Perseverance Baby! A Gallery A Day
Updated: Jun 20
As I mentioned before, I took almost 10 years off as a dedicated working artist when my daughters were babies. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't have stopped completely because it is very hard to start again. I realize now that I could have managed a scaled down pace. Just the act of starting again is hard enough, but then not having recent shows on your exhibitions list (10 years missing for me ugh!) really makes it harder to get a foot in the door and taken seriously.
It's time missed where you are not creating relationships which are very important.
It’s time not developing your style or building your resume or establishing a sales record. Most shows honestly happen through recommendation or your work having been seen somewhere or going to shows and making relationships by getting your face and art familiar to curators and directors.
I realized just how reliant I was on recommendations were years later when I was a gallery director in NYC and observed the behind the scenes of how artist-gallery-show come together.
Back in 2005 I was ready to jump in making art and trying to exhibit. I was hungry for it. I'd missed it deeply and I felt like I had 10 years to make up for. I'd asked friends who happened to be artists when I was just starting again how they approached galleries. None would share information. They shrugged their shoulders and said “Well … we have people come to us now”. I wanted to scream! “HELP!!!!” None of this stuff was taught in Art School.
Okay.... so I was going to have to figure this out on my own and still be there for my family. Only so many hours in the day. I could have just thrown my arms up in the air and said “I don't know what I'm doing!’ But that meant giving up the dream I'd had since I was 4.
First steps... I did have the wherewithal to know that artists no longer sent slides in to galleries. That was the old art world I'd left.
What to do now? I realized I work better under deadlines, rules, steps... etc. I had not had any guidance since grad school and even that was more art theory and practice and little to no art business. So I imposed my own deadlines and rules. I decided that I had better get to know the galleries that I realistically could aim at. My rule was to research and find a gallery a day to send off an introductory email to with a few images. I did this without fail for 3 years straight. If we were going on vacation or I knew stuff was coming up, then I doubled up on other days to make my quota for the week.
Some might say that was obsessive behavior. I prefer to think of it as perseverance and ground work.
And what was that research? I'd look at the artists they represented. Look at those artists exhibitions lists. Where had they shown? What level were they in their experience? Also their lists gave me information for even more galleries to research. Could I see my art making sense on the website of this gallery? Did my work fit? Was the gallery accepting submissions? I kept meticulous notes of what emails and when and who I'd sent them off to. I kept refining the introductory email. Kept note of any responses. Made sure to talk about the artists’ work that I loved at the gallery and thought my work had a good resonance with.
I had a mission. This strategy did pay off. There were a lot of no's. 98% rejection rate probably. Some rejections at the time I thought quite rude. Now with enough time passing those old no's are actually quite passive. There were even more "no responses at all". I could again have just quit with all the rejection but I let it fuel my resolve. A "NO" was just a "NEXT".
I will never forget the words of one gallery owner who ultimately said no to showing my work, but shared this insight, "Artists, especially women artists, jumping back in after a long absence seem to work with a vengeance. Keep it up! You are doing your job and doing it well." Perseverance!
Here's the thing... I DID secure exhibits here and there with my gallery a day approach! Perseverance Baby!!!! And some of those shows led to bigger shows and sales and continue to snowball to this very day 17 years later. Half of the galleries that represent me today were started through emailed submissions.
Being an artist is being a business. I spend way more time researching galleries, posting, sending out introductory emails, exchanging ideas and sharing information with other artists and curators compared to actual hours in my studio. Not everyone shares information, but I find goodwill makes for good alliances down the road. I believe in sharing. That feeling of floundering alone so many years ago felt overwhelming and wasn't necessary. I resolved to share and help other artists. I also tell them to pay it forward. There are so many things we should ALL be sharing. Shows, ideas, materials and resources information and "cautions"! There are a lot of costly and potentially devastating pitfalls and scams out there and that is for another posting down the road...
Hey a reminder if you happen to be in Westport, Connecticut. Last weekend coming up for my 2 person show at Amy Simon. Last day is June 18th.
Carla Goldberg (left)
Cathy Choi (right)