Common Artist Questions Answered

Episode II

Q: I want to show as many different kinds of art as possible on social media and my website. I think that increases the chances that everyone who sees my work will find something they like. Do you agree?

A: I'll answer your question with a question. How often do you see a solo show by an established artist at an established gallery where every single piece of art is totally different from the others? Hardly ever. Everything's almost always related in some way-- variations on a theme, you might say-- either unified by the show statement, their visual appearance, the way they're displayed, or by some other identifiable variable.

When you show many different kinds of artwork altogether, what usually happens is that all you end up doing is confusing people. They can't figure out the theme, the idea, the concept, what you stand for, or get much of a grip on where you're going or what you're saying. And people don't buy art that confuses them. Showing everything you do altogether is like walking into a store that's selling bananas, neckties, motor oil, laundry detergent, and dog grooming supplies. You take one look, turn around and walk right out because nothing makes sense. Posting "something for everyone" often turns out to be more like "nothing for anyone."

Q: Should I put selections of work from throughout my entire career on my website or social media pages?

A: That depends. If your site is mainly for selling art or getting shows, feature what you're doing now and focus on your most recent work. If you want to put up older works, limit them to what'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 significant or relevant older works are to what you do now, the better it is to leave them off the website. Plus, you don't want potential buyers to get interested in art you no longer make. As for social media, occasionally posting past work is a good idea as long as you can connect it up with what you're doing now.

If however, your website is meant to be an online archive or retrospective of everything you've ever done-- and not primarily to sell art-- then yes. But you can easily overdo things. While you may love the images and their history, you risk overwhelming visitors. There are ways to archive all of your work on your site but show only a relatively small portion of it. How to do that effectively is beyond the scope of this article.

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 the best work is gone, and all they have to pick from are the leftovers nobody wants. If you want to put sold art on your website, be purposeful and selective about it. In your "Past Work" gallery, for example, put a sampling of pieces that have sold to collectors, businesses, institutions, or organizations. Posting occasional sold work on your social media pages is a better idea because that way, people see that you're selling consistently.

Q: I search online for art dealers, galleries, collectors, and other people with profiles in the art world. Then I email them images of my art along with my contact information. I tell them to get back to me if interested. I figure that anyone who's impressed with my work will want to know more and ask about it, want to buy it, offer to give me shows, etc. So far, I've had no response. What am I doing wrong?

A: Out of all the possible ways to present your art, this is unquestionably a nonstarter and ranks right up there with generic spam emails that begin "Dear Sir or Madam" or "Please visit my website and let me know what you think about my art." People who receive these random emails from artists they don't know wonder why they're even receiving them. That's assuming they open them at all, which they usually don't.

Suppose you'd like to work for a company. Do you email your resume with no cover letter? Only your contact information and, "Get back to me if interested"? In the art world, just like anywhere else, you have to address a recipient by name, know who they are, 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: Best way to start is to research the galleries first. Learn about each one, both in person and online including their website, socials, what kinds of coverage they get, and so on. Look at the art they show, the artists they represent, and narrow your focus to those that sell 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. Follow them on social media, figure out who might be a fit, and save making contact for later. When you're ready, be exclusive and contact only those few you think might have the most interest in your art.

Q: I want to show 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 in advance), here are a few pointers. First, check their websites or ask if they have any submission guidelines. If yes, follow them. Speaking of following, also follow them on social media and get on their announcement lists. Regularly show 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, and make sure they have the time and seem willing to talk. If they do, begin by talking about them, not about you. Show that you're a genuine fan of the gallery, not just another artist looking for wall space. Assuming you survive the formalities, briefly talk about why you think your art might be a fit with the gallery and most importantly, back those claims up with FACTS about the art and artists they already show-- the more facts, the better. Assuming things go well, they'll likely check you out online and have a look at your art. You can also follow up with an email if you'd like, but keep it brief. 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. Under certain circumstances however, registering your copyrights is advisable and you can read more about that HERE.

Keep in mind that any artist who gets a reputation for being overly protective about their art, 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 introduces us to, not because it restricts 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. Don't show it to anyone ever. In your will, leave directions to your art cave so that someone somewhere can discover your art and hopefully show and sell it. But seriously, if your goal is to show your art publicly at some point in your career, then you have to take the risk of presenting it online. These days, that's the number one way to get the word out 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. The more people who are exposed to your art no matter where they see it, the better. As long as no one is violating your copyright by using your images to make money for themselves without first asking your permission, the publicity is 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 spaces with other artists and showing together, showing at non-art venues, and being creative about getting 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. Look for opportunities to show at places like coffee shops or restaurants, lobbies of office buildings, at someone's private home, etc.

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 important ones. In the long run, every show counts.

Q: I don't put prices on my website or socials 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 you to post prices). Many 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, and so on. 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 under a menu item like "Inquire" or "Purchase" or "Buy" where it doesn't interfere with your image galleries. Do like the galleries do and have a price list. As for social media, posting an occasional price gives people interested in your work a general idea of how much it costs. If they love it and know they can afford it, they'll be more inclined to contact you.

Q: Should I have a blog on my website?

A: Yes and no. Social media has largely replaced blogging. It's not only more immediate, but also less time consuming. However, if you've been blogging for a while, you update regularly, have a loyal fan base, and have developed an interesting storyline, then keep it going. A longstanding blog shows how dedicated you are to getting the word out about your work. Realize up front that maintaining a good blog or social media profile takes time, effort, and commitment. If you do it right, you'll benefit.

Q: I paint big-- between 3 x 5 feet and 6 x 9 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 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 created it.

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 perfectly fine to produce; it generally makes your smaller pieces look better and more affordable, kind of like a coattail effect. But the key when you're trying to increase sales is to think about broadening your audience. By producing more medium or smaller sized works as well that take up less wall space (and storage space), and are also more affordable, more people will be able to display it in smaller homes, apartments, and office spaces. In general, the more options you can offer to more people size-wise, especially early on in your career, the better the chances for getting your art out there into the public.

Click to read more Common Artist Questions Answered


(art by Scott Greene)

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