The “art world” can be as elusive as it sounds. With many newcomers entering the scene, not everyone is given the opportunity to show their work in galleries, and many have no idea where to begin. Luckily, I did a lot of that aimless wandering for you.
Many debate the importance of art school. Some will tell you it’s a waste of time and money, others will tell you it’s a treasure trove of connections. I believe it’s the latter. Although you may not need art school to “make it,” it’s an amazing way to network and learn some big necessities. I went to School of Visual Arts in NYC. All of my professors were actively working in their professions and taught once or twice a week, dedicating the rest of their time to making illustrations for various magazines. That’s where I started. I was studying illustration, and in my final year of college, as I was preparing the last of my portfolio, I realized that I didn’t want to be an illustrator. I was worried about the future of printed media and about my prospects ten years down the road, as technology advanced and less people picked up newspapers. I wanted to find ways to remain relevant and make a living with art without having to take cues from an art director. But where to begin? My professors and studio mates were able to point me in the right direction:
Grease those elbows and rub them with your neighbor. Find out about events they’re attending and what those events entail. How can you get invited? Who will be there?
Just about all art shows are free and don’t require any special invitation. Art events, like gallery shows, are great ways to meet gallery owners, curators, and other like-minded individuals. Meet your favorite artists and talk to them. Look and study their work. Take notes: How many pieces does it take for a solo show? How big are their pieces? What is making the most impact? These are crucial things to consider.
First, buy your domain name — it’s a very important thing to have and keep — and then look for free web-hosting services that quickly let you create a functioning website. Places like Weebly.com can be a good way to start, as it allows you to drag and drop images, make multiple pages, and set up an online store where people can purchase your prints or originals. But if you think that’s intimidating, you can always use Tumblr. You just need a URL where people can go to view your work and see that you’re serious about what you do. And to add the cherry on top: business cards. Vistaprint.com is an affordable way to get a set. You don’t even need that many when you’re starting out, 50 to 100 is plenty! Make sure to have an image of one of your strongest pieces on it, your name, your website, and email. Maybe even an Instagram, but a professional @ccount, not a personal one.
3. The Approach
Okay. So you feel ready. Cards in hand, website up, now what? Where do you look?
What gallery is going to open its arms to you? In truth, not that many. At least not at first.
A gallery, especially an established one, wants to see that you have a strong CV. Whats a CV? It’s your artist resume. Look at any professional artist’s website and you’ll find their CV. This will tell you everywhere they’ve shown, the title of the show, if it was group or solo, and even where the gallery is. This is your holy grail. I stalked so many of my favorite artists when I started out, Tara McPherson being the main target of my online stalking (we’re friends now, it’s cool).
Magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose are pure gold. They showcase up-and-coming artists, and galleries that show their kind of art. So if you make street art, or “lowbrow” art, these magazines advertise many of those places. Earmark the pages, and start emailing. But what should you write? Here are some do’s and don’ts:
DO: Make the email formal, professional, and SHORT. Galleries receive hundreds of emails a day and you want to make sure you’re to the point.
DON’T: Attach a bunch of images to the email. They won’t have time to download it all and may not even glance at it.
DO: Add a link to your website where they can see your work. Make note of other galleries you have shown in. If it’s your first time, say you are interested in submitting for a show and ask if they accept unsolicited submissions. You should have at least 10 paintings/pieces on your site to show a decent body of work.
DO: Research the galleries you want to submit to. If you sound like you’ve never heard of them before, it’ll show.
As a side note and what I get asked a lot as well, when pricing your work don’t be afraid to go a bit higher than you normally would. It’s hard to put a price on a piece, but this may help you come to a fair deal:
And never EVER pay a gallery to show your work.
I hope this brief guide can help you on the road to your first show! Remember, be strong and use every media outlet you have to your disposal. Follow galleries and art magazines on Twitter and Instagram. Stay updated on your favorite artists and their upcoming shows. Go to some! Don’t be afraid to talk to people and network. To get your foot in the door, you first have to knock and say hello.