Deep Thought Thursday: Preparing for gallery interview

You send your packet to a gallery and they actually call you. You miss the call so you need to call them back.

How do you prepare for this call? What will they ask you? If you've been in this situation, we especially want to hear from you. Were there questions that threw you off guard? How did you handle them? What do you wish you had said or done differently?

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18 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Preparing for gallery interview”

  1. Where to start? Most galleries I’ve dealt with are more interested in the work than in interviewing me, but I suffered through a heck of an interview (2 hours +) with a gallery owner last fall, and in retrospect wish I had been more prepared to be grilled. Everyone asks the easy questions: – How prolific are you? – What other galleries do you sell with? – How well does your work sell elsewhere? – How many paintings can you provide us per year? – What commission split do you expect? Then there are the harder ones: – What’s the best painting you’ve ever done? – Why do you paint? – What are you trying to get across with this painting here? – Why do you think your work would be a good fit in this gallery? – Tell me about your studio/working methods/framing etc. – How does your past career influence your work? During the crazy interview I had last fall, the guy was waffling about whether to carry my work or not, and at one point asked me, “What do you think I should do?” which totally threw me. In retrospect, I should have had the confidence to tell him that he should show my work, at minimum keep my paintings hanging on the wall for a few months and see how they sell. I gave some wishy-washy answer instead. He kept my paintings overnight and then decided I wasn’t the right fit at the time. I honestly think he would have taken my work had I been more confident and prepared to sell myself. I’ve learned from that experience, and since then I’m a lot more prepared and confident when I meet with galleries, with good results so far!

  2. Michael Lynn Adams

    I had that exact situation two years ago. It was my first gallery relationship and I was oh so green. Still am! The conversation went well and the gallery, in Santa Fe, began representing my work. Two questions I wish I had asked are: What are the gallery’s expectations for the flow of new work – the quantity and frequency? What are the gallery’s expectations for my involvement in promoting the gallery and my work? I am interested in being represented by more galleries closer to Los Angeles, where I live. I would like a realistic idea of how many pieces galleries would want immediately and the number of new pieces throughout the year. I recognize that it might be different for each gallery and each artist.

  3. the last time this happened I couldn’t get back in touch with them, their mobile phone was continually off or out of range with no voicemail. *sigh* I’m still trying to get ahold of them. the previous time I was just ignored. my messages and emails were not responded to. they sounded so keen initially too (they found me) my suggestion is to pick up first time or at least, don’t put it off too long worrying your responses to death. perhaps galleries need a few lessons themselves in how to deal with people. even a simple, I’m sorry we did have a slot but it was urgent and it’s been filled or something would be better than outright ignoring someone. the downward spirals after those were quite shocking.

  4. Gosh , if they actually call , I’m in …(for me, it’s like getting the call from the guy- if he actually picks up a phone , he likes me…) If they call me , I could describe peanut butter for an hour & they will still take me …It’s getting them to call that is hard …at least for me…

  5. what a relief to see I wasn’t the only one! I got home from work one day to a message on my answering machine from a gallery I had recently sent information to – and tried calling the person back immediately. I called three times over the following week and each time I left my name and phone and said I was returning her call. Nothing. So yes, at least a polite “no” is better than initiating a request and then ignoring the response. It has been hard to get back the energy (courage) to submit to galleries again.

  6. It all sounds very familiar. I was contacted by a gallery in Austin who saw my work online and were very enthusiastic. They wanted me to give them some work on consignment, but when I replied with some questions (like what they were wanting specifically, what their terms were, etc.), I didn’t receive any reply. I tried contacting them again, with no luck. I put them on my mailing list. I think the main thing is to find someone who is really enthusiastic about your work. If they are unsure whether they can sell your work, they probably won’t do well with it.

  7. For me, the most troubling, difficult question is where did I go to school? As a self-taught artist (yes, I do believe a person can hone their skills without a “teacher”) this is a difficult question to answer. When a gallery believes they can only sell your work based on your credentials then that is the gallery that has to work hard for a sale. With that said, my response to my schooling is very simple. I never attended a university to learn how to paint. I study art and the techniques used by the masters to better understand the process of painting as it applies to my style. If I had the guts, I would ask the gallery owner where they got their sales degree and MBA from. After all, they sell it, we make it.

