Meeting people and building relationships is the most important thing you can do for your art career, especially when your goal is to be a full-time artist. Networking for artists means you must be social in the real world as well as online.
There is no way around it. You must. Be. Seen.
It sounds simple, but I know this is not easy for many artists.
Listen to This on The Art Biz
You know you need to get out and mingle when:
- You find yourself sitting behind your computer all day and researching, yet again, the latest magical way to promote your art online.
- You realize you've been attending only your own openings and shows.
- You haven't met anyone new in more than 2 months.
- Your sales and/or opportunities are stagnant.
- You've been living in the same place for years without knowing your neighbors. (You never know where opportunities will come from.)
Why Networking Is Important for All Artists
A quick aside … This is why all of my coaching, consulting, and teaching emphasizes relationships and why I am teaching The People Plan: A Success Workshop to Establish Conscious Connections. Learn more about it.
There are simply too many artists these days to afford you the luxury of waiting for opportunities to enter your inbox. You must be proactive.
Everyone you run into is a potential buyer, collector, friend, or fan.
Think about that for a minute. You never know where opportunities will come from.
I’ve met many serious collectors throughout my life, and a description of some of them would shock the heck out of you. You’d never pick them out of a lineup.
You. Never. Know.
Who can’t use more buyers, collectors, friends, and fans? And … If, as it’s estimated, everyone you meet knows 150 people, imagine the possibilities.
Where Artists Network
In short: Everywhere!
You should think of striking up conversations wherever you are and whoever is in front of you. (Yeah, I’m one of those people on the plane. But I can also read people to see if they want to chat.)
Become involved with an artist organization if it’s the right group for you. If you are serious about selling your art, don’t waste your time in a group of hobbyists. You’ll quickly get frustrated in groups where you’re always a step ahead of everyone else.
Artist organizations can be your introduction to new opportunities that you might not otherwise hear about. In the right environment of professional artists, you will step up to challenges that you might not have confronted on your own.
It’s also worth your while to attend artist lectures at museums and galleries. In those venues, you have an opportunity to meet curators and collectors, as well as other artists—soaking in tips on how they present themselves.
It’s always beneficial to connect with other artists for the same reasons you’d join on organization of artists.
Outside of your art community, do yourself a favor and connect with other entrepreneurs. I’ll bet you know plenty of entrepreneurs, though you might not have thought of them as valuable connections.
The E word (entrepreneur) might not feel like it applies to you, but it does. Anyone who owns his or her own business (you) is an entrepreneur and probably has a few experiences you can learn from.
Think coaches, hair stylists, authors, virtual assistants, therapists, coffee shop owners, and retailers. Every one of them has to find business.
You’ll run into entrepreneurs at small business meet-ups, chambers of commerce, formal networking groups, and co-working spaces. earch “networking group” + your location to find one nearby.
Need more ideas? Grab my special free report, 31 People Who Can Help Sell Your Art.
Navigating Relationships in Any Art World
It is well to remember that there are many different art worlds. There is the one that Jerry Saltz calls the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of artists who are the most talked about and represented in galleries, museums, and auction house sales.
Artists: Although it’s true that maybe 1-percent of 1-percent of 1-percent of artists make tons of money from their art, many artists make just enough, somehow, to work everyday, not have soul-killing jobs, and manage to have amazing lives lived in art. I want this for you.— Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz) March 12, 2023
For clarity in this discussion, I’m referring to this as The Elite Art World.
Then there are all of the other art worlds made up by the vast majority of artists: your local community, your niche, your medium, your subject matter, and so forth.
Most of the art worlds exist in their own bubble—revealed only when we turn our attention in their direction.
You have to decide who you want to have these relationships with. Who are your top prospects for professional relationships? Are they in or outside of your bubble? Who matters to you?
Part of being successful in any field, let alone having a successful art business, is learning to navigate relationships. Getting comfortable with introducing yourself as an artist is only the first step. You have to understand how people work, play, and converse together.
