28 years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life.
It was the decision to have a one-hour chat with an art career coach.
The purpose of the meeting was to learn how a glorified student could get his paintings out into the world with no previous exhibitions under his belt.
More than an amazing deal at $30, it was a beginning. I thanked this man by phone several years later. He thanked me for thanking him.
I learned that the art business is like any other. When you’re new, you get your feet wet, forgetting sales or spotlight.
As your resume grows, so do the opportunities. It’s like dating. You have to court for a while before the relationship begins.
Artists need to develop their career skills early on and update them continually. Because they take time to develop.
So if you’re serious about Exhibiting your work, then don’t wait until you’ve “learned more”. Get into the game early on.
And start small.
Over time, the right people get familiar with your work as you position yourself to approach small galleries and apply for fellowships.
But you need to lay the groundwork first.
So here are 11 tips, in no particular order…
1. Get out of town.
Enter competitions in major cities and diverse locations. Too many emerging artists exhibit in their own backyards.
The most obscure show in Miami, New York or Boston will stand out on your resume. The expense of shipping cross country will pay big dividends by giving you the appearance of a national artist.
Tons of competitions can be found online and most artists over 18 can enter for a modest fee.
2. Hire the best photographer you can afford.
The biggest complaint I hear from galleries about artist submissions is poor image quality.
Fine art photography is a specialty, and it’s tricky, so no DIY unless you’re a pro.
The quality of your images speaks volumes about your commitment and how much you value your own work.
3. Show your very best work. Hide the rest.
Or as the actor Steve Martin said, Be so good that they can’t ignore you.
There’s nothing to gain by showing a weak piece. Astounding work has staying power; average work will be forgotten fast.
4. Be ready and be prompt
If someone reaches out to you with an opportunity, get right back to them with the info requested, as requested.
Give them what they ask for, to the tee and early, They’ll love you for it. I often promise delivery of something within seven days, knowing it will get there in three.
5. Create a killer body of work…
…before committing to a solo show.
You never know when you’ll do a great piece – or a not-so-great one.
Promising twenty gallery-ready works in advance of a show is a lot of pressure for an emerging artist. Some veterans thrive on the adrenaline of a looming show date, but you shouldn’t take chances with your career, or your sanity, at this stage.
6. Know thy art.
Always be ready with brief, meaningful explanations about your work. Otherwise known as the elevator pitch.
The questions might seem silly, (Is that oil)? but a perfect opening for you to share a bit about your process and yourself.
You’re the best representative you’ll ever have, so give your message some thought and practice, and avoid wisecracks no matter what.
7. Make their job easy.
Art professionals are juggling a lot of artists and a lot of tasks. They’re busy and they’re stressed just like everyone else.
So without being a pushover, be accommodating. Answer your own questions if you can. Be the consummate professional.
The logic is simple; the easier you are to deal with, the better your chances of being invited back.
8. Buy a museum-quality frame. Or don’t.
Go all out with a gorgeous, museum-quality frame. Or leave it off completely.
No frame at all is better than a cheap one, and there’s a beauty and modernity to clean painted edges on unframed canvases, especially the big ones.
9. Play nice.
Don’t ever, ever, spread negative gossip about your fellow artists or art professionals.
It’s human nature to complain, we all do it, and it strange way it connects people.
But inappropriate in business and it makes you sound whiny and unprofessional (unflattering comments stick more to the person making them). If you must, share grievances with your spouse or significant other; that’s what they’re for.
10. Don’t paint in the 11th hour.
The moment your work is accepted for an exhibition, consider it done…for now. Trying to finish a piece too close to showtime can backfire, leaving you with something weaker than you had to begin with.
If your work finds a home during the run of a show, great! If not, you’ve gained valuable perspective by seeing it on the wall and can attack it later, so it’s a win-win.
11. Learn how to price your work
Pricing your work is a complicated topic that could be the subject of an entire post, but here are two rules of thumb:
Do some detective work on what artists of similar experience, age, and exhibition histories are receiving, not just asking, for their work, and price yours accordingly.
Imagine that midpoint between what you want and what a collector wants to pay. Both sides should feel a little pinch.
Don’t hold out for the home run or settle for the sure thing. Let your prices be a little boring. It’s wise to sell early and earn a reputation as a seller.
Every challenge an artist faces, with inspiration, with relationships, with money, should be considered a painting challenge. The better you are at handling those challenges, the better it is for your art.