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Communication Breakdown: Art Dealers and Cold Calls

by Brian Sherwin on 3/19/2011 12:31:18 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.


The Internet has made it easier for artists to contact various art professional with relative ease. However, that ease of contact is not always a good route to pursue. In other words, a thoughtful email about your artwork can easily be interpreted as desperation-- or being rude. Continued contact may be perceived as an annoyance-- distancing you further from the art gallery you desire to be represented by. Point blank-- just because you can contact art dealers about your artwork and exhibiting easily via email does not mean that you should.


You don't want to come off needy or pushy when communicating with art dealers whom you hope will represent you. Contrary to artist myth, art dealers rarely put up with artists that are professionally and emotionally exhausting. Thus, coming off pushy or desperate from the start, which is often how 'out of the blue' contact by email is interpreted by art dealers, may red-flag you as an artist who is potentially a professional risk. This goes 10 fold if you can't take "No" for an answer and reply with emotive drivel or profanity laced rage-- no matter how creative your use of frank words happens to be.


If you do receive a reply by email from an art dealer there is a huge chance that he or she is writing to refuse your request. In most cases he or she will be friendly in the manner in which he or she refuses to view your art for exhibit or representation consideration. If faced with that scenario you should simply save face and walk away from the communication OR write a very basic 'thank you' for his or her time and consideration. Any other response will likely make you the inside joke for the day among gallery staff. Thus, it is best not to place yourself in that situation in the first place.


Obviously my advice depends on the situation and location. For example, a gallery owner in a smaller city will most likely welcome random introductions by email-- but a gallery owner in New York, Chicago, Miami... BIG cities... will likely be turned off unless they really, really, really like your art. That said, high profile gallery owners really, really, really like the artwork of the artists they are already representing-- artists whom they have invested time and money in. Thus, even if your artwork is amazing you may still receive a "No"-- or simply no response.


The blunt of the high profile art dealers I've known-- and have worked with-- are well beyond the pulling of heart-strings. They are business-minded individuals who simply don't want to put up with a dramatic plea for attention from an artist hoping to land his or her first exhibit. They tend to expect artists to be business-minded as well-- and to hold themselves to a certain level of integrity in regards to how they conduct themselves online or over the phone.


Contacting a gallery owner by email or phone is simply not a productive way to introduce yourself to an art gallery. Mainstream gallery owners have very tight schedules and more often than not their own money is on the line. In other words, they have little time for random introductions by email or phone. Truth be known if you send an email to a gallery, even if the website offers the gallery owners email address, it will most likely be read by a staff member who will simply delete it as spam. If you call the gallery you will most likely end up talking to a staff member who will politely inform you that your request for viewing and exhibit consideration does not fall within the policy of the gallery.


As mentioned earlier, placing yourself in this situation can have the end result of making you the joke for the day depending on how you handle it. Art dealers, especially high profile dealers, tend to talk with other art dealers who run in the same circles. It is often a tight knit group-- and information is likely to be exchanged. My point-- you don't want to become the slap-stick joke for the day by throwing yourself at, or insulting, a dealer who has most likely never heard of you. I've known art dealers who know "pesky" artists by name. Unfortunately, those artists will never be known as anything else by those specific art dealers simply because they went about their pursuit the wrong way. In a sense, they have black-balled themselves from being taken seriously.


By now you are probably asking, "What is the right way?". There is no easy answer for that. However, a traditional approach to networking is often more fruitful than making cold calls or sending random emails. For example, New York gallery owner Edward Winkleman recently stated on his blog that artists are 98% more likely to have success by taking a more traditional networking approach compared to writing 'out of the blue' email introductions. As Winkleman suggested, an artist is more likely to have the odds in his or her favor if he or she warms up to a gallery tactfully.


It pays to be tactful when dealing with mainstream art galleries. If you are interested in a specific art gallery do your best to get to know, even if just online, artists who are represented by the gallery. Attend gallery openings at the gallery if possible-- become a familiar face. Have a drink or two-- talk about the art that is being shown instead of yourself. Then slowly introduce the fact that you create art as well. Depending on the circumstances you will have to do a lot of interpersonal groundwork before asking point-blank about exhibit opportunities or representation. Even then your underlining pursuit may not take the direction that you intended-- if anything you will walk away with some insider advice that may prove helpful in future endeavors.


