Writing art press releases: 5 common misdemeanours

I’ve seen a lot of exhibition press releases in my time. The good ones tell journalists what’s happening and why they should be interested. The bad ones? Well, here are some thoughts on common mistakes.

1) The blind leading the blind

The text-only press release is a particularly sorry beast. Sure, some practices may be more about concepts than objects. And that line of thinking is fine as far as it goes. But when journalists get your press release, they are not going to make a cup of tea and prepare to settle in for 15 minutes to read a long press release. If it takes too long to form a mental picture of the work, then the press release isn’t doing its job.

(If images of the new work are not available, then perhaps progress or studio shots, plans or schematics, or even pictures of past, similar projects may serve instead.)

2) So what do you do exactly?

I remember talking to a New Zealand dealer about an artist speed dating event he’d been a part of. He was frustrated. When artists sat down with him, he said they would immediately launch into explanations of what their work was about. Okay, he’d say, but what do you actually do? What’s your medium? Are you a painter? What’s your process?

I can see where he was coming from. This nuts and bolts stuff doesn’t need to take up too much space, particularly if good images have been selected to accompany the press release. But it has it’s place and is even worth including for mid career and senior artists, if only to establish base expectations about whether an exhibition is in line with previous work, or represents some kind of departure.

3) A mystery wrapped in an enigma

It’s ridiculous even saying this one but I’ve seen it more than once. If a press release is promoting an exhibition, it should have the dates on it. And the location. That’s kind of useful information to have.

4) Blow your own horn

That’s what a press release is for, after all. Who has faith in your work? Has an interesting curator invited you to take part in an exhibition, for example? What other signs are there that there is an audience interested in your work?

It’s also worth including anything that might set the exhibition or body of work apart, such as the use of new materials or the exploration of new theories or subjects.

Art media are unlikely to be interested in your backstory, but unusual personal stories may be of interest to some mainstream media.

5) You don’t have to talk about yourself in third person

Sometimes sending a direct email can be just as effective. Nothing fancy. Hey, thought you might be interested in what I’ve been up to. This is what’s coming up. Here are the details if you’d like to come. Journalists love getting these sorts of emails as they’re usually very direct.

It also saves time if there are only a couple of media contacts you want to reach.

Caveat: if you do send personal emails, remember to be extra vigilant about cut-and-paste mistakes. Nothing says ‘oops’ quite like asking “Would *insert name of rival art magazine* be interested in this story?”


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