5 Surefire Ways To Annoy A Gallery
“Another artist with his portfolio under his arm.” (Sigh)
To many artists, being an artist isn’t “real” unless you have a gallery to exhibit your work. Although there are several other options available to artists in terms of showing and selling their work, it seems, for some, there is just no substitute for getting gallery representation. To this end, many artists are willing to bend over backwards, do insane things, make ridiculous claims, and, in short, embarrass themselves. The truth of matter is, not all artists are ready for galleries, nor are galleries, necessarily, the best choice for many artists. Especially in these hard economic times, the last thing on most gallerists minds, is acquiring new artists. Much of my time is spent helping artists develop a realistic set a goals, and then a game plan to achieve those goals. Nevertheless, there is always that rogue artist, wanting to strike out on their own, thinking this time it will be different. They muster up the courage to start approaching galleries before they are ready, and without regard to common sense gallery protocol. If you recognize yourself as that rogue, or you know another artist that is, please forward this article to them.
- Being confident about the quality of your work is a good thing. It identifies the fact that you have reached a certain stylistic maturity and understand the complexity of where your work fits into the contemporary art world. However, telling the gallery director (or anyone for that matter) how great your work is, is not a good thing. Confidence is something that grows with experience and doesn’t need the constant reassurances from the outside world. Quality is not something that is “told” but rather discovered, and changes with each individual and their primary experience with the work. Let your viewers have their own experience with your work. Be confident enough about the quality of your work to allow people NOT to like it. And, never, never, never dictate what that response should be. There is no “right” way to look at or interpret art.
- Don’t show the gallery director every piece of art you’ve made since your high school graduation. Galleries are most interested in looking at your most current body of work and seeing if it holds together as a series. Showing fewer pieces that represent a cohesive body of recent work, is much better than showing a ton of older work. If a gallery ASKS to see the development of your work, or is interested specifically in older work, you can have that available on your website. (Yes, you must have a website!) Remember, most people can only absorb so much visual information at a time without getting hydroscopic (can’t absorb anymore). You need to be sensitive to the fact that you look at your work every day, and although it might not be tiring or stressful for you to look at 40 pieces of art, a normal person can’t absorb that much visual information. Limit presentations of your work, either by snail mail, email or in person, to 10 pieces at the most.
- Learn the most efficient way to send your materials. If you are mailing, don’t send it insured or registered mail, this requires a signature and/or a trip to the post office. Don’t send a ton of materials, or exhibition announcements in which you are one of many artists, reviews with your name mentioned once (and probably underlined in red), or miscellaneous stuff that you think is impressive. It’s not, less is more. Don’t expect your materials will be returned, unless you include a stamped, self addressed envelope (and, maybe, not even then…) Never, never, never, send originals or nag the gallery for the return of your materials. Remember, it’s actually a GOOD thing if they want to keep you on file. If you are emailing, write a coherent cover note and send a link to your website. If you must send images attached be sure that they are appropriately sized digital files. Keep in mind that many email addresses do not accept more than 5MB of attachments to an email and that many people do not feel comfortable opening attachments to an email.
- Respect the gallery director’s time. Galleries are in business to sell artwork. Do not try to show them your work when they are at an art fair that has cost thousands of dollars to attend. Do not try to show them your work at the opening reception of another artist. Do not come into the gallery without an appointment, carrying your portfolio, and expect the gallery director to look at it. Do not pretend to be interested in another one of the gallery artists (or in buying something), then ask them to look at your work. Do not be insulted, if during your meeting, the gallery director leaves to greet a visitor in the gallery, or take an important phone call.
- Fixate on your goal, not your fantasy. If you are lucky enough to get “face” time with a gallery, focus on what it is you can realistically accomplish. Most artists go into these meetings thinking they will come out with the offer of an exhibition, or a gallery that loves their work and wants to represent them, or maybe even a sale. False on all counts. I’m not saying it never happens, I’m just saying your odds are better if you buy a Lotto ticket. In reality, you have a two prong goal when showing your work to a gallery. One scenario could be, you could get them to recommend other galleries that may like your work and/or be more appropriate for you, than they are. Alternatively, and the most preferable outcome, would be the gallery would agree to take a few pieces on consignment, on trial. Keeping your eye on the ball is the only chance you have at hitting your target.
Just keeping these things in mind, remembering to be polite, respectful and professional, will get you closer to your goals. Good luck!