Knowing When You're Ready: A Guide for Artists

Image credit to Gilber Franco on Unsplash

Knowing how and when to approach an art gallery with your work is tricky business. There are different kinds of galleries, and within each category are a myriad of options, from small brick-and-mortar businesses to organizations that operate solely in the digital world. No matter the gallery, however, it’s important to do a self-evaluation and decide whether or not you’re truly prepared - both to apply, and to be accepted. This guide should help artists applying to all kinds of galleries - not just ours!

What should I think about before applying?

Recently, one of our Studio Gallery artists sent us an article with some great preliminary questions to ask yourself before submitting your work to a gallery.

  • Am I using the highest quality materials I can obtain for my work?

  • Is my presentation clean and professional?

  • Have I created a consistent body of work that can show well together?

  • Do I have a professional, engaging biography and artists’ statement?

  • Is my portfolio polished and appealingly organized?

When it comes to approaching galleries, the quality of your artwork is only half the battle! While gallerists put the artwork first and foremost, the way your work is presented can make a significant impact on the impression you make. If you’re a painter - have you taped the edges of your canvas, or framed the work? If you’re a photographer, do you have professional prints that would catch the eye of gallery staff? A great way to understand whether your work is ready to submit is to imagine it hanging, as it is, on a museum wall. Is there anything you would change, or wish you’d done differently, in the presentation?

If you’re not sure whether the gallery in question accepts your kind of work, try checking out their Instagram page or website. These will probably have images that reflect the caliber and kind of artwork that would be well-received by the gallery. However, don’t let this limit you: if you see that they have nothing like your kind of work, you may want to reach out to them anyways. Your work might be the fresh, new thing that they’ve been looking for.

What kinds of galleries are there, and does it matter what type I apply to?

There are many different kinds of galleries, and each have their benefits and drawbacks. Jason Horejs of the Red Dot Blog wrote three great articles breaking down what you might experience at three kinds of galleries:

It’s critical to think about what kind of gallery you want to be represented by, so take some time and do some research. If you’d like to bring in your work and leave it in the hands of the gallerists, you may want to join a commercial gallery. If you want to join a community of artists, or exhibit in an artist-run space, you may want to join a cooperative gallery. Think about what matters the most to you, and what it’s most important for you to gain from the experience.

What should I ask about when chatting with gallerists?

Your Needs: Most galleries have representatives that are happy to chat with prospective artists about how exactly they can meet their needs. Before setting up a meeting (and it’s much better to set a meeting than to simply arrive with your work in tow!), think about what’s most important to you. Is it exposure? Sales? Community? Social media? Make a priorities list and be sure to ask about each item.

Exclusivity: If you’re the kind of artist who likes to submit work to more than one organization at a time, you should ask about the gallery’s exclusivity policy. Will you be able to show with other galleries, if you are accepted? What about as part of a juried show? It’s good to know this before you apply.

Fees & Commission: Different galleries take different commission cuts, and cooperative galleries usually have a fee for membership. Know the numbers, and whether you can swing them, before submitting an application.

Their Expectations: What will the gallery need from you, if they accept your work? Your presence at receptions? A certain amount of works left at the gallery? If it’s an artist cooperative, will they be asking you to mind the gallery on certain days? Make sure that you can meet these needs before you apply.

The Exhibitions: What types of shows can you expect if you join the gallery? Will you have solo shows, or only show as part of a group? When can you expect to have your first exhibition with the gallery?

Extra tip: Be sure to check out the websites of these galleries before you make your visit, as some of your questions may already be answered. The more prepared you seem, the more impressed they’ll be!

I’m not ready to apply, but I want to start preparing. What can I do?

If you have a website, make sure that it’s clean, organized, and reflects the current direction that your work is taking. It should have good examples of your style, and helpful information about you. Your website may be the first impression that galleries have of your work - so try to avoid using blurry or low quality images.

Review your artist statement and resume. Make sure that they’re up to date and well-written, and consistent with the information on your website.

Getting to know other artists can provide some personal, detailed insight into what different galleries can offer. Try attending art events, like the First Friday Art Walk. Chat with the artists and find out what they do and don’t like about their representation, or what they wished they’d known when they first began exhibiting. You can also meet other artists by expanding your skill set - we recommend checking out the classes offered by our neighbor, the Washington Studio School.

Joining a critique group can be tremendously beneficial. Fresh, experienced eyes on your work, and by people who know what they’re talking about. Not sure how to find one? Talk to some other artists, do some Googling, or speak to local art schools to find the one that’s right for you.

Still looking for more information? Contact the Director at the button below. Looking for details on joining our gallery? Click the button to get the details on how to make it happen.

From Gallery Director Svetlana Shaindlin.