Past Commentaries

January Issue 2001
by Tom Starland

Happy New Year!

Well, here we are going into our 5th year of publishing Carolina Arts - and our 14th year of publishing a visual arts newspaper. I still get a kick out of remembering what a friend asked me back in 1987 after we finished our first issue - "OK, now what are you going to write about next month?"

Some people just never get it. When it comes to the arts, the visual arts are the seven days a week, 365 days a year, participants. There is no season. We don't wait for the weekend to do our thing. The visual arts are always there and in most cases, we don't ask you to pay a cent until you want to take something home. That's what I call - true art providers.

So why is it that the visual arts seem to get the least respect and attention from the media, arts councils, and government agencies?

Perhaps it's that same accessibility and lack of admission charge, in most cases, which leads them all to take the visual arts for granted that they will always be there. Perhaps it's other reasons, dealing with factors which are not as pleasant to talk about. But, no matter what - no matter what part you play in the visual arts - you should feel good about the fact that the general public prefers the visual arts more than any other part of the arts - except for the wrestling arts.

A Few New Things

On the cover of this month's issue we have another article from Judith McGrath - from way down under in Western Australia. The response to her first article was very positive and I was amazed at how similar things are in the two vastly different areas we live. So, I've decided that from time to time we will be getting a view from down under - courtesy of Judith McGrath. When she is not writing for us you can read what is on her mind by calling up McGrath's web site at ( or at Art Thought Journal at (

I hope you enjoy her views as much as I have. And, any views other than mine will be welcomed, I'm sure.

On that same note, we will be offering a few special features this year. There have been a couple of issues that have been just dying to see themselves on the pages of our paper.

One of these issues will be the word "Contemporary". We'll explore what it is, what it is supposed to be, and what people really think it means. It might not seem like such a big deal, but in the world of visual arts, it's the most misunderstood word out there.

Another issue that we will try and shed some light on, which should be near and dear to many of you, will be the relationship between an artist and a gallery. Or should I say - an artist and their gallery, a gallery and their artists, the artist who is not represented by a gallery and a gallery which can't seem to keep their artists or get the artists they want, etc., etc.

If we get this one just half right we could become eligible for a Nobel Prize - maybe not for peace or physics, but for something.

I've never been an artist, but I've owned a gallery or two and I've had to deal with this "relationship" between artist and gallery, and believe me, it's not easy to get it right. I hope to add a few of my stories to this effort - some funny and some not so funny. If you have an interesting story, send it to us. We can all learn from others' experiences.

Now For Some Housekeeping

There are a few things that I don't think some of you know about our newspaper. I know you don't know - just believe me, I know you don't know. (What I do know is that most of you who don't know won't know after I finish telling you what you don't know, because you won't be reading this.) So why do this? Well, because some of you who do read this paper don't know some things because I haven't expressed them very well or very often.

Before we start, for all of you who are reading this paper and commentary for the first time, you should know that I get a little sarcastic. My German teacher in high school said I was always being facetious. I had to look that one up in the dictionary when I got home that day. So be prepared not to take everything I say too seriously, too literally or too personally. And, for those who just think I'm a smart-ass, I'm really not that smart.

First off, and you can take this one to the bank - all you PR folks for all those performing arts organizations throughout the Carolinas who have apparently never read our paper beyond the address - save yourself some postage. After 13 years, I don't even open your letters any more. They go straight to the trash. So even if you're sending us a check for an ad - don't waste your time - you'll just be messing up your checkbook. But, if you really do want to get an ad - call us. That's 843/825-3408.

For all you others who can't seem to figure out that we're called Carolina Arts because - (1) "Carolina" stands for North and South Carolina, and (2) the "Arts" part means just the visual arts - nothing else. I know it can get confusing when you look through the paper and see all those ads for symphonies, dance recitals, and plays, but take my word - it's just about the visual arts.

