Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Advice: Tips for Artist’s Talks on Zoom

An artist recently asked how to be less nervous before an artist’s talk. Here are my suggestions.

Remember: The audience is pre-disposed to forgiving mistakes.

Friend and fellow artist Leah Rosenberg shared this wisdom from Yo-Yo Ma:

“…that’s not why we’re here, to watch the bad things that happened.”

Yo-Yo Ma, “Music Happens Between the Notes,” On Being podcast, September 4, 2014

 The audience wants you to succeed! They’re there because they are interested in you, you art, and in hearing you speak. So it’s OK to be yourself. No one needs you to be perfect!

At the same time, it is courteous and respectful to be prepared.

Have a script.

You don’t have to read it word for word—just know what talking points to hit. I aim for information density. I can be more clear and concise if I consolidate my thoughts in writing beforehand, than I would be if I ad-libbed.

Don’t just recite facts.

Sometimes artists put their ‘greatest hits’ into a slide deck, and deliver a talk by looking at the slide and reciting what the work is and when and where it happened. It can be very dry. Alternatively, structure your talk in sections by content (such as background, process, work), or take deeper dives into fewer bodies of work.

Tell the story of the development of a practice.

I find that audiences want to know: Why do you make what you make? How did you arrive at this inquiry or way of working? You could illustrate these ideas with process photos, sketches, or reference images. I think process photos are always welcome, and especially now under shelter-in-place.

Rehearse. Time. Cut.

I tend to put too many slides into my slide show for the time allowed. (Not sure how much time you’re allowed? Ask.) So I rehearse my presentation and time myself. Then I’ll edit down my slides. If I know time is tight, then I’ll minimize going off-script.

During the presentation, I try to set a timer on my phone (which is on mute, of course!) so I can stay close to the time allotted to me. This is less important if you’re the only artist talking. But the more artists there are, the more important it is to stick to a schedule.

Ask for questions in advance.

If an interview is planned, prepare and rehearse some answers to anticipated questions.

Move notes to the top of your screen.

I use InDesign for everything, so I present my slides via PDFs rather than Keynote, Powerpoint or Google Slides. Then I have a separate text document for my notes. When you start screen sharing in Zoom, it will go into full screen mode. I exit full screen and stack my Zoom window into a horizontal layer, which I move down when I’m presenting, so my notes can be up top, closer to the camera. 

Another option is to use two monitors, or an external monitor behind a laptop, for notes.

Include a slide with your name, website, and handles.

I don’t know why many artists shy away from this—it’s standard in other contexts. Make it easier for supporters to connect with you. You can include it at the beginning or the end.

Be happy to be there, and let it show!

One of my pet peeves is when artists look and sound bored talking about their own work. Many people go dead-eyed and monotone on Zoom. Add energy via warmth, humor, conviviality, and enthusiasm. Starting off with a warm smile is a great first step.

Cultivate conversation.

IRL conversations are interactive and fluid. On Zoom, dialogues can be stilted. People tend to speak in paragraphs. There can be woefully little interaction between presenters. Try to counter that by having more exchanges, asking questions in return, linking your point to someone else’s comments or work, and giving short answers when appropriate. 

Increase production value.

As a viewer, I appreciate it when guests or hosts on Zoom webinars step up their lighting and staging for public webinars. Here are simple lighting and staging tips from Tom Ford on NYT, and it doesn’t involve expensive or new A/V equipment.

Do a tech check.

It’s always a good idea for all presenters to log on 15 minutes in advance. Check that your sound and video is working, your slide deck is open, that your sound works on any videos, etc. 

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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2019-2020

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2019 through June 2020.

Goals

My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  • 2 grants. 
  • 6 residencies or studio programs in NYC.
  • 4 exhibitions in NYC.
  • 2 residencies, commissions, or projects in the S.F. Bay Area. 

This adds up to 14 applications.

Progress

I submitted 13 applications.

Of course, this was an exceptional year. I had other extenuating circumstances, and COVID changed everything. Not only were health, safety, travel, and finances endangered, existing projects were postponed and extended. Open calls were sometimes paused by the organizations. Some programs were canceled when organizations restructured due to the recession. Given all this, I was surprised to learn that I nearly reached my goal of 14 applications.

Here’s how much progress I made:

  • Grants.
    • [√] [√] √  √ 
    • I set out to apply to 2 grants, and I did.
    • I also applied to a fellowship and an award whose primary benefits were funding. If you count these towards my grants goal, then I exceeded this goal.
  • Residencies or studio programs in NYC.
    • [√] [√] [√] [√] [√] [_]
    • I aimed to submit 6 applications, and I completed 5 (3 residencies, studio programs).
  • Exhibitions in NYC.
    • [√] [√] [_] [_]
    • My goal was to apply to 4 exhibition opportunities. I completed 2 applications.
  • Residencies, commissions, or projects in the S.F. Bay Area.
    • [√] [_]
    • I submitted 1 application, though I aimed for 2. 
    • However, I was invited to do a project in the Bay Area, which leapfrogged the application goal to serve the greater goal.

Rejections

I received responses for 12 out of 13 applications. One program has been put on indefinite hold due to COVID.

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Of the 12 responses I received, all were rejections.

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Three of my 13 applications (23%) made it to a second round, or semi-finalist or finalist round.

I’ve enjoyed at least one or two successful applications each goal-year for the previous six years (the years most easy to look up), so garnering zero successful applications is a surprise. The sting of these ‘no’s’ is ameliorated by a more recent ‘yes,’ as well as invitations which arose from existing partnerships or past work.  


See my stats from 2018–2019, 2017-20182015-2016, 2014, and 2013.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Women’s Studio Workshop 2019 Studio Workspace Residency

The Women’s Studio Workshop’s 2019 Studio Workspace Residency received 98 applications for 6 residencies.

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Selected artists comprise ~1:16, or 6.1% of applicants.

Note: WSW typically awards 5-9 Studio Workspace Residencies, depending on how events impact the maximum number of artists that they can accommodate in the studio.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Women’s Studio Workshop 2019 Parent Residency Grant

The Women’s Studio Workshop’s 2019 Parent Residency Grant received 118 applications for 2 awards given.

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Selected artists comprise 1:59, or ~1.7% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Women’s Studio Workshop 2019 Artist’s Book Residency Grant

The Women’s Studio Workshop 2019 Artist’s Book Resident Grant received 69 applications for 4 awards.

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Selected artists comprise 1:17, or ~5.7% of applicants.

See the odds for WSW’s Studio Residency Grant in 2017 or 2015.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Women’s Studio Workshop 2020 Studio Residency Grant

The Women’s Studio Workshop 2020 Studio Residency Grant received about 231 applications for 3 awards.

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Selected artists comprise 1:77, or ~1.3% of applicants.

See WSW’s 2017 odds for this program.

See WSW’s 2015 odds for this program.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Center for Craft’s Craft Research Fund Artist Fellowship

The Center for Craft’s Craft Research Fund Artist Fellowship received nearly 127 applications for 2 fellowships.

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Selected artists comprise 1:63.5 or less than 1.5%, of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Harpo Foundation’s 2020 Grants for Visual Artists

The Harpo Foundation’s 2020 Grants for Visual Artists received nearly 1,300 applications for 10 grants.

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Selected artists comprise 1:130, or less than 0.7%, of applicants.

See all the 2017 odds.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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