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How to Lose Business

I am changing names to protect the innocent – this particular innocent is a very talented, polite and charming person. He wrote to me this week asking me to promote a web hosting service for artists. His proposal impressed me. I liked how his service proposed to present artwork; in his proposal art is presented on a wall like in a gallery and you can zoom in to see every detail. I was moved to write this post for my blog:

Teaching professional development to artists isn’t easy. Artists exist to be creative and innovative, so rules are a foreign concept. Consequently, I provide guidelines and examples of best practices as my methodology.

When it comes to websites, my teaching unit begins with suggestions and proceeds to criticisms of many artists’ websites by design professionals. Finally, I show my class some particularly bad sites. One post on this blog – a rant about a web practice that really irritated me – has more hits than any other post I’ve written.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of website hosting services and designers approach me for some publicity, but I have always declined because it is too hard for me to separate the sincere and legitimate professionals from the scammers.

In spite of my aversion to endorsements, I was prepared to endorse his services – that’s how impressed I was with the design of his online gallery. But before I published my post, I decided to find out more about him, so I went to his own personal website.

He’d given me the link in his email. His artwork quite impressed me so I clicked on “About” to learn more about him and was so appalled by the amount and degree of errors that I have not blogged about his services.

First of all, it seemed very clearly to be written by him, yet it was written in the third person and I find that odd and off-putting. Although it is not an error, his website broke one of my cardinal rules: writing in the third person is affected and insincere; it implies that there is another party speaking, yet there is never a credit to the speaker. I feel strongly that using the first person – saying “I” – builds a bond with the reader and is the only thing to do when you are writing on your own site. Using the first person is more welcoming than self-referencing in the third person. The Queen speaks in the third person and it is weird when she does. If I saw you on the street and we were friends and I waved and said, “Chris says hello,” wouldn’t you want to keep walking?

There were also errors in grammar, incomplete sentences, references (acronyms) that were unknown to me, and probably many other readers, and repetition. It was a disaster.

His errors erased my confidence; “spelling counts,” as my teachers used to say. And grammar counts as well. How you write and speak is a reflection of who you are as both an artist and a person. I would buy art from this person in a heartbeat, but would I hire him to host my site? No. I lost my trust in him so I couldn’t endorse his services on my blog.

My teachers were right to make spelling and grammar count. When I think of all the artistic projects that I have undertaken in my life, I could say that writing was their greatest facilitator. It was the grease that allowed all the gears to work. Good persuasive writing skills provided me with grants, permits, sponsors, media exposure, introductions, customers and audiences.

I don’t own a suit, I haven’t worn a tie since the 1970s, my typical shirt is a t-shirt, and I can’t abide wearing leather shoes. I am an informal guy and I don’t seek to find fault. But when fault is as extensive as it was on his website, it is a deal-breaker. Although I want to be casual and informal in life, I want to present myself to my best possible advantage professionally and I expect that of other professionals. That means making no errors.

As a creative person, I add style to the essential base of good grammar and spelling in order to stand out. You can do wonders for yourself with effective communications, but you have to be as good with words and ideas as you are with pigment and brushes.

To balance the criticism above, I very much liked the website of Anthony Schrag that I recently visited. (www.anthonyschrag.com ) I love the nice, simple but colourful opening page that says: “It’s great to see you (again).” What a great beginning.

The first paragraph of his “About” page reads as follows: “Anthony Schrag was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in the Middle East, the UK and Canada. Originally, he obtained a degree in Creative Writing in Vancouver, as well as Photography and Sculpture at Emily Carr, and completed the mfa course at the Glasgow School of Art in 2005. He is (mostly) based in Scotland, and does not like to write in the third person.”

I liked that last line–he gets it both ways! His site is simple, compelling, warm and slightly humorous. And I didn’t notice any errors.

Chris Tyrell Loranger is the author of Artist Survival Skills and Making It!, an arts writer and educator. His popular opinion pieces have appeared in our newsletter since its first issue in 1986. Visit his website, www.christyrell.ca or his art marketing blog http://visualartmerchandising.blogspot.ca, to learn more.


I'd have to disagree with you about the quality of the site you mentioned as being reputable. It is not aesthetically appealing nor do I find it interesting in terms of an artist's website. It makes me question your subjectiveness though you made some good points in general nonetheless.

"Not aesthetically appealing" is a value judgement and entirely subjective. Errors in spelling, grammar, tense and syntax are errors worthy of criticism and can be judged objectively.

By the way, I tend to discount "anonymous" critics. Anonymity lacks integrity and conviction.

I agree with you about mistakes, but I did not like the site you mention. Everything I have read about artists websites is that they should be simple, easy to load and read and work on a cell phone etc. That is what I have been working towards on mine.
Chris-tine Allan

I totally agree about sites being clean and simple, Christine. I am a fan of Anthony Shrag's website's welcoming language (But not a fan of his use of colour and the brown paper background).


