Approaching Art Galleries: Selling Yourself

Guest Blogger: Gallerist Maren Bargreen
I can’t run my gallery without artists—they are the life-blood of any gallery. Without you, I’m just a space with white walls.

Read This Before You Approach Another Gallery!

I have a pet peeve—and, in speaking with other gallery owners, I am not alone. The problem? Artists of all levels of talent and experience don’t know how to approach galleries. It’s a rampant annoyance in our industry, and one issue that is easily solved.
I’m going to give you some solid advice, but let me first share a story of a day in my gallery.

Gallery Mar in Park City, Utah
Gallerist and Guest Blogger Maren Bargreen in Her Gallery, Gallery MAR in Park City, Utah

Last month I was working with a long-time collector and was distracted by another gallery guest who wanted to see works by a different artist. He seemed interested! Maybe this would be a new collector!
The second guest asked me to pull out pieces by another artist who was not being exhibited at the time. I proceeded to do just that—showcasing the works, changing the lighting, all while trying to give attention to my other collector. It’s not easy to give my full attention to two clients.
Halfway through my presentation to the “new collector,” he mentioned he was an artist and was interested in showing at my gallery. Huh? Really? Are you kidding me? By this time, the first collector was out of the door, and I had lost a potential sale “selling” to this artist.
Now, do you think I’d have any interest in ever showing this artist’s work? Absolutely not. He has zero chance with my gallery.

Before a gallery can sell your work, you need to sell yourself to the gallery.
And by this, I don’t mean bombarding the poor director with constant calls and visits. I mean selling yourself as a well-prepared, organized, and gifted artist.
The best way to approach (or “sell”) yourself to a gallery is to find out how they want to be approached. Simple. But most artists don’t do this because it takes time and requires work.
Don’t be like most artists. Do the work!
Visit galleries to discover where you will be a good fit, and research before you submit yourself. Are you a watercolorist specializing in wildlife images? You’re probably not the best fit for a Russian Realism gallery.
Do your homework. It’s worth it for you and your eventual gallery. It will save time and energy, and probably preserve your ego.
How to Approach GalleriesEvery gallery owner likes a different “sell.” Some only accept submissions once a year, while others have “rolling,” or constant, submissions. Some don’t accept submissions at all.
The best place to locate a serious gallery’s artist submission guidelines is on their website. Before you call or email to ask, check out their site and look for these guidelines. If you present yourself to the gallery according to their preferences, you’re already one step ahead.
After you’ve discovered the way that the gallery wants to be approached, follow their guidelines.

About the Guest Blogger
Maren Bargreen is owner of Gallery MAR, in Park City, Utah, and was honored as Park City’s Business Woman of the Year in 2009. Gallery MAR features fine contemporary art spanning from detailed still life works to abstracted landscapes and whimsical figurative pieces.

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17 thoughts on “Approaching Art Galleries: Selling Yourself”

  1. All of what you said made sense to me, Maren. I agree. Not only is it simply common consideration to respect a gallery owner’s time, but as a small business owner, (and that is what we artists ARE, like it or not!) researching prospective galleries sufficiently is simply the “due diligence” part of the work that every small business owner should do!

  2. Well said, Jeanne. In my experience, it is the quality of the work that speaks for itself—not the fancy packaging, submission envelope, or clever artist statement. If the work is right for my gallery, I want it. You want your gallery to want you! Unless otherwise advised against, a follow up call about a week after the gallery has received your submission is a good idea. Not all galleries will be able to peruse and respond to every inquiry, which can be frustrating, but is also understandable: remember that galleries need to spend their days devoted to the artists they already have. You’ll want the same courtesy when they are representing you.

  3. Finally real good information. Thank you, Jeanne, for this precious information. As being a special artist with a very special painting style I find myself in a difficult situation. With esteem toward gallery owners as you said it will work. Thanks again.

  4. Thank you Maren, I think this will be very helpful to some artists especially coming from you as a gallery owner. I’m always surprised by the stories I’ve heard of some of the tactics used by artists to get their work in front of galleries. I can’t imagine any of them would appreciate having uninvited or unscheduled visitors barging into their studios, so you would think they’d have more regard for the gallerist’s time.
    Thank you for your insight.

