The Role of Exhibitions < Deep Thought Thursday

Can artists have successful careers without exhibiting live?
Will anything be forfeited?

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44 thoughts on “The Role of Exhibitions < Deep Thought Thursday”

  1. Lisa Jill Allison

    Art is alive. It puts out energy into the world. A “Beautiful child” does not belong locked in a closet…neither does your art. Take it out…take it out into life and watch it grow and thrive and nourish others in turn. So, as an artist, respect your art and think not only of your “success” but of your mission to provider opportunities for your art to grow and expand and touch the hearts of others.

  2. as an artist who has 40 to 50 shows a year from coast to coast and getting everything i have from a show, liscening, kids books, galleries, everything, i feel exhibiting it the best way to “get to there” and be seen, so i say no and a hell no with that

    1. wow, and I thought *I* was insane for doing 20 shows a year or so. Are you doing a lot of outdoor art shows too? I can see them adding up…. I only do a small number of those as they take a lot of energy but I know some do that all the time every week from summer through fall.
      I agree, though, that live shows are essential. You can do stuff virtually as well (I have gotten licensing deals through my work being online) but I do think it’s important to get the work out into the public to be seen in person.

  3. Amanda Christine

    So glad you posted this as a thought to consider, as it has been on my mind a lot too! I live in an area where my work is less accepted with current aesthetic “trends” compared to other parts of the country where I am able to make sales thanks to the internet and effective network communication, and growing through social media which I think is helping artists a great deal. However, one asset here is our locally supported organizations who use their sponsored exhibits to produce catalogs and send information on the artists outside our region to further selected artists careers, so there are major advantages to staying involved beyond a sale. I try to make sure I can participate in at least group shows at reputable galleries as long as they will have me- The biggest thing I am afraid of forfeiting if I did not exhibit ever in my local area is falling through the cracks- there are thousands of artists here and I can think easily remember several names and styles of outstanding ones, so there is work to be done still to create that branding for myself!

  4. Everyone has a different definition of success. If an artist wants to create and no exhibit and for them that feels successful – then it is.
    So I think it might depend on what you mean by success in your question. Success by who’s standards?
    One of the joys of being an artist is there are a zillion different ways in which to be an artist and we all should have the freedom to fulfill that vision any way we’d like.
    For me personally – live exhibits are part of my definition of success. I like to share my art with others.

    1. I agree with this. I’m only just starting out and success for me is making people smile firstly, and secondly a sale. I’ve never exhibited at a show. Whilst it’s not something I’d rule out for the future (when and if I ever have something I feel worthy of exhibiting in that way), for the time being I’m happy to ‘exhibit’ my work via the internet. I think that in this way I can reach a wider audience – people who wouldn’t necessarily go to an art exhibition.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Lisa: As you know, I absolutely agree with defining your own success. It’s the first chapter in my book.
      I just have a hard time believing that any artist feels complete without showing their work and interacting with viewers. Or maybe it’s okay because they don’t know what they’re missing.
      I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, which is why I asked this big question.

    3. I think there is a lot to be said for spending large amounts of time not exhibiting so you can develop your work. The exhibits can be a distraction from focusing on the art and pushing yourself forward.
      I wouldn’t mind spending 2-3 years creating a solid body of work and holding an exhibit at the end of that time. And if 2-3 years works – what about 5 years? Or 10? Where do you draw the line on how much time you want to spend developing the work without distraction?

