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The Etiquette of Art Exhibit Openings: Artists Need to Remember What Exhibit Openings Are About

by Brian Sherwin on 10/18/2011 1:02:53 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, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

 

Some friends and I recently had a conversation about what is expected behavior-wise from artists at an art exhibit. We discussed some of the basics of what has come to be known in our circle as the expectations of art exhibit opening etiquette -- and shared stories about artists who crossed those lines during their exhibit openings. Needless to say, I felt it important to address the issue with an article in order to spur a debate about the topic. Point blank -- it is my opinion that the opening of your exhibit is not the time to reveal all of your negative traits to potential buyers and fans. It is vital to keep level-headed and focused on the here and now.

 

Believe it or not your personality can play a role in how well your art is sold -- especially during an art exhibit opening. As I've mentioned in the past, people can change their mind about art -- no matter how 'great' the art may be -- based on the personality and reputation of the artist. The haughty artist persona -- one who is aggressive in speech and manner -- may have worked for some famous artists... it may even make for a good movie about the artist -- but even those famous examples had critics of their behavior.

 

Before blazing into the opening of your art exhibit with all the heated flare of Picasso or Gauguin remember that people are coming to see your art -- not to see a jerk. For example, if the exhibit focuses on painting -- I'd bet money that most people are coming to see paintings (and perhaps score some free food and booze in the process.) The average gallery visitor wants to be captivated by what you create... not insulted or shocked by your antics during the opening.

 

So how can shades of personality become a problem during an exhibit opening? At what point are the lines of etiquette in regard to art exhibit openings crossed? The answers -- at least within the context I'm thinking about -- are relatively simple. With the basics in mind the lines are crossed when the exhibiting artist forgets that he or she is at an opening for his or her work -- when he or she tosses professionalism aside and instead releases an explosive tirade just because someone in the audience got a rise out of him or her -- OR comes off like a cars salesman fetching for future opportunities in an obnoxious manner when he or she should be focused on the here and now... the art that is currently on display for sale.

 

Obviously the scenarios mentioned above are just two examples of bad art exhibit opening etiquette. That said, they appear to be -- at least to me -- the most common lines that are crossed by artists during an opening. These two paths can impact how gallery visitors view you as an artist -- in the extreme these two paths can turn people off from your artwork. The last thing you want to do is make a lasting negative impression that blocks future possibilities and potential.

 

If someone says something offensive about your artwork during your opening the best thing you can do is to walk away -- defuse the situation before it becomes explosive in front of all who are present at the gallery. For example, very few exhibit opening visitors want to observe you trade critical barbs with another artist over the foundation of your art. Remember -- the opening is about YOU and YOUR art... don't allow another artist to steal the show by provoking your anger. There is a time and place for heated critical debate -- and in almost no circumstance is that time or place your exhibit opening.

 

Your art exhibit opening can be a great time to be introduced to future opportunities. However, don't come off like some cheesy car salesman by pitching yourself to every influential person in the building. Trust me on this -- you need to focus on the here and now during the opening. You need to focus on the art that you currently have on display. It does not say much for you if you spend the entire time pitching yourself to every person of influence. Do you really think a visiting art dealer or curator will be impressed at the fact that you are not paying any attention to the opening itself? No. Talk shop during the after party.

 

In closing, my main point is that artists need to hold themselves to a professional standard during their exhibit openings. In my opinion, that means focusing on the opening itself -- not giving in to every argument that is offered or pitching oneself obnoxiously to everyone in the building. Don't allow your opening to be sabotaged by negative traits. Perhaps you have something to add to the etiquette of art exhibit openings? Consider this an open topic about what is expected from an exhibiting artist behavior-wise during an opening -- and by all means, if you have a story to share... comment with it.

 

Take care, Stay true

 

Brian Sherwin



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Topics: advice for artists | art gallery tips | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction | Think Tank 

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 6 Comments

Nicole Hyde
via faso.com
Good advice, Brian. Thanks.

Regina Valluzzi (The Nerdly Painter)
via faso.com
How about a few DO's?
1. Do bring business cards
2. Do politely introduce people
3. Do focus on positives - whether talking about your work, someone else's work, galleries, etc.
4. Do answer questions about materials, process, inspiration etc.
5. Do welcome other artists
6. Do dress nicely - at the very least business casual and clean

Any others?

Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
via faso.com
Earlier this year I was at a huge opening and there was one thing in particular that I found off putting. (This can go for either the artist or the attendees) It's hard to get a chance to talk with any one particular person at an opening, and sometimes you need to interrupt an unnecessarily long conversation. But please don't think that you're more important than the person who is already talking to the artist/dealer/collector. At the very least, excuse yourself to the person you are interrupting before taking the other person completely out of the conversation.

This happened to me a couple of times where I was in the middle of a conversation with one of the attendees/artists and another person just walked into the conversation and took the other person away from me. I wasn't monopolizing any of these people and neither the abductor nor the abductee excused themselves. This just comes off as rude and shows that you don't consider others as important as yourself.

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
Wendy -- I've ran into that same problem. I think with that in mind the exhibiting artist should try to keep conversations to a specific length... and then kindly close the conversation. After all, if you are spending 20 minutes at a time explaining your process to each person you bump into... well -- you are eating up your time. The night can only last so long.

I still think the best route to take is to have a QandA session at the start of, end of, or both the start and end of the opening night in order to get all of the basic questions out of the way. In addition to that, have an after party planned in order to focus more on just being social.



Wendy Edsall-Kerwin
via faso.com
Brian,
That's a good idea. It wouldn't have worked in this particular situation since there were about 70 different artists involved ;^) But for solo or small group exhibitions that would alleviate a lot of those problems.

Brian Sherwin
via faso.com
I have a semi-solution for larger group shows as well -- assuming the exhibit has an area for snacks and beverages. If that is the case you may notice that people tend to congregate in that area. Thus, it might be a good idea for the artists to make small video clips talking about their work... edit them back to back -- and have the gallery play the video in a loop on a TV near the area where food and beverages are available. Make the video available on Youtube... or if possible -- hand out free cds of the video to interested gallery visitors.

That may potentially cut back on lengthy conversations about method or what have you since hopefully a lot of the answer will be on the clip. There would be some drawbacks as well... I feel another article coming on. :)










 

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