Go Ahead and Spoil the Surprise

Tibi Hegyesi asked on my Facebook page: Is it a good idea to post online previews of artwork that will be included in an upcoming show, or is it better to keep the work under wraps until the big reveal?

Tibi Hegyesi's booth at Art Expo New York is full of visitors
Tibi Hegyesi’s booth at Art Expo New York is full of visitors.

I don’t think you can lose by sharing the work in advance, unless the exhibition organizers prohibit this. (Read the details of your agreement!) People rarely go out of their way to view the unknown. We need a reason to get dressed and make the trip. Seeing artwork that we connect with is the best way to motivate us to come to your exhibit.
But you don’t have to reveal all of the work in a show at once. Nor do you have to reveal it to everyone.
Every little bit you share is a gift of yourself. If you frame it correctly, you can show your fans how much you value them.

Tease + One a Day

In I’d Rather Be in the Studio, I share the story of artist Margret Short, who started blogging to help promote a seminal exhibit. She gave her blog readers a sneak peek at a single detail of her paintings as she completed them: a piece of lace or an object in a still life. It was a tease to get people interested in seeing more.

Margret Short Paintings
Margret Short teases readers with a sneak peek of her painting, The Tears of Fernad.

In the two weeks before the opening, Margret posted the full image of each painting that would be included in the exhibit – one day at a time. To my knowledge, the images were never posted as a group on a single page.
Margret Short: The Tears of Fernad
Margret Short reveals the completed painting, The Tears of Fernad, on her blog.

You could follow Margret’s example, or you could choose to share only details with blog readers and save the completed works with collectors only.

Collectors’ Perk

You can create a private Web page for your collectors as a reward for their loyalty. Let them know that they are the only ones who have access to the page, and that they alone can view all of the work that will be installed in the exhibit.
Lisa Call has tried this. She said she sold one piece from the preview, which makes it worth the effort to do it again for an upcoming exhibit.
No collectors yet? You could also offer a private Web page for newsletter subscribers only. Announce on social media:

My newsletter subscribers are getting a behind-the-scenes look at the works that will be on view next month at X gallery. Sign up now to get the secret URL.

Go ahead and spoil the surprise! Have fun sharing your art in advance of an exhibit, and remember that it’s a gift of yourself.
Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts about pre-show posting.

This post was first delivered in the Art Biz Insider newsletter.  Subscribe today and get it in your inbox each Thursday along with class announcements, opportunities, and reminders.

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36 thoughts on “Go Ahead and Spoil the Surprise”

  1. I heard that market research shows the more people know about a movie, the more likely they are to attend. That’s why movie ads give away so much of the story.
    Also on nights where there are many openings at the same time, I have to look through the listings, the websites, and other marketing materials and choose, because I can’t attend them all. The better the show looks, the more likely I am to attend.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Good analogy, Pam. But I’m always disappointed when the only good lines in a movie were in the trailers. I feel deceived.

  2. I was intrigued with your note on artist Margaret Short and her notion of giving potential collectors a “sneak peak” of her paintings, a strip tease of sorts, of her paintings as she completed them. Because of this effort, I would love to know if she was able to guage the success of this effort in terms of selling more paintings or selling more paintings more quickly, as compared to sales of her painting previously when she did not employ this strategy.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Craig: Keep in mind that Margret’s blog was quite new at this point, so her main readers were those she emailed when she posted.
      However, I believe Margret sold 11 of the 14 paintings during the run of the show. Not too shabby.

  3. Here’s how to create a private web page:
    Create a page on your site and “hide it” in your navigation menu.
    Copy the link from the url bar – that is the address of the page.
    You can give link that directly to your collectors/list.
    You can also shorten/customize the link name using a link shortener such as bit.ly
    When I did this for a “secret sale” last year, I sent my subscribers to my home page and had them click on a special icon on the home page that linked directly to the private page. That way, if they wanted to look at other parts of my website, they could always find their way back to the “secret sale” page.

  4. The gallery that represents me used a part of my painting for their marketing posters and postcards for the group show I was in. Due to that, I sold that painting before the show was officially up. I say, go ahead and market one or two of the best pieces in your show to get people excited about going.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      One of my clients – who doesn’t make a ton of sales – sells most of the images she puts on postcards. I think it’s familiarity.

  5. Virginia Giordano

    I was in a group show with about 12 of my pieces. About a week before the show I posted 1 piece on Fb to remind my friends about the opening. Word got around and a collector from out of town bought the piece before the show even went up. I was very pleased to have the show open with a red dot. I will likely do this again.

