Which Works Should Be On My Website?

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Your website doesn't have to have a lot of bells and whistles to be effective. Paul Henry Ramirez's site is simple, clean, and easy to use.
Your website doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles to be effective. Paul Henry Ramirez’s site is simple, clean, and easy to use.

Dear BURNAWAY,
I’m in the process of organizing my artist website, and I’m stumped as to how far back I should go chronologically. One friend said that I should show my student works to let people know that I am trained in different styles and mediums, even though I no longer do them. I’m an installation artist now, but, you know, I can draw and I can paint. But is that something that I need to prove to the people perusing the Internet? On the other hand, another friend says I should only show things from the last five years. I don’t know what to do! I also make music, should I include that or is it best to keep these things totally separate?
Gracias!
GB in ATL


Dear GB,
Aren’t personal websites just a hoot? There’s no editor, no proofreader, no one to help you decide what to include, yet it’s the singular vehicle that will transport everything you do and are passionate about to the rest of world. No pressure at all. Not a bit!
Websites are stressful, especially those that are your very own. Anyone who has made their own has experienced slogging through the unending tweaks and glitches, and trust me, the struggle is real. But I’m here to help you. As a person who has looked at hundreds and hundreds of artist websites, I’ve got some pointers that I’m confident will light your path, dear wanderer.

Like his work, Cory Arcangel’s website embraces a certain longing for earlier digital times.
Like his work, Cory Arcangel’s website embraces a certain longing for earlier digital times.

Now, I can understand the impulse to showcase everything you’ve done, to put out your impressive breadth and rigorous artistic upbringing, and to show the full evolution of your brilliance. But honestly, peaches, ain’t nobody got time for that. It will work profoundly in your favor to present only your best professional work, in other words, the crème de la crème of your art game.
Why? Well first, because of your own reputation. When I think about artists whose sites I love, I don’t think I would love those sites as much if I was encouraged to rummage through droves of student drivel in order to get a sense of the artist’s intention in their practice. I am attracted to certain sites because they show me the best of the best, and leave me with the sense that Artist X knows exactly what he’s doing and where he wants to go with his career.
Artist Wim Delvoye's site is a riff on the Sim City video game. Dubbed "Wim City," the site allows visitors to explore the portfolio as well as exploring the virtual town.
Artist Wim Delvoye’s site is a riff on the Sim City video game. Dubbed “Wim City,” the site allows visitors to explore the artist’s portfolio via the virtual town.

Secondly, you’ve got to respect people’s time. Many obsessives, such as myself, feel like they need to “complete” an artist’s entire website when they’re researching them, say for a review on a recent show or a profile in a magazine. That means, yes, when I’m writing about an artist, I will stroll through virtually every image from every series (albeit sometimes very fast) to cover all the bases.
That said, do you really want to run the risk of a writer or a curator who is currently blown away by your poignant installation works becoming severely deflated after seeing your pencil sketches of a fake skeleton, or that sinister clay bust of your ex-girlfriend’s face, or that chair you hastily glued to another chair in sculpture class (à la the horrendous furniture Anthropologie is trying to sell right now)? Maybe you do, but probably, you don’t.
James Turrell's website was recently overhauled.
James Turrell’s website was recently overhauled.

If your website includes your CV, which it should, and you annotate on the CV that you have a degree in art or you studied it, what that means is: you are trained in various media. No need to rehash all your student work.
Next up is the five-year concept your friend mentioned. I don’t know from where your friend pulled that number—perhaps it was the job resume advice that recommends only including your prior five years of work history? But for artists, five years can mean vastly different things, depending on how one works and their current career stage (early, mid, late). So, that rule can be tossed out the window. There’s no duration requirement for your site; just simply include the important works and series that you deem significant to your practice and development, whether they were in 1975 or 2015.
So, to sum this up, less is always more. It’s important to edit yourself, to know your best work from your not-so-best work, and to accept that. Because, we’ve all got it! And if you are a poor self-editor, maybe you should consider enlisting your friends and their trusted opinions before you go live with your new site. Friendly feedback can be a powerful thing.
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.