Why Sending Bulk Emails to Art Galleries

Is a Really Bad Idea

Many artists believe that sending bulk emails or mailings to gobs of galleries all at once increases their chances of getting shows or representation, the logic being that by playing the odds, at least one of those dozens or hundreds of galleries will respond favorably to the art and be interested in developing some sort of relationship. The bad news is that in a substantial majority of cases, bulk emailings or mailings actually decrease an artist's chances of getting shows. To begin with, the nonspecific content of many of these emails is easily and instantly identifiable by galleries, which means that most of them automatically end up in the trash without ever being read. No gallery wants to feel like they're just one of boatloads of recipients, or that the senders care mainly about themselves and little about the galleries they're sending to. Artists who flog their art all over artland generally come off like they don't really care who gives them a show as long as they get one, and as long it's somewhere. Galleries rarely respond favorably to this type of treatment or approach.

A bulk emailing or mailing also gives galleries the impression that the artist is not interested in taking the time to put together any kind of a personalized presentation. Worse yet, requests like this are often seen as desperation attempts of sorts, as indications that an artist is having little or no success trying to show their work, and is now resorting to a type of carpet-bombing approach in hopes that someone somewhere will care. No artist wants to be thought of in these terms, but unfortunately they are when they present themselves and their art to galleries in this way.

Pretty much any attempts to contact galleries in mass are bad ideas. I remember consulting with an artist once who told me a story about going to a gallery district in their city, showing their art, and getting an offer from one of the galleries that very day to have a show. They exchanged contact information and the artist fully expected to hear from the gallery within a short period of time to discuss details, but weeks passed without the artist hearing anything. So the artist emailed the gallery and asked about the show. The gallery did not respond. The artist attempted to make contact several more times, and ended up never hearing from the gallery again.

This didn't make much sense to the artist, nor to me, so I asked whether they had also shown their work to any other galleries that day and if so, how many. As it turned out, the artist basically went from gallery to gallery showing their art to anyone who would look-- and that's never a good strategy. On hearing this, I suggested that perhaps the gallery that offered them the show had spoken with another gallery later on, realized that gallery had also been shown the exact same work that day, and was not interested in handling it. If this was indeed the case, that's a perfect reason for the gallery that offered the show never to speak with that artist again. No gallery in their right mind wants to show art that another gallery, especially one in the same vicinity, has already said no to.

In the art world (as in the worlds of antiques and collectibles), overexposing art can often have detrimental effects on how an artist is perceived within the community. There is an expression called "burning the work" that people in the business sometimes use to describe the consequences of overexposure. It means that if too many people are offered or given opportunities to see, show or otherwise get involved with the exact same art, the art tends to become less desirable or devalued as a result, losing a bit of its luster, so to speak, every time the artist shows it again. And the more people who express no interest in doing anything with it, the less desirable it gets.

The problem with too much exposure is that in any situation where art gets shopped around from gallery to gallery and person to person, it gets worn out in a sense, becoming less exclusive of a commodity and less special in its own way because all kinds of people are saying no to showing it. In the extreme, it's like pretty much everyone has seen it, everyone has passed on it, and now no one really wants to get involved with an artist who has this kind of a track record. Always remember-- gallery owners and other art people tend to talk with each other on a regular basis and if your name comes up in conversation as having sent out identical materials or otherwise contacted multiple dealers or galleries with no positive results, that is never good for your reputation.

At the opposite end of the continuum, exclusivity or "underexposure" along with a certain degree of surprise or unexpectedness are significant positive factors in the art world. When a gallery decides to show a particular artist for the first time, they want to feel reasonably confident that they've made a discovery largely on their own, that they're in control, that they'll be recognized for their foresight in bringing this work to the attention of the art community, and that other galleries will be at least impressed and hopefully even envious. Galleries do their best to figure out in advance who else might have seen any art that they're considering showing, particularly competing galleries, and if any have, which of them might have decided for whatever reasons not to show it. This may even include a gallery asking an artist straight out who else they might have already shown their work to. Galleries simply try to protect themselves from the embarrassment of opening a show that other galleries may have already been offered and passed on.

If a gallery gets any sense at all that other galleries have already turned an artist down, they will most likely back off too. One main reason for this is that if they do show the work, they'll be vulnerable to criticism from whoever's already seen it and decided not to show it. Those galleries or dealers would be in perfect positions to comment negatively or unfavorably about the art, and if they chose to do so, could seriously impact the success of the show. For you as an artist, this means that you show your work to as few galleries as possible and do your absolute best in advance to single out only those that you think might be the most interested. This is how you maintain a reasonable sense of exclusivity in terms of allowing access to your art, while at the same time reducing the chances of other galleries gossiping about having decided not to show you.

This exclusivity ultimately translates into sales. The fresher and less exposed art is on the gallery circuit, the more valued it is by collectors. Experienced collectors generally prefer buying art that few if any others have seen or had access to, and tend to research art and artists before they buy to make sure that they're getting the best, latest, least exposed work. They may do this research online, they may speak with other collectors, they may even speak with multiple galleries or individuals knowledgeable about the particular art or artists that they're interested in. Here again, if they find out that other collectors or galleries have already passed on opportunities to either purchase or exhibit the work, then the chances increase that they will likely pass on it too. Collectors tend to be sensitive to the opinions of others who they respect, and to make matters worse, are generally timid about making command decisions on their own; most would much rather follow than lead. Galleries are well aware of these tendencies and know that making sure select collectors get preferential treatment and have priority access to their art usually pays dividends in the end.

For you as an artist, regularly getting out into the art community, getting involved with other artists and art-related activites, and maintaining an active, ongoing, engaging and up-to-date online profile are at least as important as repeatedly contacting galleries for possible shows or exposure... and perhaps even more important. Given that most galleries like to be the ones in control, the ones who make the discoveries on their own and decide which art or artists to represent, it's almost better to lay back and make yourself and your work available in a low-key and appealing way, networking both online and in person, and exhibiting whenever the opportunity presents itself. Let the galleries make contact with you rather than constantly running around and banging on their doors. If your art's got the chops, you can rest assured that sooner or later the people who count are going to find you.

Contact the author, Alan Bamberger >>

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