Artists attempting to make the leap from part-time artist to full-time artist often ask me how they should go about getting into good galleries and shows. I usually just look at them blankly and ask; "What are those?". Just kidding of course.
When it comes to getting into the shows and galleries you feel your work would be successful in, I suggest the following:
1) Do Your Research
Make sure your work is appropriate for the show of which you'd like to exhibit. Also, be certain the show you're applying to is practical for you to do. For example, if you can't afford the expense involved in traveling to a show across the country, begin by submitting to local or regional shows. And finally, make sure to try and attend the shows you're interested in participating. You may find that a show which looks good on paper might not be what you envisioned upon seeing it first-hand.
2) Follow The Submission Guidelines To The Letter
Nothing will get you rejected from a show faster than not following the rules for submission. For example, if they require your submission be digital and on CD, don't send slides or photographic prints of your work! Don't eliminate yourself from consideration before anyone sees your work simply because you fudged on the rules.
3) Make Sure Images Of Your Work Are Professional
Remember that the images you submit are meant to represent your work in the most accurate way possible. Poor quality images, or images that don't accurately represent your work, are sure to lead to you being eliminated from consideration.
4) Keep Applying
Just because you are rejected from a show one year does not mean you will be rejected the following year. Keep submitting — over and over. The more you continue to apply for a show, the more likely it is you'll eventually be invited to participate.
1) Again, Do Your Research
Don't apply to a gallery just because you think they're a "nice gallery". First, visit the gallery you're interested in. Ask yourself a few questions; "Is the work here as good and/or better than mine?". The artwork (in your estimation) should be at least as good as yours, and hopefully, better than yours. Being in a gallery that carries work you consider as good as — or better than — your work will not only help motivate you to produce better work, but also lends credibility to your art through association. Collectors, art publication editors, show organizers and other gallery curators are more likely to hold your work in higher regard if your work is exhibited among other great work. Ask yourself; "Would my work fit in this gallery?" For example, one scenario is to find a respected gallery where your work is similar to the work they carry but fills a niche in the way of style that the gallery might be missing. And finally, ask yourself; "Is the work in this gallery being well cared for and displayed in a professional manner?". Try to notice if the gallery is overcrowding the walls with art. Are there too many paintings just leaning against walls? Are they hanging work in bathrooms? These can all be signs that the gallery doesn't value its artists the way you may believe they should. Finally, talk with artists that show or have shown with the gallery you're interested in. Ask them for their experiences in working with the gallery. For example, ask if the gallery pays in a timely, professional manner. Ask if the gallery treated the artist more like a colleague or were they treated more like a vendor? Was the gallery proactive in selling the artist's work?
2) Try To Not Send Slides
Most successful galleries receive numerous slide and digital image submissions. Your work is likely to get lost in the mountains of other artists submitting. My personal belief is that the best way to give yourself the greatest opportunity in starting a relationship with a gallery is to do the following:
A. Find out who is responsible for reviewing perspective artist's work — and that they have decision-making power — and contact them personally.
B. Call and make an appointment with this person to review at least 5 of your best original works (make sure they are framed and ready for hanging). The approach here is not to solicit the gallery to represent you, but rather, ask them to look at your work and give their professional opinion of it. If in this process the gallery likes your work and feels it would be a good fit, you won't have to ask them to represent you, they will ask you (and the paintings you've shown had better be available for them to hang!). Because many galleries have seasons, make sure to approach them for their opinion when they are most likely to have the time to give it. Trying to make appointments with a curator when he or she is in the middle of their busiest season will probably not be favorable for you.
C. Make sure to send them a formal thank you for seeing you and reviewing your work.
3) If You Must Send Slides...
Make sure they are getting to the individual most likely to have the time and the decision-making power to pick up new artists. Just sending your slides to the front desk attendant may not be the best way to have your work considered.
4) If A Gallery Is Interested In Representing You...
Make sure to carefully review all of their business practices (i.e.: consignment agreements, commission structure, payment terms, etc.) before signing anything. There are too many horror stories out there regarding shady business practices by galleries. And although most galleries are honorable and operate in a professional manner, it's very important you do what you can to protect you and your work.
I hope some of these suggestions help you to better navigate the process of being invited to participate in your favorite shows and be represented by reputable galleries. If anyone has anything to add, or additional thoughts on the matter, please post a comment.