Bushwhacking My Way to a New Artist’s Website

Notes from a website-in-progress.

In November, I decided that I was going to code a new responsive artist’s website, instead of using a CMS like SquareSpace. This fateful decision has meant many weeks consumed with good old standbys (HTML, CSS), lost acquaintances (PHP) and new grappling partners (Bootstrap, JS, JQuery, Less). I’m really excited with how my website-in-progress is looking, but behind the scenes, my code, my computer, and my mind have become a crazy quilt, a patchwork worthy of Funkadelic.

My last post on this theme, Artists’ Website Advice (11/28/2013), was cheery and optimistic. Now, from the weeds, come these follow-up thoughts:

  • Easier said than done!
  • Everything takes time. And many things take much more time.
  • The metaphor of a learning curve as a steep ascent is apt!
  • Sometimes learning things the hard way means making multiple attempts, and ultimately only learning what doesn’t work…. if that qualifies as learning a thing at all: Finding its contours in the negative. A plaster mold sculpted from stabs in the dark.
  • You can bang your head on a proverbial, nonphysical wall, and turn your actual meatspace brain into mush.
  • Unless you know code or you need to make weeks of your life disappear, don’t attempt to code your own site.
  • When I’m building things for others, I wish they could visualize what they want first. And though I thought I knew what I wanted in my site, there were many details I had to build, experience, and then revise. UX is complicated. Knowing what I like or dislike about other sites was enough to give me a general direction, but it didn’t replace actual expertise.
  • You can’t please everyone. Technically, there are too many variables—devices, browsers, accessibility issues—to ensure a perfect UX for everyone.
  • You won’t please everyone. My target audience within the art world is fairly niche, yet everyone’s tastes differs. I asked friends to give feedback to some sample pages. It was informative. It was not decisive. It helped me make decisions, and it’s also prepared me for the fact that no one will love my site as completely as I—it will be too big, too small, too much, and too little simultaneously for different people.

Now for some good thoughts:

  • Indispensable tools: Automator, Photoshop’s batch processing, MAMPCybercrab Screencheck, Bootstrap, JQuery, Github.
  • Benefitting from coder’s generous spirit of sharing of knowledge on the web. Even if I understand only 2% of it, it’s still more than what I started out with.
  • More understanding and appreciation for what M did during his IXD degree; M’s patience.
  • The light at the end of the tunnel.
Art Competition Odds, Meta-Practice

Art Competition Oddities

Most of the time, I don’t give too much thought to the art competition application process, but a recent application presented two discrepancies that made me take notice.

First, the entry fee was published as $10, but the slide management content management system (CMS) charged $20. This wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, but price variations like that erode my trust a teensy bit.

Second, the application requirements asked for the names of references, with the condition that reference letters would only be requested on behalf of the artists who are selected for a residency. However, the CMS automatically sent requests for letters to the references during the application process.

The additional $10 is a cost I can bear, but I would have been much more sparing with the time, labor, and good will of my esteemed references.

I hope to minimize how much work I ask of these supporters. They are curators and administrators of small alternative arts organizations that are often stretched thin. I can’t imagine how many artists ask them for their time and labor to help them with these favors. I certainly would not want them to do any unnecessary work, especially over the holidays when they are getting much-deserved down time, as was this case. I was embarrassed to impose upon them, especially when I decided to complete the form shortly before the deadline. Had I known about an off-the-bat request, I would have weighed my decision to apply differently.

Online submissions beat hardcopies, however, user interface design and skills are still developing. I sent these notes to the organization; hopefully they’ll get it sorted for next year’s annual call.

Here’s a big cheer to those arts organizations who do it right — who mind their p’s and q’s as closely as they’d want applicants to.

And loads of gratitude to those unsung supporters who help artists and jurors turn open calls into real-life opportunities and experiences. Cheers to you!