It might not be so bad getting all this "junk" mail if it was only addressed properly. Most of it comes for Charleston Arts and South Carolina Arts. We became Carolina Arts in 1997. I tell the post office not to forward it, but they insist on getting the mail to its rightful destination.

Now, when I say for these folks not to send us any mail because we don't need it and don't want it - do you think I need to expand on that point. Sure I do, but they're not reading, so I don't know what good it does. (They probably don't read our paper because we don't have any articles or reviews about the performing arts.)

When I say don't send us your press releases in the mail I also mean don't send your press releases by Fax or e-mail either.

OK enough info for the folks who won't be reading this. I wish they were, but...

The following items are being mentioned more for the sake of FYI - that's For Your Information for those in the performing arts.

Other than these fun commentaries, I don't write many of the articles you see in this paper or on our web site. That's right, we have a web site too. You can find it at: (

Almost 99% of the articles you see in this paper are press releases sent to us from all those facilities where the exhibits are taking place. So, if you've been wondering when I was going to be getting around to doing an article about the exhibit at your gallery or your exhibit at a gallery - don't wait - get writing. The only catch is you must get them to us by the 15th of the month prior to our next issue. An easy example would be that if you would like to get an article about an exhibit taking place in February in our February issue - you need to get it to us by January 15th.

The focus of our paper is mostly on exhibitions - at commercial galleries, arts council facilities, art museums, and universities and colleges. We even print articles about exhibits presented in alternative exhibit spaces like restaurants, coffee houses, libraries and other like places that display art.

Your press release has to have some basic components in order for us to be able to print it.
(1) location - name of gallery space, building it is in, street address, city, state (NC & SC only!), special directions to help people find it.
(2) beginning and ending dates for the exhibit (We don't print reception dates due to a legal problem we had in our early years, but you can put them in your ads.), exhibit title, artist's or artists' names (spelled correctly), medium of art being presented, etc.
(3) some information about the exhibit, the artist(s), and a reason people should go see this exhibit. Yes, people have a lot of options and you will need to give them a good reason to get up off their rears and go see you exhibit. And, I'm not talking about using phrases like: "come see works by the greatest artist who ever lived" or "your life will be transformed after viewing these images of truly inspirational works created with skill on loan from our creator" or "come see this show or consider yourself stupid".

You could use these phrases to get people to come to your exhibit, but I've seen many like these and I've never wanted to see work that had to be described is such a way. You could be honest and tell people that if they didn't come to the exhibit and buy at least ten or twelve works, you won't be able to pay your rent next month, but I don't think that will sound very good in print and we usually leave the begging to the performing arts groups.

Now, I know a lot of people say they don't know what to say or that they're just not good at "artspeak". All I have to ask is why are you having this exhibit anyway? Why bother?

Between the gallery and the artist, you should be able to give people a reasonable pitch as to why they should see your exhibit.

Even for exhibitions of the well known artist, you still might have to give a good reason for people to come, such as: first time the artist has exhibited in the area, an opportunity to see new work by this artist in a totally new direction or medium, the fact that the artist would be giving a gallery walkthrough and lecture or better yet, explain that this exhibit will make Republican Congressmen so mad the NEA can start packing their bags.
(4) you need to provide the hours the exhibit will be available for viewing, whether there is an admission or not, and a phone number for the exhibit space so people can call and ask directions or any other related questions.
(5) most important of all, you need to provide a phone number of the person sending the press release so we can call them when they leave one of these items out.
(6) not necessary, but often helpful, you can provide Fax numbers, e-mail addresses and web site URLs.
(7) now when it comes to photos, we can't use too many in the paper, but we can put them on our web site. We will "eventually" return all those which are requested to be returned - we don't throw any away. It can help by sending a SASE for its return. But, on the other hand, when we need a photo, there is no time to request it from the source. So send them if you have them and we'll get them back to you. A word about postcard invitations - if you like them to end up on our web site, send them in an envelope. The post office has a habit of roughing them up otherwise.

