Thursday, December 18, 2008

Short Note on the One-Size-Fits-All Myth

NOTE: Unlike the last time I used an actual exchange with an artist to illustrate a point about the gallery business, I'd like to request up front that readers appreciate I don't do so in order to elicit comments that chastise them for their "naivety" or any other such quality (it's impossible to provide a full picture in a short description). In other words, in case the artist reads this post and recognizes himself, I'll ask that you not comment on what it seems he should have known already. This thread is designed to explore why a notion is out there...not why one individual didn't fully understand something. I'll aplogize in advance for how impatient I must have seemed in this exchange (it's stressful out there).
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I got a cold call email from an artist the other day asking me to look at the attached jpegs of his work. I'll be honest, we're not accepting submissions at the moment and I am not currently able to devote as much time to reviewing jpegs as I had been, so it's really hit and miss as to whether I'll actually open the files unless I was expecting them. I did in this case, more as a means of responding to the note in his email which read:
I've enjoyed reading your blog, and because you said you do look at submissions sent by email, I've attached three 72 dpi jpgs
I wrote back:
I've also said it's important to visit the gallery, strike up a conversation with the gallery in person, make sure your work is a good match for their program, and then send an email asking if they'd like to see images. Going about it the way you are is taking a few too many short cuts, I'm afraid.

Have you been to our gallery?
As beautiful as your paintings seem to be, we don't show [xxxx] generally, so they are not right for us. You're better off targeting a gallery that focuses on [xxxx]. Search through this website for those that do, go visit them, and then try sending images after you're sure it's a good match: http://chelseaartgalleries.com/

Best of luck
I'm not sure what got into me, actually. I had plenty else to do than strike up a dialog about this. I guess the notion that my advice had been truncated in someone's mind was alarming, so I wanted to set the record straight.

Next time I checked my email, there were three additional messages from this artist (all sent within one afternoon). The final one read:
in all candor, why is it not enough that you like the work (assuming it was a match for your gallery)?
Mind you, I had not replied to any of these yet, so by the time we got the third email, most of the dialog was between this artist and his sense of what I had meant, not what I had actually written.

I replied:
You're asking, so I'll tell you, but I'll also note that it's probably not going to be helpful to securing a relationship with a gallery to send them three emails in a row after a lengthy response that noted "You're better off targeting a gallery that focuses on [xxxx]." In other words, I could spend 24 hours a day answering such questions if I made a habit of it, but I don't have that much time...so please do consider the dealer's time and at the very least wait for them to get back to you before bombarding them with new emails.

Take this advice if you like, but please note I can't continue this conversation after this:

Your work seems accomplished enough for you to find the right gallery, but how you go about it is very important. The reason it's very important is that there are thousands of very, very talented artists out there looking for galleries but, especially with the economy the way it is now, no where near enough galleries to work with them all. You need an advantage to beat them to the spot in a gallery roster beyond just your work. and you need part of that advantage to be a subtle indication to the dealer that you are not going to be a handful to deal with when they're struggling to deal with economy.

Three emails in a row will put someone off. They will conclude you are high maintenance or desperate and neither is attractive to many dealers...the right match of personalities is a critical part of the equation.

Dealers are generally pro-artists. That means that although they may not wish to work with a particular artist, they don't like to be discouraging. That means you have to parse what they say about your work and not assume some encouraging note means if you keep asking they'll work with you eventually.

I wrote " As beautiful as your paintings seem to be " but you translated that as " you like
the work ." To be blunt, I never said I like your work. (I never said I didn't, but my point is don't jump at any encouraging response as an opening you have to keep trying to widen). I meant it when I said you're best going after a gallery that focuses on [xxx].

Why it's not enough that I see your work as accomplished is that I have a very specific program and many, many other New York dealers do as well. Galleries in New York often focus on a niche as a business strategy. While I personally think your work is accomplished, it's not something I have clients for, because I have focused my energies on clients that buy other type of work .... It makes no business sense for me at all to deal in your work...I have no collectors for it. Now it's feasible that a gallery that doesn't focus on [xxxx] might have collectors for your work so don't limit who you approach to just dealers who only show [xxxx], but knowing my collectors and what they're looking for, I know my program is not a good match for your work.

