Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
I’m just about to finish my first really serious series of paintings, and I’m curious about which approach is the best for self-promotion. Is it better to go all out and submit art to blogs, magazines, postcards, business cards, etc., or is it better to play it subtly, try and meet the right people, and become that hidden gem that someone finds and then shows to the world? Is it possible that being overexposed on blogs can be a turn-off to galleries, like they don’t have the pleasure of being able to say, “Look what I found!”? (I’m talking about the galleries that like to showcase new talent rather than blue chips, the kind you get your foot in the door with as an artist.)
Apparently you missed that day in Catholic school when they taught us Matthew 5:15-16: “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” Notice that this verse doesn’t advise, “Get thine light discovered by cunning means” or “Have another man lighteth thine candle for thee.”
Philippe Parreno with Rirkrit Tiravanija. La Batalla de los Patos, 2013; screenprint, phosphorescent ink; 39.5 x 55.5 in.; edition of 6.
Where are all these imaginary people who have ample time and inclination to discover you? I can’t imagine a single gallerist who, after curating, framing, installing, promoting, and selling a show—in addition to managing a staff, courting new collectors and arts patrons, and maybe even having a home life in the odd moment outside of work—is going to be able to wade through the deep seas of information put out there by artists who are promoting their work, in order to find you. I hope I am making this point clear for artists who sit in their studios hoping to be “discovered”: When you hear the phone not ringing, it will be the galleries not calling.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. I wrote to several arts professionals about being found and they all said the same thing: It doesn’t work like that. One gallerist from Boston said, “I would agree with you on the ‘discovery’ idea. With all the ‘noise’ in our contemporary culture, subtlety when it comes to self-promotion is a losing idea. Years ago, before social media, [another] gallerist told me he had a rule of three: If he heard the same name from three different people, he would check out the work. The more ‘buzz’ around the work, the more attention it is going to get.” A gallerist in San Francisco told me, “I couldn’t agree more. An emerging artist should be doing as much as he/she can to connect with others and find exhibition opportunities. So much can be learned from showing and working with others. This is how an artist builds his/her community within the art world and an important audience for their work. From a marketing or sales perspective, it’s of course far easier for a gallery to work with an artist who has already established a positive reputation.”
Read More »