Getting your work in a gallery is important step to success and should be considered a necessity by any serious artist, whether you are a traditional painter, paint on a computer in Photoshop or Corel Painter or prefer landscape photography as your form of art. The idea behind getting your work in a gallery is to tap into any potential market for your work. It also allows you to let develop relationships with the gallery owners so they can become familiar with you and with your work.
Where the artist becomes unsure and unsettled is the thought of making that first approach or getting rejected. If you have made some half-hearted attempts you may remember spending the morning getting ready driving to a gallery or two and finding our the gallery owner is not in or on vacation or just does not seem interested in even talking. I have known some people that with the first setback, they give up and do not keep on trying. One individual I knew spent months getting his portfolio ready, but only contacted a few galleries then gave up the notion completely and never looked back. He now drives trucks for a living with no thought of ever pursuing the original dream he had. Not that driving trucks is bad but the point is he gave us after barely starting. Not keep trying is the worse thing you can do and giving up after the first , second and even 10th (yes that is realistic) is a recipe for failure.
Before I go on you must take a little test while being honest with yourself, are you the type of artist that dreams of being able to live a stress free simple life and make a living creating your art? Well if so, then that is a worthy cause and don’t let anyone tell you that you CAN’T.
The second question is are you the type of artist that is trying to live that lifestyle right now but also trying to get discovered. Here is the honest truth: You probably have a better chance of inheriting a vast fortunate from a distant relative after spending the night in a haunted house than this happening. There are a few exceptions but those artists who are still alive and living the life of a successful artist had to work hard. Working hard entails investing your own money, lots of time, lots of networking and yes, lots and lots of shows. Essentially they spent as much time, if not more making an “art” out of marketing themselves versus actually engaged in their art. It became a full time job for them, some having to work another job just to make ends meet of if they were a photographers it might have meant alternating your weekends between photographing weddings and traveling around and entering shows.
With galleries it will be a numbers game. The more you approach, the greater the chance one will bite and choose to showcase your work. For you, this means being part salesman/saleswoman and part presumptuous, all in a respectful sort of way. In other words, approach them in person with a very confident professional demeanor. The last thing you want to do is assume your work will speak for itself. It won’t. Most gallery owners are going to make up their mind before they even see you work. If they make up their mind to see your work, only then your work has an opportunity to do some talking. Just remember the gallery owner is usually small business owners who are solicited every day by people trying to sell everything from copy machines to Internet service. To add to this, they are approached constantly by artists such as you. In most cases they will be a little more open to artists since after all art is their business but I have found many of them will assert a certain amount of self righteous cynicism when approached. This should not bother you it you perceive this. Simply accept this as part of their demeanor until they have had an opportunity to warm up to you.
Now this nasty stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about the technique. You want to make a list of the galleries in your area. This may mean searching the phone book or performing a local Internet search. The Internet yellow pages are ideal since you can usually print out a map and plot out directions.
You should dress professionally. Business like is good but if you are a starving artist then do the best you can. Just don’t wear cut offs and a t-shirt.
After that, load up your best work in the car. Have some originals, prints, and several copies of CDs with images. Any digital images should be well photographed or scanned. (see my article about photographing artwork). Mainly have your pictures in as many formats as possible since not all galleries will be the same as to what they prefer to see. I am not big on slides but you might want to have some made anyway. There are still those gallery owners that prefer slides.
Finally, start hitting the streets. When you walk in, ask for the gallery owner. Be upfront and introduce yourself as an artist to the person you first meet, even if they don’t appear to be the gallery owner. To help offset the feeling the gallery owner might have that here is just another artist trying to get their work in the gallery, ask them if you could schedule an appointment to show your work. If they say yes, then great! Work out the details right then and there and leave them a business card with your contact information and your web site (if as an artist you don’t have a web site then don’t you better get one if you want to be taken seriously anymore). If they are unsure or say no, ask them if you can still schedule an appointment to get their opinion on your work at least. They might be more likely to allow for an appointment and be more receptive since they will not feel pressured. If you still get a definite “no” Thank them, leave them your contact information (a business card with your web site link is good) and hit the next gallery.
You may find after the 10th definite “no” that it is pointless and give up. If you do then you won’t get seen in galleries. I do not have any stats to share but I am sure many successful artists had more than 10 deny them before getting one to say yes.
And do all this as often as possible until all your art is hanging in galleries or are sold and you are just trying to keep up with the demand.