I hope this helps. Seriously...but do be careful not to come off as high maintenance at this stage of getting to know a dealer...especially now...we're all stressed out.
OK, so the point of this really isn't how anxious this artist was (so let's not pile on, please), but rather how it seems to be widely misunderstood that any dealer who considers your work good should be able to represent it. Some programs are not focused on a particular niche and can indeed represent a wide variety of genres and or types of art. Others clearly (or so it seems to me) are focused. As a dealer this seems very, very obvious to me.

Does it not seem so to artists?

Labels:

48 Comments:

OpenID deborahfisher said...

First, Ed, I admire the fact that you're willing to keep chipping at the "Silly Things Artists Say And Do" genre. It's really important and you are doing everyone a service.

Your response to the artist is quite generous, and if he comes across this post and feels spite, I hope he figures out that he got a gift.

I think that anyone who's selling anything, including artists selling themselves, should read Seth Godin's blog every day for a month, because he hammers consistently at how to deploy helpfulness, empathy and permission in marketing.

12/18/2008 10:35:00 AM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

To respond to your specific question, which is whether or not it's obvious that galleries have programs, yes.
It's really obvious that galleries have programs.

I don't think that's the problem. I have heard more than one artist say that they hate so-and-so's program, but that they want to show in so-and-so's gallery.

In rational moments, I totally don't get that. You should be keeping busy and looking patiently for good fit. But I can empathize too.

A former colleague of mine and I (we both used to work for Mark diSuvero) had this really interesting discussion recently about how narrowly success is defined for artists right now, and how the current blue-chip crowd of people like Mark seemed to succeed specifically because they never had to bear that burden. Mark talks a lot about this--about how he was very driven, but had no specific expectations and was always totally self-defined. This gave him a lot of freedom and power.

I think that sense of self-definition would go a long way toward helping artists get off this mutually disrespectful desperation, in which the artist appeals to the curator or gallerist for validation that the curator or gallerist simply can't and shouldn't provide.

12/18/2008 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I want to add a personal positive note regarding Edward to this post. A couple of years back I asked Ed if he'd be willing to look at my work and he agreed. Because I didn't have a studio at the time I offered to come to him instead, so I dragged a small pile of my stuff to Chelsea for him to look at. We looked it over, we talked, he was very positive. I left feeling good about myself and my work.

A day or so later Ed had posted something along the lines of "it doesn't hurt to ask." So I did: I wrote him and said, right up front, what would it take for me to get a show with your gallery?

Ed was very gracious but very clear that my kind of work didn't interest him in a professional sense. I mean, he basically said he'd never show my kind of work, and he said it in a way that was very clear and firm but didn't make me feel in the least bit bad. I understood, right away, that he had his focus, his business, his interests, and we weren't a match.

What this means to me, among other things, is that when dealing with Ed and possibly other dealers of his caliber, if the artist doesn't get it, it's not the dealer's fault. Because I don't think it could have been handled better.

I didn't show my work to Ed expecting to waltz out with a contract, so I wasn't disappointed, really. I showed it to him more as a friend. Since then I haven't showed it to any other dealers because, really, I haven't been as friendly with any, and I haven't found any that I thought would make a good match. I haven't found anyone focusing on a niche in which I fit, and I haven't found any representing a wider variety which seemed approachable for me at this point in my career (a term I use extremely loosely here).

Maybe I'm not anxious enough or desperate enough. But I don't see the point of pestering people who are clearly not going to be interested. I've been concentrating on this for two years now, meeting people and looking around and getting to know how things work, and I still feel I'm nowhere near taking the next step. It takes a lot of time and leg work and I'm in no hurry.

I was lucky to meet Ed and become friendly with him very early on; it would've been a massive stroke of luck for him to be interested in my kind of work, too. Absent that, one has to put in the time.

12/18/2008 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Okay, um, that was weird. For some reason I was posting as my wife. I didn't even know my wife had a Blogger/Google account.

That was me up there.

12/18/2008 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Julie Sadler said...

Do you think that perhaps this issue is a product of the strange faceless communication we have via the net? I know that facial expressions, tone inflection, and body language must have been clues for Dawn when she spoke with Ed about her work in person. None of these clues are available on the net, perhaps our anonymous artist is a victim of the somewhat impersonal nature of the medium.
I do appreciate Ed's generous nature in going the extra mile for this internet artist and writing such an informational email. Sometimes a snub at a critical time can send an artist back into the cave. He didn't use the opportunity to vent on this person, but instead expanded his thoughts. Good deal, this makes for good karma for you Ed!

