I have a confession to make. One that is going to end my career before it was able to take its first wobbly steps in the bright daylight, because I’m pretty sure what I’m about to tell you is the first deadly sin for artists: I, a sculptor, don’t know anything about art.
Take Malevich’s Black Square for instance. I don’t doubt for a second there’s a good reason it belongs in a museum (cue Indiana Jones), but for the life of me, I couldn’t explain why. If you ask me what I see when I look at that painting, this is what I would come up with:
“Well! It’s a black… pffffsquare.”
But ask a person with an art degree what makes this black glob of paint one of the most relevant pieces in art history, and they will probably give you an interesting and eloquent response.
This lack of what I would call foundational knowledge – like art history – is one of the downsides of being selftaught, I think. And it makes me feel thoroughly inept. Every time I walk into a gallery, or I talk to other people in this business, I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. These people look like they belong, with the way they act and talk. I on the other hand, am absolutely clueless. And I don’t like clueless. It’s time to turn me into a proper artist!
Big Serious Research
Oh, what a heavenly time we live in today. With the internet at our fingertips, we’re able to find almost all of the answers to the questions that we might have. In my case: What’s the best way to approach a gallery as a starting artist? Not that I’m thinking of getting represented yet. – I mean, can you imagine: “Hello, dear gallery-owners. I am a talented sculptor and this is my portfolio (hands over one sculpture)”. I’m sure they break out in a worldwide bidding war for me. –
But, watching videos and reading blogs on this topic, will help me see what the business side of the art world looks like. How people behave, what is considered etiquette etc. And so, with a little bit of digging, I found this youtube channel by a gallery owner. I picked up a notepad and a pen and started listening. And by the end I felt like I had played a vicious round of Twister and needed to unwrap my body into something that vaguely resembled the human form again.
The overly serious teacher had given me a bunch of reasons why emerging artists immediately kill their chances of getting represented. They included everything from:
1. emailing the gallery directly
2. approaching them during an art fair
3. walking into the gallery and asking for representation.
You know, all the logical things you do when you want to get in touch with someone. That’s how it sounded for me at least, naive uncultured sparklemuffin that I am.
Art Is Long And Our Life Is Fleeting
Then they gave a few tips to make sure you do get represented:
1. Have a large Instagram following (but this following has to grow naturally, since actively building your social media presence is ‘commercial’ and frowned upon)
2. Visiting shows of your favorite gallery as a guest, and wait until they somehow figure out you’re an artist and approach you. This may take a while of course.
3. Have someone else introduce you to them.
Still trying to pop my foot out of my ear, I felt a panic attack emerge. How in heaven’s name is anyone supposed to get represented this way? It felt like some sort of faustian deal where one party – the gallery – was given all the control in the transaction and the other party – the artist – just had to wait and hope that somehow they were not going to get burned.
You could argue that galleries have a lot to lose and so it is only makes sense that they get the more favorable position in the early stages of negotiating representation. After all, there is a lot of money involved and representing the wrong artist could quickly mean the end of their business. BUT! It is unfair to assume that there is absolutely no risk involved for the artist. After all, being technically people, they need to eat. They also need to rent a space to live and work and depending on the type of art they make, their material costs could quickly ramp up. And considering they are asking for representation, they probably do not have the client-base to cover those costs.
It’s fair to say that both parties need each other. But I wasn’t sure that I wanted to represented by someone able to twist me into a french croissant.
Fitting In Is Out
But then I came across an interview with Christine from Beacon Gallery in Boston and I had the complete opposite experience. Unlike the previous gallery owner, she doesn’t mind if you contact her gallery directly and she has a very upfront way of doing business. Her personality resonated with me. I felt at ease immediately. And even though this was a much longer video, it was a joy for me to listen to.
Turns out that even in this Wonderland, there isn’t just one way of doing things. A logical conclusion I guess, but my insecurities blindsighted me.
This may be awfully contrarian of me, but I’d rather stay true to myself and find people like this Christine, than trying to fit in with in people that make me nervous and have me bend into all sorts of unnatural shapes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an elbow to pull out of my nose.