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,