Every time I ask a gallery owner how they found the new artist they are so excited about, they describe a process of discovery:
Notice the language here. Galleries like to discover artists. They want to find you, instead of being bombarded by your emails. Even galleries reviewing portfolio submissions tend to respond to artists whose work they have already seen or heard about. Your job is to be visible, to get on the radar of galleries that interest you.
First, do your research, both online and on foot. Identify a short list of galleries that could be right for you. Start local! Pay attention to galleries in your own city or region. This will make your process logistically easier, and you will build your confidence and skills as you go.
As you review galleries, notice that most of them have a focus. They may show only abstract art, or documentary photography, or works on paper, or minimalist work. This is called their “program” or “aesthetic.” By looking quickly at each artist represented, you’ll see what they have in common. Would your own work fit into the overall look and feel of the gallery?
Pay attention to how each gallery talks about their artists. They may say they represent “emerging artists” or “mid-career artists,” but you need to know what that means. Review each artist and check to see where they are in their careers. Sometimes a gallery’s “emerging” artists have long and impressive resumes.
When you have identified 6-8 galleries that interest you, let everyone in your network know who is on your short list and why. Ask them for other suggestions. Ask them for introductions. Be open to new ideas. If well-known galleries are outside your reach right now, consider new galleries or artist-run spaces.
Then begin the process of becoming visible to the galleries on your list.
During your visits to a gallery, always be prepared for the unexpected. Although you’re not there to promote yourself, sometimes you strike up a conversation with gallery staff. Make a connection if you can. If they seem receptive, ask about how they find new artists.
After you have done your research, and visited your top galleries, see if you can find someone in your network who is willing to introduce you. The best person is an artist friend who is already showing there. Choose someone who is at a point in their career when they are willing to be generous to other artists.
Finding a gallery is a slow, incremental process. It requires you to operate in two opposite ways simultaneously. You are planful and systematic, doing careful research, while also staying open to the random nature of the art universe. You reach out to others, asking for advice, referrals, introductions.
Most important, make yourself visible. Put your name, and your face, and your art out there in the world.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
I am a Career & Life Coach for Artists. Visit www.coachingforartists.com to find out more or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to send a comment or ask a question.
*Please note: I recently published a longer version of this article in the March Newsletter for www.callforentries.com. This is a well-curated site which lists open calls for artists and photographers. Take a look, you can join for free!
When artists are asked to write about their work, they often resist, thinking that it isn’t important or that someone else could do it for them.
The purpose of good art writing is to illuminate your work. After you’re famous the critics will take over the task, but right now it’s up to you. You can ask for help polishing the writing later, but the first words must come from you.
A good statement is powerful and personal and takes real effort to do well. It is worth your time now because it forms the foundation of other documents you’ll need as your career progresses. Here’s a short list:
So start with your statement.
Write in your own voice. Use “I” and “me” and “my.” Your statement should sound like you on a good day, when you are rested and clear. Artists sometimes think that a statement needs to be full of big words--that it has to sound fancy to be good. The opposite is true. Clear, simple language is always best.
Here are 7 questions to help you think about what you want to say. You can use them to prepare a new statement or revise the one you have.
The first three questions overlap, as they suggest different ways for you to think about what your art is all about. This is often the hardest part to write, so if you get stuck just go on to other questions and come back later.
Questions 4 & 5 ask you to get specific about your process and materials. The best statements are grounded in the details of your work. When you’re trying to write about your art, don’t stare out the window! Look at your work and at the materials you use to make it.
Here are a few examples of artists being specific:
"When I paint bits of light on leaves, the paint itself becomes those flickers of light moving through the field." (Janet Jacobs)
"For example, I call this series “Escaping the Noise” because the city is seen from far away in my compositions..." (Patricia Oji)
"My sculptures incorporate unusual materials, like assorted ribbons, pipe cleaners, and tinsel..." (Erika Roth)
Question 6 is optional. It asks you to think about artists who have inspired you. Choose two or three and describe how their work influences your own. Be specific. You might mention their color palette, or subject matter, or technique.
Question 7 lets you include anything else you want people to know. Just be sure to keep the focus on your art.
Your statement will probably go through several rough drafts as you struggle to tell the truth about your art. The first draft might be full of repetition and awkward language. I call this "the ugly draft." Don’t worry, you will get there. The final version should be no more than a page, and ideally shorter than that.
As your art develops, you’ll revise the statement. When you create a new series you might add a paragraph or two. Your statement is a living thing, and grows with you.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
Career & Life Coach for Artists
To receive Free Tips for Artists (twice a month), visit www.coachingforartists.com and click on “Mailing List Sign-Up.” If you would like to schedule a time to talk, write to Mary at: email@example.com.
How do you know you’re stuck? You diet for a week and the number on your bathroom scale doesn’t change. Or the same items appear each Monday on your to-do list. Sound familiar?
When you feel stuck, you start to think that nothing you do matters, so you stop doing it, and then you really are stuck.
My favorite advice on getting unstuck is from the author Jack Canfield, who offers a useful formula:
“Do more of what is working, do less of what isn’t, and try on new behaviors to see if they produce better results.”
Canfield’s advice assumes that the only thing you control is your own behavior—what you do, or don’t do, every day. For artists who are struggling to make their way in the confusing art world, it’s a strategy worth trying.
Start by identifying what’s working in your art practice, and then do more of it. Maybe you love being in your studio, or taking art classes, or visiting other artists. So try doubling the amount of time you spend doing these activities. The best part of the exercise is that you have to think about what is working in your art practice, and that alone can make you feel less stuck.
Then think about what’s NOT working. Most of the artists I know come up with this list easily! But instead of complaining, slowly begin to do less of the things that aren’t working for you. Maybe you’ve been volunteering as a docent at a museum, and you get little out of it. So you cut back on your hours. Making small changes, wherever you can, puts you in motion and gives you control over your life.
The last part of Canfield’s advice is to try on new behaviors to see if you get better results. Even though artists are the most imaginative people I know, they sometimes have difficulty bringing an experimental spirit to their art career.
New behaviors are often tiny, and work only gradually. If you have a to-do list that never gets done, try breaking down your first item into smaller and smaller bits. Eventually you reach an action that is so small it is laughable, and easily done, so you do it. And then you do the next one, because you have broken the logjam. For most of us, it is easier to keep going than to begin. Set yourself in motion.
The best new behaviors get you out of your head and into the world, so that you are engaged with others. Make an appointment with someone, perhaps to ask for advice about museums you’re interested in. The best kind of appointment is one where you need to prepare ahead of time, so that you’re forced to complete a task you’ve been avoiding. In this example you’ll need to make a list of museums, and visit their websites, so you have your questions ready. Just making the appointment gets you started.
The opposite of being stuck is to be in motion. Motion can be physical (making that phone call) or mental (thinking about what’s working in your art practice) or emotional (feeling that new behaviors could make a difference).
So, ask yourself:
Mary Edwards, Ph.D.
Career & Life Coach for Artists
I’m a Career and Life Coach for Artists, based in the San Francisco Bay Area and working with artists across the United States and internationally. If you’d like to ask a question or set up a time to talk, please write to me at: