This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Artist Karen Cooper commented on my previous article “Thoughts on Approaching Galleries”. The main point of Cooper’s comments was that there is a “…huge gray area filled with blobs of alternating over-confidence and cringing self doubt.” In her comments she also quotes from Clint’s article “The Moment of Hope” about artists who are amateur and think that they are on the same level as masters and deserve to hang next to them. I can relate completely. I am even guilty of being one of those over-confident artists approaching a gallery when my work was amateur (maybe I am still). I have also had plenty of self-doubt moments – and still do.
So this leads me to today’s post. How do you know if you are good enough for a gallery? How do you know if you are ready? Are you awesome or do you suck?!
First, let me say that I think it is a natural evolution going from the over-confident amateur to the self-doubting artist. But with time the mature professional has learned to balance both. I think both confidence and doubt are healthy for the artist, but balance is the key. Cooper’s question was addressing that balance. What is the formula? I don’t know.
This is important in the early stages of artistic development, because without it you won’t begin the journey. Confidence in yourself gets you creating – and keeps you creating.
As Clint mentioned in “The Moment of Hope”, when you begin to doubt yourself as an artist, you begin to be open to learning and growing as an artist. This is a great moment! I know many gallery owners who would much rather work with artists who doubt themselves.
Healthy Confidence and Recognition of Shortcomings
As you mature in your art, you will gain a healthy, more realistic confidence balanced by a need to improve and grow. You will realize that you are good but will want to get much better. This confidence comes with looking back on the progress you have made. It is still difficult to find the balance sometimes. There are still times when you will still oscillate between the extremes. Again, I don’t know the formula and every artist is different. But, it is when you are at this point when you are ready for that gallery.
How do you know if you are at this point? Or are you still blinded by over-confidence? How do you objectively evaluate your work? These are difficult questions. I will offer a few suggestions.
Do you Doubt Yourself?
If you don’t doubt yourself, you aren’t ready! If you consider each of your paintings as great, then you aren’t ready! If you think none of them are good, you are almost ready!
How Long Have You Been Creating Your Art?
Six months? One year? Five years? We all develop at different rates, so I cannot say whether you are good enough in one or five years. But realize that the professional artists selling for top dollars in those galleries have worked for 20 or 30 or more years. Yes, there are up-and-coming artist who haven’t worked as long as the masters, but they still have put in several years – a lot of hard work. I know of instructors who have encouraged art students to paint 100 paintings before showing any to a gallery. Or others who say to paint for 5 years before showing a gallery. The longer you can work on developing your abilities, the better the likelihood you will get representation and the more likely you will sell.
Who is Your Audience?
Who, besides your mom or spouse thinks your art is great? If possible, gain a non-biased critique from someone who KNOWS art. Expose your art to art collectors, fellow artists, critics, and others who love and know art. This isn’t fool-proof either, though. The French Impressionists are lauded today, but weren’t accepted in their time. However, with today’s broader acceptance of various styles and genres, you will likely have a less biased opinion than they did. Be open to their comments, not defensive.
Are you Defensive?
Are you defensive about your art? Does no one get it? If so, you aren’t ready for the gallery! This may sound harsh, but if you are defensive, you probably are still in the over-confident stage. Yes it is possible that you may be like the impressionists – misunderstood and under appreciated – but it is much more likely that you are over-confident. Don’t take it personally. When the need to improve becomes as strong as the need to express yourself, you will grow and this will lead to finding your audience.
Compare Your Prices
What are your prices compared to those at the gallery you wish to join? Some galleries have well established artists who sell at high prices. Other galleries have up-and-coming artists with lower prices. Many galleries carry a combination of both. But where do your prices fit?
If you sell a 16 x 20 oil painting for $500 and the least expensive painting in the gallery for that size is $2000, it is not the gallery for you. If you sell your 16 x 20 paintings for $2000 and the most expensive painting for that size in the gallery is $500, the gallery is not for you.
Of course this raises an issue that I won’t address here – are your prices appropriate? That’s another article.
There are other gauges to help you navigate that gray blob of confidence and doubt. And no gauge is fool proof. But I hope these thoughts help and give you encouragement. Good luck navigating through the blob.