Art Radar alumnus Lisa Pollman and the secrets of her success – interview

Art Radar interviewed 101 Certificate alumnus Lisa Pollman to learn more about her growing art writing career.

Lisa Pollman broke into the art scene as an journalist after graduating from Art Radar’s 101 Certificate in Arts Journalism and Writing. Art Radar had a chat with her to find out about her secrets for success and her plans for the future.

Lisa Pollman. Photo by Ingrid Pape-Sheldon Photography.

Lisa Pollman started her art writing career at the Art Radar Institute. Photo by Ingrid Pape-Sheldon Photography.

Could you tell us about your background, your studies and your specialisation, and your work prior to your career as an arts writer?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s degree in Asian Studies. If I had completed my Master’s degree sooner I probably would have pursued a PhD in Buddhist Art, with a specialisation in Khmer iconography.

For over twenty years, I worked in healthcare. As a child, my family had a pharmacy, and I reluctantly returned to that field when I couldn’t find a position after graduate school.  Although I made a decent wage, I felt unfulfilled and frustrated. Over time my health began to decline, and I felt that although the economy was poor I needed to make a change or my health would be in jeopardy. It was around this time that I happened upon Art Radar’s online programme, and I thought, “this is the opportunity that I’ve been looking for” and jumped in with both feet.

How did you come to be interested in Asia?

I’ve been asked this question many times, and I still don’t have a definitive answer! My first journey to Asia was as a university exchange student in Chengdu, China in 1986. Since that time, I have had numerous opportunities to travel around the region, including a trip to Vietnam with returning veterans in 1994. I am excited to note that I’ll be travelling to Sri Lanka this month to attend my first biennale in Colombo.

What brought you close to art and especially contemporary art?

From an early age, I had an interest in fine art and antiques. For many years, it was religious artifacts and antiques, sparked by my interest in history. Now, I am interested in contemporary artists and installations because of their relevance to modern life and the global stage on which we now live.

Anida Yoeu Ali, 'Around Town 2', 2012, "The Buddhist Bug Project", digital color print on hard foam board. Photograph by Masahiro Sugano. Image courtesy Studio Revolt.

Khmer artist Anida Yoeu Ali was one of Lisa’s first interview subjects. ‘Around Town 2′, 2012, “The Buddhist Bug Project”, digital colour print on hard foam board. Photograph by Masahiro Sugano. Image courtesy Studio Revolt.

When did you take the Certificate in Writing with Art Radar? How did you hear about it and what convinced you to enrol? Were you already writing prior to taking the course?

I began the Certificate course with Art Radar in 2012, just as I was making the decision to scrap my career in healthcare. At the same time, I secured an internship at an art nonprofit in Seattle that gave me access to local artists and helped me learn about exhibitions from the ground up. Although it was a somewhat unorthodox education in the arts, it did start me on my journey.

My loss of a steady income proved to be quite a challenge for me when I began the course and, honestly, that situation continues today. This past year, I have picked up several temporary and part-time jobs to augment my income and have begun to apply for grants and fellowships. I am most fortunate however, to have family and friends who believe in my new career and the profundity of providing a platform for artists to speak authentically about their work and share it with others around the globe.

Because I was transitioning from a completely different career, I had kind of a rough start as an art journalist. I knew I could successfully write academic papers and had written periodically for the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press in Beijing, but had limited knowledge of the international art scene, had no experience with WordPress and needed to learn how to think and write like a journalist.

What were the things that you learned on the course that you most value to this day? How did they help you in shaping your writing and improving it?

The most valuable thing I learned from the course at Art Radar was to be accountable for each word, phrase and sentence and to report with the utmost integrity. The strict, patient guidance provided by my editors was invaluable for me to become a better and more confident writer.

Htein Lin. Photograph by Vicky Bowman.

Burmese artist Htein Lin, interviewed by Lisa about his imprisonment and his political art. Photograph by Vicky Bowman.

Did you start writing for various publications right after graduating from the course? Which publications do you write for?

I graduated from the course towards the end of 2012. Shortly thereafter, I approached Art Radar and was approved as a freelance writer for the site. In 2013, after building my portfolio and sharing a particularly popular article with the Asia and Middle East editor at The Culture Trip, I was approached to write for that site as well. In the new year, I hope to begin writing for several sites focusing on Islamic and Middle Eastern artists.

What are the most interesting articles you have written since your graduation from the Art Radar course?

I’d like to think that all of the articles I research and write about are interesting! Of particular interest to me are artists, installations or performances that speak of a shared humanity or cause others to view their perspectives and preconceived notions in new, surprising ways.

What are the challenges of being an art writer and how do you cope with them (for example, the financial situation of a freelance writer, the process of writing an article, etc.)?

The most difficult thing for me at the moment is to balance creativity with financial security. I strive to make a living with part-time and temporary jobs whilst actively researching and writing, but it can be a lot of work. Another challenge is communicating with people in various time zones throughout the world. I love speaking with artists around the globe, but it does take some juggling to make schedules line up. It’s all about balance and time management, I think.

