Common Artist Questions Answered: Episode II
Q: I want to put as many different kinds of art as possible on my website. I think that increases the chances that everyone who visits will find something they like. Is this a good idea?
A: I'll answer your question with a question. How often do you see a solo show at a good gallery where all the art is different? In one way or another, everything's related-- variations on a theme, you might say-- either unified by the show statement, the appearance, or some other variable. You see, what happens when you throw a miscellany of artwork onto your website is that you confuse people. They can't figure out what you stand for or get a coherent grip on where you're going or what you're saying. And confused people don't buy art. It's like walking into a store and seeing that they sell bananas, handbags, motor oil, and dog grooming supplies. You take one look, turn around, and walk right back out.
Q: Should I put selections of work from throughout my entire career on my website?
A: That depends. If your website is meant to be an online retrospective of your art, then yes. But if it's intended to sell art or get you shows, stick with what you're doing now. If you want to put up older works, limit them to art that's reasonably relevant to your present direction, and clearly separate them from your current work. The less relevant it is, the more you should think about leaving it off the website. Plus, you don't want potential buyers to get interested in art you no longer make. And please-- do not put up everything you've ever done since your first scribble at age two.
Q: Should I have lots of sold art on my website to show how well it sells?
A: No. Imagine walking into a store, seeing something you like, taking it up to the checkout counter, and being told, "Sorry-- this one's sold. You'll have to find something else." People who see lots of sold art may be impressed with your ability to sell, but they also get the impression that all the good stuff's gone, and all they have to choose from are the dregs nobody wants. If you want to put sold art on your website, be purposeful about it. For example, put up a handful of pieces that have sold to significant collectors, businesses, institutions, or organizations.
Q: I search online for art dealers, galleries, and other people with profiles in the art world. Then I email them images of my art with no text. I figure that people who are impressed or who want to know more will email me back and ask about it, want to buy it, or offer to give me shows. So far, I've had no response. Any suggestions?
A: Out of all the possible ways to present your art, this is unquestionably a nonstarter and ranks right up there with emails that begin "Dear Sir/Madam" or "Please visit my website and let me know what you think about my art." People who receive these emails-- assuming they even open them and they usually don't-- wonder, "Who are these people and why are they bothering me?" Suppose you're looking for a job with a company. Would you email them your resume and nothing else? In the art world, just like anywhere else, you have to address the recipient by name, explain why you're contacting them, what you're looking for, and why you believe that getting involved with your art will benefit them in some way.
Q: You say to show locally at first and gradually expand from there. So does that mean I contact all the galleries in my area about possibly showing my art?
A: No. Hold off on introducing yourself to galleries in your area, and especially on making requests for them to show your art. First, familiarize yourself with each gallery, one by one, see what kinds of art they show, narrow your focus to those that offer art similar to yours (and artists with similar career accomplishments to yours). Good times to do this are during exhibit openings or at other times when galleries are busy, so you can circulate in relative anonymity and assess the situations. Do your research in advance, determine who might be a fit, and save making contact for later.
Q: I'm interested in showing at certain galleries. What kinds of things should I say when I walk in to talk about my art?
A: I could probably write a dozen articles about this, but for the sake of brevity, and assuming your art is a fit with the gallery (which you have hopefully determined beforehand), here are a few pointers. Introduce yourself, go slow, make sure they have the time and appear willing to talk. If yes, then talk about them, not about you. Demonstrate that you're a genuine fan of the gallery, not just another artist looking for wall space. Assuming you survive those formalities, briefly explain why you believe your art is a fit with the gallery and back those claims up with FACTS about the art and artists the gallery shows-- the more facts, the better. Assuming you survive this, suggest that perhaps at some point they might like to look at your art. Good luck!
Q: I'm thinking about getting patents on my art to make sure nobody copies it. I want as many legal protections as possible. Is this a good idea?
A: Have you invented something? A new chemical configuration for paint? New equipment for making art? I'm not a patent attorney, but if you haven't invented anything, there's nothing to patent. Your art is automatically copyrighted once you make it, if that's what you're worried about. You don't have to file anything; nothing to be concerned about there (however under certain circumstances, registering your copyrights is advisable). Related to this, keep in mind that any artist who gets a reputation for regularly invoking, or worse yet, engaging various sectors of the legal system is destined to turn off a substantial percentage of potential dealers, galleries, and buyers. People love art because of the freedom, expansiveness, new ideas, groundbreaking concepts, and unexplored territories it represents, not because it restricts them with legalities. Use the legal system only as an absolute last resort.
Q: I don't want to show any art online because I think people will steal the images. How do I protect myself?
A: Buy a cave; live there for the rest of your life. Allow no one to see your art-- ever. In your will, leave directions to where your art is hidden, so that someone somewhere can show and sell it once you've transitioned to the great beyond. But seriously, if your goal is to show your art publicly, then you have to take the risk of presenting it online. These days, that's the number one way to spread the word about what you're doing... and there's no close second.
Q: Should I have dealers, galleries, or consultants sign non-disclosure agreements before I talk to them about my art?
A: Well, if you want to get absolutely nowhere as an artist, yes.
Q: I'm having trouble getting shows at galleries. Do you have any suggestions for getting my art out there?
A: Try group shows, juried and non-juried shows, renting temporary venues with other artists and showing together, non-art venues, anything to get your art before the public. Whatever it takes, do it. Find out whether any of your friends or associates has access to public areas of buildings, meeting rooms, or similar spaces. Throw yourself a show. Try showing at places like coffee shops or restaurants, lobbies of office buildings, at someone's private home, and so on. The more you get your art out there, the more people see it, and the greater your chances of eventually landing a gallery. Build your resume one line at a time, no matter how insignificant an event that line represents. In the long run, it all counts.
Q: I don't put prices on my website because I want people to contact me about my art. Is this a good idea?
A: No. People don't like to ask prices because they don't want to feel bad or be embarrassed when the prices they ask for (which they won't ask for) turn out to be more than they can afford. How would you like walking into a store where nothing is priced, and having to ask how much anything you're interested in buying costs?
Q: Should I have a blog on my website?
A: Yes and no. Yes, if you update it regularly and develop an interesting storyline. That way, you attract attention, a loyal readership, and you show everybody how dedicated you are. No, if your entries are going to be unrelated or sporadic like maybe once every few months, because then you show everybody how undedicated you are. Realize up front that maintaining a good blog takes time, effort, and commitment. If you do it right, you'll benefit.
Q: I paint big-- between 3 x 5 feet and 4 x 6 feet. I'm having lots of trouble showing and selling my work. Any suggestions? Are there special galleries or places to show big art?
A: Here's the deal with big art-- people who buy big art (and galleries that show big art) generally like it to be by big artists, big in name that is. A few galleries cater to commercial concerns like corporate clienteles who need art for large spaces, but again, they tend to have very specific requirements for what they show. The truth is that most people who buy big art do so to impress, and one of the best ways to impress is with the stature and reputation of the artist who makes it. So if you're early in your career or are still building your resume, think about sizing down. Big paintings are OK to a point; they generally make your smaller pieces look better-- kind of a coattail effect. But the key here is to think seriously about producing more medium or smaller sized works, not only because they take up less wall space (and storage space), but also because they're more affordable. In general, the more options you can offer to buyers size-wise, especially early on in your career, the better.
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