August 15, 2019 | Alyson Stanfield

Being Seen: The Social Part of the Artist’s Life

Meeting people and building relationships is the most important thing you can do for your art career. This means you have to get out of the studio and socialize.

Painting by Virginie Lhomme Fontaine
©Virginie Lhomme Fontaine, Itinéraire d'une vie. Mixed media, 38 x 51 inches. Used with permission.

You must, gasp, be social in the real world as well as online. 

This goes against the natural tendency of so many artists who would prefer to be alone with their art supplies. But it’s absolutely necessary when you want to attain a high level of success.

If you desire more sales and more recognition for your art, you must make it a priority to meet more people.

You need to get out and mingle if you find yourself …

  • Sitting behind your computer all day and researching the latest magical way to promote your art online.
  • Attending only your own openings.
  • Living in the same place for years without knowing your neighbors.

Navigating Relationships in the Art World

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.

Painting by Anne Hempel
©Anne Hempel, Queen of Spring. Acrylic on wood paneling, 48 x 24 inches. Used with permission.

Contrary to popular belief, your art does not speak for itself.

Museum curators never let you get away with that excuse. They 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.

Also, gallerists, curators, collectors, and the nice people who hand out grants and residencies like to see that you are invested in your local community.

Part of being successful in any field is learning to navigate relationships. Meeting people is only the first step. You have to understand how people work, play, and converse together.

You have to learn to speak the language.

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 my favorite. 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.

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Building Genuine Relationships

I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not talking about changing your personality or any kind of fake sucking up to people. I want you to be genuine in everything you do.

Totem by Deborah Putnoi
©Deborah Putnoi, Totem 3. Mixed media on wood, 72 x 14 x 14 x14 inches. Used with permission.

I’m talking only about getting out and meeting people. I’m talking about being seen.

You can attain a modicum of success by sitting behind your computer and trying to hack the latest sales websites, but you will never reach the highest levels of the art world doing this alone.

Here’s how you can reach out and start meeting more people:

  • Attend your friends’ art openings.
  • Introduce yourself to strangers at your opening.
  • Invite your neighbors to dinner so you can get to know one another.

Notice that being social extends beyond the art world into all corners of your life.

You never know where a relationship might lead, especially given the fact that everyone knows about 150 people.

Maintaining friendships with the 150 people you know and 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.

I know it won’t be easy for you, but you can do it. You can learn to be more social because it contributes to your long-term goals. And because nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Painting by Elinore Schnurr
©Elinore Schnurr, Happy Hour. Oil on linen, 36 x 48 inches. Used with permission.

Your Turn

How do you socialize? How are you invested in your art community?

What’s difficult about it for you?

This post was originally published on August 11, 2016. It has been updated with original comments intact.

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52 comments add a comment
  • I really love everything you said here, Allison. And the intensity with which you said it. I totally relate to wanting to hide and just be in my studio alone.
    And now with a real live book coming out I am finding myself very challenged to get out there and let people know about it. But I’m doing my best every day to make it happen. Thank you so much for this! Lauren

  • Becki Hesedahl

    I am very active in local arts organizations currently serving my third term as prez of one. It is wonderful and I meet many artists and art supporters and leaders in the community. The hardest part is that it takes so much time that I have little left for my own art. Such a balance between being involved and “out there” and making time for my own art. Need to work I that one!

  • This is where Julia Cameron’s advice about making “Artist’s Dates” come in handy. I try to make these social outings to see other art and to interact with other creatives part of my once a week artist’s dates. I know it is small potatoes, but with a full-time job, this is about all I can manage. It seems to work pretty well because at least I make the face to face connection, and then I can connect with them on Twitter or through blogs to keep in touch.

  • Wow. This is a key article for me. It really rings so true. I am an introvert and it is difficult for me to do these things mindfully. I am going to develop my vision and focus from this for the duration of my time in this course. I will develop clear goals from it. I will assume control! Haha…. Thanks, Alyson.

  • This is one I find hard, like many artists, but I’m trying to push myself out there. I’ve done networking meetings, which are good but I’m realising it’s best to stick with one or 2 and keep going back. That way you get to know the other members and not flit from one to another passing out your business cards. It’s about mutually beneficial exchanges and the quality of your interaction.

