Note from Cory: I met today’s guest blogger, Laureen Marchand, inside the ArtEmpowers.Me coaching course. Laureen is really taking a leading edge tack to promoting her gallery, and she was proactive enough to suggest this guest post here at TAA. I was excited when she sent this over because … well, it’s really great! There’s a ton of really useful information! If you’ve been wondering how to get into a gallery, this is a really great primer.
You’re an artist. And you know best what should be done with your artwork. You can decide to make it, exhibit it, promote it, reproduce it, sell it if you want to. You’re capable of all this, and all of it is legitimate. No one should tell you otherwise. But knowing you can isn’t the same as having to, or as having to at all times in all circumstances.
I’m an artist. I’ve been making and exhibiting my work for over 25 years. Since 2009 I’m also a gallery owner. The visitors who come into my Grasslands Gallery are visitors to Grasslands National Park, and they aren’t usually art collectors. Usually they are people who have been happy in this region, for a few days or longer, and they want something to help them remember that feeling. They don’t normally go home and find artists on the Internet; they want to take the immediacy of their experience with them. If you were an artist who met that need, one way you could reach these people is by exhibiting with me. It certainly isn’t the only way. But if you chose this way – the way of showing with a commercial gallery in any specific setting – you might increase your own audience and market. And wouldn’t it be nice if increasing your audience could be satisfactory and rewarding instead of stressful and scary?
The good news is, it can!
Approaching a Gallery
If you’re looking for a gallery to show your artwork, check out those you are interested in before making an approach. (Editor’s note: For more practical tips on how to choose a gallery, check out TAA’s interview with photographer Jeffrey Stoner.)
- Does the gallery exhibit artwork like yours? The chances are pretty good that if a gallery shows work in a particular style or format, that’s its mandate. Check it out. Look at the gallery’s website. Make an appointment to talk to the owner or salesperson and find out what she’s interested in. Or call her or send her an email. If you make miniature portraits in oil and all the artwork on exhibition is large-format abstract acrylics, this gallery may not be the right one for you. I’ve had artists listen apparently carefully to me saying that the art in my gallery in some way must express the Grasslands experience because that is what my customers are looking for, then send me graduation photo portraits or abstractions of florist bouquets. The gallery staff know their market. They are giving you good information. Pay attention to it!
- Does the gallery exhibit artwork by artists at your stage of development? If you are new at your craft and still working out what form you are most interested in, and the gallery you have your heart set on shows senior artists with a pre-existing following, save that gallery for later in your career and look for one that wants to develop new artists.
- Is the gallery actually accepting submissions? Galleries go through different stages just like artists. Sometimes they can take on new people and sometimes they can’t. Find out.
- Do you like this gallery and its staff? If you are lukewarm or unsure, try somewhere else. You have lots of choices. Begin as you mean to go on!
- Does the gallery have a good reputation with other artists? Ask the other artists! Remember though, that personality affects relationship. It’s a good idea to filter what you hear through your knowledge of your own personality and expectations.
Submitting Artwork to a Gallery
Once you’ve established that a gallery is interested in seeing your work, there are a number of ways this can happen. Ask what the gallery prefers. Do the staff want to see your work in person, do they prefer emailed images, do they want you to drop off a disc? Whatever the gallery’s chosen format is, make sure the work you submit shows you off brilliantly. More on how galleries make these decisions: How Galleries Choose Artists.
- Submit your best work. No pieces that didn’t quite turn out or that you’re actually a bit embarrassed about. Sometimes the gallery will see something in an awkward piece that you didn’t, but you can save these for later when the relationship has become one of understanding and trust.
- Show you can develop a theme until it sings. If you demonstrate that you have a real understanding of the way you have chosen to work, you will gain much more respect and attention than if you express more superficial knowledge of several themes and forms.
- How many pieces? Brand new work or some older pieces too? It will vary with the gallery. Do you need to include anything other than artwork, such as a CV or invitations from previous shows? It depends on the gallery. Once again, the best way to find out is to ask. But if you’re showing artwork to a gallery whose primary purpose is selling, you should show them only pieces for sale now. There isn’t any point in getting the gallery excited about work they can’t have because it belongs to someone else. As far as previous exhibitions go, not every gallery will want to show art that wasn’t saleable somewhere else. Ask them!
- If the gallery prefers you to submit reproductions, make sure these are the best possible. Be fair to your art. No shaky shots taken in bad lighting that you need to explain about. No inaccurate color. No editing to make the art look better than it does in real life. If you aren’t a photographer, hire or find someone who is.
The Business Relationship
The relationship you have with a gallery is like any other relationship. It takes some work to make it grow. If you are going to show with a gallery, there are a few easy steps you can take to make the relationship successful so you can get as much reward from it as possible.
- Discuss everything. Assume nothing. Clarify. Ask questions. This doesn’t need to be done in an aggressive way; it’s just like finding out if your new friend prefers to go Dutch or wants to take turns picking up the tab – maybe a bit nervous-making, but definitely easier to get right in the first place than fix later.
- If you don’t know what to ask, here are some ideas. Not all of them will fit your particular circumstances. Just pick those that do.
When will the work be shown? Who chooses the work to be shown? Who decides how and where it is to be hung?
Who determines selling price? What is the gallery’s commission on sales? Does the gallery offer discounts, and under what circumstances? How often will you be paid?
Who is responsible for costs associated with framing, shipping, or photography?
How will the gallery promote you and your art? Who is responsible for costs or promotion? Are you expected/allowed to promote yourself also?
