Common Artist Questions Answered, Episode III

Q: Can you offer any pointers on how to sell my art successfully? These days, I'm not having much luck.

A: Well, two of the major keys to success in the art world are perseverance and determination. Any successful artist will tell you this. No matter how difficult things get, make it clear to everyone involved that you're here to stay and they'd better get used to it. Early in my career, I had a little saying-- "One hundred no's for every yes." Every time I experienced a setback, or someone told me to stop screwing around and get a real job, I redoubled my efforts to prove them wrong. And you know something? I did. That's one thing I love about adversity-- the proverbial silver lining, as it were-- tough times challenge artists to prove themselves, to be better than ever, to demonstrate the value of their art regardless of the circumstances, to go beyond, and to substitute discouragement with resourcefulness, ingenuity and innovation. As for tips and pointers, here's an article about Learning to Sell Art Like the Galleries and here's one on How to Sell Art Directly to Collectors. America is still the greatest place on this planet to live and work if you're into creativity and freedom of expression. Celebrate that privilege and profit.

Q: How do I describe my art to people who've never seen it before? I'm not good at talking about my art.

A: Keep it simple; keep it clear; make sure anyone can understand your descriptions. These days, art and artists are accessible to pretty much everyone. More people than ever before are buying art, and for practically every reason imaginable. Art buyers are no longer limited to those in the know; knowledge levels are all over the board. When communicating about your art, let whomever you're speaking with lead the conversation. Pay careful attention to their agendas and questions, not to yours. Answer as clearly, directly and informatively as possible. Don't ramble on; don't answer questions people don't ask; don't go over people's heads. As tempting as it may be to overwhelm someone with your knowledge of art or art history, bite your tongue. As soon as you lose or confuse someone with what you're saying, that's pretty much the end of the conversation. Your goal is to keep people in the game, to incite interest in your art. You do that by speaking their language and on their knowledge levels, easing them in, and giving them just enough to want to know more. By the way, if you get self-conscious talking about your art in person, practice at home or in your studio, either with friends or alone. Talk to a wall if you have to. The more you practice, the better you get, and the more at ease you become.

Q: I plan to search online, get the names of a couple hundred galleries in major cities around the world and email them about my art. Any suggestions?

A: Yes. Forget it. Establish yourself locally and regionally before you go international. Galleries that show artists from outside their areas generally show them because they are already known and successful where they live. No matter what the circumstances, and regardless of who you approach, you at least have to have a specific reason and a plan, and "Hi, I'm an artist and I invite you to take a look at my art," or something similar, is not even close. Be exclusive in who you approach; don't carpet-bomb every gallery you can find in a particular city. Target each prospective gallery individually and-- here's the important part-- show that you know something about them, and talk about how and why your art is relevant to their agenda. Hint: It's not that they're a gallery and you want a show. In other words, your email has to be about them as much or even more than about you. If you demonstrate a good solid understanding of a gallery, their artists, the types of art they show, and their history, and make a case about why and where you belong in all of this, then you at least stand a chance of getting noticed.

Q: I'm thinking about taking a course by a successful business person that teaches artists how to become better business people. Is this a good idea?

A: If there's one profession that does not lend itself to a cookie-cutter how-to-do-business approach it's that of "artist." You better hope that whomever's teaching this course is credentialed, respected and experienced in the art world, and not some MBA who spent a few of years at Three Star AAA Corporation and thinks it's all the same no matter what the product.

Q: When I contact a gallery, do I show them all of my art?

A: No. You show them what you're doing now and hopefully why it's relevant to them. If asked, based on their responses or questions about your work, then you can show them what led up to what you're doing now. Also make sure you have your recent work organized into groups or series or themes-- two or maybe three or four distinct categories at the most-- and that you can explain each one clearly and effectively. Showing too much or showing it all together or in random order only confuses people-- even galleries, even you. Your purpose when interviewing at a gallery is twofold-- to demonstrate your skills and vision as an artist, but even more so, to convince the gallery of the voracity of your mission, your intentions, what you are trying to communicate and accomplish, and how your art adds to the ongoing conversation. That's at least as important as the quality of the work. Galleries respect a good justification and narrative, and they like artists who have a good solid sense of where they're going.

