Of all the ways to sell art one of the most desirable and prestigious is of course through reputable art gallery representation.

Today we are going to throw away the ‘how to get in an art gallery’ text book. That tired old send-your-portfolio-in-a-stamped-self-addressed-envelope-never-to-be-opened approach is for sissies and kinda-wanna-gonna-be types of artists. You are a mover and a shaker, an art star in the making. You are not going to stand for that. You are going to take some direct action, today, right now, if not sooner!

Okay, we’ll get to the good bit soon, but first a little reflection on the state of play….

The Artist Gallery Relationship

Ah, artists and galleries… The never ending symbiotic relationship of the Art world. It reminds me a little of those little fish that hang around the mouths of sharks, hoping for a few morsels. Sometimes the Gallery is the shark, swimming along snapping up all the prime meat, or occasionally the Artist, who rises to become the top predator, with Galleries hanging around in the corners of their jaws, picking off the prime morsels. As an Artist of course that’s what you want to be, a big fish being chased by lots of little fish who are just willing to clean your teeth to get a bit of what you are having. Okay, we’re probably taking the analogy too far, but you get my drift. Galleries and Artists need each other, and the power dynamic shifts according to how successful the artist or gallery is.

Okay, lets get the bad news out of the way first…

and then we can concentrate on the good stuff.

The trouble is, before you can become top predator in a sea of little artist fish, you have to get a Gallery to ‘need’ you. Mostly they don’t need you. In fact as an Artist trying to hawk your wares to Galleries (or ‘emerging artist’ as they like to label you) you are potentially a distraction, an annoyance, someone to be shoo-ed away. Yes, I know your art is brilliant, and if only they look and see and talk to you the Gallery Directors will suddenly realise the megastar they have before them, but until that time you have to figure out how you are even going to get a ‘foot in the door’.

“Oh no! Not another @#$%# artist!”

Do you know that most good Art Galleries are approached on a daily basis by Artists wanting to be represented? It must be quite tiresome for them, with all that time spent on the phone talking to eager artists, avoiding the phone so they don’t have to talk to eager artists, opening packages from artists, sending packages back to artists with little notes that say ‘thanks but no thanks’. Worse still are those artists who walk in the door, portfolio in hand and expect to have their work looked at, and advice given. As a Gallery Director it must be enough to make you want to run off and hide the store room. “Oh no, not again!”, they must wail internally, “not another bl**dy portfolio to look at…I have to do the accounts today!”

So how do you even stand a chance of getting a Gallery Director to look at your work, given that he or she has probably had it up to the proverbials with emerging artists who should really go back to the cocoons where they came from.

Read on for ‘the Good News’…

  1. Holly says:

    Great post! your advice was excellent, I think it has given me good ideas on how to approach a gallery. I have recently sent of a couple of emails to galleries, but like you mentioned they will probably never be read. So I think I am going to do what you said and visit in person.
    I am only 17 and have been Painting for just over a year but I feel I already am ready to sell work. I have won an award and have my own business.
    I paint portraits and the figure. Please have a look at my work on my Facebook page.
    Thank you

  2. Stuart says:

    Good for you.
    Great move to put a picture of yourself receiving a giant cheque on your page. Pretty good painter for 17. You must be proud of yourself if you are already in business doing portraits. Well done. Its always good to hear from peeps with some get up and go :) Keep learning, keep developing and don’t stop until you go from ‘pretty good’ to ‘absolutely awesome’! Go on then, don’t just sit around on websites and facebook all day.. you have awesomeness to create!

  3. Heart Rabacal says:

    Hello! I just discovered your site today and I love the articles. They’re very informative. My husband has been drawing/painting for years, but it’s only very recently that we’ve decided to be more serious about it and aim to sell paintings online and in art galleries in the near future. But we just have no idea how to get into art galleries, as their websites don’t say anything about it. Thanks to your articles, you have stopped me from making a wrong and unprofessional choice of approaching galleries. It would have been a disaster. At least now, I’ve learned how to prepare ourselves better before going there. :-) Thanks once again! :-)

    • Stuart says:

      Thanks for your kind comments. Its just a matter of having the right artwork for a particular gallery (ie stuff they can easily sell to their particular kind of customer) and the right approach.