  6. By “hide it in your navigation” do you mean “don’t put a link in your navigation area?”
    Why would you not put the rest of your navigation on the hidden page? Isn’t it just the coming in that is meant to be regulate, not the going out? My whole old web site (except for the index.html) is still on the server but unless you know the titles of the pages it can’t be found so essentially it is hidden.
    Anyway, what I was wondering was if this idea could be modified for online showing. For example, I began a new series of bead woven earrings in a spiral twist that I am going to introduce. I was thinking of introducing one pair at a time (no pair is alike) on, say, my blog at a reduced price and then in my etsy shop or/and website 24 hours later at full price. Simultaneously, I would announce the preview on my facebook page (and maybe twitter). After reading this, I am also thinking of announcing it first in my newsletter before facebook but I think I need something more special for Newsletter subscribers.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Patricia: You might want to keep people on a page and, therefore, remove the navigation bar to discourage clicking. Most people do this on landing pages where buying or single actions are encouraged.
      Absolutely you should do this for online showing to your VIPs!

  7. Wow…there’s so much wonderful info in this post. I love what Margret has done – such an incredibly clever way of keeping collectors engaged.
    I’ve worked with galleries that send out the images to their list of my collectors prior to the opening and many of the works are pre-sold because of this. That, of course…works as long as you know who the collectors are and the gallery maintains a great relationship with them.
    Thanks for the brilliant ideas, as always. My heart and mind are full.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Janice: Yes, many galleries are doing just as you say – selling by jpegs. Isn’t it great?!

  8. I am working towards a show with my programme ’52 Artworks – A Year in Nature’ where each week I post a new artwork and write about it, and there is no doubt that this build-up towards an event builds interest, but one important area to stress is that artworks reproduced on the internet are very different from seeing the originals, this can be a drawback, but can also be turned around into a bonus as this point could be used to encourage people to come and see the show. Pre-showing can be excellent marketing, and opens up the possibilities of making your work remark-able, the power of people talking about what you are planning…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Noel: Yes! We need to keep stressing that the live experience is different (better for most work!) than seeing the work online.
      The only time it’s worse is when craftsmanship is poor and doesn’t show up in the image. And that happens.

  9. After learning about previewing art before a show from this blog, I printed two postcards with two different images and mailed them with the invitation. Both sold at the show. I believe the familiarity with the images made the sale.

  10. Absolutely. I just attended a workshop at the Scottsdale Artist School with Daniel Keys and during the time I was there I became aware of a show at the Legacy Gallery of the Putney Painters. I looked at a preview of Daniel’s painting that was included in the show and come Thursday morning, I decided to take an hour at the gallery before hitting the road home. I’m glad I did. His painting, along with all the others in the show, was amazing and worth the side trip. It doesn’t hurt to show people what they will be seeing. There is no way a small image on the computer or on a postcard is going to take away from the experience of seeing the work in person, but it will intrigue someone enough to seek out that work.

  11. Wow, you must have been reading my mind! I am having a show in June and was just considering whether or not I should post any photos of my artwork prior to the show or make it a surprise. After reading your post and all of the comments, I’m definitely going with giving the audience a taste before the show. Perfect timing, thanks!

  12. AnnaMaria Windisch-Hunt

    This is intriguing. I’m in a group show at the local College, take in is in two days and will try this, via my blog.
    will keep you posted as to the response.

  13. Thank you for a great perspective on this topic which has been a long standing question for me. I thought, before reading your post, Alyson, that revealing too much would deter people from attending the event because they would have ‘seen it all’. Before my Studio Show last November, I posted a collage (of sorts) containing many of my unframed artworks on my facebook page. It strategically revealed only portions of each painting except for the images that appeared on my invitation. Several people commented that they were intrigued by this ‘collage’ and were curious to see more. I am anxious to take it a step further next time and see what happens!

  14. I had doubts when my gallery sent out an e-vite to my exhibition with the link to an online preview (with prices), on their website, 2 days before it opened. However, the morning of the show, they got a call from a client who had seen something she liked and wanted to make the purchase over the phone, and didn’t want her husband to know … she had no plans on coming to the opening!

  15. Alyson, This is so timely and key. Thank you! I went ahead and did this yesterday morning on my blog. I shared just a bit of a painting with readers to entice interest in an art reception I’m having Thursday. Now that I’ve done this–and had soo much fun sharing–this will be part of what I do in the future.

  16. Virginia Giordano

    I doubt if I would show more than 1 piece for an upcoming show because it’s just a teaser, an inducement to see the real thing. I always make a 4×6 postcard with one image and I think more than one would look crowded. This was the first time I posted on fb and I will do that again. As a result of this discussion, I’m thinking that maybe right after a show I will send to my email list and show them what is still available, or maybe post one piece on fb. A show is an opportunity and we market before. If it’s new work why not do a little marketing after too? (www.VirginiaGiordano.com)

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