12/18/2008 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a practicing artist that has also had the fortunate experience of working at commercial galleries in NY for over the past 5 years. I have seen hundreds of submissions made by artists and have rarely seen in any of the cases the artist's work accurately targeted at the gallery's program or aesthetic. As an artist I understand the frustration of feeling like all it takes is some exposure to get a let up out there. But, I think the problem is that many artists just don't understand the workings of a commercial gallery, and all that they can see are the associated benefits that seem to come out of it. Since galleries are in many ways publicly accessible facilities, and since the important ones can be found easily through their press, many artists put 2 and 2 together and hope that if they get their work seen by someone's eyes over there, then perhaps it might substantiate into something meaningful. I have also encountered in many instances that many artists fresh to the scene just don't understand the artist/gallerist relationship so well. Unlike when you are looking for a job and the old adage is that persistence will ultimately pay off, many people just don't realize that it doesn't really work that way with galleries. Its not like looking for a place to be employed. Of course gallerist put most of their time and energy into looking at something to fits into a predetermined outlook of their business, so it doesn't really help to try to reach them without an introduction or at least without similar interests. But even then, they probably already have a solid program and showing your work to them might not turn out any results anyway. It seems the best way for artists to get into galleries is through artist networking really.

12/18/2008 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

My God, Ed, your generosity ASTOUNDS me.

Julie--no, I don't actually think it is the Internet's fault. People who are clueless online are also clueless in person. When I had my little gallery, I repeatedly had people assume that because I'd taken 10 minutes to look at their work, and made polite commentary, that I'd definitely promised to give them a show. It gave me insight as to why most dealers are so inaccessible to most artists.

Plus, anybody who has taken the trouble to attend two or three shows at any given gallery should be able to tell if their own work fits with the program or not. I have never shown my beautiful paintings to Ed, because it's perfectly obvious that Ed doesn't show my kind of beautiful paintings. It's also perfectly obvious that Ed is inhumanly busy, what with running a gallery, running this blog, and writing a book. I'd rather slit my wrists than make an intemperate demand of someone like that.

My God, Ed, you're SO generous.

12/18/2008 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

don't canonize me yet, PL...I'm simply a workaholic...would seek out something to do if I didn't have something already.

And there are plenty of artists who's submissions I did not respond to who would lump me in with all the other "aloof, unresponsive" dealers. I'm merely taking advantage of this anecdote to spur a discussion.

12/18/2008 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

artists whose submissions...

can't believe they let me write a book ;-)

12/18/2008 12:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it not seem so to artists?

No. I don't think so.

I've engaged in a few curatorial ventures recently. These ventures were awarded modest budgets for honoraria, production and promotion. I'm not young, and thus not as pretty as I once was. Opportunities with budgets no longer fall out of the sky. Instead, I had to barter like everyone else.

In my case, I offered the promise of a great show and all the aggregate benefits one would expect: publicity for the space, built in audience in addition to their regular audience, potential professional capital for the staff with one more successful show under their belt, etc. Despite any formal application processes, a negotiation like this is similar to asking for a loan on your credit rating. You leverage your reputation, your social and professional capital--in particular trust that has been built up by a proven track record. Sometimes this is a young relationship with a short track record, sometimes it comes after years of working with, for, and around an organization. Each opportunity after another leveraged upon trust generated from the prior. And some of these opportunities were hard fought and won in competitive environments. A career is rarely built overnight. And when it is, there is more often than not a machine already in place to make that career. I also realize that everyone else involved is taking a similar risk and passing it along, leveraging some of their own professional capital to advocate for my venture with their bosses, their bosses with their funders, etc.

At one end of the equation, the buck stops with the exhibiting artist. When I only made work, and didn't organize exhibitions and events beyond 100% DIY environments, I was caught up entirely in the artwork. It was about me and the art. There is a sort poetic integrity in that degree of focus I suppose. When I'm working to support another artist's work, I try to respect this extreme degree of creative immersion. I recognize its role in the generation of great work. But now that I have worked both sides of this fence, I understand what advocates of artists put on the line--namely trust and reputation built up over years of hard work and small gambles--and the stress this risk generates. And this is only from working with academic and non-profit spaces! I can only begin to imagine the increased complexity of needing to generate revenue directly off the work and when your own $$$ capital is at risk along with your professional capital. (Maybe in a commercial setting, those two resources are considered one in the same? Ed, thoughts?)

