Why Sending Mass Emails to Galleries

Is a 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. Their logic is 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 cultivating some sort of relationship. The reality is that in many cases, bulk emailings or mailings can actually work against artists and decrease their chances of getting shows or representation.

To begin with, mass emails are often easily identified by galleries, which means that most of them end up in the trash without ever being read. Why? For one thing, no gallery wants to feel like they're one of many who are receiving the exact same thing. For another, artists who send them come off as caring mainly about themselves and little about all the galleries they're sending to, like it makes no difference who gives them a show as long as they get one. Galleries rarely respond favorably to this impersonal type of treatment.

Mass emails or mailings also give galleries the impression that the senders aren't interested in researching who they are, and putting together personalized presentations. 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 spam approach in hopes that someone somewhere will care. No artist wants to be thought of in these terms, but unfortunately they are when that's how they present themselves and their art.

Pretty much any attempt to contact multiple galleries at once with the exact same email, in-person presentation, or mailer is a bad idea. I remember consulting with an artist who told me a story about going to a gallery district in their hometown, introducing 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 talk further. 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 the exact same art to anyone who would look or listen. And that was the problem. I suggested that maybe the gallery spoke with another gallery or galleries later on, realized that they had also been shown the art, and had no interest in it. If something like this was 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 other galleries have passed on, especially ones in the same part of town.

In the art world (as in the worlds of antiques and collectibles), overexposing the same art to multiple galleries can often have negative effects. There is an expression called "burning the work" that people in the business sometimes use to describe the consequences of overexposure. It means that the more galleries are offered or given opportunities to see, show, represent, or otherwise get involved with the exact same art, the less special that art and the opportunity to show it becomes. Additionally, the more galleries or collectors who show no interest, the less desirable that art gets.

The problem with too much exposure in any situation where the same art gets shopped around, from gallery to gallery or person to person, is that it gets worn out in a sense, becoming less exclusive of a commodity and less special in its own way because so many people have already seen it. Worse yet, galleries will actively avoid artists with reputations for over-shopping their art. Always remember-- gallery owners, collectors, and other art people talk with each other all the time, and if your name comes up in any kind of negative light, that is never good.

On the plus side, 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 the decision and discovery largely on their own. They want to be in control. They want to be recognized for their foresight in bringing this work to the attention of the public. And if other galleries impressed or envious, that's even better.

Galleries do their best to figure out in advance who else might have seen any art that they're considering showing, particularly competing galleries. This may even include a gallery asking an artist straight out who else they might have already shown their work to. Why is this necessary? They're simply trying to protect themselves from the embarrassment of showing art that other galleries may have already been offered or passed on.

The main reason for concern is that if a gallery does show an artist's work, they'll be vulnerable to criticism from whoever's already seen it and decided not to show it. Those other galleries or dealers would be in perfect positions to comment negatively or unfavorably about the art, and if they choose to do so, that 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 around your art 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.

Being exclusive 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'll speak with the exhibiting gallery, and they may even speak with other galleries or individuals knowledgeable about the particular art or artists in question. If they find out that other collectors or galleries have already seen or passed on opportunities to either purchase or exhibit the work, then the chances increase that they will likely pass on it too. Galleries are well aware of these tendencies among collectors, by the way, and are careful about which ones get to see what art, and what order they get to see it in.

For you as an artist, regularly getting out into the art community, getting involved with other artists and art-related activities, and generally making people aware that you exist-- both online and in person-- is the recommended way to go. Couple this with maintaining an active, ongoing, engaging, and up-to-date website and social media presence and profile. Let the galleries discover and make contact with you rather than you running around and banging on the doors of whoever you think might listen. Galleries look for new art and artists all the time, and getting your name out there puts you on their radar. They are perfectly capable of finding your art on their own and making contact as they see fit. So save the sales presentations for those special occasions when you're pretty sure a gallery will be interested. All you have to do in the meantime is make yourself and your work accessible. If it's got the chops, sooner or later they'll find you.

Email the author, Alan Bamberger

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