I’m what you might call “old school,” and I need some help with my artist submissions. I am planning to rip copies of my portfolio (about 30 artwork images) onto blank CDs to submit to galleries around the country, but my daughter questioned me on it enough to make me wonder if I was doing something wrong. I grew up in the time of slides, which moved to digital images, then CDs and now the Internet. I’m confused as to how best to submit my work to galleries. Should I still compile a portfolio CD, along with my CV and a letter, etc., and submit via mail? Or are CDs already a thing of the past?
Dear Mr. T,
Oh boy, do I ever feel your pain. I’m glad you wrote in with this question. While a lot of artists might already see CDs as a thing of the past, there are just as many who are just now getting the hang of burning files to discs.
Let’s face it: technology can really bite sometimes. For all the good it does around the world, there are aspects of constant digital sea change that triggers a strange and severe kind of nausea—that of the Sartrean variety—in many of us.
Speaking of my boy Jean-Paul Sartre, there’s a passage in his wonderfully depressing novel Nausea that comes to mind: “I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven’s name, why is it so important to think the same things all together.”
I am a so-called “millennial” and I have immense trouble keeping up with any new network, trendy app, or swank gadget. I resist technological upgrades as much as possible, but I also know it’s in my best interest to stay on top of these things. For people like you and me—Luddites at heart—we want to stick to our own system, go our own way, unswayed by what’s hot and hip. But the fact is, you can’t do that with technology. You just can’t. In most cases, you are going to hop on the bandwagon sooner or later, so you might as well do it sooner. That said, I admire your willingness to revamp your own personal system. A lot of people would just do it the old way and not try to stay current. So you’re doing the right thing, grasshopper.
The art world never had time to mourn the death of slides when digital images rolled into the party and completely usurped the throne once held by projectors, film, and carousels. Similarly, compact discs essentially pulled an Irish goodbye when thumb drives, and later Dropbox and Hightail, arrived on the scene. It’s strange how it happens so quickly. But guess what, it happened. CDs are a thing of the past. The only role they have in the art world anymore is as raw material. You can use them to make hypnotic undulating street sculptures in Paris or sprawling seas of obsolescence that reflect the moonlight. That’s about it.
So don’t send out a CD unless certain galleries explicitly ask for it. Let me explain why. If you were to mail or hand deliver a CD to the gallery I work for, we would have no way to view it. It’s crazy but true! We all use Macbook Pros and Airs—none of which have a disc drive. Laptops have been phasing out disc drives for years, so there’s a good chance many of the galleries you’re gunning for don’t have an easy way to look at images on a disc. Sure, they can tote it home to their clunky desktop or something, but you don’t want to put an extra step between your images and the dealer’s eyes. Your goal is to make images of you work as easy to access as possible.
So save your money: don’t go spending it on a tower of blank CDs, pocket folders, manila mailers, and buckets of printer ink. Instead, subscribe to Squarespace or some other great site-building platform for a nominal monthly fee. Make yourself a stellar portfolio site and be done with it. Most galleries accept submissions via email. You should write a personal, enthusiastic email as you would write a cover letter, include the same information, along with a link to your site. In most cases, no tangibles are necessary for submission. Focus your energies on making a great site with great quality images.
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She is the lead visual art writer at The Tennessean and an editor at Number, an independent arts journal of the South. She also works with David Lusk Gallery and Cumberland Art Conservation, and is cofounder of the gallery Threesquared. Her writing has also been featured in The Bitter Southerner, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, ArtNow, and others. For more: saraestes.com.