So honestly, before I started curating, I didn't quite get this relationship. Now, based on a few experiences where other artists had me pulling out my hair as we went bump-bump-bump down that road towards exhibition, I don't think many other artists get it either. I chalk it up to the intrinsic tunnel vision of the studio. Not sure if my experiences on both sides of the fence actually make me a better artist--or even a better curator for that matter. But it does give me empathy for all parties involved. Hopefully not a compromising amount of empathy though! Some of my favorite artists died with reputations of uncompromising bastards...

12/18/2008 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous J.V. said...

Maybe artists should imagine that each of their target galleries is showing a group exhibition of their entire artist roster, and then try to envision their work hanging among the others, to see how well it all fits together. (Assuming an artist is capable of stepping far enough outside themself to make this type of judgment in the first place). Perhaps galleries could facilitate this type of analysis by putting a representative thumbnail from each artist on their roster page, thus making a kind of virtual group expo online, and making as clear as possible the type of program they maintain.

12/18/2008 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Don't worry, Ed, I'm aware of your flaws, too. ;-)

But *I'm* a saint, or at least I played one for awhile, and I snapped a lot sooner than you did. I have to give honest respect where it is due.

12/18/2008 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Ed, go ahead and toot your horn a bit. Or at least let us toot it. My reaction was also that your generosity and patience with this artist goes way beyond the call of duty. I hope he reads this and gets that.

Oriane

12/18/2008 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

I think it’s very obvious that galleries have programs, with collectors interested in specific works based on the niche of that gallery. It’s the responsibility of the artist to know this and educate him or herself. Took me some time to learn that but now I ”get it” and as they say, knowledge is power! We need to take ownership for our part of the business of being an artist. Thanks Ed, for being so direct here.

12/18/2008 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

That's why god gave us copyeditors.

Also I'd like to note that when I made my intemperate demands on Ed's time, he wasn't writing a book.

12/18/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

It does occur to me, though, that a lot of the blame for artist cluelessness can be assigned to art schools. A few of them may have a course structure that explicitly includes practical advice on how to build a career, including approaching galleries, but mine sure didn't. There was a prevailing mystique that if you just worked obsessively in the studio, speaking to no-one, a dealer would come along and 'discover' you. We were actively discouraged from showing any interest in business management, economics, marketing, presentation etc; that was taken as evidence that we weren't 'serious artists.'

This also had the side effect of encouraging callow young artists to be contemptuous and abusive toward collectors, donors and curators. They were clearly lesser beings--uncreative, lumpish, concerned with sordid lucre--and thus unworthy of our time or attention.

Now, of course, I see that this was a deliberate plot on the part of art school faculty to torpedo their competition. I recently gave the newly hired PR director of my old school an earful on this; like a good PR person, she listened sympathetically and sent me a Christmas card.

12/18/2008 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I wonder if artists view a gallery's list of artists differently than a collector does? Collectors tend to gravitate toward a particular type of art, whereas artists may judge a gallery based on how GOOD the art is (i.e., "The work at Gallery X is always really special, so that's where my work should be seen."

12/18/2008 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To reiterate an anon comment above, careers are not built overnight and developing relationships is very important. A positive side of the negative example Ed gave here (that being a pain in the ass will not help you) is to realize that NOT being a pain in the ass can lead to good things, even from a dealer who doesn't show your kind of work. To share another anecdote from Edland, Ed came to my studio several years ago and we had a lovely studio visit. He asked lots of questions, showed what seemed to be genuine interest, we had a good conversational rapport. While it seemed unlikely that he would show my work (this was before he moved to Chelsea from Williamsburg and his program was somewhat different, but even then, I didn't think plus ultra was necessarily a perfect fit for my work), but since he was open to it, why not have him look at my work? What could be the downside? I kept in touch but did not bug him about showing my work. A year or two later, Ed recommended me to another gallery for a group show and the rest is history! (Well, the history part is a slight exaggeration, which brings up another issue*.) The point is, if Ed, or any other dealer or curator or critic or collector, takes the time to look at your work and discuss it with you, that interaction is valuable, that starts a relationship that you can build on. But the other party is not going to want to build the relationship if you keep asking, "why? Why won't you give me a show? You said the work was accomplished/challenging/new/whatever so why won't you show it?"

*Another big artists' myth to get over is that as soon as you get that show, your life will be magically transformed and you will be certified as a part of Art History. Wake up and smell the day job (at least for a while), people.

