HOPELESS ARTIST EMAILS...
AND HOW TO MAKE THEM BETTER
"Here's my latest art."
"Please look at my art."
"I'd like to show you my art."
"Tell me what you think about my art."
"I'm looking for a gallery to sell my art."
"I would like to show my art in your gallery."
"Here are examples of my art for your consideration."
"I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have on my art."
"Visit my social networking page to see my art."
"I'd welcome any brief comments on my art."
"Can you give me feedback about my art?"
"I want someone to promote my art."
"Visit my website and see my art."
"I'm looking for an art dealer."
"To Whom it May Concern."
"Dear Art Director..."
"See my art for sale."
"I need an agent."
I have no idea when this started or who the original perpetrators were, but galleries, dealers, yours truly, and other fine art professionals receive more pointless, ill-conceived and just plain sad single-sentence emails like these from artists the world over trying to get exposure for their art. Sometimes they're slightly longer, sometimes they have NO text at all but instead show only of images or a link. The wonders of the Internet, right? The sheer quantity of these random indiscriminate open-ended requests is absolutely astounding. Gallery owners in particular are continuously deluged with all kinds of requests to show, represent, buy, sell, respond to, or just plain look at artists' art. So OK. Let's say you'd like to send emails for purposes of getting exposure, shows, representation, or asking for comments on feedback on your art. Now what?
Before we even talk about that, let's do this. Suppose we take the word "art" out of your emails. What's left is that you're basically asking someone to look at you. Since you've likely never met the recipients, that means you're asking total strangers to look at you. So what are they supposed to do? Is there a purpose or a point? What specifically do you want? Is there something you'd like this person to do for you? If you have an agenda, you'd better be clear because if you aren't, they'll have absolutely no idea how to respond and will likely hit "Delete." I entirely understand and appreciate the fact that you're immersed in your art, deeply believe in what you're doing and feel compelled to share, but randomly asking others to notice you for no identifiable reason other than because you're you is guaranteed to get you nowhere fast.
To begin with, tell the recipients why you're emailing them. Research their backgrounds and decide whether it's even a good idea for them to look at your art. If you think it is, addressing them by name is a great way to start. If you don't know their name, find out. While you're at it, figure out whether your art is the kind of art they like, sell or represent and if it is, briefly explain why you think so and how you reached that conclusion. Show them you actually care about who they are, what they do, and why you're reaching out.
No one is inclined to respond to someone who talks only about themselves and not a word about who they're emailing or why-- especially if you have a hundred other names in the cc (carbon copy) field of your email, or it's otherwise obvious you're doing a mass emailing. If all you're doing is sending generic requests to names you Googled up or got from an email list you got snookered into buying, forget it. Carpet-bombing the universe about your art is guaranteed to get you nowhere. You have to be exclusive about who you email and why. To repeat, you have to show you care.
So that's the first thing. Tell whomever you're emailing why you're emailing them. And make it good. Talk about them-- not you. Explain why you think your art is relevant to whatever it is they do. If you're contacting a gallery, for example, mention the names of several artists they represent or show, and discuss your work in terms of theirs. Compare your education or resume or experience to the artists they show. Talk about why you think your art is a good fit-- in terms of the gallery, not you. Give the impression that you're actually familiar with the gallery, their website, their profile, that you possess some degree of fluency about who they are and what they do, and most importantly-- that you care.
NEVER give the impression that if they don't respond, you'll just go ahead and send the same exact email to the next name on your list, or that you're already doing that (generic sounding emails are a dead giveaway here). You see, you're asking someone you don't know to do you a favor-- a big favor-- like take time out of his or her busy life to focus totally on you. And if you're going to do that, then there has to be something in it for them. You have to make them feel special or selected in some way, and not just another cow in the herd. Even if you're only asking for a critique of your art, at least talk about why you respect this person's opinion and value their feedback.
