HOPELESS ARTIST EMAILS...
AND HOW TO MAKE THEM BETTER
I love art and artists and being around creative people. I love looking at art, talking about art, writing about art, and seeing artists succeed. More art everywhere is good; I can't get enough of it. One thing I can get enough of is misguided attempts by artists to draw attention to themselves and their art. In particular, I see too many artist emails, messages, posts, and other online strategies that get them nowhere with their art and can even do more harm than good. I'll start by showing actual examples of hopeless emails and DMs I've received from artists and then talk about how to make them better:
"My latest art."
"Do you like my art?"
"Please look at my art."
"Best way to sell my art?"
"I want to show you my art."
"What do you think of my art?"
"Visit my Instagram to see my art."
"I'm looking for a gallery to sell my art."
"I would like to show my art in your gallery."
"Here are images of my art for your consideration."
"I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have about my art."
"Pictures of my art. Can you give me feedback?"
"I'm looking for collectors to buy my art."
"I'm looking for someone to sell my art."
"I need a manager to promote my art."
"Visit my website and see my art."
"I'm looking for an art dealer."
"To Whom it May Concern..."
"See my art for sale."
"Dear Art Director..."
"I need an agent."
I have no idea when this started or who the original perpetrators were, but now's the time to make your artist emails, direct messages and other contact attempts better. Galleries, dealers, curators, critics, yours truly, and other fine art professionals receive way too many single-sentence emails and DMs like those above from artists the world over trying to get attention for their art. Sometimes they're slightly longer, sometimes they have NO text at all but only images or a link. The wonders of the Internet and social media, right?
The sheer quantity of these random indiscriminate emails is astounding. Gallery owners in particular are constantly deluged with requests to show, represent, buy, sell, critique, give opinions, or just plain look at artists' art. So OK. Let's say you want to send a DM or email to someone you don't know and have never met. You may be looking for exposure, shows, representation, comments, feedback, or how to promote or market your art. Whatever you're looking for, there are good ways and not-so-good ways to do it.
But before we talk about that, let's do this. Suppose we take the word "art" out of your email or DM. What's left is that you're basically asking a complete stranger to look at you. If you expect to get any kind of a response, you'd be well-advised to ask yourself a few questions first before pressing the "Send" button. For instance...
How do you do present yourself in a way that works? Is there a purpose or a point to them looking? What do you want them to look at? Why should they look at it? Is there something you want them to do? Hopefully you have a clear and purposeful agenda because if you don't, they'll have no idea how to respond other than 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 strangers to notice you for no identifiable reason other than because you're you is guaranteed to get you nowhere fast.
To begin with, research this person's (or gallery's or publication's or institution's or organization's) background information in advance. Read their websites and follow them on social media. Understand who they are and what they stand for. Make sure your education, resume and experience compare favorably to the artists they're represent or are involved with. That way, you can decide whether it's even a good idea for them to look at your art in the first place. In the meantime, like or comment on their posts (but only when you mean it, not to hype yourself or your art). Hopefully they'll at least notice you. While you're at it, figure out whether your art is the kind of art they might like, sell or represent.
If decide that making contact is a good idea, addressing them by name is a great way to start. If you don't know their name, find out. Begin by talking about them, not you. If you think they might like your art, briefly explain why you think so and how you reached that conclusion. Show them you actually know something who they are, what they do, what they like, and why you're reaching out. That will at least get their attention.
No one is likely to respond to you if you only talk about yourself and not them, especially if you have a hundred other names in the cc field of your email, or it's otherwise obvious that you're sending the exact same thing to multiple recipients. If all you're doing is sending generic requests to names you Googled up or found on Instagram or got from an email list, forget it. Carpet-bombing the universe about your art is certain to get you nowhere. In fact, it often hurts your chances of succeeding more than it helps. You have to be exclusive about who you contact, and make sure they understand why.
So that's the first thing. Tell whomever you're contacting why you're contacting them. And make it good. Talk about them-- like why you follow, respect or admire them. Explain why you think your art is relevant to what they do. If you're contacting a gallery, for example, mention the names of several artists they represent or show, and present your work in terms of theirs. Talk about why you think your art is a good fit and how the gallery might benefit, not you. Make clear that you're actually familiar with the gallery, their website, their social media 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 emails are a dead giveaway). You see, you're asking someone you don't know to do you a favor-- a big favor-- like take time out of their busy life to focus totally on you. 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 like just another cow in the herd. Even if you're only asking for a critique of your art, at least talk about why you value this person's knowledge, opinion and experience.
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 or DM, preferably really early on, you'd better establish either your credentials as an artist, a chain of referral which leads directly to them, 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 has shared interests that they can identify with and appreciate. If the only reason you're emailing them is to show them your art without offering a good reason why they should look at it, 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 several images (sometimes many more) or maybe a link to a website, social media page, image page or video. Some don't even show images of the art! How can anyone respond to you if they have no visual or background information to go on? (This assumes of course that you have a good reason for emailing them in the first place.) Would you 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 show my art?" You certainly wouldn't get very far if you did. If you don't do it in real life, don't do it online.
As for thinking that complete strangers will be so taken with you and your art that all they have to do is see it, think again. No one will beg you to tell them more, ask prices, want to buy something, show or represent you, offer critiques your work, or do anything else on your behalf unless you give them a good reason why. This is not the way the art world works. Show you respect what they do, are serious and dedicated to being an artist, have something to offer, and that there's an upside for them to get to know you better. Any contact you make must consist of a well-thought-out purpose or plan with a believable outcome where everyone stands to benefit, not just you.
You know the worst thing about inadequate or incomplete artist emails? They show that the artist is too lazy to take the time, or is not really committed to their art, or is too busy with other things to find out who they're emailing and why. Some of them aren't even written or translated into the language of the person they're contacting. These kinds of emails and DMs sabotage artists right from the start and assure that the "Delete" button get's hit instantly. If you have no time for them, how can you expect them to make time for you?
Getting back to good, purposeful, well-thought-out emails, envisioning possible outcomes in advance is 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 message off into the cosmos expecting to get a response. Make your point, purpose or plan crystal clear to every recipient. If you are fortunate enough to get a response, reply immediately to whatever comments or questions they have-- even if only to thank them for taking the time to look.
The truth is that we who receive your emails know nowhere near as much about you as you do, and we cannot possibly divine your purposes unless you enlighten us. Assume nothing. Among other things, and depending on who you're emailing, here is a list of the types of information you want to include depending on the purpose of your wanting to make contact:
1. Your full name, email address and other contact information you're comfortable providing (hard to believe, but many artist emails don't include basic contact information).
2. The name of the person you are emailing. Know who they are and address them by name-- not by something generic like "Dear Sir or Madame" or "To Whom it May Concern."
3. Links to your website or gallery page or social media pages or image page for anyone who wants know more.
4. Where you live, including city, state, province, country, etc.). Your Hotmail address is not enough.
5. A BRIEF explanation of why you're emailing this dealer, curator, gallery or other art professional.
6. A BRIEF statement 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 sending.
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, what you're currently working on, and the direction of your career.
11. Approximately much NEW OR RECENT ART you have available for sale and the price range it sells in.
12. Approximately how much new art you expect to have completed in the near future.
Even after all this, know that the probability of getting any kind of meaningful response from total strangers is low. But you can at least increase your chances of positive outcomes and make the experiences worthwhile when you do things right-- if only as exercises in purposefulness and in clearly organizing and presenting your work. Good luck and best wishes for success!
Need consulting about how to more effectively present yourself and your art? I can help. You're welcome to call 415.931.7875 or send me an email.
(sculpture by Roberto Santo)
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