Artists’ Websites Now

by Stephanie Cassidy | September 12, 2013

Artists’ websites have replaced, to a great extent, the traditional art portfolio. Their advantages are significant. Anyone with an Internet connection can see your site at any time. With a website, you can combine unlimited amounts of text, images, and video seamlessly. A site can add a dimension to your creativity, showing others how you work and see the world. Done well, they provide a visual experience that slides and a checklist cannot. Some might argue that websites themselves are an art form. The Webby Awards, established in 1996, honor excellent websites. The year’s honorees in the art category—The Creators Project, “Cindy Sherman at MoMA,” the New Museum, “MoMA’s—Century of the Child,” and Guggenheim Blogs—reveal a huge potential for artists in this evolving medium.

Websites are also as labor-intensive to create as any print publication. They require some technical know-how and great organization to build, edit, and maintain. They are worth the effort, and increasingly the preferred platform for any professional artist to present work. Fortunately, examples of excellence abound. You can customize how you want your work to appear, taking a navigation style from one, finding inspiration in the color scheme of another.

The Basics

The New York Foundation for the Arts has put together a set of guidelines, “Creating an Artist Website, or The Art of Storytelling” and website resources. For inspiration check out Blouin ArtInfo‘s list of twenty “must-click” websites. Start with excellent reproductions of your best work, clearly labeled with a caption that includes title, date, medium, and dimensions. You can organize them by subject matter, genre, medium, or date. It’s helpful if viewers can enlarge the reproductions so details of the work are clear. Most websites stick to a neutral background color—white, a shade of grey, or black—to foreground the artwork. You should include a CV, contact information, and the name of the gallery that represents your work. If you’ve written about art or have been the subject of a review, include a bibliography.

Gallery of Examples
A page from Ronnie Landfield’s website

Painter Sharon Sprung’s website has large and vivid reproductions that scroll horizontally across the screen. On Ephraim Rubenstein’s site, you can enlarge the reproductions to appreciate the paint surface. Mariano Del Rosario’s welcome page intrigues with category names like “idea objects” and “critique” that invite the visitor to explore. Ronnie Landfield’s site includes an elegant decade-by-decade chronology of his artwork that’s presented in mini-galleries. What better way to see an artist’s evolution? Pat Lipsky’s sleek site devotes a section to her writing, the full text available to the viewer with a click. (Check out the Art Students League Pinterest board of its members’ websites.)

Outside the Mold

“Rules and models destroy genius and art,” observed the English critic William Hazlitt. Not surprisingly, for every website guideline I could think of, a rule breaker, often among the most famous of artists, has violated it, frequently to great effect. Or they’ve shaped the form of their website to specific aesthetic ends. What can you offer on a website beyond a typical portfolio of work? Here is an alternate list of best practices, or ideas, from thirteen artists’ websites that defy convention.

1. Brand yourself.
Yayoi-Kusama’s website uses her trademark polka-dots as a background motif. One page links you to museum shops around the world where you can buy her polka-dotted goods. Unforgettable, and savvy.

2. Exploit all media.
Ai Weiwei’s site includes six clips from his recent album, “The Divine Comedy,” video clips, and an Instagram feed documenting himself and his interests du jour.

3. Act as your own biographer or public relations firm.
Gerhard Richter’s meticulous timeline and bibliography of print and video material about his work and life is an art historian’s dream. There’s also a page of press-ready quotes, organized by subject, of course.

4. Cultivate mystique and curiosity by not showing your work.
John Baldessari’s website navigates like an unfolding mind map in spare black and white. Aside from a few photographs of the artist, it’s all text. (To see the work, get a copy of his two volume catalogue raisonné, $200.00 each.)

5. Display your images to reflect your practice.
Bansky dispenses with the neat grids of jpegs in chronological or topical order in favor of a guerrilla scrapbook, a nod to his subversive interventions on public buildings.

6. Eschew conventional navigation.
Pipilotti Rist welcomes visitors with three portals: one to her gallery, another to her “old homepage,” and a third to her feature film. The first is conventional, showing her work. The second generates a small pop-up window filled with electric green and blue type and patterns. The third portal to her film is a dead-end.

7. If your work is large, show it large.
Nick Hornby fills the screen with his sculptures.

8. Sell yourself. Go commercial.
In addition to her main website, Tracey Enim has a second one, “Enim International Shop,” that sells prints, posters, and gifts like christmas ornaments, eggcups, cat bowls, and t-shirts.

9. Show more than just your work as an artist.
Daniel Mudie Cunningham is an artist, curator, and writer. Judged by the content on this website, Cunningham spends a lot of time writing reviews and organizing the work of other artists for shows, maybe more time than he spends creating his own artwork.

10. Give them all you’ve got, upfront.
Sterling Ruby’s “Super Archive” shows a full range of work: 94 rows x 12 columns +1 for a total of 1,129 images on a single page.

11. Speak to your audience.
Supplement conventional navigation on your welcome page with a blog like James Dodd does.

12. Show them how you do it.
Damien Hirst’s welcome page features a live feed of his studio assistants at work.

13. Create a theatrical experience.
The welcome page of Matthew Barney’s site launches a pop-up window, showing a selection of 5 works in his Cremaster Cycle. You can read a “synopsis,” look at photographs of “characters,” and watch a trailer.

Artists’ websites are evocative and absorbing, contradictory and confusing. Just like the art world. What will yours look like?