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, their visual appearance, or some other variable. What happens when you throw a miscellany of artwork onto your website is you end up confusing 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 that's selling 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 and place the primary focus on your most recent work. 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, perhaps in a gallery category called "Past Work" or "Select Past Works." 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. Also avoid the temptation put up everything you've ever done since you first started out. While you may love the history behind it all, you risk overwhelming visitors.

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 work gone, and all they have to choose from are the leftovers, the dregs nobody wants. If you want to put sold art on your website, be purposeful about it. In your "Select Past Work" gallery, for example, put up a sampling of pieces that have sold to 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 very little text, just my contact information and to get back with me if interested. I figure that people who are impressed with what they see and 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 generic mass 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 artists and why are they emailing me?" Suppose you're looking for a job with a company. Would you email them your resume and nothing else except your contact information and, "Get back to me if interested"? 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 both in person and online, see what kinds of art they show, and narrow your focus to those that offer art similar to yours (and artists with similar career accomplishments and resumes to yours). Good times for an initial visit are during exhibit openings or at other times when galleries are busy so you can circulate in relative anonymity and get a feel for what they're like. Do your research in advance, determine who might be a fit, and save making more serious contact for later. When you're ready, be exclusive and contact only those few that you think might be the best for your art.

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. First, check their websites or ask if they have any submission guidelines. If yes, follow them. Making contact via email is generally good for a start, or getting on their announcement list and regularly showing up for their openings or other events. Even if you say nothing, at least they'll notice you're there. If you do get a chance to speak firsthand at some point, introduce yourself, go slow, make sure they have the time and appear willing to talk. If they do, begin by talking 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 formula for paint? New equipment for making art? I'm not a patent attorney and don't give legal advice, 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-- read more about that HERE). Related to this, keep in mind that any artist who gets a reputation for regularly talking about, or worse yet, threatening legal action is destined to turn off a substantial percentage of potential dealers, galleries and buyers. People love art because of the freedom, expressiveness, new ideas, groundbreaking concepts, and unexplored territories it represents, not because it restricts them with legalities. Invoke 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: Make art secretly and store it in a cave for the rest of your life. Allow no one to see it-- 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. If someone likes your images enough to re-post them, be flattered. Hopefully they'll credit you as the artist if they do. The more people who are exposed to your art no matter where they see it, the better. As long as no one is breaking the law by using your images to make money for themselves, it's all good.

Q: Should I have dealers, galleries or consultants sign non-disclosure agreements before I talk to them about my art?

A: If you want to get absolutely nowhere as an artist, yes. You'll only succeed in scaring people away.

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, showing at non-art venues, anything to get your art in front of the public. Whatever it takes, do it. Find out whether any of your friends or associates have 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 will see it, and the greater your chances of eventually landing a gallery or more serious exhibition opportunity. Your art does you absolutely no good gathering dust in your studio. Build your resume one line at a time, no matter how minor the shows those lines represent. You have to start somewhere and hopefully over time, you'll be able replace those early shows on your resume with more significant ones. In the long run, every show 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 (unless you're currently being represented by a gallery that doesn't want prices on your site). Some people don't like to ask prices because they're afraid they'll get added to email lists, be pressured to buy, be embarrassed when they find out the art costs more than they can afford, etc. 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? You can price your art in a separate section of your website; do like the galleries do and have a price list.

Q: Should I have a blog on my website?

A: Yes and no. Yes, if you update 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 and design firms cater to commercial concerns like corporate clienteles who need art for large spaces, but again, they tend to have very specific requirements for who and 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 making art in a range of sizes. Big art is OK to a point; it generally makes your smaller pieces look better, kind of like 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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(art by Scott Greene)

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