  5. Alyson Stanfield

    Maren: Quality, yes, but you’ve pretty much shown us here that you want artists who are professional in every way. You want them to have good business sense–like not interrupting you when you’re with another client.

  6. Pingback: Guest Blog Posts Encouraged at Art Biz Blog — Art Biz Blog

  7. Good advice. I have yet to start approaching any galleries as I don’t have a large body of work yet plus I still need to determine which direction I am going – traditional or contemporary – I do both.
    A small gallery / framing shop wants to show my work though, I took a painting to be framed and the owner was impressed. So it’s a small start.
    I am pretty nervous about approaching galleries so am reading lots of advice on the right way to go. I cringe with embarrassment thinking of that rude and inconsiderate artist who took up your time.
    I went to visit a local gallery once, 1. to see if it would be a fit for my work, 2 to look at the work of an artist I was interested in who was having an exhibition there and just generally to get a feel.
    I was completely ignored the whole time I was there, I spend quite a while browsing the art, I could have been an interested collector – in fact I do collect art too, but I decided after seeing the work that it was good but not my taste. It was a really nice gallery but I was not too impressed at the way they treat potential customers. Maybe I didn’t have the right “Collector” image?

  8. Alyson Stanfield

    Karen: Every gallerist approaches sales differently. One “sales technique” is to completely ignore the customer until s/he speaks to you. Artists are also taught by some people to do this in their art festival booths. It strikes me as wrong, but some people swear by it. I, like you, prefer to be acknowledged (and then left alone).

  9. ah – maybe it was their sales technique then. I find galleries intimidating – I don’t know if that is because I am artist or if this is common, I have read that the general public do feel similar, so a simple “welcome to my gallery – come and ask if you have any questions” would do wonders.
    The artist herself I think was there too – I could see she had an easel set up and all her brushes and paints, but I had no clue as to which person she was and it would have been nice to chat to her about her work.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Karen: Yes, I think most people are intimidated by how we exhibit art. It’s such an other-worldly thing. I like being welcomed and greeted at a gallery and then left alone to look.

  10. Stanna Westward

    In a perfect art world an artist would not need to have his/her art represented in an art gallery. Collectors would go to the artist directly.
    There has to be a better way than the current system of selling art.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Stanna: Don’t you think that happens somewhat now? Why is that perfect? And what about the artists who don’t want to do the marketing?

  11. We don’t live in a perfect world and never will. Buying art is a deeply personal experience and the internet is unlikely to replace the experience of falling in love with a piece of artwork that is in front of you in a gallery. It’s akin to buying one’s home from a website; it may happen occasionally, but isn’t likely to make a dent in the experience of driving up to a house, walking through it with a realtor, feeling a connection, and turning it into one’s home. A website is a wonderful way of showcasing one’s artwork and providing an avenue for collectors to learn about an artist’s work and career. It is a great addition to the Gallery, but not a replacement.

  12. I think you may have omitted the most important part of the equation. For an artist to be viable, not only to gallery owners and clients, he or she must demonstrate a history of sustained and original productivity. No one wants an occasional success, a flash-in-the-pan or someone whose work changes with every passing fad. The same goes for gallery owners with regard to their reputations.

  13. Great post, and one on a subject that definitely needs to be examined.
    I was lucky when I was in school that my program offered a Capstone business of art class – that’s not something that all schools offer, and I can see how this might contribute to this issue. In Caroll Michels’ book, “How to Survive and Prosper as an Aritst” she mentions a survey she conducted in 2001 of 175 university fine art programs. 85 schools responded, and out of those 85, 39 of them required a career development course as a graduation requirement. 20 other schools offered it as an elective (my school was one of the twenty).
    That’s not a great number. If our educational programs don’t see the business aspects of an art education as a serious issue, then how do the future artists, and current students, know how to operate as a professional artist once they are gone from the halls of academia? Granted, that survey is over ten years old, but I’m not certain that the numbers have changed that much.

  14. Thank you Maren for sharing this. It means a lot coming from a gallery owner. Absolutely great advice for artists. Like what you say about finding out how a gallery wants to be approached. You have shared some priceless information here.

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