Some time ago, I wrote a series of articles sharing how to find a gallery for your art and how to present your artwork to a gallery. One thing I haven’t addressed, however, is what to do if you’re rejected by the gallery you approach.
And that’s important. Because the sad truth is that more galleries are likely to turn you down than will accept you.
If you’re selective and persistent in approaching galleries, and your art is at a professional level, you will find gallery representation. You may even be among the small number that doesn’t have to look very long.
But what if you’re not one of the “lucky” few? How should you handle the rejections? Here are some tips I’ve picked up in my career:
1. Don’t assume that the rejection is personal
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that having a gallery refuse your work is not necessarily a reflection on you or your artwork.
Maybe your work is simply not what the gallery is looking for or is not something they have found their clientele to prefer.
Or, perhaps your timing is off. Maybe they just took on a new artist working in the same medium with similar subjects and/or in a similar style. In that case, you’re just too late.
That—or any number of similar reasons—may be the deciding factor. It’s beyond your control, and is no reflection whatsoever you as an artist or on your work.
So never assume that the rejection is personal. That’s simply counterproductive, and could torpedo your chances of finding success somewhere else.
2. Thank the gallery rep for speaking with you
No matter when in the process they tell you “no,” it’s always a good idea to thank them. Realize that if the gallery is busy (and remember, you want to be represented by a busy gallery) gallery personnel have to make every minute count. The time they took to see you is time taken away from something else. Be polite and respectful of that time.
3. Ask for recommendations of other galleries
As a former gallery director, I always made an effort to direct artists to other potential openings if their work didn’t fit into the gallery’s current works or marketing plan. If a gallery representative is doing their job well and knows the market, chances are good they will be in touch with other galleries.
These are great leads, so don’t discount them. You never know where an open door will appear or which lead might turn out to be the good one.
4. If you’re bold enough, ask for suggestions
For example, ask them if you brought too many or too few pieces. Or if your presentation materials were unprofessional. Because, after all, you’d want to change before your next presentation, right?
Most gallery personnel will not volunteer that information. A generic comment such as “Your work doesn’t fit our market” might mean your work doesn’t fit their market, but it might also be a polite response if your work was poorly presented or for some other similar reason.
I know I would never have volunteered such information when I was working as a gallery director.
But if an artist asked for pointers and was sincere and open, I’ d be more willing to help them improve their next presentation.
Granted, you’ll need an open mind and a thick skin. That’s why boldness is needed. But this can become the most valuable part of meeting with a gallery owner or reprentative if you conduct yourself with courtesy and display a willingness to learn.
5. Ask for a business card
This serves two purposes. First, business cards give you a record of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen. A few notes jotted on the back can help you avoid contacting the same people twice and wasting your time and theirs.
If recordkeeping isn’t your strong suit (I know it isn’t my favorite thing) this gives you an easy way to track your search for the right gallery.
Second, it shows the gallery personnel that you’re interested in further interaction – and that’s a good thing. If they find themselves in need of an artist of your skill and with your work, they may very well want to meet with you again. If you took their business card, they’ll know you’re open to doing business next time.
It goes without saying, be prepared to leave your business card, too. If they decide at some point in the future that another meeting is advantageous, make sure they can contact you.
6. Take time to send a thank you note
It doesn’t need to be a long, flowing letter, and probably shouldn’t be. A nice thank you note with a handwritten line or two can mean the difference between being remembered and being forgotten.
And it’s always a good way to conclude the interview on a positive note, no matter what their final decision was.
Who knows? Maybe they turned you down but in reality they were on the fence. That positive gesture of a thank you note (in spite of rejection) could tip the scales in your favor!
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