- Does the gallery want exclusive rights to your sales? In how big an area? For how long a term? How does any exclusivity agreement apply to artwork for sale by you on your own website?
- Will the gallery provide a contract outlining the answers to these questions? If not, can you write them down and discuss what you’ve written with the gallery, either in person or by email? If not, why not?
- The gallery has responsibilities to you. After all, you produce and provide the artwork that the gallery sells and that allows it to remain in business. The gallery is responsible to make the art available for sale; to promote sales according to its own policies and in your mutual interests; to pay you, in a timely fashion, the portion of selling price the two of you have agreed on; and to follow through on keeping its promises on any other terms you have established together.
- You have responsibilities too. The gallery can help your art reach a larger audience and you a higher income level. If you meet your artistic responsibility in making the business partnership successful it can go on for a long time, benefitting both artist and exhibiting venue. What are your responsibilities? Some ideas:
Honor your commitments.
Deliver artwork and meet deadlines as promised.
If the gallery asks for information or promotional material, such as images for the website, your bio or a story about your artwork or process, provide it, as professionally as you can.
If your concept changes or develops as your career progresses, keep the gallery informed.
If you have new questions or concerns over time, state them. The gallery can’t provide what it doesn’t know you need. Assuming the worst and getting angry, or bad-mouthing the gallery to others, is unprofessional.
- At any juncture you may find out the answers you get aren’t those you were hoping for. This is where you can make discoveries about how much either you or the gallery is able to or wants to compromise. The decision-making process is called negotiation. Negotiation doesn’t need to be adversarial, and you don’t need to accept or reject every answer you are given. You might be surprised to find out that the gallery is willing to give a little in order to take a little. You might be surprised that you are also.
- However, if you discover that compromise isn’t possible, that the gallery can’t or won’t meet terms very important to you, you can make another decision. You can decide to try another gallery. You don’t need to accept any gallery’s terms if they just don’t work for you. Putting your art in a situation that isn’t appropriate for it or you doesn’t support either the art or your career. You might feel awkward ending the discussion and walking away, or frustrated that your hopes were encouraged and are now dashed. It’s still much better to do it now than when you are in a complicated and unproductive relationship you knew from the beginning wasn’t going to work. (Isn’t it funny that relationship advice is the same no matter what the relationship is?)
Persistence and Rejection
All artists experience rejection. Competition for galleries and exhibition spaces is strong, and your first try may not be your first successful one. High-quality artwork may not find its right place immediately, and this may have more to do with circumstance than with the art. If your artwork is rejected, send it out again to a different venue.
However, if you find that your exhibition submissions are rejected repeatedly, it may be time for some reassessment. The following questions may help.
- Are you realistic about what you are looking for?
- Are you approaching galleries that are right for your work?
- Are any images you are submitting to a gallery the best quality possible?
- Is any written work you’re providing clear, concise and understandable?
- Can the galleries or another artistic professional give you some feedback?
Remember that rejection can be very hard to accept, but it is hardly ever meant personally. Some amazing artwork has met with repeated rejection and still become successful – in the artist’s lifetime!
Life Brings Change
There are times when good relationships change, when both parties want something different. It’s no different between galleries and artists. Some changes can be adapted to and some can’t. If the change results from a misunderstanding, then a good first step is to try clearing up the misunderstanding. Ask more questions and try to hear the answers, then decide what you want to do.
But if the change is more permanent – either you or the gallery is going in a direction that means you no longer have the mutual interests you once did, maybe it’s time to move on. When that happens, honor the relationship you’ve had, make your intentions clear, and go where you need to go.
And for all your artistic life, have a wonderful abundant career!
Serious About Finding A Gallery?
You’ll want to check out Alyson Stanfield’s downloadable audio course on how to get into a gallery, with special guest Bobbi Walker.
During this program, you will learn:
• How to build a portfolio that appeals to galleries.
• What a gallerist will look for on your website.
• How to navigate the gallery submission process.
• The #1 way to get gallery representation.
• How you could really screw up a relationship with a gallery.
wael sabour says
Excellent and very informative article , thanks Laureen
I’m sure you mean well but the reality is that no [respectable contemporary art] gallery will give any artist the time of day unless the artist has connections, (or is dating the gallery owner), i.e., it’s all about who you know. Otherwise, fuhgitaboutit.
cory huff says
It really depends on what you mean by ‘respectable.’
For the blue chip galleries with long lists of wealthy collectors that regularly purchase six-figure works, I think what you’re saying is generally true.
For a smaller or newer gallery that sells regularly but wouldn’t be considered part of the blue chip crowd, there’s a lot more variation. New galleries start and stop all the time, and artists can make a great living selling $5K – $10K pieces.
What an excellent post, Laureen! Thank you for sharing — super-useful information and very well written. 🙂
@a_creative_life I think you mean “excellent”
@NoShitler Yay! Another grammar and spelling stickler! Yes, indeed – “excellent,” not “exellent”! 😀
Thank you for the information I am really graceful..
Fabulous post! Thank you.
Susan Sawyer says
Very helpful; many times I felt like giving up the gallery search. Art Obsessions was just the venue for my Native American collection.
Enzie Shahmiri says
Great advise! Thank you ~
I appreciate the advice on how to get your works into a gallery. It makes sense that you would want to listen to the gallery staff to find out what theme or format they require. Another thing that might help is signing with an agent from a talent company that can help you get set up with a gallery that matches your style.