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Speaking as both an artist and a former gallery director, the single most important advice I can offer is to treat contacts with galleries just like you would treat an interview with a corporation for whom you really want to work. And I mean really want to work for. It’s not just another job, it’s THE job for you.
You need to:
• Act professional
• Look professional
• Make a professional presentation
Let’s break those down.
How to act like a professional artist
This should begin the moment you select a gallery. Every communication you have with the prospective gallery should be handled with courtesy, politeness, and attention to detail.
Some people advocate drop-in presentations and there are a few good arguments for that. But if the gallery is a busy one, the drop-in policy is probably not going to earn you points. The staff will be busy with day-to-day business, waiting on customers, answering questions, and generally doing what the staff of a successful gallery does.
So don’t be surprised if you drop in some time to show your work and are asked to make an appointment. After all, a gallery that can look at your work right away may only have the time for drop-ins because they aren’t very busy selling art.
When you call to make an appointment, you can also get answers to questions that will you make you look like you know what you are doing from the start. So in my opinion, call, set up an appointment, and get ready to “wow!” them with your presentation.
If you’re like me, when you think of an interview, you think of a business suit, spit-polished shoes, and an immaculate appearance.
That might not be quite as necessary for a gallery interview as for a professional interview, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing up looking like a professional. Artists do have a bit more leniency in this regard than the average accountant, lawyer, or other business professional, but you should still think of yourself as a professional and you should dress and behave in a manner that reflects that attitude.
Like it or not, first impressions are formed in a matter of seconds and are solely based on appearance and posture. If you show up at the gallery of your choice wearing cut-offs and flip flops and looking like you don’t care, you may have just torpedoed your chances with that gallery.
(Unless, of course, the gallery is on a beach somewhere and caters to surfers and beachcombers.)
Having said that, I will offer this caveat. If you’ve done your homework, you will have already seen what people are wearing to the gallery—staff and visitors alike. Use your best judgment and dress accordingly.
Present like your career depends on it
The artwork you present (and how you present it) will typically be determined by what the gallery asked to see.
Original artwork should be framed in good quality frames (dusted, too) and neatly fitted with the appropriate hanging devices. No sawtooth hangers!
If you’re doing your own framing, it isn’t necessary to cover the backs of works on canvas with paper, but if you do, it presents a much nicer package to all who take the time to look and makes a wonderful place to put your contact information or details about the painting.
You should also present original work in a fashion that indicates you respect it. Don’t stack paintings one on top of another or otherwise handle your work carelessly (I know I’ve done it, so I’m guessing you have too!)
And some form of professional organization for originals is a good idea. Even a large portfolio holding one or two pieces is a step in the right direction.
If you’re showing reproductions, photographs, or other printed material, keep it simple, neat and clean, not too big or too small. Check online for printing companies that do this sort of work and you will be amazed at what you find. Make sure to include enough samples to present a range of subjects and, if applicable, mediums.
Plus, don’t forget all the usual items like your resume (art-related of course), biography, and any other material the gallery has requested.
And here’s one final tip—talk it up!
Be prepared to talk about your work. What inspires you? Why do you choose the subjects you choose? Why do you use the medium you use?
You should also be prepared to answer questions about specific pieces. If there is a special motivation behind the artwork, you should be able to explain it.
The “story” behind a piece can transform it from a nice piece into a piece of art with an additional connection—and viewers who develop a connection with a painting, drawing or sculpture become buyers. I’ve seen it happen.
In the end, once you’ve done your homework and put together the best presentation of yourself and your work possible, all you can do is allow the gallery to make their decision. Some will be able to give you an immediate answer. And if they accept your work, they may want to keep some of what you have presented so be prepared for that possibility.
If they ask for time to make their decision, allow it. If they say no, accept it with grace. Be professional to the end. No matter what they decide, you can walk away knowing that you’ve done your best!
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