How do you become visible in the art world? Early in your career this is your most important task. You want to find opportunities that will help your art become familiar to the people who might buy it or show it in their gallery or write about it in a magazine.
Here’s a handout describing four levels of exhibition opportunities available to artists, shown as a staircase.
Stages of an Art Career (52 KB)
You can use it to figure out where you are right now in your art career, and where you want to go.
Today we’re talking about Level Two, which I call “building a resume.” This is how you establish yourself as an artist whose name and work people begin to recognize. Your record of accomplishment helps you move on to the next level, as you gradually build a career as an artist.
When you’re ready, start by entering juried shows at nonprofit art institutions. These are art centers, community centers, and small museums who offer group shows for artists. These venues have given a career boost to many artists who have gone on to gain national recognition. If you look at the resume of a well-known artist, you will often find that their first exhibitions were in nonprofit art venues.
Start local! Consider the art opportunities in your own town or region first. The best ones are juried, often by a gallery owner or curator. Sometimes you’ll be asked to bring your art in person to be juried, but that is unusual. Most likely you’ll need to enter your work through an online portal, where you upload your images. If you are new to such a process, don’t wait until the last minute to enter. Allow time to learn. If you are “digitally challenged” ask for help from the sponsors of the show or from a friend or family member.
Choose exhibitions specific to your medium, whenever you can. If you’re a photographer, look for photography shows. If you’re a sculptor, look for exhibitions featuring 3D work. You might also consider themed exhibitions, like a landscape show. By focusing in this way, you’ll improve your chances of getting in and you’ll be included in a group of your peers. Avoid entering exhibitions open to “all media, all artists 18 years old and over.” This language suggests that the sponsors of the show are primarily interested in collecting fees from a large number of artists.
After you have gotten into a number of local shows, start to consider regional and national juried exhibitions. These will be competitive because they attract a large number of artists, but they add weight to your resume. Consult state-wide listings. West Coast artists can find opportunities listed on the California Arts Council website (www.cac.ca.gov). East Coast artists should visit the New York Foundation for the Arts (www.nyfa.org). Your own state may have a similar arts council that serves as a clearinghouse for art opportunities. For a listing of national and international exhibitions, visit www.CallForEntries.com. This is an excellent curated site, where the opportunities are divided into separate listings for artists and photographers.
At the beginning of your career, enter as many of these juried shows as you can afford. If you are able to enter several a month, you increase your chances of being accepted. Some nonprofit venues also have membership programs for local artists, where you join for a small fee and become eligible for “member shows.”
If you’re interested in finding your first solo show, consider libraries, hospitals, and bookstores with art programs. These spaces offer a quieter and more serious venue than the cafes and restaurants in Level One. If your local library or bookstore doesn’t yet offer shows for artists, talk to them about the possibility.
You might also take a look at your county fair. Some of them include juried shows of local artists, and award prizes and ribbons just as they do for other categories. County fairs attract a large and diverse public for your art. If you are considering a county fair but are not sure about the quality of the art, go to the fair and check it out, and then apply next year.
What about juried shows offered by galleries? Since they represent a higher level of opportunity and exposure, I’ve included them in Level Three, where your goal is “Getting on the Radar.” I’ll talk about those opportunities in my next blog post.
All the best,
Mary Edwards is a Career & Life Coach for artists and other creative people. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area but work with artists throughout the U. S. and all over the world.