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 April 2007 The Gallery Scene

Last month we explored some suggestions on how an artist can lay the groundwork for entry into the professional art market. Assuming that you have tested your paintings against your peers by entering some local, regional and national juried exhibitions, and have received some awards and recognition, you may be ready to seek representation in a gallery.

You have to bear in mind that you are competing with thousands of aspiring artists seeking representation in a limited number of galleries. Furthermore, there are few, if any, galleries that are seeking artists. Most galleries that you approach will already have an established stable of artists, and galleries are in the business of making a profit. Wall space costs money, and often galleries view art the way a logger sees “board feet” when he views a forest. And, alas, those days of galleries pulling artists off the streets and making them stars ended in the late 70’s, along with the Texas oil boom.

My intention here is not to discourage you, but to point out that it is important for an aspiring professional artist to be a realist as well as a romantic. In all actuality, each year there are dozens of artists that not only get a foothold, but also establish themselves as players in the art market.

Here are a few things that might help to “grease the wheels” when you go out looking for gallery representation. First and foremost, you must have a good product, tried and tested against your peers. Inclusion in national juried exhibitions with a few awards will greatly add to your credibility when you approach a gallery. Also, signature memberships in major art organizations shows recognition and acceptance by your peers (I am a signature member of the Oil Painters of America, the Pastel Society of America, The National Watercolor Society and a few others – and it hasn’t hurt).

If you consider yourself a professional, then it’s important to present yourself that way. Print some quality business cards, and, if you can, put up a class website with a gallery of your paintings, a brief biography and your “credibility” list (awards, exhibitions, memberships etc.). This tells the universe, and yourself, “I’m a player”. Galleries really do appreciate and understand “professionalism”. If you plan to play the “bohemian artist”, wait until after you’re rich and famous.

 Study the market and pick a gallery where you think your work will fit. For instance, if you are a domestic landscape painter, you may not want to waste your time approaching a gallery that features only European painters and cityscapes. Also, there are galleries that have national reputations and feature only big name artists. Leave them alone. When you’re ready, they’ll come after you.

After you have identified your target gallery, do not go waltzing in unannounced with four paintings under each arm. Gallery owners hate that! Also, if it’s a seasonal gallery (winter/skiing – summer/tourist etc.), make your introduction in the “off” season. Most galleries are busy and will not talk to or add artists during the “high” season. Speak to the director, introduce yourself, hand them a business card and make an appointment for a return presentation. This allows them to schedule you for a more convenient time, when they can devote more attention to your work. Find out exactly what they need: a portfolio, a CD of paintings or original pieces (and how many).

When you return for your appointment, dress nice and look like you are already winning. Bring only what was asked for, but include a brief biography and your credibility list. Be cordial and recognize when the interview has concluded. Galleries get dozens of solicitations each year, and, once again, they really appreciate professionalism. Sometimes that can be the icing on the cake.

I hope this is not the case; however, if you have some early rejections, don’t get discouraged. It has happened to all of us, and it’s not a personal invalidation. The art world is no place for thin-skinned artists. Find out from the gallery director what the objections were, and what suggestions they might have to improve your chances in the future. Take that advice to the bank. All of these experiences will aid you on your road to success.

Next month we will discuss mental attitudes, affirmations and pure intent.


                                 Evolution of a Studio Painting


On-location study (watercolor), painted along the California coast in February.

Studio study (watercolor): planning design, placement and color scheme.

Click on any painting for a larger view.

Finished painting (18x24 oil)