Q: I recently heard about an international art competition offering lots of prize money. They invite artists at all career levels to enter and participate. I'm just starting out and don't have much of a resume. Should I enter?

A: With any competition, you need facts. These include the number of years the competition has been in existence, the names of past prizewinners (especially ones with resumes similar to yours), attendance figures, online traffic, sales figures, names of jurors, names of sponsors, names of museums or galleries that have been affiliated with past competitions, articles and news coverage about the competition in recognized established art world publications and websites, and-- here's the biggie-- email addresses, phone numbers, and other concrete contact information which will allow you to follow up and verify all claims made by the competition's producers. Once you have those, get on the phone and send out the emails. Your job is to make sure this competition is recognized and respected by people who count in the art world. If all you get from the producers are generalities, a runaround, unverifiable claims, and promises to get back to you later with the information you want, then maybe pass on this one and wait until the next. Never enter a competition without fully researching and understanding it first-- unless you don't mind wasting time and money on dead-ends and flimflam.

While I'm on the subject (and for all of you math hounds in the audience), there seems to be an inverse proportion between the significance of a competition and the amount of money you have to put up to enter or participate in it. In other words, the more it costs, the less it's worth entering.

Q: Should I hire an artist coach?

A: I've always wondered... what exactly is an artist coach? Is this someone who tells you to channel your thoughts to a creative space? To look inward and harvest the bounty of the true you? To feng your shui? What you need to be successful as an artist are specific observations, directives on how to effectively approach, create or present your art, and practical recommendations that you can implement and apply immediately to your career-- not vague vacant airy-fairy motivational platitudes. For example, suggestions an improving particular aspects of your work, making your website easier to navigate and understand, good solid information about how to price and sell your art, ways to improve your social media profile. Whatever you do or whomever you hire, make sure they focus on quantifiable skills, approaches, methods, and techniques-- and that they have the art world credentials and qualifications to do so.

Q: An artist consultant tells me he can help me get accepted into prestigious competitions and maybe even get museum shows. He says he'll teach me how to write letters and give me other insider tips and pointers on how to get my art in front of curators who count. How does this sound to you?

A: Well, if you think that getting museum shows is a function of your letter writing ability or knowing "insider tips," think again. Last time I checked, the way you get included in museum shows is by producing quality art over an extended period of time, being recognized by art world professionals, building a good solid resume of successful shows and accomplishments, receiving awards and distinctions, and ultimately by producing museum quality art. Period. You work your way up the art world ladder just like anyone else by establishing a consistent track record of notable exhibitions, sales, reviews, and exposure. And at some point, assuming you've got the chops, museums begin to notice. There is no shortcutting this procedure.

Q: What's the best way to make a name for myself as an artist?

A: Get your art out there in front of the public in as many ways and in as many places as possible including on your website and social media pages, at physical locations, in reviews, on blogs or interviews, and so on. The more people who see your art, and the more often they see it, the quicker you establish a "name" for yourself. Showing your art regularly and consistently is no different than any other form of advertising; the greater the number of times someone is exposed to a product (aka your art), the more familiar they become with it, the more likely they are to want to know more about it, and the best part? The more likely they are to buy it.

Q: How can I network better in the art world? I'm not good in social situations.

A: This is almost a corollary to the above question about making a name as an artist. Basically, you get out there online and in public as often as possible. Go to openings, seminars, lectures, classes, join local museums, and spend time at places or events where art people congregate-- where you feel a connection or affinity or share similar interests. Be active on social media, follow artists or galleries or museums you respect, like and occasionally comment to their favorite posts (not in self-serving ways), and keep your fresh new artwork coming. Don't worry about feeling awkward or uncomfortable; you don't have to talk to anybody or do anything, especially online. Relax, enjoy yourself and have a good time; all you have to do is show up or make your online presence known. You see, the more events you attend or active you are online, the more acclimated you get to the social protocol of the art world, and-- here's the payoff-- sooner or later people come up to you or follow you or otherwise introduce themselves, start conversations, ask you questions, comment in person or on your online posts, etc. And believe it or not, sooner or later you'll start doing those things too. That's how art world relationships, business and otherwise, begin. Practice makes perfect.

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(illumination art by Leo Villareal)

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