Oriane Stender

12/18/2008 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

The over-approach by a young(ish) artist is an unfortunate side effect of the youth culture gallery boom over the last 15 or so years. Who wouldn't be eager?

I think younger artists (and I was right there too) just want to get wet without putting one foot in first. It takes anywhere from a few years to a lifetime to really know the strength and direction of what ones work is. Let alone the strongest venue. So, so counter to the culture we are living in. Luckily this is the time to preach patience.

12/18/2008 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wonder if artists view a gallery's list of artists differently than a collector does? Collectors tend to gravitate toward a particular type of art, whereas artists may judge a gallery based on how GOOD the art is (i.e., "The work at Gallery X is always really special, so that's where my work should be seen."

Interesting point. As is the "intrinsic tunnel vision of the studio" point. I think there is some combination of these two that might contribute to the surprising (to dealers and curators, anyway) way artists often only notice the context of their work when they don't like it. When they're neutral on the context, I've seen enough indications to assume it's widespread that the context becomes irrelevant to a large degree.

Back in my independent curating days I was frequently very surprised that the theme of an exhibition that an artist agreed to participate in was often later revealed to be of no consequence to them at all.

The only parallel I can draw upon in my career is being invited to participate in a panel discussion. My first question and my focus throughout the process is always: what is the discussion about and who are the other participants?

Visual art seems to be somewhat different.

12/18/2008 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Molly Stevens said...

While this case is extreme, I confess, I do not find a gallery's program to always be that obvious.

Plus, I can bend the context for my work - and do so in all honesty.

So, yes, I'd like tips on how to understand a program.

12/18/2008 02:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't surprise me that artists don't see context. Artists are taught to see their work in terms of a literal contextual vacuum--a white space.

(Deborah Fisher, for some reason can't post unless I do it anonymously)

12/18/2008 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the hard work of building relationships can get left out in the telling of stories about how some artists made it. After the fact "mystique" can help the reputation of artists who "make it". There are individual stories that persist of artists who "didn't know the rules" to follow, just "asked" and got "The Show", or the MFA who had the dealer walk through their grad show and invite them to show, or that a dealer grabbed the next "unique" thing despite protestation that they are not taking submissions, etc. These stories leave out everything that came up to and between. But hopefuls latch onto the mystique: if you just have enough gumption, persona, etc...

Also, artists probably do group work differently from collectors, curators, dealers, assuming the person isn't occupying multiple roles. I've sometimes been baffled sometimes by what really connects the artists in a gallery's roster even if I've been drawn to the work of some of the artists in the gallery's program. Of course, that's the time for discussion of the artists and art, before launching into one's own art.

12/18/2008 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed wrote: "Back in my independent curating days I was frequently very surprised that the theme of an exhibition that an artist agreed to participate in was often later revealed to be of no consequence to them at all."

For me, this is absolutely true. I have been in a number of group shows the last several years, and I can't think of any exception to my feeling that the curatorial concept, the clever title, the supposed tie to some theme or topic, the formal things in common with others, none of it, really had anything to do with my work.

If I let myself think about it, in many cases the curators's ideas were simply annoyingly contrived and uninteresting concepts around which to justify hanging a bunch of stuff together. And these were shows in good galleries. But I've had to let that go; even though I have felt that the concept of group shows did nothing to help my work be better understood, I was happy to let it be hung anyway: I'm glad someone is thinking of me and appreciates what I do on some level; I had hoped that someone would see and think of my work beyond the show's concept; and my resume looks a whole lot better.

12/18/2008 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, even if the show's theme makes no sense, or your work doesn't fit into it, there's always the possibility that someone will say to themselves, "I have no idea what that show was about, but X's work was really interesting, I'm going to try to see more." When you're just starting out with not much on your resume, being in group shows is a good way to get your work seen. When you have a few under your belt you should start paying attention to context.

12/18/2008 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't be more right Anonymous 4:08pm.

Curator is a freely used word in the art world.

mls

12/18/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/18/2008 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you have time! almost as much time as i do. but i never use mine this way. i stare at my buttonhole all day long....

12/18/2008 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Mat said...

AND... if you went ahead and made this artist a million dollars he would forget you even existed if another dealer came along and made him a a million and one. The endless narcissistic neediness of the nudgingly talented is a dark, terrifying at world reality.