  5. It makes me hard to get…It makes me not look desperate…It qualifies people so I don’t have to do it in person…It gives shut-ins the ability to see my work without leaving home…It helps people who cannot afford to buy, to enjoy art without pressure…It frees up my time to do real things rather than shlepping & hauling & contracts & such…It allows me to reach sophisticated audience members internationally…By hiding out for awhile & just showing online, I can raise my prices again without having to draw the ire of those who watch price tags like a lawsuit waiting to happen…It protects me from the hordes of copycats who study my work in person only to insult to my face, while secretly copying my style as fast as they can…I love the online art world & am so happy to be a part of it…I am now placing work directly from studio to collector without having to go through the charade of a show…My work is purer & more fragile, & will not be subjected to unknown hands or pollutants…I have greater self-respect & am much happier…Real life can wait, the online world is where it is at right now…

    1. Thank you! You’ve given me hope. I just don’t have the energy for the shows anymore. And I don’t have the money for all the fees to “maybe” get into the show. Online is best for me. Now to learn how to increase my sales online.

  6. I think it can happen. It completely depends on the work and the type of sales, and the goals that define “success”. I know a few artists who sell only online and they do extremely well. But their work and target market are very different to mine – theirs being colourful, decorative, prints. My work needs to be seen usually (always exceptions!) and the reaction when they’re seen in person after being seen onscreen is always how much more depth and subtlety there is in reality. So for me, exhibiting is a must to reach and convince the serious collectors who spend the higher amounts.

  7. Artists should show their work… I’m in a show this weekend up in Nyack, NY and plan on more shows. It’s a great way to meet other artists and get exposure.

    1. I think all artist want to show there work in a gallery situation. It’s an acknowledgement that you are good enough to show publicly, and someone else appreciates your work (the gallery owner). In addition showing your work in a public venue can be an expensive process for an artist. Proper presentation of your work can be expensive. Many artist like myself want a return on their investment and most likely if you’re not an established artist the financial returns fall short of your output. I’ve had a successful career as a fine art painter by selling directly to the client. I spent much time going door to door with businesses that would have a resource for my talent. Getting involved with the people that have a good amount of disposable income to purchase art. Find people in networks, book or rotary clubs that are in the upper financial class. You have to market to the people that have the monies to afford good art. Remember this saying “Its not who you know its who knows you” How are you going to get people talking about you and your art?

  8. I don’t think that we can discount the power of the internet. I’m not sure that every artist must exhibit live. Exhibiting live certainly helps in the artist’s hometown, but is not necessary to become known elsewhere. There, of course, is something to be said for those who follow the art festival circuit. Some people wait for them to come each year. I think the question has many facets.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lou: Becoming known isn’t the only reason to exhibit. There is much to be learned by interacting with art viewers.

  9. A couple of thoughts.
    “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If you write for the drawer or paint for the storeroom, then what is the purpose of art? Nowadays you can display online but I think what you miss is:
    1. Your interaction with the viewer
    2. The viewer’s interaction with the art (or in the words of Magritte “ce n’est une pipe”)
    You can surely be a business success but a successful artist? I think not because what people are seeing is not your work, but images of it.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Rafi: Thank you for your two points. Those are my primary objections to not exhibiting as well. Art online is not the same as art in person. I don’t think anyone can argue with this.
      Differentiating between business success and a successful artist is interesting.

  10. I personally have had far greater success on line that through a gallery show. I try and show live when I can but I find that the risk to the artwork and the work involved in moving the art far out weighs the benefit of the live show. Yes the energy and depth of the work is more evident in a gallery (if well displayed) but if you count up the number views and length of time per view that a piece receives in a live setting which may only have a duration of only a month or so and then only during open hours of the gallery and compare that to the exposure that you recieve in a social network for a much long viewed and wider audience you would have to defer to the internet for show work. That’s not to say never show live in a gallery as it is important to display your artwork. there are sales and commissions that occur when the patron meets the artist in person and also when they meet the artwork in person. I think the best course of action is to spend at least as much time and money and energy on an internet presense as you would on displaying in galleries…..At least you don’t have to frame your work when you put it on line

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Kevin: Of course there is room for both. Both exhibiting online and in-person have their places in artists careers. They serve completely different purposes, as you acknowledged.

