Proactive Self-Promotion: Tweak an Art Critic

Without identifying the parties involved, I'll pass on some “gossip” relayed to me by a reliable source about one artist's self-promotion feats.

Christine Atkins, Why Do Trees Whisper
Christine Atkins, Why Do Trees Whisper. Mixed media. ©The Artist

The Artist

  • The artist had work installed at a major museum in a certain city.
  • She created a document that asked people to contact The Reviewer for the city's major paper and urge him to review her exhibit.
  • She made numerous photocopies and passed them out to supporters and (if I heard correctly) people she found at the exhibit who liked the work.

The Supporters

  • The artist's supporters emailed the critic in large numbers. “Please review The Artist's work in your column!”

The Reviewer

  • The reviewer relented (“Please! Call off the dogs!”) and ended up writing a nice feature article with several photos.

Do I recommend annoying an art critic? Absolutely not.
Do I recommend being proactive and not waiting for things to happen? Absolutely!

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10 thoughts on “Proactive Self-Promotion: Tweak an Art Critic”

  1. I don’t know, but this strategy feels it goes a little too far. Were it to catch on I think the few remaining art reviewers would feel besieged and come to resent the artists who’d organized such campaigns. Sometimes a lighter touch can accomplish more. By all means be proactive, but always also put yourself in the shoes of the person on the receiving end of your efforts.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Philip: I do hope you noted that I don’t recommend it. But I felt obligated to report that it worked in this instance.
      I think the most important thing to note is that she didn’t wait for the critic to come to her or the museum to do something about it.

  2. Alyson, I hear you. I’ve been impressed over the years how an polite, friendly email and an image, or a hand written note can shake loose some press coverage for a show one’s having. It works about half the time, which is pretty darned good in my opinion.

  3. Growing up in Toronto, there was really one important art critic who was respected by all…He hated almost everything, so getting a good review really meant something…By the time I got old enough to count, he had retired…He was replaced by someone who writes well, but is known to love everything…I know I would get a good review if I bothered…But I don’t want to play this game…I look to art critics to help me along my path… If I need advertising, I will just pay for it up front- it’s more honest…

    1. There’s a difference between advertising and PR (Public Relations or Press Release – both actually fit here).
      A review by a critic is NOT advertising and you shouldn’t think of it the same way. Public relations is about how you relate to the public, including the Media.
      Think about it. If you see a commercial for Pepsi, it impacts you one way. If you see a story about Pepsi on your local news station, it will impact you differently. The first is advertising – you know that the company bought and paid for that. The second somehow gets in further.
      The difference is essentially this – in the first instance, it’s the message the company wants you to hear. In the second instance, it’s a third party giving you information. It feels more genuine. Even though, it’s likely that the reason that story got told in the first place is because – wait for it…
      The company DID SOMETHING to get that PR.
      Oh, and as far as honesty goes – the second is usually credited as being MORE honest, not less. Because it’s coming from a third party.

  4. I got my work noticed by my city’s primary critic by engaging him in a conversation about his writing…well, actually by playfully picking a fight with him.
    I tell my full story here, but the point is that critics are content makers just like artists. And just like artists, they usually like it when someone has something to say about their content!

  5. There’s an underlying message in this story. In order to pull off this strategy, the artist needed to have a mailing list to ask for help. This mailing list of supporters needed to be engaged enough to take action on her request.
    And that’s something that takes time, focus and attention to build. It takes deepening the relationship with your fans. And it takes a sophisticated enough database system to be able to identify your fans by city.
    This artist is clearly and intentionally building her business. She’s not just creating art and hoping that someday someone will notice. Whether or not you agree with her tactics in this particular instance – her strategy is clearly working for her.

  6. Debra…I know the difference…I was going beyond that…If a review has been forced or pressured or the reviewer feels compelled to give a good review, I am not interested…I respect these people & really want to know what they think…If they can’t tell me the bad side as well, what really is the point…? (which is why I then labelled it advertising)…

    1. I agree with you. A review that isn’t genuine, but is written to the specifications given the reviewer is actually advertising. How often do we see positive quotes from “reviewers” on screamingly bad movies.
      Thanks for clarifying.

  7. It’s not anything that I would do, but I still think it was an interesting tactic on the artist’s part. Although, the critic did get pressured to write a review it’s not as if he/she got pressured to write a good review… Thumbs up to the artist!

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