12/18/2008 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

I don't make own or sell, but I sure spend a lot of time out there looking, and yes, definitely, galleries have identities. But there is usually an artist or few who doesn't quite exactly make closure upon "the program," signifying an opening, or maybe even a new direction.

Granted, from a gallerist's perspective there are collectors being cultivated and only so much room to stray from the dialogue that is being encouraged. But I have to say based on what I've seen that while yes, you go to such and such for this and that, galleries will have their surprises every once in a while. Example: Noah Fischer doesn't fit Claire Oliver's "program." In fact, the gallery describes his inclusion as a response to the changing times. Based on this, it does seem right to me that an artist not be completely discouraged by the established identity of the gallery. But it may in fact be even more pertinent that they know exactly what that program is and how their work stands in relation to it, and to approach with tact and skillful means. This means not only who is in the stable, but how that gallerist moves about in the world, what their marketing strategies are and how your work fits into a vision beyond what appears on the walls.

12/18/2008 05:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meh... just wait for the art dealers to send you emails with three images of their exhibit space begging you to show.

12/18/2008 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Chandler said...

I have to concur with a bit of what Pretty Lady said re: art schools. Personally, part of my decision in choosing between two art schools (one, a part of a bigger university), was based on the fact that the smaller school has a Professional Practice course, where the larger school does not. I have already taken a Professional Practice course in my University in Australia, but since I was not an Australian citizen or residence, nothing applied to me. I'm looking forward to the U.S. version.

As a metals artist, I know that I have to look at galleries and shops that specifically sell/show jewelry and metal work. Furthermore, I have to look at the ones that sell MY style of metal work.

I approached a local gallery a while ago, and while I got some good feedback, I also got some constructive criticism. I learned that a. I need to present my work better, and b. I need to have "sets", along with a few other parameters as far as earring gauges, weight, etc., goes. It was great for me to talk to the gallery director because he was able to really let me in on who his audience is--a customer base that is much older and more conservative than I would have thought given some of the work shown there regularly.

I walked away from that interaction feeling a mix of sadness at being rejected, and gratitude at the lessons learned. I will probably not approach him again until I have a body of work specifically made for that gallery, and that may be some months yet, but I know that I would not be unwelcome.

In looking at doing wholesale as well, I have learned that is best to go visit shops you think your work might be good in, get business cards, call in the morning to get the buyer's email address and ask if you can email some images. Do so, and hopefully you'll get a reply.

Right now, in this economy though, I'm just concentrating on building stronger bodies of work.

12/18/2008 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger mgerra said...

Ed,
Your patience in engaging in such a dialogue is commendable. Since opening an art space in Aug 2008 I've turned away all of the artists who cold called, and taken on several who were resourceful enough to follow our guidelines. I have found that when artists hear phrases like "as beautiful as your paintings are" they hear not what follows, "...they don't fit our program or market". So far all of our rejections have been reasonably positive. We offer rejected artists pointers, we suggest art spaces that may better fit, we describe our side of the equation in more detail. We've found that all respect honesty and openness, even when in the context of a rejection. This is important -- our rejected artists are our future customers and potential advocates.

12/18/2008 07:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, you put yourself out there as a very accessible dealer, and in fact, for whatever reason you had in the moment, you chose to engage this artist. I can't really criticize the artist for trying, and i am sure that something was gained, obviously on both sides. But really, if what had been emailed to you was the greatest thing you ever saw, would you really reject it just because it came despite your protests?

12/18/2008 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"our rejected artists are our future customers and potential advocates."

I'm guessing your space is a non-profit, which is another creature entirely.

12/18/2008 08:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not wild about the Winkleman Gallery program; but if there's one gallery standing at the end of all of this financial hell, I hope it's Ed's.

You're an angel and your advice to young artists is worth more than a solo show anywhere.

12/18/2008 09:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Just read Ed's post:

Wow, nobody ever writes me long explanatory emails like that!

Lucky artist!



Pretty Lady:
+++My God, Ed, your generosity +++ASTOUNDS me.

Errr, let's not exaggerate. Astounding would be a reply of about 4 or 6 times that length.
Maybe astounding for New York...


Anon:
++++just wait for the art dealer +++to send you emails with three +++images of their exhibit space

Haha! You got that right!


Cedric Casp

12/18/2008 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Very generous you are, Ed.

As a gallery-represented artist who does a fair amount of blogging, I'd like to add my three cents to this post.

