Not too long ago I spoke at a women’s art club here in Cincinnati and the three top questions I received from artists were, “How do I get my artwork in a gallery? How do I market my artwork? And how do I price my artwork?” These questions are all well and good and are certainly the right questions to be asking if you want to make it as an artist in today’s art market. We recently put together a three-part feature on marketing your artwork, so now it’s time to dive into the dos and don’ts of gallery representation, and save pricing artwork for another day.
Just like any business, there is an etiquette to approaching galleries to represent your art and some artists are way off the mark when it comes to their approach. In past blogs, I’ve recommended artists thoroughly research the gallery before even approaching the owner, but here I take it a step further.
In this blog, I highlight the top five worst mistakes artists make when trying to get their artwork represented by a gallery and how to correct it.
1. Gallery Representation DON’T: Not Respecting the Time of the Gallery Owner.
You know from our last blog about how to get into a gallery that you shouldn’t approach a gallery before finding out their submission policies. Yet we still see and hear of artists just popping into the gallery and demanding that we view their work. Unless I have an appointment at the gallery set in my calendar, I’m usually not there. I’m out networking at events or pitching project proposals – that’s my job. Also, if you make a special unplanned trip that doesn’t result in a meeting, you’re wasting valuable time that could otherwise be spent in the studio creating.
What’s even worse than just showing up unplanned and asking for gallery representation is posing as a potential collector. This will only hurt your chances, not help.
Gallery representation DO: Send a personalized email that informs the gallery owner that you’ve done your research and that your artwork would not only be a good fit but how you can add to the gallery’s stable of existing artists. And don’t let me discourage you from stopping in the gallery as an artist, just make it known that you’re there because you respect the gallery and are doing some research.
2. Gallery Representation DON’T: Sending "I Told You So" emails.
Say you submit work for an art competition and don’t get in. Or submit a proposal to a gallerist and it’s just not the right time or in their means to represent you. We live in a world of instant gratification and when something doesn’t pan out exactly how we would like it, people tend to get unreasonably upset and sometimes even hold grudges.
Don’t take this as rejection, as so many artists do, and send “I told you so" emails when your work does get accepted to another art competition or gallery. Because guess what? Gallerists talk, and they have a wide network. Since there are fewer and fewer galleries, the degrees of separation is dwindling. When I’m interested in an artist, I’ll chat with other gallery owners to see if they have experience working with that artist before I pitch his or her artwork to my client. And vice versa.
Gallery representation DO: You should always keep in touch with prospective galleries where you would like your artwork represented. But be sure it’s a positive touch point each time they interact with you or your art. If you get into another art show or gallery, send the prospective gallery an email to let them know what you’re up to and that you would still love to work with them in the future. Stay on their radar.
3. Gallery Representation DON’T: Pitching Too Many Bodies of Work.
When an artist approaches the gallery and shows me 20 artworks and 5 different styles, that’s way too much. This tells me that the artist is undecided, which makes the artwork and the artist unreliable. If I like one style and I know I can sell it, I question if that artist will still be creating that same style in six months to a year.
One of the first things I look for in a prospective artist is a substantial and consistent body of work with a distinct point of view and direction. I’m looking for someone with a clearly developed style and approach, whether it’s an intriguing choice of subject, composition, palette, surface texture or lighting.
Gallery representation DO: I highly recommend editing your collection down to its strongest artworks. To set yourself apart from other artists, present a unique, exciting body of work that demands attention. How? Build and refine your artistic vision and consider your current body of work. This will make building a cohesive, interesting body of work much easier.
4. Gallery Representation DON’T: Getting Upset Over the Gallery’s Commission When They Sell Your Artwork.
Many artists don’t understand why galleries take 40, 50 or even 60 percent commission from artwork sales. And an oft-heard remark is that artists do all the work and galleries just take the money. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I know artists labor over their work and see their creation as an extension of themselves. I know a lot of time and money goes into what you make. But so does having a gallery. The overhead is tremendous, that’s why there are so few galleries still around.
What we do at ADC isn’t free. To keep the gallery open, heated, lit, insured, and beautiful to attract customers to the art isn’t free. To hire assistants, framers, and installers aren’t free. To promote the work and get it in the hands of clients isn’t free. It also takes a considerable amount of time. What I do means artists can focus on creating work. And artists, as professionals and as business owners themselves, must understand that there is value in that.
So, don’t let the gallery’s commission stop you from signing the contract and being represented.
Gallery representation DO: Breathe. Sign that contract, then celebrate. You’re on your way to selling a piece of art to a new client you otherwise wouldn’t have had!
5. Gallery Representation DON’T: Not Having a Positive Attitude
Probably the most overlooked mistake artists make when searching for gallery representation is a bad attitude or that they are unreachable. Nothing hurts a gallery/artist relationship more than when an artist is constantly complaining or is difficult to get a hold of.
Remember how I mentioned gallerists talk? I won’t even show an artist’s work if I know they aren’t easy to work with.
Gallery representation DO: Negative Nancys get nowhere, so try positive thinking for a change. And slow response times can kill a career.
Hear What Other Artists Have Learned from Working with Galleries
Our gallery readership for Blink Art Resource is just over 12,500 strong (and this is only 25% of the sourcebook’s overall readership). Yes, that means owners of galleries, their workers, and art consultants are all turning to our art-sourcing catalog to find new artists to represent in their galleries and new artwork to sell to their clients. Why? Because Blink Art Resource is a trusted sourcebook. Galleries know the artists in the catalog are vetted and professional. That's why it works.
So the artists who advertise in our art sourcebook know a thing or two about getting gallery representation and the truth about working with galleries. We were recently able to catch up with Lisa Schuster about her experiences as an artist in the shifting art market, how she was able to adjust, and how she found success working with new galleries and interior designers as the result.
Let Blink Art Resource help you make the right gallery connections this year!
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