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Artists Dealing with Galleries

by Gail Sachson 21 Apr 2009 9:28 AM

Art about Looking at Art:A work by Gail Norfleet at Valley House Gallery depicts a gallery-goer studying a work by Susan Kae Grant at Conduit Gallery. Guest blogger GAIL SACHSON owns ASK ME ABOUT ART, an art education service, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee. The […]


Art about Looking at Art:A work by Gail Norfleet at Valley House Gallery depicts a gallery-goer studying a work by Susan Kae Grant at Conduit Gallery.

Guest blogger GAIL SACHSON owns ASK ME ABOUT ART, an art education service, is Vice-Chair of the Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the Public Art Committee. The advice to artists which follows is from a course Ms. Sachson teaches at SMU for emerging artists, “An Intimate Insider’s View of the Dallas Art Scene:From Museum to Marketplace”.

The annual Spring Gallery Walk presented by the Dallas Art Dealers Association was this past weekend. Over thirty galleries  and alternative venues participated. It was the best free entertainment and education in the city.

But how do artists without gallery representation get to be part of the scene?   Finding the right gallery for you is a lot like dating.

  • Survey the scene and prepare for the date. Going to openings, having conversations with the directors, looking at the work in the various galleries is essential before deciding upon which gallery best suits you and your work.
  • It pays to be set-up. An introduction by an artist who shows in the gallery of your choice , is best.
  • But which gallery is for you? You  must know which audience you want to reach. Each gallery has its own focus and its own following. Determining your audience will help determine which gallery is for you.
  • Choose a gallery the way you would choose a partner in marriage. Trust and mutual respect are primary. Expectations should be clear. Written contracts are advisable to safeguard against misunderstandings. (Sound like a pre-nuptual?) Contracts are usually negotiable. Know what’s important to you, such as publicity, shows, prompt payment,etc. Realize what is expected of you…a body of available work, on time delivery and perhaps…sharing discounts and commissions when offered.
  • Your gallery director and you want a personal  long-term relationship. Galleries prefer to deal directly with you, rather than with  a representative. Reps and consultants are advantageous when placing work in corporations or hotels.
  • Your website and portfolio should be up-to-date, well edited, and work should be professionally photographed. Most galleries post submission requirements on their websites.

Even with quality work, a charming personality, flowers, candy and flattery, your chosen gallery may reject your advances. Remember, there are more fish in the sea.

  • Gail’s points are excellent, and I would just underscore two, if only because I see artists overlooking them more than any other.

    ONLY approach a gallery when you understand their niche and think you are a good fit. Guess what: galleries are approached constantly by artists, including many that aren’t ready for representation. So out of self-defense they have their guard up, and you only hurt your chances by approaching them casually, without understanding their BUSINESS or without being well prepared.

    Good photography is the single biggest deficiency I see among artists trying to advance their careers. The vast majority of influencers who might make or break your career (galleries, curators, publishers, etc) will come to some conclusion about your work without ever having seen it in person. In other words, they’ll make at least an initial decision based on a photograph. If it’s a good photograph, you might advance to Go. If it’s not, they could conclude you make bad art or you’re an unprofessional artist, but they for sure won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. They are likely to already have good photography from other artists who understand its importance and will move on to look at images they can judge. The other-fish-in-the-sea principle that Gail mentioned works both ways.

  • Gail Sachson

    You are absolutely right about the necessity of artists being savvy enough and realistic enough to approach galleries appropriate for their work. It is always diffcicult, yet often necessary, for a gallery to reject an artist’s submissions. They generally try hard not to bruise an artist’s ego or sever ties. A gallery director told me, “I don’t want the artists to feel rejected or not to keep knocking on doors.”

  • I’m very grateful to have Gail Sachson’s experience as a resource through her class. Reading books and blogs has given me a lot of insight into both sides of this process, but the specific information about Dallas galleries has been great. As an unrepresented artist I regularly attend openings of the Dallas galleries that I would most like to represent me. As the talented Mr. Starr mentioned, I worry about whether or not I’m prepared enough to make the right impression at this point. This is my conundrum and something that I think a lot about. Thanks for the topic and forum!

    • Andrew, to your conundrum: I think one of the best ways to “test the waters” and prepare your approach to galleries is to enter juried competitions. The submission requirements will take you through some of the same steps, for instance procuring good photographic images, compiling a resume and artist’s statement and in general introducing you to how art, and the artist, may be evaluated and compared. Another advantage is that the “cattle call” nature of a competition means, should your work not be accepted, you don’t have to take the rejection so personally, since you won’t be the only one, and compared to a presentation to a commercial gallery, the awkwardness and potential loss-of-face (on BOTH sides) is completely eliminated. Among professionals, competitions are recognized for the subjective contests they are, and nobody holds it against you if you lose. In fact, given the numbers of entries typical, nobody’s likely to know if you DID lose.

      This early in your career, approach competitions as a learning experience and not as an opportunity to put notches in your belt with a lot of “wins.” Still, either winning or losing can teach you a lot, so don’t ignore the potential there. I recommend entering local and regional competitions over national ones, as you can be more assured your work is being judged in the right context. Should your work be accepted and the juror is also local, an endorsement is somewhat implicit, which you may then be able to parlay into referrals or other expert advice. On the other hand, I also suggest staying away from competitions mounted by small or suburban art clubs, since, if your work is rejected, you may be unable to determine if the juror didn’t like it or just didn’t want to offend the organizers or hurt the feelings of “sunday painters.” You also may not be able to learn anything significant from the experience if you’re a video artist and the juror is the director of a ceramics gallery, so it can all get a little squishy. Just remember that like the work itself, it’s an art and not a science.

      If access to a good photographer is an obstacle, please contact me through my web site and I’ll give you the name of a very affordable one who does excellent work and also gives a discount to art students.

  • First of all I love Valley House Gallery – it’s one of the best in town.
    BUT there’s a better way to sell art.
    And it’s part of the art revolution started in Dallas. It is to avoid galleries altogether. I truly see them as dinosaurs.
    With giclees and other reproduction technologies, it’s time for art to be mass produced like lit , books / movies, DVD’s, /music,recordings.
    Instead of one time art original being locked up in some house or museum – I see ‘record’ stores with copies of thousands of painting copies. The artist gets a percentage of sales, and keeps the originals. OR, the entire work of a classic artist’s work goes on tour as copies, while the originals are safe in museums or vaults.
    Time for art to get out of the ivory towers, and enter the world.

  • Am very thankful that Dallas has such a vibrant art community…