Cent one: Because I get into the art fairs on a press pass, I'm now on every gallery PR e-list in the universe. I mean, I get dozens of e-mails a day from galleries. If they're short and informative, I read and delete, occasionally printing out or holding onto something. It's not anoying. In fact it's interesting. But when I get bombarded by a gallery with too many e-mails too often, or receive missives that are too long or take to long to upload, I'm annoyed.

So I have some sense of what it's like for a dealer to get many e-mails from artists. And unlike Ed, I'm not being called on to respond. Bottom line for me--and I'm guessing this would translate for a dealer: Keep it short,informative and visually interesting. Just let a dealer know you'd like to be on her/his radar. If they're interested, you'll hear from them.

Cent two: If you want to get a sense of what it's like to be a dealer, curate a show. Arrange for an exhibition space, come up with a theme, ask for information from your artists and give them a deadline. I have, and I now have a very different--warmer, kinder, much more understanding--sense of what dealers are up against month after month after month. (My motto for any project I work on: No divas, no divos."

Cent three: As for getting to know the program of any gallery you're interested, how pleasurable and wonderful is that? You go to the galleries, take the postcards, make notes, possibly chat (briefly) with the gallerist, and enjoy the show. If you're coming in from out of town--or heading out of town--to reconnoiter galleries and see art, it's tax deductible as a research and development expense.

12/18/2008 10:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Zac said...

Hello all, this is my first comment in this google blogging thing. I am a self taught artist and am trying to learn the ropes. I am a bit of a shut in, it's all I can do to make it to work and other basics. I was involved with an artist group in Chicago a while back, but my artwork doesn't seem to fit any category, or maybe I should say, type, that I have seen at any galleries downtown. I've sold a few through my Myspace page, but not enough to leave my night job... heh.
I'll keep reading more in these blogs, thanks for the advice.

12/19/2008 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger An Xiao said...

I think any artist living in the 21st century understands the power of branding, and of niche marketing. However, gallery branding is a lot more subtle than, say, McDonald's branding, and I suspect many folks don't recognize that. I'd venture to guess that if your gallery were called [Subject] Gallery, the amount of submissions that just don't fit with the theme would decrease.

12/19/2008 01:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This artist should not have taken you on, and I agree that your generosity is forthcoming. In his or her defense, however, I think another point is that a lot of your artists do indeed cover several areas of investigation. You don't specialize in new media, for example, but have shown Joy, who engages its discourses, Rory Donaldson, and several of your artists work in video. While most on your roster inquire into their materials conceptually, several - such as Christopher K. Ho, Jennifer Dalton, and those on your summer group show, The Shallow Curator - make/show art about the art scene, play out social relationships. I could go on.... Artists like how you think and work, Ed, so I can see where they would work hard to make themselves fit, and in many cases it mightn't even be too big of a stretch. Besides, there are always exceptions to the rules: I myself have small gallery representation overseas that exclusively deals with prints, which is only 1/10th of my practice, and yet they decided to take me on, and I them, because of how much we like how the other works and thinks. I don't think you could have been any kinder in your response, and it sounds like this artist hasn't thought about this as much as he/she could/should have - their response and bombardment of emails make me cringe a bit - but I do understand where us artists sometimes misplace ourselves, or take on projects not quite inside our practice, in order to further both that practice and our career. Sometimes it's not about where you are or even want to be, but about who you get to work with in the process, and being open to where they might take you.

12/19/2008 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger mgerra said...

Anon,

"our rejected artists are our future customers and potential advocates."

We're not a non-profit. We treat anyone, including a rejected artist, who comes in to our gallery as a potential customer, a new collector or an evangelist.

You cannot underestimate the power of word of mouth, especially now that we're all connected via the great tubes of the internet. We've found several artists (and customers) from rejections / referrals of others.

Aside from the having the right art for the right market, exceptional customer service is key, particularly in an area like ours where we are trying to grow new collectors and establish an art-centric market where none has previously existed.

Rejection is hard. The key is to do it in a way that doesn't diminish the individual, and doesn't take an inordinate level of time. Doing the "dirty deed" via email is both bane and boon. For us, we seek only local talent, so we have the ability to reject artists face-to-face (after we've reminded them to follow our submission policy). I believe doing it this way is best for both parties -- email can be so incendiary and easily misinterpreted -- but would not be practical in most cases.

12/19/2008 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gonna play devil's advocate here.