Next on the agenda, explain what qualifies you to contact whomever you're emailing. In case you're wondering, "I'm an artist and I make art" is not a good reason. Somewhere in your email, preferably really early on, you'd better establish either your credentials as an artist, a chain of referral which leads directly to the recipient, or some other reason that's pretty overwhelmingly appealing as to why you're doing this, and why they should keep reading. In other words, you have to elevate yourself from a complete stranger to someone who the recipient knows, who knows someone the recipient knows (and hopefully respects), or who has some sort of definable shared interest that the recipient can identify with and appreciate. If the only reason you're emailing them is to show them your art, don't bother. It's a waste of your time and more importantly, it's a waste of theirs.
Then there's the core content of a typical hopeless email, usually consisting of one or two declarative sentences or phrases like "See my art" or "My art for sale" and maybe anywhere from one to four or five images (sometimes many more) or maybe a link to a website, social networking page, image page or video. And here's the astonishing part-- nothing else! And here's the even more astonishing part-- some of these emails don't even include images of the art! How can anyone respond to you in any way if they have no visual information to go on? (This assumes of course that you have a good reason for emailing the recipient in the first place.) Would you ever walk into an art gallery with no introduction, portfolio or materials of any kind and say, "Hi, I'm an artist; would you like to see or sell my art?" You certainly wouldn't get very far if you did. If you would never do it in real life, don't do in an email.
You know the worst thing about inadequate or incomplete emails? They show that the sender is just plain lazy, or not really committed to taking themselves and their art seriously, or too busy with other things to figure out who they're emailing and why. In other words, if you send emails like this you sabotage yourself right from the start and assure that recipients hit the delete button immediately if not sooner.
Getting back to good, purposeful, well-thought-out emails, envisioning possible outcomes in advance is also highly recommended. What do you hope will happen? What would you like to happen? Whatever the answers to these questions are, you'd better be clear about them before you send your email off into the cosmos expecting to get a response. Make them clear to the recipients as well. If you are fortunate enough to get a response, be well-prepared to answer these and any other questions you might be asked.
Don't ever delude yourself into believing that complete strangers will be so taken with you and your art that all they have to do is see it-- and when they do, beg you to tell them more, ask prices, want to buy something or show or represent you, offer detailed critiques your work, or do anything else on your behalf. This is not the way the art world works. Whomever you're emailing has to see an upside, that you care not only about them and their futures, but also about yourself and your dedication to being an artist. This means more than one or two sentences and a handful of images of your art. Any email you send must consist of a well-thought-out vision and a plan with a plausible outcome where everyone stands to benefit, not only you.
The truth is that we who receive your emails know nowhere near as much about you as you do, and we cannot possibly divine what's what unless you enlighten us. Assume nothing. Among other things, please include the following:
1. Your full name and contact information (hard to believe, but many artist emails don't even include this most basic information). While you're at it, have the courtesy to sign your emails.
2. The name of the recipient. Address the recipient by name-- not by someting generic like "Dear Sir or Madame" or "To Whom it May Concern."
3. Links to your website or gallery page or social networking pages or image page if you have these so interested recipients can learn more about you.
4. Where you're from, including your contact information (state, country, phone number, and so on). Your Hotmail address is not enough.
5. A BRIEF explanation of why you're emailing this person or gallery.
6. A BRIEF summary of your goals or intentions.
7. A BRIEF resume or summary of your career and accomplishments to this point.
8. A BRIEF description of the images you're emailing.
9. A BRIEF explanation about what you envision for your art (besides finding someone to look at it or sell it for you).
10. A BRIEF statement about who you are as an artist, what your art is about, and the direction of your career.
11. Approximately much art you have available, what your production rate is, and price range you sell in.
Even after all this, know that the probability of getting any kind of meaningful response is low. But you can at least increase your chances of positive outcomes and make the experiences worthwhile if you do things right-- if only as exercises in purposefulness, and in clearly organizing and presenting your work. To summarize-- carefully research and identify your recipients, explain your reasons for contacting them, talk about what's in it for them, be clear about your goals and intentions as an artist, and demonstrate that there's more to your agenda than you. Good luck and best wishes for success!
Need consulting about how to present your art better? I can help. You're welcome to call 415.931.7875 or send me an email.
(sculpture by Roberto Santo)
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