Ask the Art Prof: How Can I Get Into Art Exhibitions?

2007 Ink Wipe Roll Print AIB Faculty Exhibition

“I spend a lot of time looking at ‘calls for art.’ Most of them require a good chunk of money in terms of application fees. Sometimes I feel like there are opportunities that I would have gotten to hear about had I been in art school. I feel restricted and lost. I yearn for an art community. The only thing that I can think of as a solution is going back to school for my master’s degree.

I just don’t know where to start, to make a mark as an artist until that happens. I wish I could create a daily plan, and set aside a scheduled amount of time to just look at artist opportunities online, but then again I’m not sure about which doors to knock on. How can I get into art exhibitions?”

When I was at the very beginning of my career I had no exhibition history to speak of, so I had to start somewhere. Beginning locally seemed to be the most accessible way into exhibitions, so I looked online for local juried exhibitions that I could enter, and spent a lot of money on entry fees. I was not selective about where I showed my work. Anywhere anyone would exhibit my work, I jumped at the opportunity.

This strategy was effective in terms of raising my local visibility and building my resume, which is essential when you’re just getting started. I exhibited my work at all sorts of contrasting venues: an office building, local art centers, a gallery that was in a subway station, open studios and many others. Don’t be shy and be sure to attend the opening reception of every exhibition you’re in to meet the other artists, the gallery director and the juror in person. This is a great way to network with other artists and get your name out there on the local art scene.

2013-10-22-2825861483_525fedd6f8_o.jpg

However, after some time, doing all of these juried exhibitions seemed to be only going so far for me. Many times it felt like a total crap shoot in terms of whether I was accepted or not into the exhibition, and paying the costly entry fees was becoming a burden. The other issue is that juried exhibitions are always group exhibitions, where you only get to exhibit one piece of your art at a time. In a large group exhibition, it’s easy to be overlooked. I was starting to feel like I was a needle in a haystack.

I needed to bring myself to the next level, so I abandoned group exhibitions temporarily and began approaching venues to do solo exhibitions. One strategy that I still use is to look at other artists’ resumes online. I search for local artists, peers and colleagues who are at about the same stage at their careers, or at the next stage where I want my career to be. I analyze what venues these artists have shown at, and make a list of venues to approach from their resumes. I ask my local artist friends where they have shown their work, how they got that show, and get them to make recommendations. Eventually, I got myself into enough solo exhibitions that I stopped entering juried group exhibitions altogether.

2013-10-22-3916168327_c3f14544e1_o.jpg

At this point, the galleries will not come to you, so you have to start taking the initiative to knock on doors. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. After all, the worst case scenario is that they will say no. Local college and university art galleries are great to target because they are not commercially driven and therefore are usually more open to different kinds of work.

You will be pleasantly surprised to see how many college galleries are willing to consider you for an exhibition if you approach them in a professional manner. Write a brief email to the gallery director asking if they are accepting artist submissions. If they respond and say yes, write a courteous cover letter to the gallery director introducing yourself and your work to the director of the gallery and enclose your artist statement with high quality printouts or a CD. The last three solo exhibitions I booked were because I approached the venue in this way. If you approach 30 galleries and get one or two responses, those are good results.

Another option that works well for many artists is to apply for membership in a local artist’s co-op. Once you’re accepted as a member, most co-ops will give you a solo exhibition every 2-3 years, as well as member’s shows, so you are guaranteed to be exhibiting on a regular basis. Being a member comes with other responsibilities like a member’s monthly fee, gallery sitting, attending meetings, etc. so be prepared for that.

Now that I am a mid-career artist, I can be much more discriminating about where I exhibit my work. I always heavily research the venue first to see what kind of place it is. I look for red flags: if the gallery doesn’t have a website or if the gallery charges a fee to exhibit. I am established enough that I am in a position to be able to turn down opportunities if I feel they will not advance my career. Instead, I now focus my energy on building relationships with art dealers and specific curators at local, regional and national museums.

Your ultimate goal with exhibitions is to be well known enough by curators and other artists that the exhibition opportunities come to you. Invitational exhibitions are the best ones to be a part of, and are usually in high caliber venues with more established artists.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related articles
“How do you know when your artwork is good enough to show to the world?”
“How do you get people to notice your artwork online?”
“When is it too early to start promoting your work on the Internet?”
“How do you retain the integrity of your artwork while promoting it?”
“How do you get to the top of the art world?”
“Is the Internet necessary to being a successful artist?”

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Can I Get Into Art Exhibitions?

  1. Some very good suggestions Clara. Here at Unbound Visual Arts, we specialize in creating lots of exhibitions for emerging and established artists. Most are one-person curated exhibitions in good alternative venues and galleries. So, there is no artist “hanging” no “gallery sitting” and no “exhibition fees”. We believe that artists shouldn’t be spending their precious creative time that way. We do thoughtful themed based exhibitions that are designed to attract attention and interest. In 12 months we done 23 exhibitions and we now have 65 members, making us the fastest growing visual arts entity in Greater Boston.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s