Now, a press release is not a packet which includes an artists' resume, an artists' statement, and a few newspaper clippings from past exhibits - these provide some information, but are useless unless the artist has become stagnant in their work. And, I don't have the time to pull all those pieces together. Those packets always go to the bottom of the piles.

One last thing about press releases. If you make a change in the info you have sent us, please send the correction. I don't like giving inaccurate information to our readers.

If you still need help, write us for a copy of an article I wrote about how you could write an article and get it printed in "Carolina Arts". (That's if it's about a visual art exhibit taking place in NC or SC.) The article provides an easy formula and outline for supplying all the items needed.

Now, when it comes to sending these press releases, you can send them by mail, Fax or e-mail. No items on computer disk please - we can't use them and most often can't even open them to see what's on them.

As far as e-mail goes, send your press release in the body of the e-mail (copy & paste) - DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT send it by attachment. We practice safe sex at Shoestring Publishing and we don't download any attachments, even those sent by friendly sources. And, most times we can't open them anyway.

We prefer press releases by mail (typed) or by e-mail over Faxes. The quality of Faxes is often unreadable and that's when mistakes are made.

While we're talking about e-mail I might as well touch on a few items about them. We get a lot of e-mail everyday - from people reading the paper, from people who saw our web site, and from people who just purchased an e-mail list from someone we registered with. Like the mail we get, we get all kinds of e-mail from all kinds of sources. And, like phone solicitations about insurance, long-distance phone service and free vacations - I can tell an unwanted e-mail in a few seconds. Most are just deleted, but occasionally when the mood strikes me, I respond. (Usually I'm in that smart-ass mode.)

Of course how would you react to e-mail that says little gems like these: "Send me info," "Add my web site to your list," "Can you tell me who the artist is that did a painting of the Newberry house in Winston-Salem? I think it was in blue, mostly. I saw it at an outdoor exhibit in 1995 - I think". Or, my all time favorites are the ones asking me if I want to buy a work of art they want to sell.

If you have a question to ask, if you want some information, if you expect me to respond to your e-mail, you have to give us something to respond to. I have answered a lot of people's questions or led them to people who could answer their questions. I don't mind being helpful when I can, but I don't respond well to cryptic e-mail.

Just recently I received an e-mail from someone who wanted me to add their e-mail address to our list on our web site. People who know about e-mail know that the address can either tell you something about who it is or most likely not. An e-mail address of ( might lead you to believe it's an e-mail from Tom Starland of Carolina Arts, it could also be an address for Tri-Star Landing Gear in California. Well anyway, this e-mail request was unsigned or gave no name of who was sending it, no location as to where it was coming from, no anything other than the request. I responded in a very negative way - Mr. Smart-Ass.

The response I got back was several pages of explanation and a then a tongue-lashing about how rude I was. My response to that was that I probably wouldn't have been such a smart-ass if they had taken the time to do their lengthy explanation in the first place. I apologized and explained about all the cryptic requests I get on a daily basis.

The results of that e-mail is that this artist (it was an artist living in the Carolinas) will always think of me as a rude smart-ass and I will always think of that artist as someone who lives in their own world. Their request couldn't be granted as we have no list of e-mail addresses on our web site. Another tragic tale.

Now I know some of you out there who have had personal contact with me are shocked to hear that I can be so rude and such a smart-ass. I know you've never seen that side of me, but as hard as it is to believe - it's true I can be horrid.

Unfortunately, when it comes to my manner - you gets what you gives! I can't help it. If you are nice I'll be nice. If you are a troll, I'll be a bigger troll. If you are cryptic, I'll be sarcastic and facetious. If you lie to me, I'll make you regret doing so. And, with me, revenge is a meal best served cold. Time is on my side. So, take your pick.

I learned a long time ago that you can't please everyone and you'll drive yourself crazy trying - I don't mind if everyone doesn't like me anymore and I sleep soundly at night.