  4. Fred Asbury says:

    I get it. Been there, done that.
    Next step, still wondering what “good, desirable” art is. I have been working in 4 mediums (one more than the others) digital art, painting, drawing, and fine art photography and have over 700 works in my portfolio. I show my work to individuals for the purpose of getting feedback on what interests the public. I work in abstract and usually get a blank stare back with the question, “What is it?”. My primary work, digital fine art, is highly technical and it is very difficult to produce good results as I am very exacting and demanding. My question is; How do I get my work in front of people who are art-wise enough to “get it!”?

  5. Ruanna Shadd says:

    Your artical was interesting, fun to read, an good information. It is a pleasure to have someone give advice without a charge (good thing you are an artist as you would certainly be a starving lawyer).
    I have been drawing/painting since I was 5, I am now 56.
    I have painted many the portrait (not my favorite) just to have income. I have sold, however, several paintings, drawings, doodles. I have never had the fortunate opportunity to hang/show my work.
    One I move to often.
    Two I am usually to remote.
    Three I don’t always have access to my works, and often wind up giving much of my art away, sad sometimes for I put alot of labor/time into my art.
    So I am reduced to internet activity.
    I wonder if you know of a reputable site to list art.
    There are so many sites listed is would take weeks to scan them all and then perhaps still be disapointed in the outcome.
    If you would care to view some of my works; I have a few examples listed on artbreak.com under my artist name Ruanna S. Sadd a’Dann’l.
    I had a web page that had much of my painting listed there, most of which wete sold, but I had to deleate it last year. Now I have only a few posted.

  6. Stuart Wider says:

    Most commercial galleries want work that is easy to understand and immediately salable, unless their name has Saatchi in it.

    You probably need to be looking for spaces where experimental, conceptual, abstract art is shown to get your foot in the door… find out if there is already ‘a scene’ for the kind of thing you do.

    Publicly funded galleries also sometimes allow applications for new and interesting kinds of works from new artists… there are often long lead times on showing in those places though even if you do get approved.

    Have you got a local arts officer in your area who knows about the opportunities for showing in your part of the world?

    Also take a look at what the famous artists in your field of endeavor did to get where they are.

  7. Harmony says:

    Thanks so much for the article. I have been a mixed media artist for years, but I recently decided to follow my true passion and go into ceramics. I sell useable, everyday pottery, but I want to start pushing my ceramic art into the world more. I don’t see much ceramic art in galleries that aren’t just for ceramics and I think that is a crying shame. I so often see group exhibits with themes that would fit my work perfectly, but they almost never have sculptural pieces. Would it be appropriate to approach galleries that have a similar aesthetic to my own, but don’t necessarily have sculptures? I don’t only want to show my work in ceramic specific galleries. Do you think I have a shot at the “real galleries”? In other words, is not fitting in a frame the kiss of death? Thanks!

    • Stuart Wider says:

      At the end of the day galleries stock only what they can sell to their audience. So you’ve got to find a gallery that has an audience compatible with your work.

      If you are making serious statement art or stunningly beautifully crafted pieces with your ceramics then you might have a shot in serious galleries, but if your pieces are more craft oriented then specialist craft galleries might be the way forward.

      I often see good quality galleries in tourist areas have a selection of sculptural or ceramic pieces along with their on-the-wall artworks. That might be the way to go.

  8. Arula says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I just have one question: approximately how many works of art do you need to have to get into a fairly respected gallery? Right now I have 11 drawings. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I already have a drawing in a local group exhibition. I’m by far the youngest artist in the exhibit, and I’m confident enough to try to get into other galleries, but how many more should I draw before I start looking?

  9. Melissa Chalada says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It was a pleasure to read, and very informative! I like the idea of presenting my art in an art gallery, although I probably only have around 10 gallery-worthy paintings as most of my work are commissions that ultimately are given away. My specialty is realistic watercolour and coloured pencils painting, of horses, fantasy, or fantasy horses. I don’t know if this makes my artwork less salable? Should I be branching out and doing more native wildlife sort of scenes for the sake of being able to present my work in a gallery? [I am an animal artist; horses just happen to be my favourite]. I would dearly appreciate if you look at some of my artwork and let me know what you think!

    • Stuart Wider says:

      If horses are your favourite then do horses. There are a world of horsey people out there who like paintings of their horses and other peoples horses. Maybe try and link up with racing horse owners. When their horse wins of course they will want the moment immortalized, and of course they will want to show off that moment in history to their friends who will then also want a painting when their horse finally gets across the line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *