I have stated on this blog many times that one of the great merits of both social and new media is the ability to connect people in the hope of some good thing coming out of it. While it is true that many of us may not be in a position to put what we like to do ahead of what we need to do, by making an effort to reach out to others we may be able to make use of our talents, abilities, and interests in ways which our day-to-day lives do not always permit. I do not work in the fields of art and architecture, for example, and yet I have been able to build upon my knowledge of and enthusiasm for these fields as a result of the possibilities afforded by the increasingly connected world in which we live. I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to do the same, gentle reader, by giving you some examples from some of my own experiences of how you might go about doing so as well.
Yesterday in the mail I received copies of a catalogue from a new exhibition at the venerable Fortnum & Mason, on Piccadilly in London, who as you may know have been the grocers to the British Royal Family for many years. They were sent by my friend Rupert Alexander, a hugely talented English artist whose work appears in the exhibition, because in the section on his work the catalogue quotes from an essay he commissioned me to write about his painting for his website. It was an odd thing, realizing that the Queen may very well have read some of my writing – or perhaps Kate or Camilla – when they visited the exhibition recently.
Rupert and I initially connected because I saw a piece about him in The Telegraph online, and I wanted to convey my appreciation for his work. I found him online via an internet search, I emailed him, and he replied: simple as that. We slowly started talking back and forth about his work, our respective points of view on art, sending each other links, and so on. Eventually, we got to meet in person when he and his wife spent their honeymoon in the United States, and both proved to be as lovely in person as they were online. Today our connection continues, and in the note which accompanied the catalogues he sent, he let me know that he had enjoyed listening to my recent appearances on SQPN’s “Catholic Weekend” podcast – which he listened to, by the way, even though he himself is not a Catholic. The point is, both of us made an effort to connect using new media and social media, and the end result is, I daresay, a positive one.
You cannot always guarantee, of course, that the result will be positive, for just because you reach out to someone on Twitter or Facebook, or via e-mail and the like, they may not necessarily respond, or they may do little more than give you a cursory acknowledgement. I have met a number of people both in real life and via online media who seem unable to figure out how to go about reaching out to people, how to follow up once they have done so, and what to do if their efforts are not successful. Allow me to give you an example of how I usually go about starting this process of investigation.
Thanks to my friend Eric Wind over at the National Civic Art Society, I learnt this week of an art project taking shape in the Tuscan city of Pisa. Luca Battini, a young Italian artist, is undertaking the interior decoration of the monastic church of St. Vito, which he will cover with an enormous, 1,700 square-foot Renaissance-style fresco depicting the life of the city’s patron saint, St. Ranierus. It is estimated that the painting will take at least three years to complete.
As you can imagine, if you are a regular reader of these pages, I found this an intriguing bit of news. I did an internet search and found Maestro Battini’s blog which, while not updated frequently, he or his assistants clearly do maintain as they are able. In scrolling through the archived posts, I noticed that last year he completed a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI, which he personally presented to His Holiness. The technical skill employed is accomplished and slick, without however being a “look at me” sort of production, and the end result is a very pleasant, but unsentimental image of the Pontiff.
I have written to Signore Battini using the email addresses I found on his blog, briefly telling him about how much I enjoyed learning about his work, that I would be doing a blog post in which I mentioned him, and that I would follow up and send him a link to the post. Now the ball is in his court. He may write me back, as Rupert did, or he may not, as was the case with George Shaw, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in contemporary art last year and whom I attempted to contact via the gallery that represents him. And even if Sr. Battini does write me back, there is no guarantee that we will have anything further to say to one another.
The point is, one must make an attempt, or one will never know. Most human beings experience some degree of shyness or awkwardness at times, which is only natural. And no doubt many find the idea of sending a message to a total stranger to be somewhat off-putting, particularly if that stranger is someone better-known than we are. However whether famous or ordinary, the method should be the same.
In my experience, the best thing to do is be brief, and to the point. Explain why you are contacting them, open the door to the possibility of a reply, such as by asking a question or indicating that you will be sending some follow-up information that may prove to be of use to them, and then thank them for their time. If they do respond, do not use email or tweet #2 to spill out everything about who you are and why you are worth getting to know. The vast majority of productive relationships are formed through a slow build of revelation of shared views and experiences, rather than a sudden explosion of information on either side.
However, even as we keep in mind that using new and social media to reach out to others does not mean the recipient of your communication must befriend you, by the same token nor do you have to befriend everyone you want to contact, if there is no real basis for further communication. For example, recently I caught a bit of a 50’s-60’s style musical group performing on television, and rather liked the (admittedly flashy) suits they were wearing. I found their website and e-mail address, wrote a brief email complimenting them on their talents and asking who made their suits. One of the members e-mailed me back with the information, for which I thanked him, and that was that. I do not anticipate any further contact, since I do not enjoy that style of music, even if it requires good vocal skills and a finely-tuned ear.
These few examples will hopefully encourage you to try to do the same thing, when you feel compelled to reach out to someone else online. Taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the internet, through a combination of using both new and social media, can prove rewarding on many levels. However the first step is perhaps the most difficult: recognizing your own humility, while simultaneously overcoming the fear of rejection. You may not always make a new friend or contact, or obtain the answer to a question you have, but you will never know unless you try.
Italian artist Luca Battini at work