Frankly, I think all this fussing and such is unnecessary - after all this is a business. All I want is to provide our readers with the most and best information about the visual arts in North and South Carolina. And, I need you to provide that information to me so I can pass it on. That's what it's all about.

Another myth about our paper is that you have to advertise with us to get your press releases in the paper - not true. Each issue is full of articles about gallery spaces which have never advertised with us and we're not holding our breath either. Advertising with us does get you consideration and our undying gratitude - we'd be stupid if we didn't. But it's not a guarantee of automatic inclusion.

Each month we take all the press releases we receive and put them in several piles - one for those that came before the 15th of the month and those that came after in the other. Even if you're our biggest advertiser, we can't put in a press release you didn't send. After that, we look and see which places have had recent articles printed and at those who have never had one printed - we try and balance our coverage to make the paper more interesting to the reader.

Almost everything we get goes on our web site, making the monthly additions we add to our web site almost three times as big as what you see in the printed paper each month. We can only afford to fit in just so much in the printed version of the paper and that depends on several factors - advertising support and the printing abilities of our printer.

Although we tend to say we cover the visual arts in the Carolinas, that does not mean we cover every inch of both NC and SC. First off, that would be physically impossible and we can only cover areas that work in partnership with us. Now, when it comes to our printed version of the paper, we can't include all areas of the Carolinas. We put everything else on our web site which is more economical to post each month - after all we only have to make one copy. The other wonderful thing about the web site is that we keep the articles from each month posted so readers can go through a year and a half of issues. When the paper is gone - it's gone. Except for the copies that are being stored at many library archives around the Carolinas.

So, on our web site we include press releases that we receive from areas we don't cover in the paper - as long as you send info by the 15th of the month and they are covering exhibits taking place where? That's right, in the Carolinas.

About now, you're probably asking yourself - why does he keep mentioning items directed towards people who probably don't get the paper in their area and can't read this information? It's the web site! Many people who have never seen a copy of the paper follow it each month on the web and this commentary, like all others, will be posted on the web site. People will and are reading Carolina Arts all over the world. The paper itself travels all over the world due to the fact that it is distributed in some of the highest traffic areas where tourists pick it up and take it home with them. We also have subscribers who live all over the country.

Our last reminder is something many people seem to be confused about, even after my numerous statements. Carolina Arts is NOT a non-profit enterprise. We don't receive funding from government sources to bring all this to the public. We have to earn our existence and we are only made possible by the support of our advertisers. They really make this paper possible, so when I talk about working in partnership with our supporters - it's true. We have a healthy respect for those, who like us, have to live within their means and little sympathy for those who feed at the public trough and squander their resources knowing they can beg for more. There are a lot of non-profits which I respect for the service they provide with the funding they receive. Many are run like a business and they are rarely in financial trouble, while others are constantly facing a disastrous shortfall in funding and services provided.

On that note, last month I wrote, what some called a commentary which hit the proverbial nail directly on the head, about the overuse of art auctions as fundraisers for non-profits, in and outside the arts. Most of the comments from artists and gallery owners was positive. A few still felt they could deal with the situation as it is, but most expressed how besieged they feel by the ever increasing requests for free art. I have not yet heard from one of the art auction presenters. I guess we know what their response is, but it's a shame none of them feel a responsibility to even look at the alternatives.

As I stated last month, I don't think all artists who give to these art auctions are less than smart and all art auctions for charity are not deserving of negative remarks. But, it is clear that change is needed and if it doesn't happen soon, the results will be unfavorable to all sides of this problem. Open dialogue between all parties is warranted - not hiding behind ivory towers. Until next time.

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Mailing Address: Carolina Arts, P.O. Drawer 427, Bonneau, SC 29431
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Carolina Arts is published monthly by Shoestring Publishing Company, a subsidiary of PSMG, Inc.
Copyright© 2001 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan. 1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright© 2001 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the authors of articles. Reproduction or use without written permission is strictly prohibited. Carolina Arts is available throughout North & South Carolina.