I've found that traditional aspects of networking can be helpful in smaller art communities as well. When in doubt it is better to become a familiar face with an art gallery or other art venue-- even if located in a small community-- before throwing yourself to a potential wolf. Once people recognize you-- and perhaps know you on a first name basis-- they are more likely to say "yes"... or at least offer meaningful feedback as to why your artwork does not mesh well with the goals of the gallery.


Gallery rejection can be difficult to handle-- especially when an artist places herself or himself on the line. By sending random emails or making random calls an artist is almost always setting herself or himself up for unnecessary rejection-- unnecessary in the sense that the artists may have avoided the rejection by being more tactful with his or her request. This factor in itself is a prime reason why artists should not make random introductions fueled by hopes of exhibiting or receiving gallery representation. The rejection, for some, can easily become an obstacle on the road of creativity.


In closing, make sure to give your actions serious thought before emailing or calling an art dealer if said communication was not requested. Be tactful in how you respond if those forms of communication lead to an exchange between you and a gallery representative-- and realize that the gallery response will likely not be what you had been hoping for. Consider other art opportunities before making cold calls. Do what you can to 'warm up' to a gallery-- by means of direct networking and exhibit participation-- if you feel that you must establish a dialogue with a specific art dealer.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

FineArtViews Interview: Edward Winkleman -- Gallery Owner, Curator, Author and Art Blogger

12 Steps to Get Your Artwork Noticed by Galleries

Gallery Representation

Thoughts on Approaching Galleries

Selling Without Galleries

When to Break Gallery Ties

Do artists need galleries anymore?

Evaluating Your Galleries

Negotiating With Galleries - Part 3

The Benefits of Gallery Representation

Will Your Galleries Balk at Your Web Site?

Topics: art gallery tips | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | exposure tips 

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Sandy Askey-Adams
Thank you Brian...

Very interesting and helpful.

Glad you included the paragraph about how to allow an art gallery to possibly get to know you and your work by attending gallery openings, etc..etc. Although it does not always open up the door for representation by the gallery. :)
But still can enjoy the gallery and all the exhibited art works!

Virginia Giordano
Hi Brian - I always appreciate your informed and well written blogs. You always get to the heart of the matter and this is invaluable and sound advice on how it really is and how it works. It's a process which we need to approach thoughtfully and carefully - important to be taken seriously as professionals.

Esther J. Williams
Interesting information about networking. I thought this was the case. I just say, it is a small world and you never know who knows who. It is best to not step on anyone`s toes. It is also best to be polite at opening receptions, not be self serving at all. I don`t cold call or drop in either. I tried that ten years ago. The director has enough on their hands running a business to be interrupted by a gallery submission request.
I still think the best way is to enter many exhibitions, then try the prestigious exhibitions, win top awards and then a gallery owner will notice enough to ask you to be part of their gallery. Gallery owners attend events and keep a keen ear on who is one to watch. In my area, it can take years to rise to recognition or it can be overnight. While an artist is waiting, they can spend the time to get better in their art. Also, they can sell art on their own and slowly raise their prices to match the art for sale in galleries.
Maybe being in an art gallery isn`t the way to go.
I heard of one story recently of a young artist who just graduated from an art college, he bagan to paint large, I mean giant seascapes. He got them into a prestigious art exhibition. The first year his work was very low, the next 2 years, that same size work was $20,000. All it took was some affluent buyers to hang one of his pieces in their designer home and other art collectors take notice. So, this fella didn`t have to go the route of entering exhibitions and wait years. It was who knows who in this case. Dreams can come true.

Brian Sherwin
Thanks for the comments everyone. Esther, good points!It is very true that an artist does not have to go the gallery route today. I can think of a number of artists who found their own audience online and in small venues before being approached by a mainstream art gallery.

I do think that art dealers are starting to take notice of the following some artists have online-- I'm actually working on an article about that now. If you are not landing the exhibits that you want it can pay to focus that 'down time' on gaining exposure online. The cult of personality, if you will, may very well become a deciding factor in years to come.

If you can establish yourself within the market on your own it will opens doors as to what directions you can take with further marketing. At that point an artist has to ask himself or herself if he or she should continue to market independently or consider representation in some form.

Traditional routes of exposure dictate that one must land mainstream representation in order to work up to museum exhibits and so on. That said, the art world and market is changing-- the stranglehold of traditional paths are not as strong as they were just five years ago. We live in very exciting times.

The strength of social media and online influence is starting to play a role in how history is written. Thus, I have no doubt that artists who dedicate time to branding themselves online will make a harder impact on culture than they would have otherwise.