How do you build your network of contacts, and how do you get yourself out there so that people know you and commission you to write articles for them?

I do many different things to promote the artists whom I work with and the articles that are published. This includes forming connections before the piece is written or the interview transcribed. I spend a lot of time online and utilise Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Twitter to cultivate relationships with individuals, galleries and those whom I identify as possible interested parties.

I also believe in treating those with whom I work or communicate in a respectful manner.  In a time where many of us are barraged with information coming from all directions, I think it’s important not to take advantage of others or their time. For me, it’s not just about the act of interviewing someone, it’s also about the aftercare beyond the post and promotion. As a freelance writer, I have the luxury of seeking out artists that interest me, and I hope that the relationships that I form will last beyond the article.

How do you differentiate yourself from the ‘writer crowd’ in order to stand out when you pitch articles to editors?

I have a natural curiosity about people and history. To date, I have been fortunate enough to write some very interesting posts, including one about a sculptor who honoured his father by making a hybridised version of a Pakistani Cargo Truck, another about a Burmese artist who created art whilst in jail as a political prisoner, and another about a group of artists who rate their work on the Gross National Happiness scale in Bhutan. Perhaps what differentiates me from others may be my willingness to delve into countries and topics that are not the norm but have a particular, human quality to them.

Shamsia Hassani, 'Sound Central Festival', Kabul, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist.

Afghanistan’s first female street artist Shamsia Hassani spoke to Lisa about the challenges she faces in Kabul. Image courtesy of the artist.

Your interest seems to rest mostly in the Asian and Middle Eastern art scenes. What do you like to write about the most, in terms of places, topics, people and so on? And what kind of articles do you enjoy writing the most and why?

What I find exciting about writing is the thrill of finding an artist who is doing something profound and meaningful and then having an opportunity to connect with that person in a significant way. I gravitate towards artists who are challenging the norms, are marginalised or are misunderstood because of their ethnicity or religious or political affiliations.

As my education and travel has been primarily in Asian countries and cultures, this is where my heart lies. I do, however, have plans to expand my scope to include Islamic and Middle Eastern artists in 2014. This past year I have primarily done interviews but would like to move to feature articles in 2014.

You are soon going to take a trip, visiting galleries, biennales and other events. Where will you go and what will you be doing?

In early 2014 I will be travelling to Dubai to visit galleries and speak with those who manage the Alserkal Avenue complex. It is my hope that this opportunity will give me a chance to make lasting relationships with artists from Beirut, Iran, Palestine and Syria and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. From there, I will travel to Sri Lanka, where I will attend the Colombo Art Biennale 2014.

Pietro Ruffo, 'Revolution Globe III', 2013, water colours and cut-outs on paper, 170cm x 170cm x 180cm. Image courtesy Colombo Biennale.

Pietro Ruffo, ‘Revolution Globe III’, 2013, water colours and cut-outs on paper, 170cm x 170cm x 180cm. Image courtesy Colombo Art Biennale.

Will you be writing articles on the art scenes you will be visiting? Could you tell us what and who you will be writing about?

Yes, I am excited to be able to share news about the artists I meet and galleries that I visit with several publications, including Art Radar. Before I leave, I will be putting together a post about the top five contemporary galleries and art spaces in Dubai and will be preparing various interviews with artists in both Dubai and Colombo for early spring when I return. Plus, I would love to share some images from the biennale in Colombo, if everything works out.

You have kept a continuing relationship with Art Radar since your graduation and have written several articles for the site. Will you be writing more for Art Radar in the future and what can we expect to be reading from you?

I enjoy writing for Art Radar and have a debt of gratitude to them for giving me a leg up as an art journalist and for their continued dedication to highlight contemporary Asian arts and artists in a professional and responsible way. As for 2014, you can expect to see even more fascinating articles about Asian and Middle Eastern artists from me.

What are your ambitions for the future? Would you say that being an art writer will be your main career? Will you also continue actively working in the art scene in home town of Seattle?

I would like to continue to write full-time as an Art Journalist. After the trip this winter, I plan on attending the FotoFest 2014 Biennial, which will be held in Houston this spring and will focus on photography and related visual media from the Middle East and North Africa. Ultimately, I would like develop a platform similar to Rijin Sahakian’s Echo [Sada] to be used in the public school system to help connect students in the United States with local and national Islamic artists.

If you had to give some interesting and useful advice to aspiring art writers, what would it be?

I would tell aspiring art writers to go for their dreams. There are so many fascinating and talented people doing really remarkable things around the world, and you just might get an opportunity to talk with them!

If you had to suggest the Art Radar course to aspiring art writers, what would you tell them?

I’d say what do you have to lose? The course is really well designed. I was most impressed by the learning modules, the content and the critique. It’s a great and effective way to learn, and can be done while working or going to school.

C.A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Promoting art, Art Radar Institute, Certificate in Art Journalism and Writing 101, interviews

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