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!