Recently a couple of friends asked me for some advice on how to get into a gallery and make a living out of art. They asked me what art galleries I would recommend them to submit their work. This is something I hear so often from artists to artists and the question, I noticed, is often misguided. Instead of asking yourself how to get into a gallery, why not ask yourself first of all, what kind of artist am I, what defines my work, and I mean what really defines my work and sets it apart from the rest? What qualities does it share with others? This is something you learn by visiting art fairs, galleries, museums and open studios. Every artist path is different because every human experience is different and there are different sensibilities and different tastes and that is why it is very hard to even start recommending galleries to colleagues and friends. And finally where do I wish to have my work be seen? Then you can start thinking of galleries if this is what you want. And I always have a strong desire to help others but I also think every individual makes his or her own path and in the process discovers that there are no written set of rules really. You write the rules and you write your own story on your way and if you stick to it and believe it to the end that is where success often appears. But there are a few hints that may be common and agreeable among many of my artist’s friends in order to become successful as an artist. Here are just a few to keep in mind before you ask yourself where do I wish to have my work be seen and what art gallery is right for me? :
1. Success, Define Success. Before wishing to be a successful artist, you should ask yourself, what do you mean by success? Is it having a solo show in an important gallery in New York, selling your work at a global scale or just being recognized in your own city? Is it about fame, money, live off your art or simply being able to keep it as a side job? Define Success, and then you'll know your destination so you can draw the map.
2. Find good role models and take a good look at them. Look at art and visit museums, galleries and shows as much as you can. Once you find an artist you really like, study him or her, learn about their career, where they studied, where they have shown their work. How does their work relate to yours? Do I identify personally with this artist and why? And can I see myself taking a similar path? Why? Meet them personally if you have a chance and listen to what they have to say. Like I said, everyone makes their own path but it doesn't hurt to have some inspiration on the way and learn from others different ways to walk.
3. Become a perfectionist.
Some artists reach a point where they are completely satisfied with what they paint, sculpt or draw. These artists are the ones that make a dozen or two paintings in a week and they all look the same. They discovered a formula to repeat themselves and stop evolving. At this point they stop being artists to become machines. A true artist strives for perfection and tries different things in order to become a better artist. His/her curiosity is that of a child, therefore he/she doesn't get bored and every new blank canvas represents a new challenge and an opportunity to make something new. Train yourself and work hard to become better and better each day.
4. Stop looking at the art world as if it was a reality show competition.
We live in a sick society that idealizes competition and is obsessed with winning. Competition is a step towards violence and war and if we kindle this feeling inside, we will always see everyone around us as a possible threat. Instead learn, cooperate and help others because by doing so you help yourself grow even more in the process. If you really want to compete, compete against yourself, it will give you far better results. Art is so subjective to taste that it makes no sense to compare yourself to others so you better focus your energy and attention to making art that grants you peace and harmony within yourself. As a consequence this will be contagious and others will be positively affected by your art.
5. Train yourself with self discipline.
Instead of competing, it is much more healthy and effective to discipline yourself. If you really wish to be good at what you make, put some strong discipline into your work schedule. Avoid distractions and things that might keep you away from making art at the time you have assigned for creation. Keep a clean space or studio and make it a job. Once you start treating your creative leisure time as a real profession, it eventually becomes serious and people will eventually take notice and take your art with more respect.
6. Learn everything you can about what you do. Many artists are self-taught and it often shows in their work. Artists with serious art training also show it in their work. But whether you are self-taught or have some artistic training, never cease to learn everything you can about your passion. If your passion is to paint miniatures with tempera, then learn all you can about miniature painting in history, how to paint with tempera paint, the many styles and schools, the pigments, the mediums, the supports, the artists in history and their techniques, etc. By learning the most of your artistic discipline you will be steps closer to becoming a master.
7. Be open but also careful to criticism.
One often hears in school that one must be open to criticism and as much as I agree I should also add, be very careful with it also. It is very easy to fall into the trap of listening to all advice and criticism and abandon your own path in order to please others so be very selective about what you take and what you leave. Pay careful attention from who is it coming from. Ask yourself the following questions before you take any criticism too seriously. Is this person a model I admire and wish to follow, is he or she an accomplished artist? If it's a child, you'll often get the most honest and straightforward criticism you can find. If it's an elderly person, tradition will more than often strongly influence their judgment of art. Be aware of the source and learn from everyone considering their own background and accomplishments.
8. Make art with a strong sense of conviction
Conviction of what one does is one of the most important qualities that accomplished artists can posses. Conviction comes in time with experience in life and art coming together and justifying one another. There is a sense of purpose in life that is expressed in art that comes at a time when you discover what makes you, you. Make sure every line you draw every thought, every part of your energy goes into discovering your true nature because once this becomes clear, you become master of your own universe and conviction is just a consequence of this self discovery. Once attained, nothing stops you from doing what you do and in the way you do it. In time this is the art that gets most rewarded.
9. Know what makes you different and use it to your advantage
One of the good reasons for joining a group and exhibiting with other artists, besides making friends and sharing together, is that it is much easier to find what sets you apart from the rest. If for some reason you feel isolated and as an eternal outsider, don’t let this put you down. On the contrary, see what you have that others don’t and use it as an asset. Many of the greatest painters in history did not fit into the group but they exploited what made them different and used it to their advantage. With so much competition out there, the more you become good at something that everyone else ignores the more chances you have for success. So stick to yourself and what makes you different may be your most powerful weapon in order to stand out.
10. Make a killer presentation and keep a strong presence
Preparing a very strong portfolio and an artist website with your strongest work is no doubt one of the first things you should do before approaching any art gallery or anyone interested in seeing your work. Always carry business cards with you. Make these as professional as possible; they should say loudly that you’re an artist without even reading them. Once you get a very good artist website up and a solid body of work out there, make sure you keep a strong presence on social media and artist portfolio websites. Let the world know what kind of artist you are and what kind of art you are working on at the moment.
11. Know your audience, know your place.
As in life, one must learn to recognize where one fits, and where one doesn't. When I was much younger I remember trying to fit in and be accepted into certain groups that were obviously very different from what I now know who I am. Childhood and adolescent experiences usually teach us that piece of information. We then find our clan or our particular group that share our same interests and aspirations and we stick to this group. This is human nature and it happens in religion, politics and art as well. Before you start knocking doors on art galleries, you should know what kind of artist are you and what kind of gallery is right for you. I wouldn't waste my time as a pop surrealist painter trying to get into a conceptual art gallery and vice versa.
12. Carefully select your battlefields and get yourself and your work out there.
Finally, be selective of your environments, where you will show your work and how you will show it and participate in those group shows, exhibits and opportunities that better describe who you are as an artist. Don't waste your time participating in events that are not professionally curated or have little to do with the kind of work you do. Stay informed, meet people and find the right places for your work to shine. Being out there is as important as being in your studio/cave creating work. We are all social creatures and this is a big part of being an artist, like it or not, get used to talking about your work and experiencing the world outside the studio