  8. Why can’t we ask galleries where they got their Sales degree or MBA from? Isn’t it in our best interests that our work is represented by the best sales people we can get? Why is this so one sided with the Gallery always having the upper hand? It’s the same as interviewing for any other job position, each party is looking for what is in their best interests. Why do we artists feel so beholden to galley owners? Just as important – What questions should we be asking them? If a gallery called me and left a message expressing interest in my work and then never responded to my call back, I would think “Thank you Universe for saving me from getting stuck with an outfit that is so unprofessional”. If they are like this in this one instance I would bet that they are like this in all of their facets of their gallery dealings.

  9. Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson

    Alyson, I have been in email conversations with a gallery that extended an offer and a sample contract to me. I was able to come up with a good list of questions based on the sample contract. I overlooked the question that Stacey asked: What are the gallery’s expectations for the flow of new work – the quantity and frequency? I think that is a great question! Another that I asked that I think is really good is about framing. What is expected of frame molding, do they have a type they prefer and do all of your pieces have to be framed the same…are you going to have to reframe for this gallery? something to consider.

  10. It would be really interesting to do a survey of galleries–say, send out a questionnaire & ask them in general– What do they look for in an artist they want to represent? What do they expect in terms of annual output of new work, framing, etc. & most importantly prices? I don’t know if they would be interested in participating, but it might be helpful for both sides. There seems to be such a rit between artists and dealers. Christine

  11. I don’t have problems answering gallery owners questions. I’ve been doing this for a LONG time. But the first thing I ask them is “Do you have a contract with your artists?” If yes, I ask them to send me a copy before I commit to anything. If no, I send them a copy of a contract that I have honed over the years. A gallery can tell you anything but if there’s not a mutual understanding at the beginning you can find some unpleasant surprises later on. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. This is YOUR business. You need to be in control of how it’s run. Most galleries are willing to give and take.

  12. The few things I would add are that I am in constant contact with my gallery. A phone call occasionally, and I feel short e-mails every few weeks are not too much. Of course, they get my mailings. I am having the long hello with three (important-to-me) galleries, and am interested to know what will finally seal the deal with them.

  13. The few things I would add are that I am in constant contact with my gallery. A phone call occasionally, and I feel short e-mails every few weeks are not too much. Of course, they get my mailings. I am having the long hello with three (important-to-me) galleries, and am interested to know what will finally seal the deal with them.

  14. Sarah Adams/AV Framing Gallery, Indianapolis

    Many good points from artists. I’m a gallery owner chiming in. Gallery owners don’t own the world, or your work. It’s a symbiotic relationship to get your work in the hands of those who love it. That’s the point. Both sides, artist and gallery, have interests and both are valid. I have a Gallery Agreement that spells out the various responsibilities of each party. We do monthly shows and the only continued presence of any artist is on our website. You should communicate professionally and you should expect the same. If either party is slack in their professionalism, the relationship will suffer, if it gets off the ground at all. I have received everything from the introductory phone call by the artist’s girlfriend, to an extensive packet (which tells me exactly how the artists expect to be treated). I don’t mind educating artists who are novice in gallery relationships, but I do mind an artist submission outside of our simple guidelines and poor communication. As to the ones who won’t return phone calls with a simple “no, not now”, that’s unacceptable. I am in a forum of gallery owners and some do seem to have difficulty saying “no” to an artist. Perhaps they are the types that simply ignore unhappy tasks. I always advise these individuals that it is in their own best interest to get the information out there about what they want to carry in their own business. There are many different ways to say “no”. But I would want to hear it–rather than hear nothing. It’s common courtesy to put yourself in the shoes of another and act accordingly.

  15. There are all sorts of dealers just as there are all sorts of artists. Just believe in your work and stick to your guns (in a polite and classy way, of course).

  16. Allison J Smith

    Thank-you Sarah Adams for your comments! Hearing the other side is what we (artists) need so we can better put ourselves in the gallery owner/curator’s shoes.

  17. I agree with the artists and the gallery owner who’ve said, professionalism is the key. This is a business! If you need to return a phone call to your car mechanic, you don’t agonize over it for hours. You just get your questions in order and give him/her a call and ask them. Simple. I think the problem with this issue stems from the fact that some artists don’t see themselves as businesspeople making a product to sell. If we can “de-emotionalize” this issue it becomes easier. Reams of paper have been written on the questions to ask a gallery and the right way to form that relationship. So go ahead, make the call and be a pro! Thank you Alison for asking a great question!

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