, or a one-image-per-page kind of artist? Will you develop your own branded logo, or will it just be your name? The structure of artists’ websites cannot be separated from major galleries sites; many use the same style, layout and even identical Flash applications: compare PaulaCooperGallery.com and Gagosian.com to RBleckner.com and PhilipTaafe.info. Despite the diversity of designers behind these websites they all conform to a standard system (Your Name, Projects, CV, Contact). Advertising and branding, previously left to the discretion of art dealers and gallery owners, is now the responsibility of the artist — not that artists were immune to doing their own PR.
Artist websites typically attempt to remain as neutral as possible, taking most of their design cues from commercial gallery websites. White, gray and black backgrounds are preferred, with ultra-simple and typically understated logos that consist simply of the artist’s name — not unlike a luxury brand such as Thierry Mugler, Chanel, etc. Sans serif fonts are generally preferred over serif; gray text preferred over black; the less visual noise the better. Works are typically isolated on the white background of the website itself, rather than viewed as an installation shot; this indicates that Photoshop is highly utilized. What these online formats set up is really a virtual gallery with almost all the same conceptual issues one finds in the white-box method of gallery exhibition.
The majority of artist websites also feature a “Links” section where they link to galleries that have shown their work, perhaps collections they’ve been included in, or residency programs they’ve attended. The most bizarre aspect is the other young artists they choose to link to (equivalent of exhibiting themselves with) and those websites are interlinked in a small informal network. These networks of artist websites tend to be age/school/medium specific. The “Links” section eerily reflects Facebook’s display of your Friends in your Facebook Profile, or if we were to compare it to a gallery website, it kind of resembles a stable of artists.
Artist websites are linked via a wheel-and-spoke system to other larger sites such as White Columns Registry, Art Slant, Art Net, and One Art World. If they list you, can prove to be extremely useful in getting more shows; these curated databases of active contemporary artists use artist dot coms in their decision-making processes. Less useful (because it’s still self-publishing) but visible players also include Wooloo.org, and the somewhat horrifying Saatchi Gallery Your Gallery. One wants to be written up in very serious websites or local culture blogs — including Art Fag City, ArtCat, FREEWilliamsburg … — and a website is the best way to do that. The aforementioned blogs and online magazines cite you via hyperlink back to your self-named dot com. Clearly, young artists are expected to self-brand and self-publish early in their careers.
The stakes are high for the artist website, not only in terms of PR. Among innumerable graduate programs and residencies that now have online applications, they too will use your dot com as a viable, citable resource in reviewing your work, including the design you have selected for your website. Magdalena Sawon, director of PostMasters, stated in her Q&A at Winkleman’s #class exhibition, that she uses artist websites in lieu of studio visits. Elizabeth Dee notoriously requests her artists to remove works she has available on her website, or take their website down all together.
Where does this leave the artist? Is making your own website equatable to the rite of passage that is the BFA Thesis, or is it somehow more sinister? Does an artist even exist today without a dot com and without gallery representation? The result is that an artist is not only the images he produces or a persona he adopts, but also now a complete brand with a signature font, a logo, business cards, and a copyright. The effect this phenomena has on the art world, at least insofar as it is viewed on the Internet, is now a completely matrix-style system with large hubs but more importantly a network of artist websites, platforms that serve both as advertising but also as soap boxes. Everyone simultaneously has a voice, theoretically equal in value (YourName.com = Tillmans.co.uk) but in the multiplicity of the conversation, many voices will be lost.