Submitting to conferences: part 3 – Writing the abstract

Writing an abstract for a conference can be a fine art. The most important thing to consider, is that this is an abstract, not the paper itself, meaning that it is an idea of what will be communicated laid out as succinctly as possible. It is not an artist statement, it is not a theoretical text or graduate thesis, rather it is a statement that should be simple and direct: I am going to do X, Y and Z, here’s how and here’s why. Keep in mind that the review committee does not need to be impressed by your virtuoso writing abilities and lofty ideas, the panel needs to know WHAT you are going to talk about and why they should be interested. If it’s a well-attended conference, the reviewers will be looking at a lot of proposals and don’t have time to deconstruct your ideas. This is much more similar to writing a grant proposal than an artist statement in that you need to write your abstract with as much clarity as possible and with the assumption that the reviewers are intelligent, but not experts in your field.
• Pay attention to the word count – it is meant to be short and sweet.
• Explain only as much as you need to give the reviewers a good idea of what you will present. Start with an outline to help organize your ideas.
• Write with clarity for an intelligent reader unfamiliar with your field – do not make assumptions.
• Start with a positive and compelling statement. Even if your presentation will be critical, find a way of framing it positively.
• Panel abstracts should open with a general overview paragraph – what is the panel theme? And then use your subsequent space to explain what each participant will bring to the theme (space in bios can also be used to help elaborate on this).
• Your bio, if requested, should be tailored to your proposal – what experience do you have that supports what you will be discussing?
• Likewise your work samples, if relevant, should support your abstract. If you mention a particular artwork, provide a slide and note the number in the abstract.
• Consider that your ideas might shift and change during the time between acceptance and presentation. Typically you will be given another opportunity to present a refined abstract for publication in conference materials. Leave your abstract open enough that it allows for this growth.
• Don’t try to do everything, you won’t have time and your presentation will be much more successful if you expand from a tight proposal, rather than throw out every move you have (keep them hungry for more!).
• If you will be presenting your graduate thesis, write an abstract that is a simplified summation (think book jacket eloquence), not an excerpt.
• Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted the first time. A conference is a lot like a group show: the organizers are trying to put together a group of presenters that will be unique, but complementary.


Submitting to conferences: part 2 – Organizing a panel

Organizing a panel for a conference is an excellent way to take your participation to a higher level, gain attention for your work and expand your networking alliances. Submitting for a conference is quite a bit like applying for shows, grants or jobs. You need to consider who your audience will be, do your research and be true to who you are. You’ll throw your hat into the ring, see what comes back and try again the following year if you don’t get accepted the first time. Just like with shows, just submitting gets your work or your interests in front of more eyes, which is always a good thing.

How to go about it:
• Read and research the criteria thoroughly. Usually all the information you need to get started is going to be available on the conference website.
• Any questions you have or clarifications you need, contact the conference organizers – it’s their job and they can give you the best advice.
• Get started early. If you would like to organize a panel, which is typically a group of individuals who will speak expertly on a topic, it’s not a bad idea to connect and network with peers during the current conference in anticipation of next year’s conference.
• Consider the conference theme – does it connect with your work or interests? Check with the specific conference, but it is not always necessary for your submission to connect with the theme, however it might give you an advantage.
• What kind of panel do you want to organize – educational, theoretical, work oriented?
• Keep the panel manageable. Four participants, with a maximum of 5, is a good guideline. You’ll be sharing time – find out in advance the maximum amount of time you can apply for, that will determine what your panel can support.
• Set up a calendar of deadlines – abstract, bios, images due.
• Skype is a fabulous tool – use it to chat about the preparations.
• One person should be the point person, responsible for organizing the group and making the submission.
• Don’t try to do everything! Keep it simple, direct, broad enough in theme to allow room for everyone, but simple enough to not demand the kitchen sink.
• Find a mentor who can help give you feedback on the process.

Submitting to conferences: part 1

Attending conferences is an easy way to stay active in your field and is often considered faculty development. Submitting to conferences takes participation to a higher level and typically will be appreciated by your school – especially if they are paying for your attendance. One of the first things to be cut is often money for faculty development, so having an invitation to speak, will push you higher on the list for funding or might get you a little extra funding.

There are several approaches you can take when applying to conferences which might include organizing a panel or practicum, applying to an already accepted panel, applying as an image-maker to show your work.
• Look for conferences that are in your field or area of expertise;
• Regularly scan College Art Association or other big conferences for panels you might submit to;
• Organize your own panel;
• Keep an eye out for conferences that might have a special application for your school and therefore might receive special funding;
• Offer to be a portfolio reviewer;
• If you go to a yearly conference, consider getting involved in leadership or at least joining caucuses;
• Keep in mind that there are often regional conferences;
• Get some mileage out of your proposal, tweak it for other conferences;
• Being a conference participant often comes with a discount on conference fees, making your development funds go a little further.
• Just attending a conference does little for tenure review; presenting/participating does a lot.

Conference participation

Conferences can be a great way of promoting your career on many levels. For freshly minted grad students, applying as an image maker at a conference is a great way to show potential employers or new employers that you are serious about blending your academic activity with your artistic activity. If you are interviewing at the College Art Association, being able to invite prospective employers to your presentation will look great. For those already in a job, image maker presentations are wonderful, but mix it up a little and apply for or create panels in areas related to teaching as well as your artwork.

Administration likes to see that you actually participate in conferences, not just attend them. This could be in the form of panels, presentations, portfolio reviewer, committee involvement, mock interviewer. Get in the habit of writing a narrative about your conference activities to get a sense of your general involvement and how that could improve.

If you are just getting started and still looking for a job, take advantage of any mentorship program, mock interviewing, portfolio reviewing that your professional association or conference might offer. Regularly apply for image maker or conference sponsored exhibitions as a way of getting your work seen by your peers.