Everything can be contextualized. Some galleries do have consistent programs, but most, frankly, are all over the place. I'm talking about hip galleries that get into the best fairs. There is a top Chelsea gallery that shows a painter who makes work which would not look out of place in a provincial gallery/frame shop in a quaint little town. but because this artist's work is affiliated with this gallery, it is anointed with some sort of conceptual pixie dust. This is a gallery which made a name for itself showing an artist who doesn't make any saleable objects at all. As an earlier poster said, there's a lot of very subtle branding going on. How else to explain all the Artforum ads without images? So I can understand how it can be confusing to some artists which gallery's "program" their work fits into.

Having said that, yes, personal relationships (and simply being in the right place at the right time, matter.

12/19/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger eageageag said...

Here is my two cents (it is about a month old).

Unsolicited

12/20/2008 01:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike R said...

Wow.

Just stumbled across your blog and I'm finding this is SO helpful.

I've got to agree with the above comments about the art schools system. The way the basic business sense is so wilfully ignored and not taught is CRIMINAL, in my opinion.

The only question I have is about personality. You quite rightly say that it's important not to be a pain in the ass, as this is an indicator of how an artist might behave in the presence of clients/how difficult they may be to work with/etc.,

However, some people are genuinely shy or introverted and/or don't come across well, despite the fact that their work might be a "good fit". I'm not sure that you can answer this, but often artists over-compensate for crippling shyness by being too pushy. The artist who e-mailed you - it strikes me as a bit of a hit-and-run approach. It could be that they couldn't be bothered, or that they didn't understand, or that they just lack confidence.

Also - we can all think of artists who are complete assholes, who have done very very well with a gallery. How they got anywhere near a dealer is a complete mystery.

I'm not sure that there's a response that can be made to what I'm saying, but if anyone can think of one, I'd love to hear it!

12/21/2008 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger hypatia 370 said...

Does it not seem so to artists?

In my experience (as a collector and working artist) I learned by doing. I did my research, made phone calls, asked questions and advice and wrote thank you notes religiously. In the process I built a network which continues to expand. But I also agree with others who have remarked on the paucity of practical business training most artists receive in traditional art tracks. I was able to leverage my earlier experience in Intrernational Marketing, but even then I had to learn the rhythms and rhymes of the business of art. Art-may-be-art, but so too, business-is-business; most artists I know who are exhibiting get this. Whether by their own effort or that of their agent/manager, they source out the right venues for their work, follow the submission guidelines, hit deadlines and keep their word.

Your exchange with this eager artist is a terrific object lesson for us all. It left me thinking of the conventional wisdom which says it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to develop an expertise. Doesn't it seem that artists will do this as matter of course in their creative output? But it seems to me a different temperament is required for the same deliberate effort to sell and market ones work. Which begs the question: If an agent/manager or co-op can fill the breach, why should/would the artist?

12/21/2008 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long-time reader, first-time contributor. Speaking as a frequent gallery visitor who buys a few artworks a year (I'm not going to be pretentious enough to call myself a "collector"), I frequently have trouble knowing what a gallery's program intends to be or even what that word means. (Does it mean emerging artists vs. mid-career vs. Great Names, prints or paintings or photography or sculpture or media, friendly to new collectors or a Great Palace Open Only to the Elect, etc.) Sometimes the gallery's program is obvious, sometimes it's subtle, sometimes it seems such a jumble of things as to be incomprehensible. I think it might help both artists and collectors if gallerists on their websites made a practice (some do already) of explaining their programs, much like artists are generally expected to prepare an artist's statement. Also to the point, there are some 600 (?) galleries in New York alone. I can pick up a Chelsea Art Guide any Saturday and find the names and addresses of every gallery in the area; but I know nowhere can I go to find a list of galleries classified by program - so that as a visitor or collector I can easily locate the galleries showing art that most interests me, and not incidentally, that I can afford. Generally each month when I make my NYC visit, I choose my itinerary based on reviews in the Times or Time Out NY. But how many galleries of interest am I missing because I don't know who supports a program that might suit my needs as a visitor/buyer/collector? And I can only imagine this must be even more difficult for artists themselves, not having an easy way to find the galleries that would be the best matches for them.

12/21/2008 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger sumita's artworld said...

Hello Ed,
Thanks for sharing this episode with everybody. It certainly gives one an insight about the art world.

12/24/2008 01:35:00 PM  

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