OK, so what you're saying is that this "very talented, polite and charming person" made it through the front door of your brain by writing well enough to describe his services and garner your support. (We can assume then, that all of the "i"s were dotted and the "t"s were crossed in that communication, yes?)

You thought enough of this person's work to write a blog post to endorse him (even though you are leery of endorsements), but then decided to visit his site before publishing it, right? Sounds fair enough so far...

You were impressed with the quality of work on his personal website, but then read the faulty "About Me" and in one fell swoop reversed opinion of the "very talented, polite and charming person" and pulled your support for his project completely.

Are you suggesting that everything from his well written proposal to his project concept, site execution and the quality of his own personal work can be undone in your opinion due to poor grammar on his "about me" page?

And doesn't that sound just a wee bit...petty? By the time you "uncovered" the evidence of poor grammar, this person had already earned a favourable first, second and third opinion from you. You wrote that his "errors erased your confidence"... but did they also need to erase your memory?

You are a teacher. This story would have had a much happier outcome if you had chosen to take a small moment to do what you do: teach. And I don't believe it would have taken all that much. A nice, casual first person email would have made your point. "Hey, great work. I was impressed enough to write an endorsement, but before I can publish it, I think you should take another look at your use of grammar in the "about me" section. You wouldn't want poor grammar to alter anyone's good impression of you."

Please forgive the length of my comment, but I think I went to the trouble of writing all of this back to you for this reason: As glaringly obvious as his grammar mistakes were to you, your own error is painfully apparent to me. You offered a valuable grammar lesson to your blog audience at the expense of the one person who really needed to hear it.

I totally agree! I couldn't have said it better Kit Maloney
As an artist I believe we should support one another and realize writers are writers a and artist are unique.
Love to all.

Yes I am saying those errors were deal breakers. Why? Because I have served on juries for grant, exhibitions and commissions and whereas you might think the search for the best is easy, it is not. When there are very many applicants for very few opportunities, you start by eliminating entries and one way submissions get eliminated is if there are errors. This is sad, often, but true, even when the art or the proposal has merit. This is certainly not always the case, but it happens often—errors give juries an excuse to exclude.

My thoughts exactly, Kit Maloney. Well said.

PS. You might want to check the website address in the "About Chris Tyrell" box above. You wouldn't want anyone's good impression of you altered due to a dead link. :-)

Just a question, are you jealous of his work ?

Looking at painting of Pablo Picasso I do not care if his spelling was right.


You're kidding, right? Jealousy is for the mini-minded.

I am a private artist, and I work with children who learn in their own way (all day long), for my job. I am the first to say that creative ways of spelling, and creative ways of writing should be encouraged. (Shakespeare did this, was considered with disdain in his time,and yet most of us know who he is, and many of us love his work today.)

I would tend to say that (and I am feeling quite inadequate in my own ability to write correctly to you) you are missing a value that should be more important than what you are presenting. Artists who want to reach an audience like yourself would need to be careful of these things I suppose.. even to ask another person to help with spell check and mentoring /guiding him through the writing process if that is what is important to him. (Without cash to spend on this, I wouldn't judge him though.) I would hope that the rest of us who value the art he is selling above his English language writing skills would still endorse the fellow and encourage his abilities that do really matter to him.

Those of us who value the evolution and relaxation of a language that is both annoying and difficult to most everyone who learns it, are working to make our world a place of "inclusivity" (my word), rather than being exclusive to the chosen few who feel confident in communicating with a very old language. I personally hope the English language becomes outdated one day. I believe we have so many other languages in the world that are more beautiful and do more for our spirited desire to communicate.. I would hope that their influence would indeed change our way of "dialogue-ing" and connecting with other human beings.. and who knows.. us giving up our "grammar Nazi" attitudes and spelling-bee-expectations may fit in with change and great things to come! I choose to be with the ones who can morph into something more creative and wonderful... just like art can be!

I can't disagree with you and your point of view is well expressed. I wrote this column for artists who, like the man who wrote to me, are seeking professional engagement. In these cases, I think conforming to popular professional standards is best. Artists as creative professionals can often succeed by ignoring rules, I recognize that, but errors in grammar and spelling, broken online links and so on are "red flags" for many professionals — including juries and other important gatekeepers.

I would not be married to my husband (who is a fantastic guy) if he could not spell properly. His parents introduced us. No, not like that. They met me, thought I might be a good fit, got my email and phone number, passed it to him, he phoned, I hadn't paid my bill and it was cut off (till the next day when I paid it) so he emailed me.
When I read his three paragraph email I yelled to my roommate "Calli, come here! He emailed me! And there is NOT ONE spelling mistake!"



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