  11. I believe both success and art have individual definitions for everyone. However, I believe that art is truly not complete until experienced by others. Although this information age has come a very long way in allowing us to share art through our computers, books etc… there is no substitute for seeing a piece in person.
    Case in point. For years through school I saw and discussed art, much of it through photos, and slides. I could appreciate the work, but of course did not always care for it all. Cy Twombly was one such artist for me.
    Then I stumbled across his work in person and it literally took my breath away. We loose so much in a photo, no matter how well taken. Personally I do not think there is any substitute for your own success as an artist, or for the experience as a viewer, than to stand in front of a piece.

    1. Stacey,
      I completely agree with what you’re saying – most work makes a much greater impact when experienced in person than otherwise. Scale and context make a big difference. Color matters, too. There will never be complete consistency in all computer screens and slide projectors! 🙂
      As for myself, I do both live exhibitions and take advantage of online art opportunities. I’m on the roster of Uprise Art ( based in NYC and serving collectors in the city, and its presence is mainly online with some pop-up shows. I’m also looking forward to being showcased on the Buy Some Damn Art site at the end of the month (, which looks like it’s doing well selling a lot of work, certainly getting artists seen – Kate Singleton also writes the ArtHound blog ( and has a good following!
      As much as I like the option of being seen online (and it really is almost a requirement these days to have an online presence!), I am a bit of a traditionalist, I guess – I really love having my work hanging in a gallery or museum and having people engage with my work that way.

  12. I can reach more of “my people” online than at shows. Helps for people to be able to see, touch, try-on. But if you have good photographs, that’s pretty good. I pay A LOT less in fees online than when I did shows, and have sold to people all over this great country as well as in China, Greece, Australia and more. I’ll never go back to shows. Too much time and energy for the reward. Just my experience.

  13. Alyson asks:
    “Can artists have successful careers without exhibiting live?”
    Its possible to make sales through the internet, but at some point the work has to be seen live, either when the work arrives to its new home, in the studio, or in an exhibition. So far, after almost 40 years, I don’t enjoy giving or attending public exhibitions, not because of any phobia, but because I value the art more when I quietly view it–no chit chat, no cruising, no seekers to be seen.
    Exhibiting live implies a public exhibition, but exhibiting just for one person is possible too. In my working studio I have one presentation wall. It’s the back of a bookshelf bolted in the cement floor, it’s covered in a dark, suede material, and it is lit by one halogen light attached to a joist 14′ up. The light is controlled by a hand-held dimmer switch. It’s gratifying handing the switch over to the viewer and watching their excitement seeking the that precise moment when the light is perfect for the artwork.
    That moment is worth more than a week of openings. And, it sells.
    Will anything be forfeited?
    Yes. Exhibitions reach many people, the chance to go viral, to connect with new people–the potential is outstanding. I would enjoy exhibitions more if the presentation were 95% about the art. And for my own shows to have a great network of good people contributing their skills in marketing, and all the details of presentation.

    1. Hi Michael – I totally appreciate your comments on the level of enjoyment and attendance at public exhibitions. If I had my druthers, I’d be happy(ish) to stay in my studio forever and escape the whole kitsch around openings and exhibitions. What I do enjoy though, are those meaningful exchanges with collectors who are all about the art – what it’s about, wanting to know more….about the process, the piece and my thoughts going into the work. I’ve learned to avoid the idle chit chat and go right for the meaningful at these exhibitions. We have the power to direct those conversations and slide right past the rest of the trappings to the meat of the work. And yes….excellent curators, gallery owners and staff can look after the ‘niceties’ of the event.

    2. Micheal, I love that set up for intimate viewing you described. Last summer I hung a show for another artist (in a gallery) and even the simple adjustment of the spots elicited an “ahh” each time the light was “just right.” (And of course, each piece had different needs.) Thanks for the reminder!

