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 solo 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, publications and websites. Will that help? What else can I do before, during and after for these to work in my favor?
A: Make the most of these opportunities for sure, but keep them in perspective at the same time. While getting these shows is great, you can't necessarily expect coverage from major critics or publications this soon. The shows are good solid continuations of what you've been doing so far but as for garnering any significant level of attention, that's unlikely. You're pretty much at the start of your art career-- an auspicious one at taht-- 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 both shows go extremely well, success is all about duplicating those accomplishments again and again and again. All that considered, however, you can do certain things to make the best of them.
First, get the word out on social media. Check with the gallery and college ahead of time to see whether they have any preferences in how you introduce and present the events, and then get busy. Among other options, post a select sampling of work that will be on display at each exhibit including captions, include a shot or two of the work being installed at each location, post a few images of each exhibit once it's hung, take pics of the opening nights and post those, show buyers standing next to sold works when possible, etc. From there, update as necessary, but make sure it's newsworthy. Too much is never good. Your goal here is to pretty much document each exhibit from beginning to end for anyone on the fence about going, those who might not be able to make it, and as future reference for anyone who discovers you online, likes your art, and wants to know more.
Personally invite your closest friends, followers and contacts. Also post and send out the gallery and college show announcements to your mailing list and fan base. Go easy on how many times you do this in advance of the shows; too much is never good. Perhaps send an initial announcement about two or three weeks before each show, a reminder about a week before the show, and one last reminder the day of the show. Don't overdo the hype, especially on social media. You're likely to lose audience if you do.
Assuming you have the funds, another great way to maximize the outcome of any exhibition is to publish a catalog, especially for the one at the college. Institutional shows are generally considered more significant than gallery shows on an artist's resume due to their non-commercial nature. In other words, your art is exhibited because the institution wants to recognize your accomplishments, not because they think they can make money from sales. Find out whether either the gallery or the college (or both together) have any such plans and if not, whether there's anything you can do to convince them otherwise. Coming away with at least a brochure is good for posterity, plus it gives you something to mail, hand out or even sell to people interested in your art. If neither the gallery nor the college are willing to foot the bill, ask whether you can finance it yourself or publish one on your own and make it available at the shows.
As for the critics, your wife can certainly contact anyone who covers the area art scene or reviews or reports on your type of art, but a better idea would be to have the college and gallery public relations people do that instead. Family members are not the best messengers for this sort of thing, particularly if they have no experience doing it. Having experienced third parties, preferably gallery or college personnel or other fine arts professionals notify the critics on your behalf is way 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 make sure announcements or press releases from both the gallery and the college are posted to online events calendars and to any relevant groups or pages.
In any press releases, requests for coverage or other announcements you send, be sure to include a compelling reason or two for people to attend-- to come, see, review or report. Don't expect much in the way of engagement if you frame them as little more than invitations to see yet another artist show art. Maybe there's something unique or special about the art itself or the show as a whole; maybe your transition from engineer to artist is newsworthy in some way; maybe it's the relationship between your art and engineering; maybe you have some sort of notable accomplishments or distinctions in the engineering field that integrate well into the theme the work. Whatever you say or do, make it more than just another art show.
After your shows end, assuming you have no further obligation or long-term contractual relationships or agreements with either venues, put everything up on your website and post relevant links and images of the art on your social media pages. But if the gallery still represents you, refer all interested parties directly to them. Otherwise, include at least some information about prices or price ranges along with availability for those who might be curious but afraid to ask. On your website, update your image gallery, your bio or resume, your contact information, links to any reviews or coverage you get, and post any other news or information you consider relevant. If sales go well, you might also post updates on that, like for example, images of works installed at homes or businesses. Galleries, collectors and anyone else who buys art always like to hear about successful shows and work that sells well.
Once you've got the online profile together, and assuming the college and gallery are ok with it, begin researching galleries and other venues in your area or maybe even somewhat outside your area that you feel might be appropriate for future shows. Going way beyond your geographical area at this point doesn't make a great deal of sense unless you get some kind of publicity or attention for your shows in those areas. Follow venues you like, visit when possible, and in general, keep tabs on what they do. Do your research and don't simply assume every gallery is right. Make sure you can specifically and convincingly demonstrate why your art might be appropriate for any gallery you might one day approach, and above all, be selective about who you approach. Carpet-bombing every gallery within reach is not the way to go. And please oh please continue to produce fresh new work. If anyone shows interest, you'd better have enough to make an impression. Having plenty of available work (that hasn't been shown at other venues) is key when it comes to getting more shows.
Focus mainly on galleries you think you have a chance to show at. For example, don't bother contacting galleries that only show artists with far larger resumes than yours. You might even consider non-gallery venues if the settings are complementary to your art. Save the major galleries and institutions for later when you get better known; advancing in your art career is a step-by-step process. More established galleries will only be interested in showing your work once you've put together a respectable resume, track record of successful shows and sales, received awards and distinctions for your art, have cultivated a dedicated following, and are clearly on an upward trajectory in terms of exposure and accomplishments.
(art by Lauren Carly Shaw).
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