Sharon Weaver
Who you know certainly can open doors and knowing an artist who shows in the gallery is good. Having that artist recommend you to the owner is great but several artists I know got their first gallery out of state. Often an area can be saturated with a type of work but in a different venue that same artist is unique. Perhaps you have some insight into approaching those far away galleries.

Jo Allebach
I have a set cards to help become a successful artist. (I forgot where I got it) Anyway, i have one that is : "Meet More People. People who will buy your art. People who can help advance your career. People who inspire you." Your advice about networking and getting to know the gallery people confirms this idea. Thanks for all your great writings.

Phil Kendall aka Meltemi
Another good read Brian, I agree with what you said. I carefully selected the my short-listed 200 UK galleries where my art might have fitted in and simply emailed them at the rate of 10 per week. It was a quick 'covering letter'email have a look at my website it will give you an Idea can we do business sort of thing? About 20 percent had gone out of business. 70 percent still to this day have made no reply or comment. So the remaining 20 galleries [10 percent] bothered to reply. Yep straight rejections. This is something both as an artist and an individual I can cope with [its the situation not me personally sort of thing]. The strangest comment from a gallery was; "we would have liked to do business but your website is too powerful for us"...I took this as a back-handed compliment. Well its their loss not mine. I paint. Its on my website, It sells. The bricks and mortar galleries are in decline. they know where I am they can come to me if they wish. But it will not be a push over for them.

Brian Sherwin
Phil, the blunt of art galleries-- even high profile ones-- are racing to create websites that actually... how do I put this... work. Most-- based on my experience-- are years behind or have only recently made major improvements. Often galleries are wary of an artist who has had great exposure online-- unless they think that exposure can work for them.

Most galleries are starting to realize the potential of online exposure and how their artists can play a role in that direction. However, there are still some art dealers who are very wary of the Internet. Dozens of artists have written to me over the years stating that their gallery has asked them to remove specific art profiles or to 'terminate' their personal art blog or website.

In other words, the gallery wants to be in control of online content. To me that shows the power of the Internet and how it is changing the 'landscape' of the art world. That fear reveals that new doors have been opened-- the business of art will never be the same.

In time art dealers, in general, will be more comfortable with artists who have reached a high level of online exposure. They will come to realize how it benefits everyone. I predict that most will eventually expect prospective artists to have a strong online following and presence. Some are taking notice of that impact now.

I interviewed New York gallery owner Edward Winkleman recently for FineArtViews-- and even he hinted that in the future galleries may have less physical hours in exchange for more online focus. It is a realistic approach for brick and mortar galleries-- which tend to struggle to keep their doors open at some point.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Love the idea of those cards.

Brian and Phil....very interesting and informative information in your posted comments.

Thank you. :)

Sandy Askey-Adams
via sorry, I added an "e" at the end of your name...AND I really do know better than that. My fingers over-walked.

Carol McIntyre
Brian, do you have any suggestions for those of us who do not live near a city where we can network as you suggest? Or if we aspire to be represented in a city that is 5 hours away?

Could you comment on this idea: [An artist calls a gallery and asks them how they would best like to be introduced or approached by an artist.] Would that not be considered a professional way to contact them? How do you think they would respond?

Per gallery websites: I did a major research of galleries in one location and was appalled by the poor quality of the sites....truly surprised.

Thank you!

Sandy Askey-Adams
Good question Carol. :)

Joanne Benson
Thanks for the informative post. No matter how you slice it, making art for a living is not an easy business to get into. Networking would seem to make more sense than cold calling and as in many other professions, "who you know" can be really helpful.

Lauren Adams
I second Carol's request. Any advice for those of us who reside in small towns, far away from any gallery at all?


Thanks, Brian. My husband and I have been making gallery visiting days every so often, in part for this purpose. We go to galleries we like, on afternoons when it's kind of slow, and spend time looking at all the work. We've found that the gallery staff like to answer our questions about the work, like to talk with us, and so then we're invited to upcoming events at the gallery. That's all we've done, just genuinely look at the work and ask honest questions.

Carol Schmauder
I really appreciate your article Brian. I am anxiously awaiting your response to Carol's question.

Casey Craig
Good points that artists should always be professional in all of their communications.

I live in a small town and for this reason I have used the cold call frequently, sometimes with success and sometimes not. If a gallery/venue has their submission policy on their website then it should be followed. I have no problem emailing a venue and inquiring what their submission policy is if they don't. I've done this with art consultants as well and sometimes it results in a request to be kept on my mailing list or to send in a CD of images.

