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Make the Most of Your Art Shows...
But Keep Them in Perspective
Q: I made a career change from engineer to artist several years ago. I now have two solo shows coming up, one at a gallery and the other at a local college. How can I get the maximum career benefits and exposure from these shows? My wife has volunteered to contact influential art critics. Will that help? What else can I do before, during and after for these to work in my favor?
A: Make the most of these opportunities but at the same time, keep them in perspective. These are not critical moments which, if properly leveraged, will catapult you to instant stardom. They're good solid continuations of what you've already been doing and that's basically it. You're pretty much at the start of your art career-- an auspicious one which is good-- and these shows are both big pluses, but fame and fortune are much more related to longevity and consistency than they are to capitalizing on any given moment. Even if they both go extremely well, success is all about duplicating those accomplishments again and again and again. All that considered, however, you can do certain things to make the best of them.
One great way to maximize the outcome of any exhibition is to publish a catalogue, especially for the one at the college. Institutional shows are generally considered more significant than gallery shows on an artist's resume due to their non-commercial nature-- in other words, your art is exhibited simply because they think it's good, not for commercial purposes, because they think they can sell or make money from it. Find out whether either the gallery or the college (or both together) have any such plans and if not, if there's anything you can do to convince them otherwise. Coming away with at least a brochure is good for posterity, plus it gives you something to mail, hand out or even sell to people interested in your art. If neither the gallery nor the college are willing to foot the bill, ask whether you can finance it yourself or publish one on your own and make it available at the shows.
Hand-in-hand with publishing a catalogue or brochure to commemorate the shows goes publicizing them online, particularly on social networking websites. No matter where you show your work, inviting your contacts, followers or friends to the openings and posting progressive images documenting their progress (hanging the art, preparing for the opening, at the openings, buyers with purchases etc.) is ALWAYS good. At the very least, they show people you're serious about being an artist and getting your art out in front of the public. One of the greatest and most lasting benefits of social networking is being able to share your activities as an artist and keep everyone up to date on the evolution of your career.
As for the critics, your wife can certainly contact anyone who covers the area art scene or reviews or reports on your type of art, but a better idea would be to have the college and gallery public relations people do that instead. Family members are not the best messengers for this sort of thing, particularly if they have no experience doing it. Having experienced third parties, preferably gallery or college personnel or other fine arts professionals notify the critics on your behalf is way more credible than having your wife do it. Also keep in mind that critics tend to review art shows of more established artists, but you never know-- you might get lucky. What your wife can do however is make sure announcements or press releases from both the gallery and the college are posted online as well as on area art event and calendar websites, and anywhere else that lists upcoming art shows.
But before sending out any press releases, requests for coverage or any other announcements for the shows, make sure they include some good reasons why people should come and see, review or report on them. Presenting them as little more than opportunities to see yet another artist showing more art is not the best way to attract an audience. Maybe there's something unique or special about the art itself; maybe it's something relating to your transition from engineer to artist; maybe it's the relationship between the art and engineering; maybe you have some sort of notable accomplishment or distinction in the engineering field that might increase people's interest in seeing the work. Whatever you say or do, make it more than just another art show.
After your shows end, assuming you have no further obligation or long-term contractual relationships or agreements with the exhibiting venues, put everything up on your website and post links and examples on all your social networking pages. Include at least some information about prices or price ranges along with availability (or contact information of the sellers if you're not yet able to sell it direct). Include images of the work, an updated bio or resume (about your art, not engineering), ample contact information, any reviews or coverage you get, and any other facts about your art career that you consider relevant. If sales go well, you might also include an update about that. Galleries and people who buy art always like to hear about artists whose shows are successful and whose work sells well.
Once you've got the website together, you can begin researching and contacting galleries and other venues in your area or maybe even somewhat outside your area that you feel might be appropriate for future shows, assuming you already have or are regularly producing enough new work, and that making contact is OK with the gallery and college. The key word here is "research"; don't simply start carpet-bombing every gallery with calls or emails about you or your art. Make sure you can specifically and convincingly demonstrate why your art might be appropriate for any gallery you contact, and above all, be selective about who you approach.
Focus your main efforts on venues on par with or perhaps slightly more established than this gallery and college, but don't rule anything out. At this stage in your career, you need all the exposure you can get. Even consider non-gallery venues if the settings are complementary to your art. Going way beyond your geographical area at this point doesn't make a great deal of sense unless you get some kind of publicity or attention for your shows in those areas. And save the major galleries and institutions for later-- advancing in your art career is a step-by-step process. Top galleries are only inclined to exhibit your work once you're established and have built a lengthy and respectable resume of shows and distinctions, and established a reputation of exhibiting and selling at comparable venues.
(art by Lauren Carly Shaw).