You discover the subtleties around art business relationships by inserting yourself (in a meaningful way) into them. By being present.
You learn to speak the language of whoever it is that matters to you and your goals.
[ Navigating Relationships is a key lesson inside of my Create Opportunities program. ]
Why IRL Networking for Artists is Critical
Because your art must be seen in person in order to be appropriately appreciated, eventually you’re going to have to be there next to your art—speaking on its behalf.
Contrary to popular belief, your art does not speak for itself.
Curators expect you to speak articulately about the work in a way that gives them reason to show and acquire your art.
They also expect you to meet their donors and collectors in the community and to represent yourself well in the process. This requires practice. Start practicing now.
You might be saying, I don’t care about museums. Fine. Substitute “gallerists” for museum curators in the scenario. They expect the same thing.
When galleries represent you, they expect you to show up at their shows. Not just your shows, but those of their other artists as well. You are expected to support their programming.
The secret door into every gallery is the other artists who already show in the gallery.
—Gallerist Jeremy Tessmer (The Art Biz episode 123)
This is why it's so important to be connected with other artists.
Gallerists, curators, collectors, and the nice people who hand out grants and residencies like to see that you are invested in your local community.
Impress them all by showing up and being seen.
If You Don't Give a Rat's Patootie About The Elite Art World
Maybe none of this is landing for you.
Maybe you are happily ensconced in a bubble of your own making.
Or you're perfectly happy doing the local community shows and/or participating in social media.
But I don’t want to be in galleries or to see my legacy in a museum. I want to be a self-represented artist. Fantastic! I love that! Working with self-represented artists is one of my joys. Self-represented artists are bold and creative with their businesses as well as their art.
And, yet …
Who is going to buy your art? Who is going to show it? Who is going to attend your openings? I hope you're not waiting for them to materialize from the ethers.
Even if you don’t give a rat’s patootie about the elite art world, you need to care about reaching out and establishing strong relationships.
Networking for Artists the Authentic Way
Let’s be clear: When I talk about networking, I’m not intimating that you change your personality or adopt any kind of fake sucking up to people. I want you to be genuine in everything you do.
It should be comfortable at every level if, indeed, you care about the people you want to show, talk about, and own your art.
Again, I’m talking only about getting out and meeting people. I’m talking about being seen.
You can have a modestly successful art business by sitting behind your computer and trying to hack the latest social media algorithm and sales websites, but you will never reach the highest levels of the art world, regardless of which art world you care about, by doing this alone.
Here’s how you can reach out and start meeting more people:
- Attend your art openings alone—without someone to cling to. Or at least promise one another to break out and meet up again later to compare notes.
- Introduce yourself to strangers at your opening. This is the absolute easiest time to meet people because, technically, you’re a host at your opening. You have every reason to welcome people and talk with them.
- Invite your neighbors to dinner so you can get to know one another.
- Send an email invitation for coffee to a local artist you’d like to get to know. Your treat, of course.
Being social extends beyond the art worlds into all corners of your life.
I Know This Isn't Easy
As I said previously, you never know where a relationship might lead. You just never know.
If it’s true that everyone knows about 150 people, think of how you can dramatically expand your reach and influence just by meeting one new person every month.
That’s my invitation to you: Set a goal of meeting one new person every month.
Maintaining friendships with the 150 people you know and then frequently adding to that list can exponentially increase your sales prospects. You will be surprised at the support you receive and the opportunities you create just by being more social and introducing yourself as an artist.
Before I go, I acknowledge that this isn’t going to be easy for you. I know how nice it is to stay in the cocoon of your studio.
But you can do it. You can learn to be a more effective networker because it contributes to your long-term goals. And because nothing worth doing is ever easy.
This post was originally published on August 11, 2016 and was first updated on August 15, 2019. It has been updated again with a podcast episode added and the original comments intact.