Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Art Advice: Contacting an Art Dealer by Email

If you read this blog you know that I sometimes give advice on what artists should not do. I know, I know, we are all focused on what we should do-- like gaining exposure online, social networking, and creating the best art that we can. However, many artists make simple mistakes that can reflect poorly on their professionalism. An example of this is contacting an art dealer whom you don’t know personally in the hopes of gaining gallery representation. Edward Winkleman, a gallery owner and art blogger from New York, recently posted a perfect example of why artists should not contact art dealers by email in this manner. Winkleman handled the situation well in that he could have criticized the artist harshly for sending random solicitation. To read the story please visit Edward Winkleman’s blog, HERE .

It does not surprise me that an artist would contact Ed out of the blue. It happens to art dealers often and is commonly viewed as desperation. As Winkleman points out, the action sends a red flag message that the artist in question may be more trouble than he or she is worth-- professionally speaking. After all, art dealers are like anyone else in that they don’t want to take on the extra burden of an artist who is desperate or insecure. In other words, it is not an art dealers business to improve the esteem of a hopeful artist.

As I’ve mentioned before this issue is very delicate. Most people, including art dealers, don’t want to offend someone concerning the caliber-- or lack thereof-- of their art. Thus, contacting an art dealer without knowing him or her creates an awkward situation for both the art dealer and the artist. Most art dealers are likely not to respond to the unsolicited message-- which furthers the doubt the artist may have for his or her art. Unfortunately, lack of response spurs some artists to send even more unsolicited message. It is a lose-lose situation for the artist. In other words, this form of solicitation is almost always met with failure. Therefore, it is important for artists to not give in to the urge.

Most artists desire to be represented by a gallery-- specifically a gallery in New York. With that said, there is a key step to remember when pursuing gallery representation-- be it in New York City or anywhere else for that matter. So what is this step? Simple. An artist will want to attend openings at the gallery he or she is interested in. The artist will want to learn everything he or she can about the gallery-- attending exhibit openings can be one of the best ways to do that. Thus, it is a good idea to take that step before contacting anyone at the gallery by email.

While attending exhibit openings you will want to keep an eye out for the type of work that is displayed at the gallery. If possible, try to speak with artists who are already exhibited at the gallery and be friendly to the gallery staff. You want to become a familiar face without being overly familiar-- such as sending an email that is doomed for failure. In a sense, you want to know exactly what you are hoping to get yourself into-- you want to know if it is right for you. Simple conversations can help you to find out if you are right for the gallery and visa versa.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, getting to know people and being friendly I does 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. If needed imagine yourself as a ronin observing the force that you are interested in joining. In other words, silence is a virtue and speaking when spoken to-- or when the opportunity arises-- is always a good tactic.

In time 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! Don’t be afraid to ask for the art dealers card after you have become a somewhat familiar face. You may even want to ask him or her if it is OK for you communicate by email just to observe the reaction on his or her face. Just remember that fake smiles are often a business trait of the profession. If you don’t believe me simply attend an art fair as a member of the press and you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

As mentioned before on this blog, the question of when to contact an art dealer by email reminds me that the world wide web is sometimes a double-edged sword for artists just as much as it is for anyone else. 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-- yep, you are not the only one contacting them.

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. I’ve seen that happen. 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 foot-- and face since you will be attending exhibit openings-- forward. You do not want to create obstacles by sending an unsolicited email message. Annoying gallery owners can be career suicide depending on the status of the gallery and the disposition of the owner.

Artists often forget that a gallery is a business. In fact, the business side of being an artist shares some similarities with the business of running a gallery. For example, an artist tends to not want someone to barge into his or her studio-- the same can be said for art dealers who are just as focused on their work. An artist probably does not want to deal with unsolicited email messages and the same goes for art dealers. Remember that an art dealer does not display art simply for the viewing pleasure of visitors. No, the art dealer has 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?". Do you want the truth? 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. In fact, the important email address are rarely listed on a gallery website.

There are always 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 they do not read unsolicited messages under their contact information!!!). As stated, 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 art and the possibility of representation. As I mentioned before, there could be thousands of artist worldwide sending emails to the gallery with the same desire. As artist wants to be a face in the crowd... not a random name listed in the galleries email inbox-- or trash bin for that matter.

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 at 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' solicitation sent by email. With that said, 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 an artist if he or she is seeking gallery representation. As always, I suggest seeking regional success before going after the big dogs. Yes, there are some advantages for artists who do not live in one of the hubs of the art world-- I'll save that for a later topic.

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. Remember that most of the artists represented by Steve Lazarides (he represents Banksy and Mark Jenkins, among others.) started out by spreading their influence online. My point-- Don't sweat over gallery representation. Don’t make a fool of yourself or place yourself in an awkward position by contacting art dealers you don’t know personally. If gallery representation happens, it happens. If not you can always go it alone.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Good advice. There needs to be more personal contact in the art world in the first place. As much as we would like we can't do all of our business by email.

K said...

I completely agree that lack of personal contact is a problem...and maybe not even personal contact literally, just personability and compassion. I know doors must be closed to protect the gallerists from constant nagging and from wasting time viewing artists who have no place being in that gallery....but art brings the world together, brings differing viewpoints into the same room, represents is ironic then that those who claim to most support art are so exclusive, sometimes bordering on too much elitism gone to the brain. It would be nice for it not to be so, but I'm not sure if you can have the art world/market we have without the distanced facade.


That's great advice about keeping an eye out for the type of work that is displayed at the gallery, while attending exhibit openings.