  • Michelle Paine

    I am in a new city and state this year, so have to work much harder to do this. I am planning on going THIS EVENING to an Arts Council info meeting – not sure if the info will be relevant but I am going with the knowledge that someone else is going who I need to know… I must FORCE MYSELF to introduce to myself to someone while I am there!!!

  • Hey Alyson and all you artists. I was more active in visiting museums and art exhibits before my husband had his heart attack. He depends 100 per cent on me. Although he has come a long way I know I don’t have the freedom that I used to have. I love visiting museums and galleries and wish I could do more. It’s not a matter of being an introvert at all. So I feel that I need to work on this especially visiting galleries where I have exhibited. And I will renew my memberships in museums too! Thanks for the reminder.

    Mary Lou Novak

  • I struggle with this while having a day job. I will write only this about my struggles: my day job hours are 6am-4pm. I do need sleep, lol.

    I am trying to do what I call #flashsketchouts via Meetup.com. I am trying to attend the two local arts group meetings held 10/12 months. Overall, I am trying. These sketchouts are for me getting outside, meeting new people, being a new location. Eventually, maybe my art will be seen? I don’t know.

    So far, the Meetups are fun and curious. I never know who or how many will attend (my 4th is this Saturday, 8/13)! I enjoy these especially since I am allowed my comfort zone of sketching. If the conversation lags, we’re all happily sketching!

  • In the past I was a lot more social. With aging, moving to a rural area about 125 miles from any art center/galleries, I have become more reclusive. I know I really need to get out there more but the energy is lacking. I need something to get me revved up again. LOL

    • I hear you Cheryl. We are in our early 70’s, live rurally, and are planning to relocate to a slightly larger urban community. It will be a challenge financially, (properties in the city are more costly than in the country ). We have a pottery studio at our house, and run a small gallery/painting studio in our village. We will miss our community, but now that we are not participating in the art show and craft fair circuit, we are looking for a little more stimulation and interaction with the public. There are limited gallery and arts venues close by, so travel of 2 + hours is normal. Change is good, but we have to remember that those changes take longer now, and that we need to “work the plan” patiently. Much like you, we still seek the adventure! Best wishes for any changes and transitions which may happen in your life.

    • Barbara & Cheryl: Also, your priorities shift as you age. Honor those. Good luck on your move, Barbara.

  • This is essential, but tough for introverted artists. Once you remember that you have the advantage, as the artist, socialising is much easier. People are fascinated with your art and lifestyle. Go with this. Then ask questions. Keep them talking and take all the pressure off yourself. Plus you get to know what collectors like and want.
    An artist told me that he treats galleries like his franchisees. The artist is the franchisor. This reminds him to stick up for himself and remain professional.

  • Other ways to meet people outside of the art community: go to a dog park and start sketching (painting?) the other dogs; go to a farmer’s market or a park and start painting (sketching?); volunteer for your favorite activity or cause; take a class; attend other arts events (music, theatre, dance, poetry readings, etc.)… meeting people in this way will broaden your connections.

  • This was so relevant for me Alyson. It is so much easier to stay in the studio and create, but I am joining local organizations and volunteering (without stretching myself too thin) as a way to get out more and meet different people. I realize that I socialize plenty, but I keep to myself and talk about general things and hardly ever talk about what I do. Now, I am making it a point to change that by delivering my elevator speech at least once a week. If people are interested, then I elaborate more. I was taught that talking about yourself is bragging and it is best to remain humble. Unfortunately, humble does not get you business or noticed!

  • Does having 120 guest here to my studio on Saturday count as being Social? The farthest traveller is a collector from Maine.

  • Great timely article and reminder! I have so much work that needs to be created for upcoming shows that I am not getting out as much as I need to these days. Making an effort to change that and will be meeting 30 new people tonight at a networking event!

    Has anyone else made the switch to a full-time artist from another professional career like outside sales or a large corporation? When I worked for the Chamber of Commerce I was meeting new people daily and the same in outside sales. Now, being a small business owner I’m finding I have to spend way too much time at the computer or easel and not as much time as I’d like painting and networking.

