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I find it necessary to begin by stating that I am NOT a writer. The purpose of this post is to try and help those of you who seek representation of your work in a Fine Art Gallery.
For the past 32 years, I have received many letters, post cards, emails, faxes, and artists walking into my gallery to seek representation. I admire the fact that you reach out to me - some seasoned, others just starting out. There has got to be some amount of fear of rejection once you've decided to make contact with a gallery owner or director. I'd equate it similar to being in sales and making a cold call. Not so easy, but it can be, so read on and learn.
If I can help just one artist reading this post to gain access and get past the "Gate Keeper", then my mission has been accomplished. I do not proclaim to know it all or even most of how to be heard when you contact a gallery, but I will share with you how I like to be approached.
First, allow me to share an email I received today from a professional artist that has been selling his work for many years and does beautiful watercolors. It reads as follows:
I am interested in showing my work.
Please look at my web site and let me know if interested.
I am from Anytown and now live in Xxxxville, USA
(the names have been changed obviously)
Thank you for looking.
Sincerely, Robert xxxxxYxxx
(his last name was actually misspelled - really?)
I cannot believe that a professor teaching at a college could/would have written such a poor email - particularly misspelling his last name in his closing. Much to his advantage, I happen to have done business with him a hundred years ago when I opened my first gallery. His watercolors are as beautiful as one can imagine. Unfortunately for him, when I responded to his email and spoke to him on the phone, he didn't have any original work to show me because of a show next month elsewhere. Why on earth did you contact me to seek representation if you don't have anything to show me? Ugggh!!!
This is just one example of the letters I receive on a daily basis from artists seeking representation. Fortunately for every artist, I do take the time to look at their web site or images they send me. If I have interest in the work, I will reach back out to them and give them a helping hand for their next approach to a gallery if I'm not interested.
After that example of what not to do, you'd probably like to hear what DOES get my attention when approached. Most important to me, although not expected, is that the potentially represented artist would have taken a little time to review my site enough to find out what my name is. Look me up on the Internet, see artists that I represent and speak with them to find out a little about me, whether I pay well, represent in a fashion that generates sales, do I put effort into selling, etc. What influenced your decision to contact me?
It's not a requirement, but it shows me that the artist is someone that I'd see myself having a good working relationship with.
Another quality I admire is when the artist has a web site or images of available work. It really bothers me when an artist approaches me for representation via email and does not have current work to show me. I'm not interested in seeing artwork that was done 6 years ago. I'd like to see what this year's work looks like. All too often I hear things like oh, I haven't painted for 18 years now because I was busy raising a family - or it costs so much to update my site - or it takes so long for my web guy to update it, etc. I'd rather not hear excuses as to why you've taken the time to ask for representation but are not prepared.
Are you able to make a presentation? Don't be afraid! If you're an artist you probably travel in circles with other artists. Ask them for some tips about how they got representation. Here's a novel idea - call a gallery or walk into one* and be up front. Make sure you didn't catch them at a bad time and if they would mind helping find out how they like being approached. You might get tossed out, but then again a professional gallerist would most likely give you some help or direction. If not, they might not be the right gallery to represent you.
*Make an appointment, don't just walk in. In my opinion, it is rude for someone to walk into my gallery and assume I have the time to spend looking at your artwork or photographs of it. There were probably 5 others that came in the same day wanting me to see their art, too. There is not enough time in my day to do so.
When you've finally gotten the nerve to show your work to a potential gallery owner/director here is a simple checklist that may help you. These are not in any particular order but are some tips to consider:
1) Look at the gallery's web site. See if your work is a match to the other art they sell. If not, you'll be spinning your wheels, as well as taking valuable time from the gallery.
2) Do your homework. Research the gallery you plan to approach. Address the person by name. It shows me that you've taken some time and given some thought as to why you are coming specifically to my gallery.
3) Once you've gotten an appointment, ask what it is they'd like to see, how many works, and what to include or leave out. You don't want to bring in things irrelevant and possibly lose an opportunity.
4) Make sure to have a short bio as well as the long version. Initially, I don't like to read six pages of how you began creating art at the age of two through earning your degree in fine art years unless I ask.
5) Relax - think of the process as you would when applying for a job. You are applying for a job! Hopefully, you won't get bitten.
6) Speak as if applying for a job...don't be afraid to ask questions about the gallery, its owners and how they operate. Also, how long they've been in business, and where they plan to be in the next five years. You should be able to answer the same questions about
7) Be confident. Know your pricing, and if you don't, ask for help. A good gallery owner should be able to assist.
8) Look up books by Jack White. He has a series that I feel is extremely helpful to every artist out there, seasoned or not. You'll learn more from Jack's writing about being an artist from his personal experiences than you could ever imagine. The stories about his personal experiences are heartwarming and informative, some even essential for you to know. I highly recommend the series! I don't receive commission from Jack for suggesting his books, but I can share that I've learned a great deal about selling art after being in the business for more than 30 years. If you don't learn at least one thing from his books, I'll eat your socks after you've had a long hot run in them.
9) After you've had the opportunity to make your presentation and especially if you did not "get the job", ask what it is that would have made the difference so you'll know for the next presentation you'll be making. Listen with open ears and don't become defensive or argumentative.
10) Seek help from an art advisor - someone that can give you and your career direction. It's worth the investment if you don't have experience dealing with galleries.
11) Make sure that you include in your signature line in any contact your name, address, phone number, email, and web address. Sounds like a no brainer but you wouldn't believe how many times it's not included.
I, myself, offer a service to artists seeking help in the area of how to find representation, pricing of your work, and offering suggestions based on your individual needs and my decades of being in the business and having dealt with hundreds of artists.
There is much more than I can write on this topic but not enough time or space. I hope I've given you some tips and pointers to think about. If you are just starting out and need advice, you can contact me for a free consult by phone.
Best wishes, and call me if you need help.
Bucks County Gallery of Fine Art