As a practicing artist, working with galleries can be something of an enigma. It's not really taught at art school and it can be hard to know how to proceed, and how to distinguish the good opportunities from the not so good ones. Jenny Judova, Founder of Art Map, has written a series of How To Work With Galleries tutorials, exclusively for Cass Art, to teach you all that you need to know, and here is the third and final in the series.
Part 3: How To Approach A Gallery
Galleries do not enjoy being pitched to or being approached. The majority of gallerists I speak to enjoy finding artists; many see discovering new talent as the biggest perk if the job. In other words, it is not the artist who finds and approaches the gallery, but the gallerists who discover and approach the artists. To be approached by a gallery, the artist has to be discovered, but in order to be discovered they have to make themselves discoverable.
Unfortunately when artists think about ‘being discovered’ they use extreme and dated examples that usually include Charles Saatchi and the YBAs. The problem with these examples from more than 20 years ago is that they occurred in a very different time, when the London art scene was a lot smaller and the internet did not exist. Today, in a post-internet world, ‘being discoverable’ means having a search engine optimised website and a few thousand Instagram followers. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that they discovered an artist during a studio visit - but I do know many examples when an artist was offered an exhibition or a commission by an Instagram follower. So when old rules no longer apply, how does an artist get discovered in the 21st century?
Have a website
I cannot express my surprise at how many artists still think that having a website is an unnecessary luxury. Your website is your personal business card and store front that is open 24/7. It allows people to find you, learn more about your work, and get in touch with you.
Tom’s Etching Studio website built with Square Space
Over the last few years, the cost of setting up a website has become extremely low. You can have a personal website for free. You can choose to use blog platforms such as Blogger or Tumblr, or shop building platforms such as Square Space, Wix, and Shopify. Of course the go to solution for many is still Wordpress or Inexhibit.
Garry Russell’s website built with Wix
Do not have a unique website
When setting up a website an important thing to remember is that it doesn't need to be unique. The content of your website makes the website unique, not its appearance. A ‘unique’ appearance often means a confusing user interface (UI) and, a website should be easy to understand and navigate.
Laura Aldridge’s website built in Inexhibit
Use your name as a domain name
Another issue to consider is the domain name - always use your real name or your artist pseudonym. In other words, if you introduce yourself as Jane Doe to people you meet, then your website domain should be janedoe.com or janedoeartist.com or janedoe.gallery. It should not be artistjennifer.com or londonartisttowatch.com. The aim of your website is to make you easily discoverable - not to make it harder to find you.
Have an email address
Do not forget to add contact information to your website. If your contact information is not on your website it can be assumed that you do not want people to get in touch. Also make sure that the email address works and that emails will not bounce back. Choose an appropriate email name, too - something like firstname.lastname@example.org is a good idea only if your work explores webcam culture! Also it's important to remember that such emails tend to be automatically redirected into junk mail.
Create a mailing list
The aim of your online presence is not just to make you easily discoverable but also to help build your audience. Creating a mailing list and interacting with those who signed up is a crucial part of that, as those are the people who actually want to know what you are up to. And if you tell them about your next show they will probably come to see it.
Bhavani Esapathi’s newsletter
Use social media
A decade ago social media was seen as a waste of time. Ten years on it is the most important marketing tool that artists, writers, journalists, curators, musicians, and creators have at their disposal. It's free to use, it helps connect with a larger community, and it helps create a community around what you are doing.
Mychael Pybus’ Instagram account
Furthermore Twitter and Instgaram have very powerful search engines. So if I type in ‘#etching’ or ‘#landscapeartist’ it will give me a list of all individuals who use the term in their description or that have existing posts including those terms. Social media is an amazing tool to make yourself more discoverable. And when it comes to Instagram, many artists I know have received commissions, sales, or exhibitions through the app.
Paul Kindersley Instagram account
Optimise the description about yourself in every social media account you have. Do not have generic descriptions such as ‘I am an artist and a mother of two beautiful kids, I also love sunsets.' No dealer will be using search terms such as ‘sunset’ or ‘kids’. Instead write something like ‘I am a painter, interested in still life and landscapes. I also do etching, engraving, and screen printing. You can buy my work at … or get in touch for commissions .’ This way you are likely to come up in search results for search for ‘still life’ or ‘etching’.
Art Map London’s Instagram account
Apply for open calls
This is something I learnt from a panel discussion that had three not-for-profit organisations talking about artist development, residencies, open calls, etc. One of the panelists bought up an interesting point: ‘It's worth applying to some open calls and residencies just to get your work in front of certain people.’
Show your work
To show your work you do not need to be represented by a gallery. Invite your friends and social media followers to visit your studio. Hang your work in your living room, or coffee shop, or in the back of a van in a parking lot in Peckham and invite people over. Notice that this is not advice to spend money and organise an exhibition, but just to show work using resources you already have.
By Jenny Judova
Jenny is an art writer and speaker specialising on the primary art market. She is the founder of Art Map London, and is currently working on the publican Gallery Guide London and How to Approach a Gallery. The latter will be filled with advice on how to pursue a career in the arts.
Get in touch via twitter @jennyjudova
Art Map London is an art events listing website that developed into a peer to peer network for artists and curators.