  • I really believe this is important. Though it’s harder for me than it used to be, because seven years ago I moved from the city, with galleries and museums and easy artist contact, to a tiny village of about 120 people, literally in the middle of nowhere – over 200 miles from the nearest centre of action! I love this place and its landscape and silence, but I need to figure out how to make and keep new art community connections while retaining those I still have from before, so I don’t completely disappear off the scene but at the same time don’t overdo to the point where I don’t have any resources left. If anyone has ideas, I would very much welcome them!

  • My mantra for the past year has been, “JUST SHOW UP!” Just showing up when a high school friend invited me to see the exhibit space at the college where she works 3 years ago turned into a solo exhibition for me at that college in April 2016. The photographer who took photos of my art work from this exhibit showed the images to the owner of a local art gallery. I was invited to be one of 3 featured artists in the quarterly exhibit at her gallery. The opening reception for this exhibit is September 9th. Showing up to new exhibits several times last fall at a local arts organization gave me the opportunity to meet the executive director, artistic director and program coordinator. The artistic director invited me to submit my work for an exhibit at a local hospital. Thirteen of my works were accepted for this exhibit that goes up in November 2016 and I get a stipend for exhibiting. The program coordinator invited me to attend an event called “Connect the Dots” that linked local arts organizations with with local artists. I almost didn’t go to the event because it snowed that day, but since I had dedicated myself to “just show up” I went. At that event I introduced myself to the director of the art program at a municipal parks, recreation and arts organization. She invited me to submit for their quarterly art exhibits that feature the works of 3-4 artists. Once again, showing up and following through resulted in my art being accepted for another exhibit either in January or April of 2017. All I did was show up, introduce myself, and have cordial conversations with these people. The art organizations in your communities are there to help artists. “Just show up” somewhere you haven’t gone before. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Thanks, Alyson, for all your encouragement.

    • This is just what I needed to hear. I am just starting out, in my 50s, having retired from the art show circuit in another medium. I have done the 100 hours a week artist/owner/marketer/etc thing. No more. I need peace as much as artistic success. But I can try something new and I can Just Show Up. I took a class. I met some folks and joined the local watercolor society. I applied to a juried show to be hung at a prestigious museum. I got in! I’m going to show up to the opening and smile and chat and listen. There’s a local paint out next month. I’m scared, but I’m sure things will be OK if I Just Show Up. Bite sized pieces. Thanks for this!

    • Mary: I love this mantra. Thank you for sharing it here.

      Robin: It doesn’t sound like you are just starting out. You’re re-starting. You have a lot to work with and build on, I’m sure.

  • I just spent a week on Nantucket visiting with a past client; I took some painting supplies and painted small landscapes everyday on the deck while visiting . It inspired co-creating , lively conversation and introductions to local professionals . I felt it was great marketing and has pushed me to practicing better presentation.

  • I go to four or five openings every first Friday (of the month) in the city near which I live, and any other local openings during the remainder of the month if my schedule allows, but other art galleries and museums are 90+ minutes drive one way which make it very difficult to branch out, especially when the events are on weeknights after a long day of studio work/biz or teaching…or on weekends when I’m trying to clean the house and yard, take care of personal biz, and spend some QT with my husband.

    Yet the far away ones are probably the ones most likely to get me connected to the people I need to show my work beyond my little state. I bite the bullet and make the drives about once/month, always sacrificing or cramming the other things I would be doing into some other time slot…but feel guilty I don’t make it out more…It’s a puzzle I haven’t solved.

  • Deidre Burgess

    Love the article. Would love to join ArtBiz.com. Understand its private, but don’t see area where a artist can join.
    Thanks,
    Deidre Burgess

  • Deidre: I assume you mean ArtBizCoach.com. There’s a form at the bottom of the page. Not private at all.

    Happy you’re here!

  • I love reading these comments ~ even here there is the sense that none of us are in this alone. I do feel very fortunate. I moved back to my small hometown in Virginia, just over a year ago from Raleigh, NC, where there were tons of art venues. Our small town has a growing arts community. I kept in touch with the art center I wished to affiliate with, and when a studio opened up, I took it quickly! My small studio is on the hallway for the lower gallery, so when people stroll the gallery spaces, they naturally come by my studio, and usually at-least poke their head in. It’s an inviting space, so they like to come in and chat, and look at my work. I’m generally more comfortable with people I know, but I love it when people come in, and I feel completely comfortable. So, a comfy space surrounded by your own artwork can really be a great situation, even for people who aren’t terribly outgoing. The more people I talk to, the easier it is to get out and about, reciprocate and share with others. I love being home ~ and can’t see myself ever not having my sweet studio space. <3

