25 years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life.
It was the decision to have a one-hour chat with an art career coach.
The purpose of the meeting was to learn how a glorified student could get his paintings into the world with no previous exhibitions under his belt.
More than an amazing value at $30, it was a beginning. I thanked this man by phone several years later. He thanked me for thanking him.
I learned that the art business is like any other. When you’re new you get your feet wet, forgetting sales or spotlight. As your resume grows, so do the opportunities. It’s a little like dating. You need to court before the relationship begins.
Over time, the right people get to know your work as you position yourself to approach small galleries and apply for fellowships. But you need to lay the groundwork first.
So here are my first five tips, in no particular order:
1. Get out of town.
Enter competitions in major cities and diverse locations.
You’re creating your history, so avoid looking like a local artist.
The most obscure show in Miami, New York or Boston will stand out on your resume. I see too many artists exhibiting in their own backyards. The expense of shipping cross country will pay big dividends by giving you the appearance of a national artist.
Tons of competitions can be found online, and most artists over 18 can enter for a modest fee.
2. Hire the best photographer you can afford.
The biggest complaint I hear from galleries about artist submissions is poor image quality.
Fine art photography is a specialty, and it’s tricky, so no DIY unless you’re a pro. The quality of your images speaks volumes about your level of commitment and how much you value your own work.
3. Show your very best work. Hide the rest.
There’s nothing to gain in showing a weak piece.
Astounding work has staying power; average work will be forgotten. As the actor Steve Martin once said, “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.”
4. Be ready, and be prompt.
If someone reaches out with an inquiry or opportunity, get right back to them with the info requested, as requested.
Give them what they ask for, to the tee and early; they’ll love you for it. I often promise delivery of something within seven days, knowing it will get there in three, remembering the saying, “Under-promise, and over deliver.”
5. Create a killer body of work…
…before committing to a solo show.
You never know when you’ll do a great piece or a not-so-great one. To promise twenty gallery-ready works in advance is a lot of pressure for an emerging artist. Some veterans thrive on the adrenaline of a show date, but you shouldn’t take chances with your career, or your sanity, at this stage.
Someone once said that the business of art is closer to business than it is to art. Think of building your career as your new part-time job and give it the same energy as you do your work!