Friday, February 15, 2008

My Art Advice: Should I send a gallery a link to my art or images of my art by email in order to be considered for gallery representation?

I get questions like this often from emerging artists. This is a delicate issue. This question reminds me that the world wide web is sometimes a double-edged sword for artists. On one side you can cut yourself short by annoying galleries and other exhibiting venues by emailing them random information about your work. On the other side you can carve out your career by building your presence online. In regards to this question, be careful which way you swing the blade-- especially if you are just starting out. Artists want to land gallery representation, but that does not mean that every gallery wants to be baited by a thousand emails from hopeful emerging artists each day.

Before you send a random email to a gallery about your art remember that there might be hundreds of other artists doing the same thing at the same time. What will happen? You will most likely have your email marked as spam or blocked. If you are not blocked and you continue to send messages about your work you will most likely become an inside joke at the gallery rather than land representation. Worst case scenario... you will annoy the person on the other end and they will end up telling their associates about you. Word can travel fast and in the art world-- even on the most basic level --everything is about presence. You want to put your best face forward-- not blow it off with one quick letter. Annoying gallery owners can be career suicide depending on the status of the gallery .

Artists often forget that a gallery is a business. Galleries do not display work simply for the viewing pleasure of visitors. They have paychecks to write and lights to keep on-- it is a business just like any other. While it is true that galleries need artists to run their business, you need to remember that they already have a stable of artists-- they need art, but that does not mean that they need your art. You might be thinking, " If that is the case, why do the galleries have their email listed if they don't want artists to contact them?"... In most cases a gallery has their email listed for two reasons. 1.) They can send out exhibit information to their email list from that account. 2.) A random collector can write to them with questions about an artist that the gallery represents-- though most will call the gallery before writing them. Having an email address listed does not mean that the gallery is offering an open invitation to hopeful artists.

There are exceptions. Some galleries want artists to send examples of their work by email. Many of those galleries have ads in art publications stating that fact (just as galleries that do not want artists to send samples of their art by email will often have some fine print-- sometimes BIG print --stating that under their contact information!!!). However, I think it is better for artists to attend openings at the gallery they are interested in instead of sending a desperate email to the gallery about their work and why it should be represented. As I stated before, there could be thousands of artist worldwide sending emails to the gallery with the same hope that you have at the same time. You want to be a face... not a random name listed in the galleries email inbox-- or trash bin for that matter. Brick & mortar galleries do not have the manpower to address thousands of emails like that.

So what can you do? Attend openings-- get to know the people who are already exhibited at the gallery and be friendly to the gallery staff. By getting to know people and being friendly I do not mean that you should go up and say, "I really like this space. Are they looking for new talent?" or "Can you get me in here, my work is great!" to everyone you meet! Just enjoy yourself... be yourself-- leave the 'I'm a brooding artist' or 'I'm better than this place' persona at the door. Eventually you can slide the fact that you are an artist into the conversation, but keep it short.
Business cards that contain a link to your personal website or accounts that you have on art sites like can come in handy if a conversation goes well-- be prepared!

Some of you might be saying, "But I live hundreds of miles away! Sending an email is my only option!". Well, if that is the case you might want to ask yourself if you want to be represented by a gallery that you can't visit in person at least once per month, especially if you are new to the scene. With a ton of luck your email effort might land you gallery representation, but if you are not able to actually visit the gallery you will not know if your work is actually in sight of gallery patrons or somewhere in a backroom waiting to be pulled out when-- and if --someone wants to view it. That is not to suggest that galleries are shady, but they do tend to cater to the needs of represented artists who can actually visit the gallery often. Thus, you might want to focus on exhibiting opportunities near you or online venues that specialize in giving opportunities to artists who would otherwise be isolated.

Keep in mind that I'm mainly talking about city galleries. Rural galleries might have a different outlook on 'view my art' soliciting. I still think that getting to know more about a gallery in person, no matter where the gallery is located, is the best choice for you if you are seeking gallery representation. Also, remember that you do not exactly need to rely on brick & mortar galleries ... you can always represent yourself by utilizing sites like,, and as tools for exposure. Combine your efforts-- place links to your art accounts on your Youtube and Myspace account and place links to your Youtube and Myspace accounts on your art accounts. Be active online... network with artists and curators that you meet. Keep in mind that many established artists started out this way. Don't sweat over gallery representation.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Solid advice. Networking online has done more for me than living five years in NYC hoping a gallery would take me on. In this day and age artists can bypass galleries all together. We might not get the press that those artists get but we can build one hell of a fan base with little effort. There are artists online who are more known by the public than some of the top artists represented in NYC. Galleries are only good about attracting collectors but remember that they take a huge cut as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you posted this. Artists need to learn that spamming galleries with their art is not exactly a good business or career move. I get really annoyed when I log on to find several new messages that turn out to be nothing more than people hoping for a shot. That is not the way to establish a relationship with a gallery. I'm glad that you posted this and I hope that people reading this article heed your advice.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear someones outside point of view.

Being a Gallery owner I would like to add a few points....
1 Have a business is essential, a small brochure would be better
2 Never expect a Gallery to trawl through your website for your work...time is too precious
3 Sending an email and then in a few days after maybe phoning for an appointment to bring the work in , in person is ideal.
4. Never say 'my work is better than the work here'
The curator has personally selected the work in their Gallery so it is a personal insult to the owner.
Also if your work does not stand up to the Galleries work you will be remembered for this comment!
5. Be flexible. If you get upset that you are rejected at that point it is best to keep your chin will produce other work and could try again.
It is better to be remembered for your honesty and friendly approach.
6. Ask for advice, a curator is there because of their expertise....ask for any advice they have. Honesty is a breath of fresh air...and they will always be happy to help you move forward.
I run the Gallery in Dublin, Ireland.
We opened in December...selling 66 pieces in 10 days.
On reopening in January I presummed we would be quiet and ended up selling 11 pieces on the opening day!!
Always glad to meet new artists, and I am building the business on emerging artists. Some have never displayed their work before.

Great site by the way, well done!
Karen Harper

Michele Brown said...

Great information! Thanks for posting!

Michele Brown