Show and sell: exhibiting and marketing your work

For artists and creatives, getting your work to exhibition and market can be a confusing business. Art is such a subjective area, and it isn’t always easy to make judgement calls on pricing your work, how to approach a gallery, or even how to negotiate the huge amount of online marketing options out there.

Here are some essentials worth considering if you want to show and sell your art.

Prepare yourself
The process of preparing for exhibition is as much a personal journey as a practical one. When you’re planning to show your work, you need to be confident in it. Make sure you’re ready: have a body of work in your portfolio that is good enough; if you’re planning to show as-yet unmade work, your portfolio should give a good idea of the kind of work you currently do, so that galleries can get a proper feeling for it.

Don’t doubt your abilities

Don’t doubt your abilities, but do prepare yourself for varied, possibly even negative, feedback. The bottom line is that some people will like your work, and others won’t. You can’t please all of the public all of the time, but you can concentrate on those who do – so make those people your focus.

Above all, make the art you love. You’re in this because you’re creative, so what you’re doing has to make you happy too.

Show your best work
This goes without saying, but the whole purpose of taking your work to exhibition is to let people know who you are as an artist, and the standard you are capable of achieving. It’s far better to push yourself to make new work, or consider collaborating with others to ensure that the exhibition is really top notch, than to show a lot of existing work that is – how can I put this? – a bit meh.

Let your art represent you

In his 2013 Reith Lectures, Grayson Perry said the main question today is not ‘Is it art?’, but ‘Is it good art?’ Perry believes that a lot of work out there in the contemporary art world is not.

There are many varying opinions out there about what constitutes art, but we’ve all been to shows where we’re pretty sure the work is Emperor’s New Clothes – and it’s all too obvious when an artist is selling out – so don’t let this be you. Make good, interesting work. Let your art represent you. That is what will attract collectors to you.

Think outside the box
Galleries aren’t the only places to show your work, although they remain the gold standard for creatives when it comes to building a CV and recognisable track record. There are so many options for exhibition these days, from leisure venues and educational establishments to hospitals.

For example, a major hospital in my city has an art scheme which exhibits high-quality work across the whole spectrum of visual culture, not just fine art. Online exhibition is a source of possibilities too – it’s just a question of finding the right outlet for you, and can even lead to a virtual business.

Pinterest is the No. 1 portal for artists

Build an online presence
No exhibition, whether gallery or otherwise, is going to attract visitors or support itself without some kind of marketing activity.

Much as we love the idea of people coming to us to find something new and exciting, we need to go to them. This is where you get yourself online and build a presence through social media, a website, creative communities and blogging. Pinterest is the number 1 portal for art professionals – if you aren’t there, you need to be. Start connecting, and build a following.

Money is no object
Let me clarify: I don’t mean that every artist has unlimited funds. On the contrary – a recent survey by a-n revealed that 72% of artists earn less than £10,000 a year from their practice, which means that most artists have to fund themselves by other income streams.

Marketing activity to promote and sell your art doesn’t have to cost the earth: much of it can be low-cost, even free. The usual social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn) are great for connecting with others and networking, drawing traffic to your online portfolio and website.

Online providers such as Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and WordPress offer freely accessible templates to set up websites and merchandising; there are also mailing list management systems such as Mailchimp for newsletter provision to increase your following.

Marketing doesn’t have to cost the earth

Marketing used to be expensive – direct mail, cold calling, brochure publishing, print advertising and postage all required cold, hard cash – but the internet has blown the traditional model out of the water.

These days it’s an egalitarian pursuit: it’s much easier to be a one-man or one-woman marketing machine, right from the comfort of your desk or studio – and still have time to pursue your art.

Be practical and proactive
Taking your work to exhibition is like any other project: to be successful, it requires the kind of person who is going to show up and stay for the ride. Exhibitors need to be willing to build positive relationships with gallerists, curators and fellow artists, rather than crashing out or going diva-nuclear if the process gets challenging. Flaky is not an option; it’s about being 100% committed.

So, be organised: put together a timeframe from contract to installation, schedule each stage carefully, and work out your budget – and stick to them. All of this can help you avoid those 3am crisis moments when you wake up and realise something really important hasn’t been done, or you check your bank account and find you don’t have the finance to have those last few pieces framed.

Enjoy your achievement
Getting your work to exhibition is a big deal – it commands respect. Don’t forget to use exhibition-related events such as private views, workshops, Q&As or talks to network and give added value to your offer. Going that extra mile to encourage people through the door can reap rewards.

Use related events to add value

In the last collective show I was a part of, one of my photographs sold at the private view: the party had only been going 30 minutes. A collector had obviously come ready to buy, and was in and out of the gallery so fast I didn’t even have the chance to meet him!

Moreover, the collector was in the art world, which made me very happy. I was stoked, firstly that this person liked my work enough to take it off the market before it even had the chance to go public; and secondly, that they thought highly enough of it to add it to their private collection.

Go for the red dot – but even if you don’t sell, recognise what you’ve achieved and celebrate it!

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