Submitting artwork to galleries has always seemed like a bit of a crap shoot to me. Even in the best economic times, art is a highly subjective market. Everyone has their own tastes and it’s not always easy to pick the right galleries to approach with your artwork. Submitting your work can be a time consuming process, and depending on the type of submission (mailed images on cd vs. email, etc.) it can also be expensive.
I’ve been spending some time lately looking at galleries in the Houston area and have kind of developed a checklist I keep in mind when deciding which galleries to approach with my work.
1. Do a little research. Find galleries that show artwork in similar genres to yours and start making a list. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but there are lots of artists who just fire off submissions to seemingly random galleries. Galleries often have a very specific focus. Sending your abstract oil paintings to a gallery that only deals in B&W Photography is probably just wasting everyone’s time involved.
2. Once you have a few galleries in mind that seem to be a possible fit, dig a little deeper. What stage are you at in your career compared to the stable of artists the gallery is currently representing (emerging, established, full-blown art world star, etc.)? If the gallery mainly represents artists with work in large, prestigious museums and institutions and you’ve only shown at the local bake sale, then it’s probably not a good fit. Ideally you should find galleries that deal with work similar to yours and artists at similar stages of their careers.
3. Now that you’ve whittled your list down, make sure you know the submission guidelines for each gallery. Some only take submissions by mail, some prefer email, and I’ve recently run into a few that would rather just take a look at your website. Some galleries only review submissions from new artists at certain times of the year, and some might not accept submissions at all. Sometimes this information is listed on the gallery website (often on the contact page or on a page specifically for artists’ submissions.) If it’s not then pick up the phone and call or write an introductory email. I prefer phone calls because it’s harder to ignore the phone than the email box. Make sure to ask if there’s a specific person your submission should be addressed to.
4. Now that you’ve done your research and narrowed your list down you’re ready to prepare your submission. Make sure you follow their guidelines to the letter, and whatever you do, be professional. Galleries receive mountains of submissions from artists. A little respect and common courtesy can go a long way towards getting a response.
Of course the first and most important thing should be to make strong artwork. None of this guarantees a gallery will give you the time of day, but in my experience it can help increase your odds. Even the best of us will face our share of rejection, but that doesn’t mean your art isn’t good, just that it wasn’t a good fit. Keep plugging away, do your research and you’ll find a home for your work.
Good luck! If you have any other ideas or suggestions about gallery submissions please share them in the comments section. I can use all the help I can get too!