I think it is important to do as much research about the venue before contact as possible, but it's fairly unrealistic to expect other artists to guide your way to their gallery. Granted it happens, but not very often. Also, no amount of showing up at shows is going to help you if your work is not a good fit, or if they just aren't taking on new artists. I personally have no problem with rejection (built up a nice thick skin attending college critiques) -- if I'm not being rejected regularly then I'm not getting my work out there enough ;) but Brian is absolutely right about taking no for an answer and moving on professionally.

Brian Sherwin
Carol -- you said, "Brian, do you have any suggestions for those of us who do not live near a city where we can network as you suggest? Or if we aspire to be represented in a city that is 5 hours away?"

I'll probably cover this in an article soon. When it comes to distance your best bet is to network online. 'Friend' artists who are represented by the gallery you are interested in-- get to know them as much as you can online. Be tactful. In other words, don't 'meet' them on Facebook and then ask if they can help introduce you to the gallery owner the next day. I know it may seem ruthless to make 'friends' simply to poke around favors-- but that is one side of any business.

Aside from that-- I always advise artists to try and make an impact in their own community before going the major city route. Regional fame is just as important as national fame in the long-run. For example, if you live in a small town near St. Louis you might want to pursue St. Louis before placing all of your focus on New York.

Never look past smaller cities either-- some have museums and other venues that will look great on your resume-- and will most likely be easier to land an exhibit in. I notice that many artists look past regional opportunities-- more attention should be given to local opportunities in my opinion.

You said, "Could you comment on this idea: [An artist calls a gallery and asks them how they would best like to be introduced or approached by an artist.] Would that not be considered a professional way to contact them? How do you think they would respond?"

It depends on the gallery you are contacting. If you contact a mainstream gallery that way it is doubtful that you will receive the answer that you wanted-- and hopefully they will be polite about it. However, that approach can work with smaller galleries-- especially if they are located in smaller communities. Still... one of the best things you can do is keep an eye on the gallery in order to find out if they ever have a call for artists. If so, follow the portfolio request as defined.

The best thing you can do is not wait around for the perfect gallery to come your way. If you do you will likely be waiting for a very long time. I've known artists who refuse to exhibit unless it is at a gallery in a major city. Needless to say, none of those artists have a lengthy exhibit history. They have limited themselves... clinging to the myth that just one more show at a major gallery will make them an instant success.

Brian Sherwin
Lauren, Sandy -- I'll write an article that covers Carol's request in detail soon.

Casey, good points! You are correct-- if your art does not 'fit' the gallery... and you should be able to tell just by looking at the work that is represented... it is best to take your gallery pursuit elsewhere.

As for represented artists helping you to gain representation-- or pointing you to other opportunities-- it can happen. It happens more often than you might think. I'm not suggesting that it is an instant path toward representation-- but it does offer footing that you would otherwise not have. Word of mouth can be a powerful advantage if you have built rapport with another artist.

A thick-skin is a must! Responding to rejection with the most creatively harsh language you can muster is not going to change an art dealers opinion. You never know how things may turn out... an art dealer who rejects your artwork today might embrace it 5 years from now. Keep that in mind before lashing out.

Carol McIntyre
Brian, thank you so much for your response. I never thought of looking up the artists in galleries I am considering and networking with them. Your advice has been printed and will be reviewed regularly. Yesterday, I was approached to participate in a community project and I was hemming and hawing, but now I know I must do it! I look forward to your future article.

artisBrian Sherwin, loved this article and agree with their words on how to approach a gallery arte.Parabéns! you are smart and knowledgeable about the market view is that arte.
ts who are still regeitados galleries
should develop their own website and publish it to the max
and in every way, maybe someone might see it and be interested in their work! good luck to you all!

Joe Odiboh
I am a contemporary artist, a genius originally from Nigeria, a South African citizen resident in Ireland. I need an art dealer to help me in partnership for the marketing of all my paintings and art works mostly acrylic on paper with a few acrylic on canvass. I have a collection of more than 150 paintings, and other works on paper and working on more. My subjects are diverse, and very interesting in its originality. I seriously need an art dealer to market my works, which are in imaginative compositions, abstracts, and various kinds of paintings which are very interesting and explosive.
Please kindly get back to me on this matter urgently for a long and lasting business relationship so that we can start making fortunes immediately.
Kind regards,
Joe Odiboh


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