    • Oh and I forgot to say, that our center (the Bower Center) allows artists to use volunteer hours to offset our studio rent. This is a win for everyone! One of the bonuses for me is that via my volunteer time I am interacting with people I wouldn’t otherwise if I was just working in my studio space. I get to get out of my studio and still be in the building. Still … I am grateful for this reminder to get out of the building! LOL I’m glad for Cindy’s reminder above about Artist Dates. :)

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Jane: So great that you have found a comfy place to land. Curious as to what volunteer hours consist of. Staffing?

      Love this ==> The more people I talk to, the easier it is to get out and about, reciprocate and share with others.

      So true!

  • Like always you have so many correct points to follow. Many thanks. What I want to add is to be very mindful and selective about the time and energy we want to spend in socializing (especially for introverts). Got to know what we really want from it. For example, I can spend two days to host an open studio in a place that most people who come mostly looking to purchase small prints that match their sofa. Or I can spend two days getting to know more about the famous curator and art critic that I am in contact with in Social Media, working on my communication with him that makes my work more meaningful and stand out for him. My point is not all in-person meetings or all online connections right or wrong. It is more about what we want in our art so bad.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Good points, Saya. I would counter-argue (sounds a little too strong for this point) that after you have researched that curator or critic, you need to get out to the places where they are and be seen.

  • Alyson, it has been so interesting to revisit this important issue. Cheryl McClure (in the United States) and I (in Canada) were both in the midst of moves or pending moves back in August of 2016. Well….. we made the move in Jan. 2018, rural again, but close to an active community and closer to 2 larger cities.
    As you mentioned, with aging, there are changing priorities. During the intervening years, my husband has experienced health issues, the most serious being vision decline with ensuing stress, anxiety and depression. I don’t feel comfortable leaving the house on my own for more than an hour maximum. Thank goodness the arts are of great interest to him also – although his energy level limits our outings. It has taken a year and a half to kick-start my art business, but I have begun the process: This summer, we are having 4 Open House events at our home (2 more to go in Aug. and Sept.). It has been slow to attract new interest, but that is to be expected. But, through a FB post I did attract an invitation to exhibit a body of word at a gallery space in a large hospital in a nearby city. It is what I needed to boost my morale. (The invitation came via a former workshop student of mine – connections and networking count!)
    I agree that neighbours are important, too. We are so lucky to have several new friendly acquaintances close by. We have helped each other out when small disasters strike, and have shared meals together. Makes us feel part of a small community already.
    This is such a long post, but I wanted you to know that your encouragement and enthusiasm in all your posts have been most helpful. I understand better now that change is easier for me than it may be for others. Thanks for being a strong positive influence, helping me make this challenging transition as smooth as I can for us, and for helping me keep my eye on the “bouncing ball” of my art business.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      I love your long post, Barbara! I’m happy to hear you are landing on your feet and have Cheryl’s support in the process. Thank you for taking the time to let me know that what I share is helpful. It means a lot to me — keeps me going.

  • Getting out in a meaningful way to make quality relationships is exactly what I needed to hear. I half heartedly attempt this by going to art openings every week. Seeing it spelled out and calling me out on it is exactly what I needed to read. Game on!

  • I’m slowly getting better and braver at this as I go and especially with support of ArtBiz. I’m looking forward to hosting an Art Show with 6 of my students this weekend. Many of my guests and theirs will be in attendance, I plan to greet people I do not know to welcome them to my studio and answer any questions hey may have.

    While at the Portland Museum yesterday a staff member overheard me talking to my husband; she then shared some valuable info about a private tour. She gave me the number to call for some further contacts I could make to explore a plein air opportunity I could offer for my students in Maine. I will contact the department upon my return.

    It’s getting over the fear of talking to new people. It is so much easier when you are discussing things that you both care about and love.

  • I’ve been out so much lately–from the cocoon into the world…now have to make myself sit down at the computer too:)

    I’m excited to forward this on to many artists…
    because it is true…

    Great article!

    • Alyson Stanfield

      You’re so good at getting out and being seen, Brooke. Your cocoon is full of interesting connections.

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