So, you are an artist, now what?
In a previous post, I talked about how we generally go about finding new artists. One of my main points was that having a gallery or two is really helpful because you can leverage that relationship to open doors to new ones.
But, what if you don't have any gallery representation? Then what? How do you get your foot in the door?
Over the years, I've met several emerging artists (of all ages) who have crossed the line from no gallery representation to becoming a commercial success with one or more galleries that sell their work. It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been overnight, but every successful artist has gone through it.
To begin, here is my definition of an Emerging Artist:
- someone who is highly skilled in their genre
- a creator of unique and lasting work
- none or very little commercial success.
As an emerging artist you are on the cusp of "being known". You have enormous talent and are just waiting to find the right gallery to help launch your career.
An emerging artist is not always a "young" artist fresh out of art school. Many times for us, an emerging artist is an artist who has been honing his or her skills for years (even decades) whilst working away at a day job - teacher, pharmacist, government employee and so on.
Here are a few common strategies undertaken by emerging artists when successfully building a relationship with a gallery.
1. Visit the gallery
It's probably most common for an emerging artist to land their first gallery in their home town. The reason being that it's easy to visit in person. This is not always the case, but very common and something I recommend if possible. You can visit in many ways.
- Go on a fact finding mission. Visit the gallery's website and blog for information on the artists they represent and the owners.
- Ask around.
- Follow the gallery on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Visit the gallery in person just to look around.
- Attend openings.
- If it's not possible to visit in person, then by all means send some information to the gallery via email or regular mail. However, you must follow up with a phone call! Galleries get hundreds of artist portfolios so to differentiate yourself you must call. The artist and the gallery can tell a lot about things just by conversing over the phone.
You will be going through the phase of "visiting galleries" with more than just one. Don't limit yourself because it may take you a bit to figure out where you think your work is best suited.
2. Be Real
3. Introduce yourself
- Have a solid group of work behind you and new things in the works. Be prepared to show the gallery past work, but also what you are currently working on.
- Be brutally honest with yourself - is your work suited to the gallery in question? Having gallery representation and having the right gallery representation are two very different things.
- Are you getting that warm fuzzy feeling? An artist/gallery relationship is a close one so both parties need to feel comfortable with one another.
- Don't waste your time or the gallery owner's time if your work just isn't suited and/or you aren't feeling the love. However, do ask for recommendations. Chances are the gallery could point you in the direction of some galleries that may be right for you.
- If through the above "Visiting process" you think this gallery may be worth pursuing take the next step and introduce yourself!
- In a conversational way, tell the gallery owner you are an artist. Chat a bit about your work.
- Once you've met the gallery owner(s)/team invite them to check out your website/blog by sending an email or dropping off a card.
- On a subsequent visit, if you are getting a good feeling about the situation, invite the gallery owner to come over to your studio to check out your work in person. They may decline, but you should be able to get a feel for when it might be appropriate to ask again.
4. Take initiative
One thing I'm certain of in the gallery business is that most gallery owners are bad at getting back to people - at least people who are not art buyers! I know we focus most of our attention on the art buyers in the day to day and are not always the best at cultivating relationships with new artists. With that in mind, take initiative! If you feel there is something there follow up whether it's by phone, email or in person.
5. Be prepared to spend some time on this
As you can see it is a lot of work! It takes time to thoughtfully and purposefully seek out galleries, but time well spent. Trying to speed up the process by sending out mass emails (blind cc or not) or hiring an agent is a waste of time and money. Creating your art and marketing it are the two most important things an artist does. Don't farm out either activity.
I would love to hear what you think.
P.S. Part III in the Artist Series will be some examples of emerging artists we carry who have successfully navigated the road to gallery representation.
here to read more from my blog "Living Up Downtown"