LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

FineArtViews Newsletter|Saturday, March 2, 2019|Issue 3407

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. 
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

By Luann Udell

Remember, gallery owners are just customers with stores.

Years ago, I wrote an article listing all the reasons why a gallery might not accept your work. Well. Not all the reasons. Because I think more are being born every minute….

Why did I do this? Because at some point in our art career, when we approach a gallery, we will probably face rejection. And when that happens, we struggle to figure out why.

Many of us will blame the gallery. Some of us will blame ourselves. A very few of us might have the courage to actually ask the gallery. (They may or may not give you an honest answer, but it’s worth a try!)

1. Your work isn’t up to snuff.

2. Your work is really good, but not their preferred medium.

3. Your work doesn’t fit in with their current inventory.

4. Your work looks too much like work in their current inventory.

5. Your work is overpriced.

6. Your work is under-priced

7. Your work is fine, and well-priced, but will not appeal to their clientele.

8. They like your work, but they don’t like you.

9. They like you, but they don’t like your work.

10. They don’t like you or your work.

11. They can tell you don’t like them.

12. They’re having a really bad day.

13. You’re having a bad day, and it shows.

14. You dropped in unannounced, and rudely assumed they would drop everything to look at your work. (There are ways to drop in and not rudely make such an assumption, but you have to have your script ready.)

15. You are too meek when it comes to talking about your work.

16. You are too arrogant when it comes to talking about your work.

17. You try to establish your creds by dissing their other artists.

18. Your color palette is too dull.

19. Your color palette is too shocking.

20. You’re already in every other gallery in town.

21. You don’t have an established reputation, and they only take the same artists.

22. Your work is all over the map-not a cohesive body of work.

23. Your work is all the same-no variety.

24. You are high-maintenance. (I have watched this in action, and it is truly off-putting!)

25. They can tell you expect them to handle everything, from sales to marketing and everything in-

between. So you don’t have to do anything to grow and connect with an audience.

26. They aren’t doing well, and they may even be closing up shop soon.

27. They aren’t dealing with their artists honestly, and they know your partner is a lawyer.

28. Your work is controversial.

29. Your work is technically good, but has no soul.

30. They know nothing about your medium.

31. They hate your medium.

32. They love your medium, but they are only looking for X medium.

33. They love your medium, but they already carry too many works in it.

34. They love your medium, but they don’t love you.

35. They know your work is already carried by their biggest competitor.

36. They don’t take local artists.

37. They only carry local artists.

38. They used to carry your work because you used to be a local artist, and then you moved away, and all their customers want to know why they’re carrying an artist on the other side of the country.

39. Your work is too fragile-breaks easily, can’t be packed or shipped, etc.

40. Your work is too big.

41. Your work is too small, too easy to shoplift.

42. Your work is too hard to display-too big, too heavy, has lots of loose parts, etc.

43. Your work is too trendy.

44. Your work is passe.

45. Your work is craft, not “fine craft”.

46. Your work is fine craft, not art.

47. Your work is art, not craft. (Yup, I was disqualified for this once!)

48. Are you sensing a pattern here?

There are as many reasons why a gallery won’t take your work as there are stars in the sky. Or at least as many reasons as there are galleries.

Do some of these reasons sound familiar?

They should. Many of these reasons are the same reasons our potential customers don’t/won’t buy our work.

We often imbue gallery owners/managers with more power than our customers.

In fact, they may have more expertise, more experience, more clout. They may be fair, and kind, and compassionate, too. But they are still just human beings, like us, prone to prejudices, errors in judgment, egomania, and even envy. In fact, a fellow artist told me years ago:

“Galleries are just customers with stores.”

I have heard many variations on these reasons in my art career. When I first started approaching galleries, I was pretty fearless. I was starting in the middle of nowhere, and figured any progress would get me somewhere. I didn’t offend easily, and I quickly saw that a gallery’s refusal was not to be taken personally. (I think I sensed the “customers with stores” thing already. But then, I forgot.)

Every encounter with a gallery was a learning experience. I realized when someone seemed mean, it was more about them than me. My work may or may not be “good enough”, etc. But the bottom line was, it just wasn’t right for them, period.

Am I offended when a visitor doesn’t buy my work? Or criticizes it?

To the first, absolutely not. Not everyone is our customer. We all know that, and yet, it can still feel daunting.

The latter, yes, it’s offensive. But again, someone who feels compelled to complain to me about my work is revealing more about who they are. I can choose to pick that up and carry that anger, that embarrassment. Or I can choose to let it go, and find my true “next” customer.

These reasons are similar for group shows, too. A curator might want variety in every single piece in the show. In which case, if your work looks too much like what they’ve already accepted, they may not accept it.

But if they are creating a cohesive show with light-colored contemporary pottery, and your work is pit-fired and dark-colored, you might not get in.

I share these “reasons why” not to discourage you, but to encourage you.

I want you to persevere with the work of your heart. I want you to make the work that only you can make.

I want you to tell the story with your art that only you can tell.

I want you to make the work that brings you joy, and creates a powerful place for you to be in the world.

Not every person is our customer (yep, I’m saying it again!) and not every gallery is our gallery.

Every minute we spend being angry, hurt, disenfranchised by someone else’s opinion of us, our work, our medium, is a minute wasted.

We could use that time and energy to find our real customers, including the “ones with stores.”

I know that’s easy to say. Disappointment is the curse of all creatives. Books get rejected, Oscars are awarded to the “safe” choices, artists are passed over. I get it.