  14. Everyone should have their own definition of success, first and foremost. Personally, I think that live exhibitions offer a rich, personal engagement between artist and audience.
    Attending your own opening allows you to interact with your collectors and have a different, immediate discussion in a sensuous way. By sensuous, I mean by using all of your senses available – hearing, smelling, seeing, touching…all the things that as human beings we can’t always experience through a virtual world (yet!). Reading body language at your own exhibition and observing reaction is one of the most complex, rewarding experiences that an artist can garner.
    Here’s how I define/measure my own success. Perhaps there is something for you to use here as well…

  15. bonnie jean woolger

    the live exhibit plays no role in my work right now. i have for my career been extremely uncomfortable with the process of seeking out exhibit opportunity. i have often had my work lost in the crowd of group shows which has not made me feel particularly successful. success of late has come through the web were i share my work without having to convince people of its value, they can view it or not. i think i am finally of an age that there is not one path to success and that success i
    thought I wanted at 25 with live exhibits and fawning gallery owners is not what I want now at 53.

  16. My first thought was “I have no idea.” Then I read all of the responses before me and I thought, “Oh, yes, they are all right. Face to face exhibits are necessary for those who think they are but not necessarily for those who don’t think they are – as long as each side recognizes what an exhibit means to their own work and to their own career success as they define it.
    Of course I want my work seen and I think having exhibits can be good for that and for establishing a local reputation. Maybe. Why “maybe?” Because the internet is an ever expanding power of interaction and it seems to me that we could be underestimating it effectiveness. On the other hand, an art exhibit is a wonderful form of entertainment that I would not like see disappear.

  17. For me, one of the greatest joys of being an artist who displays my art in public is interacting with people. I say this as a loudly proclaimed introvert, and admit that at my first art show I appeared in the public’s eye for about ten minutes total. (No exaggeration.) I had to learn how to interact with people looking at my art.
    Now I enjoy those one-to-one conversations with both the collector and with the casual passer-by. There is such a deep thrill to discuss a photograph with another person, to get their reactions, to tell them the back-story, the inspiration, the “why did I photograph it THAT way.” And it so encourages me to keep striving to produce new art, explore different techniques, and stretch for new audiences.
    Much of my photography is quite straight-forward — the photographer’s life of wearing many hats — but my fine art photography are mostly macro-botanicals, and often the natural elements are obscured, provide opportunity for a deep looking. They are surely not for everyone, but when that one person comes in and gasps with pleasure, I love being there to see their initial reaction, experience their emotions, and then add to their experience of seeing my art by also meeting the artist.
    I never thought I would say this, as I had thought I would never move beyond internet exposure, but the greatest worth in being an artist, for me, is in both the creation and then the intimate sharing. That’s what works for me.

  18. I work in the realm of traditional art galleries. Many of my friends are well known artists: Daniel J. Keys, Jeremy Lipking, Nancy Guzik, Kyle Stuckey, and Richard Schmid.
    I’ve attended a number of live shows at important brick and mortar galleries in the last year, and the opening receptions were filled with artists, but the sales took place before the opening when the collector called up the gallery after having seen a magazine ad or seen the work in the gallery newsletter or on Facebook.
    In fact, the majority of sales in those types of galleries are happening without the collector seeing the work in real life. This is a trend, and it totally surprises me. HOWEVER, it seems that these collectors have seen the work live at some point, or else they already own a work of art by the artist. The galleries do such a great job of photographing the work and posting it on their website that the collector trusts the accuracy of the image.
    So that’s what happening with established galleries, but for the rest of us (and I include myself here), we are experiencing sales via popup shows, invitational events, outdoor and studio shows, etc. I believe that for artists who have not been famous for a number of years, sales are made while viewing the work live and meeting with the artist.
    The Internet has changed the way people buy, talk about, and get feedback on everything. Who knows what art sale venues will look like in 5 years. My take is to have multiple venues while I wait for things to settle out. I’m about to show at Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale, which got my painting featured in American Art Collector this month – and that’s huge to me. I have artwork for sale on my website, and mostly sell to past collectors from there, and I’ll sell some work to my students – usually unframed smaller works.
    I say, do live showings, but don’t be surprised when your work sells without having been seen in real life. Both are working!

