Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vanity Publications: Is the cost of being accepted worth the cost of your art career if you are accepted?

I'm certain that at one point in every artists life he or she will be tempted (or will know someone who has.) to order and submit work to some $19.95 publication claiming to be on the 'cutting edge' of artistic publications. Publications like this offer artists the chance to have their work 'recognized nationally by art critics and collectors.' simply by submitting artwork. They often claim to be the perfect PR move for aspiring artists. What you read may sound good, but the end result may be very bad for your career as an artist.

Imagine, you are surfing the net and you discover a site about having your work published. The company offers you the chance to have your work displayed in the book with other talented artists. All you have to do is submit your work and you may be selected for the publication. Seems like a good PR move, right? WRONG.

A few days later you receive an email stating that your image has been selected. Your heart stops with excitement. After calming down you joyfully order a dozen copies for your friends, family, and one for yourself. You think about all of the people who will finally see your work.

"Will I become famous", "Will this help me obtain that grant?", "Maybe that MFA program will take me seriously now.", "Gallery representation is knocking on my door!"... thought after thought crosses your mind. Your work is finally going to be published! You go to bed after telling all of the people close to you (and a few you don't like... for bragging rights.) about your achievement. You dream of becoming an 'art star' over night after the publication is released. Sweet dreams? I can tell you right now (based on the experiences of some of my artist friends) that they are not made of this!

A couple of months pass and you finally receive your copies of the publication. Excited, you rip open the box containing the books and anxiously tear away the plastic wrapping from the first book you grab. You can't wait to see your artwork and the work of all the other talented artists represented in the publication. Horror strikes!

You discover that the book contains page after page of mediocre artwork. You turn the page and focus on a picture of a stick man riding a stick horse followed by a picture of a snowman dancing with a dog. You discover your own image on the opposite page as you stray away from the absurd images. You question yourself, "Talented artists... fine art?" as the phone rings. It is one of your friends calling. He wants his copy of the book. Did you make a mistake? Yes. The question is, do you know how big of a mistake you may have made. One thing is for certain, this mistake could cost you far more than $19.95.

These types of books are nothing more than vanity publications. They target aspiring artists who are hoping to bypass the 'grit' of the art business in order to 'make it big'. These companies prey on the dreams of creative individuals.The artist submits, gains acceptance, and orders a dozen copies. The catch is that everyone who submits will most likely get accepted. There may be a hundred different versions of the same publication created, each containing art by different artists. The company has long since cashed your check by the time you find out that the publication is not what it was represented to be. (That is where their 'fine print' comes into play.)

True, the book is about artists and their art, the company did not lie about that, but the caliber of the artists published can vary greatly. A serious artist would most likely not want his or her art shown in the same context as others who may be mere 'hobby painters'. The negative side of having your work in a vanity publication is that your art may be devalued by those who observe your work alongside art that is of a lesser quality. Once the book is printed your ill decision is documented for all to see (I've seen these books sold at art fairs and on library shelves.). The damage can haunt your career as an artist for years or become a rather nasty inside joke. Good PR move? Nope.

There are smart choices an artist can make before falling into the vanity publication trap. Online galleries, like those supported by, are good PR moves for any serious artist. True, the artists on any art site may have different levels of skill and talent, but each individual is represented by his or her own gallery. They are not all lumped into one solid shell like vanity publications tend to do.

Unlike vanity publications, an online gallery offers the individual artist to stick out rather than being represented as having equal skill and merit. The artist is not represented by every other artist upon the site. He or she is represented by his or her own personal space. Your online gallery is a representation of you alone. Vanity publications represent everyone as a whole (regardless of skill or merit), which has an end result of misrepresenting talented artists to whomever picks up a copy of the book.

A little PR can go a long way, but if done in the wrong manner it can make an artist seem desperate. However, I understand that our need for being "seen" sometimes clouds our decision making and choices. Thus, I will stress that the best way to be "seen" is to maintain an online gallery (Like the galleries we have on Being involved with your online gallery is a far better PR move than relying on any form of vanity publication.

Allow me to be frank, do you want to be a coffee-table memory or a successful artist? These publishers can be the lemon-car dealers of the art world! Remember, famous artists of the past did not pay to be included into vanity publications. They put their work out for people to see. Today we have the option of putting our work out for thousands to see daily on an online gallery. Take advantage of it.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin.


Sandra Baker-Hinton said...

Half of a professional artists saleablity is "image". Care should always be taken to have your work shown only with those who are at a professional level. It is not elitism it is good business sense. It is fine to do art for fun but if you plan on enjoying it as a livelihood then great care needs to be given to the reputation you build as a professional.

Balhatain said...


Very good observation. In my opinion, being an 'artist' is much like being a politician. Everything you do in the past may haunt you in the future. That is something every artist must think about.

In the future, an artist who does political art with a conservative view may have her career derailed if it is discovered that she posted pro-choice inspired art when she was in her early twenties.

What we do online documents who we are. People will no doubt value us on what they discover in the future. So, like a politician, we must be wary of what we give to the public and we must also be wary of who we associate with, agree?

SandraBaker-Hinton said...

Half of a professional artists saleablity is "image". Care should always be taken to have your work shown only with those who are at a professional level. It is not elitism it is good business sense. It is fine to do art for fun but if you plan on enjoying it as a livelihood then great care needs to be given to the reputation you build as a professional.

JackC said...

I randomly came across your blog while looking up what a "vanity publication" is. I've never heard the term before. More than likely because I'm not an aspiring writer or artist for that matter. I was merely looking up some info I ran into in a critical review of Poe that I was going over for school. Anyways I liked what I read and thought your piece was informative.