… wait a minute! JOY??? What happened to the usual ending of this statement? I opted to change the negative word EVIL to joy! Why (I can hear the chorus now!!)? Give me a chance to elaborate: As a wise marketing expert told me many years ago “Nobody will promote you better than you can!” Always be prepared, carry business cards and have a few images in a mini-portfolio in your purse. Times have changed – you can now get out your smart phone or iPad and show the images this way. However, self-promotion does not stop there. A website is helpful and so many other avenues of networking all assist in our careers. Today I want to focus on self-promotion by way of distributing exhibition proposals.
Calls for entries for individual pieces to juried exhibitions and portfolio submissions are part and parcel of an artist’s life. Chances are that rejection letters, no communication or “the skinny envelope” will be the results more often that the coveted acceptance letter. What is the artist to do? Loose heart? Change their medium? Abandon the creative life?
Decisions are very personal but here is my personal take: Deep down artists are always embracing the challenge, the chase for a new adventure, and the proverbial “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” This is why we are artists – challenges are par for the course and keep up fresh and excited! A philosophy I embraced early on while making the commitment to be an artist for better or for worse, through tough times and great sales periods. Being an artist defines me and I don’t want it any other way!
I was trained as a Kindergarten teacher in Germany, had worked in this field for 20 years when my husband and I purchased a fiber arts supply business which we successfully operated for 10 years. The challenges in business taught me well and still guide me in my quest to success as an artist. I know that nothing comes easy and flexibility and creative problem solving skills are imperative. In 2001 we closed the business to facilitate my pursuit of the artistic path.
I am not self-trained: due to the time consuming schedule of a business I opted to obtain London City & Guilds Diplomas, some with in class experiences and tutor guidance, and the last diploma (2003 – 2005) was offered as an online experience. (The details are in the CV on my website if you are interested.)
My art training was in-depth and very enriching, however the tools on how to proceed after graduation was missing. I had to scout on my own and explore many of the issues emerging artists encounter: How much does one charge for the art? How does one go about to secure exhibition opportunities? What is involved in building a portfolio?
So many questions, so many ways to approach these subjects. The one piece of advice I read about was “Research and select ten galleries that may be open to your art form and send out proposals. Do not expect to get accepted anywhere.” The book (I cannot remember the title, sorry!) went on to suggest that one view the proposal process equivalent to a job application: One cannot possibly get every job one applies for. This was most likely the best piece of advice to start my career. Nine years ago I sent out my first proposal, waited for six months before I had a positive answer for 18 months later: My first solo exhibition took place in July/August 2005 and I have persevered, continually setting my sights higher and striving for more prestigious venues and public galleries. A juried group show here and there offers additional opportunities.
Just a few days ago I was engaged in an enlightening conversation with a public gallery curator. I had submitted a proposal a little over three years ago to his gallery and after an initial inquiry as to what times my work would be available, and my quick response, I never heard back. Guilty: I was afraid to call and get my rejection over the telephone… Yesterday he recognized my name and even conjured up what my proposal was about. He also shared this little bit of information: If a gallery curator outright dismisses or rejects a proposal the work is no longer under consideration. If the proposal is not returned or otherwise rejected, the door remains open to submit a new proposal with fresh work one or two years later. This final tidbit of information was very helpful for future endeavors on my part. My personal insight: It is important to connect with a gallery curator in person and suggest bringing around a selection of actual work for him/her to assess its merit and how it would fit into the gallery setting.
The fact that textile art is usually considered to be quilting, resulting in functional pieces and as such is viewed by curators as something anyone can do, was a little disheartening. His impression of textile art was that it is done in a group setting and that individual expression and originality may be lacking. This showed me that I have some educational opportunities ahead of me!
I feel great about the chance conversation and will be considering my future path to gallery exhibitions carefully and newly challenged!
What are your experiences and how have you overcome exhibition obstacles? Please leave a comment – we all need to learn from each other.