Make the Most of Your Art Shows...
But Keep Them in Perspective
Q: I made a career change from engineer to artist several years ago. I now have two one person shows coming up, one at a gallery and the other at a local college. How can I get the maximum career benefits and exposure from these shows? My wife has volunteered to contact influential art critics. Will that help? What else I can do before, during and afterwards?
A: Make the most of these opportunities, but at the same time, keep them in their proper perspective. This is not a critical point which, if properly manipulated, will catapult you to instant stardom. You're pretty much at the start of your art career-- an auspicious one at that-- and these shows are both big pluses, but fame and fortune are much more related to longevity and consistency than they are to capitalizing on any given moment. Even if they both go extremely well, success is all about duplicating those accomplishments again and again and again. All that considered, however, you can certainly make the best of both shows.
One great way to maximize the outcome of any exhibition is to publish a catalogue, particularly with respect to the one at the college. Institutional shows are generally accorded greater significance on an artist's resume due to their non-commercial nature-- in other words, they show the art simply because they think it's good, not because they're trying to make money from it. Find out whether either the gallery or the college (or both together) have any such plans and if not, what you might do to convince them otherwise. Coming away with at least a brochure is one of the best long term public relations benefits you can have. If neither the gallery nor the college are willing, ask whether you can publish one yourself and make it available at your shows.
Regarding the critics, your wife is welcome to contact those who review your type of art, but a better idea would be to have the college and gallery public relations people do so instead. Family members are not the best for this sort of thing; having unbiased third parties, preferably fine arts professionals, testify to the critics on your behalf is far more credible than having your wife do it. Also keep in mind that critics tend to review art shows of more established artists, but you never know... you might get lucky. What your wife can do, however, is post announcements and/or press releases from both the gallery and the college on art event and calendar websites. She can also email the information to publications, both hard-copy and online, that list upcoming art shows.
When your shows end, assuming you have no further obligation or long term contractual relationships or agreements with the exhibiting gallery, put everything up on your website-- including prices and availability. Include reviews or coverage (if you get any), images of the work, an updated bio or resume (about your art, not engineering), ample contact information, and any other relevant facts about your art career that you deem relevant. If sales go well, you might also include an update about that. Galleries and people who buy art always like to hear about artists whose shows are successful and whose work sells well.
Once you've got the website together, you can begin researching and contacting galleries and other venues in your area that you feel might be appropriate for potential shows. The kew word here is "research"; don't start carpet-bombing every gallery with calls or emails about you or your art. Make sure you can specifically and convincingly demonstrate why your art might be appropriate for any gallery that you approach.
Focus your main efforts to places on a par with or slightly above those of this gallery and college, but don't rule anything out. At this stage in your career, you need all the exposure you can get. Going beyond your geographical area at this point doesn't make a great deal of sense unless you receive publicity or attention for your shows in those areas. And save the major galleries and institutions for later-- advancing in your art career is a step-by-step process. They're only inclined to exhibit your work once you've accrued a lengthy resume of shows and distinctions, and established a reputation of exhibiting and selling at comparable venues.
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