  19. I think it depends on what your goals are as an artist, and what your business plan calls for.
    Most Fine Artists must show their work – it’s necessary to gain traction in the fine art world.
    Other artists do not need to, if they are either hobbyists or if they earn their income through means other than original sales with their art.
    I personally don’t see a lot of artists gaining financial success with shows, but for guys like Nemo, who does over 40 a year, he has it wired down to a science!

  20. After reading everyone’s comments… I sold two small paintings off my site. Thank you. Ya’ll are good luck for me. I’m going to take it as a sign…. more work online from now on. Happy selling to everyone!

  21. My answer is, maybe. It might depend on what kind of art you do. I garner from some of the posts that some of you are painters. I am a gemstone jewelry designer. When I first started out in the mid-90’s, my husband and I travelled all over the U.S. attending art festivals and fairs. We did that for about five years. It was a lot of work and very exhausting. But it was a great way to get known and build a following. I stopped selling for a few years (due to some life circumstances) and last year I reinvented my business. I was reluctant to start up doing shows again. I thought (or hoped) I could just do it online. What I am finding however, is that shows are a great way to get started again, to build a following. It seems to me that people need to experience my jewelry in person. Perhaps it’s because jewelry is such a crowded marketplace and there are so many artists who are willing to give away their time. They’ll sell a piece of jewelry for $20 that I know had to take over an hour to make. It’s hard to compete with that online. But in person, people get to know you and what goes into creating your designs.
    So, to sum it up, I think shows are a great way to build quick sales and a presence in your local marketplace. From there, perhaps you can move away from doing less shows because you’ll build repeat sales and the word of mouth sales kick in.
    I am not an extrovert, but I do like doing some shows, particularly those that are more devoted to “artists” vs. festival type shows where there’s a lot of manufactured products. I think there’s a population that appreciates handcrafted items and is willing to spend money on it. They usually are more interested in what goes into the design as well and it’s fun discussing the process with them.
    Shows can also be a great way to “test” a new design or product line before you expend a lot of time and effort on something that no one wants. I tested a new design at a holiday show this last Christmas. It didn’t get the reception I thought it might. Now I know not to expend a lot of time and energy creating more of it or marketing it because the interest isn’t there.
    I plan to do about one show per month this year, more during the holidays. From there I will decide how much of a focus they will be for me.

  22. I have been an artist all my life but only now putting together paintings with the purpose or exibiting someday soon. The business part of being an artist have always been a challenge to me. I am not a sales person and dont even know how to get started.
    I think the hardest part is the thought of putting pieces out there and people telling me that is not good.
    Maybe i should try…

  23. Roger K. Lawrence

    Regarding the value of exhibiting your art for sale.
    I have several friends that have purchased original art (oil paintings). When you see it displayed in their homes or offices they are please that it becomes a subject of conversation. You find they all have one thing they have in common with regard to the art they purchased.
    1. The are all very proud of what they purchased.
    2. They love to impress their friends and guests by describing their relationship with
    3. The owner also loves to captivate their guests with the story of the artist and
    the story behind the art.
    Success comes with establishing the one on one with the buyer. This may be the person browsing the show that meets you. It may be the gallery who depends greatly on collectors, Or the gallery acting as your agent. ( you will need to earn the gallerys’ trust to make this happen).
    As you are learning from others in this blog topic, there are many ways to market. Some are easier and some are harder. I think financial success comes with fully understanding what the market requires to be successful. This takes some effort but making the effort will reap rewards. It can be lots of fun making the marketing journey.
    A final thought as to making the sale:
    I have come to believe that developing outstanding skill with your art will open the doors of opportunity for success. Knowing you are are now competing with many other skilled artists; it is ultimately your own creativity and productivity that makes the sale.

  24. Pingback: Warning: Exhibiting Your Art is Good for You — Art Biz Blog

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