Just remember that we are dealing with fellow human beings. Some are wise and loving and respectful and evolved. Others? Not so much. We all have our preferences, especially petty ones!

Here’s my last example: When I approached my first gallery, a non-profit, there were two managers. One oversaw the fine craft area, the other the fine art area. Being a fiber artist, I approached the fine craft person with my wall hangings first.

I was roundly rejected as having “an immature design aesthetic” and “an illogical composition style.” They went on for quite a while, lamenting the fact that I would never have a “real” art career. They suggested I make smaller pieces and sell them as pins. (I am not making this up.)

DSCF0007 (2016x3040) (2)
Well, this is certainly small enough to be a pin!

I was baffled, but feeling too strong to feel threatened. It was obvious this person had issues, and I knew there was something about my work that threw them off. I thanked her and left with my work.

A few months later, our town of Keene had its annual “art walk.” Participating business venues exhibited the work of local artists in their windows for a week. A very popular and fun event!

A friend told me afterwards that a very well-known (okay, famous!) artist, who was a friend of hers, saw my work while they were perusing the event. He stopped in his tracks when he saw my work. He said something amazing I can’t remember (more on this later), something to the effect that he loved it, it was fresh, it was different, it was unique, it was powerful, and it was beautiful.

Anya said, “You don’t think the design aesthetic is immature?” (His response was literal “wtf”, and he was baffled until she shared how my work had been received a few months earlier. His next response? “Wtf is wrong with them?!” The venue, not me.)

Cut to a couple years later. My fiber work had appeared in several exhibitions at the same facility, and the art manager asked me to become one of their permanent exhibitors.

A few days later, as I walked through the craft gallery with my work, that very same person who’d rejected me roundly ran up to me, saying, “I want to talk with you! Those are craft, not art! I want to carry those in my section!”

I told her politely I was there by invitation, but appreciated her enthusiasm. And kept walking to the art manager’s office.

No, my work wasn’t significantly different-same style, same techniques, same colorways, same artifacts. The only difference was, I believe, my work was becoming better known.

My point is, we are hard-wired to pay attention to bad stuff. “Bad stuff” implies a threat, danger, and so we instinctively tune in to it to keep ourselves safe. (Which is why, as I suggested above, all these years later, I can remember the mean things that person said, and can’t quite remember the lovely things that famous artist said.)

If we let this dominate our lives, if we pay too much attention to those who would take us down, we will let them–help them–crush our spirit.

Try not to agonize about the gallery that didn’t work out. Try not to take it personally when someone else wins that prize. Let go of the people who don’t appreciate our art, or our medium, or our subject matter, or anything else people gritch about.

Yes, it’s good to keep in mind we can always do better with our artwork. Our art biz has an arc similar to life. As we know better, we strive to do better, and be better. It’s the same with our art.

Take all the energy generated by disappointment and failure, and channel it right back into the work of your heart.

And I hope, someday, you, too, get a chance to prove your detractors dead wrong!

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Exploring Galleries & Museum Stores in Bay Area!

Reaching out to folks familiar with my work, who are also familiar with the Bay area: San Francisco, East Bay.

I’m exploring a very few galleries to approach with my work.

Do you have any recommendations? Gallery/location/reason(s) why it might work, website link if you have it, or I can look that up!

Some samples in photo album, just for reference, OR check out my Etsy shop for examples:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/LuannUdell

I don’t automatically fit in “fine art”, “contemporary fine craft”, and price often doesn’t mesh with places dealing with lower-priced work. Some museum shops might work. Some galleries/museum stores won’t want work that isn’t made by actual indigegnous/First Nation people. Some might, I just don’t want to “compete” with their work & interfere with their income.
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RUDE REJECTION?

There’s rejection, and there’s just plain rudeness. Recognize the difference.

Today I read an article about an artist who approached an art gallery while they were on vacation in another state. It was quickly apparent they were not interested in the work itself. Only the artist’s credentials–other gallery respresentation, shows they’d been in, etc. Because the artist is just starting this process, they were deemed ‘not good enough’. OUCH.

I’m a huge fan of growing through rejection. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from the process.

Art galleries have as many ways of working as there are….well, art galleries. And the people who own/manage them are, as a fellow artist said years ago, just “customers with stores.” He meant that we often ascribe great powers to the institution. In reality, they are regular people, with all the attendant idiosyncrasies, attributes, and flaws. With a gallery behind them.

Some are only interested in ‘the sure thing‘–an established artist with a loyal audience, who will bring them business. Apparently, that’s the kind this artist ran into. Er, walked into.

Others are constantly looking for the ‘the next big thing.’ If our work knocks them out of the park, we are professional in your outlook, and we’ve done our homework and paid our dues, they might take us on.

Others are always looking for ‘the next cool thing‘. They want a fresh face with a distinctive style, a unique body of work, that they believe will appeal to their audience. If they can afford it, they will invest in your professional growth and development.

Others may love, love, love your work, but ‘it’s not their thing’.  It simply doesn’t fit with the audience they’ve developed over the years. They want to say yes, but they can’t. In fact, when I worked with galleries I met at wholesale fine craft shows, this happened a lot. They couldn’t help but carry my work. But it simply didn’t work out for either of us. (And I’m eternally grateful they tried.)

I wrote an article about this for a magazine years ago, and got to talk to a few prestigious gallery owners. One said you could even have awful photos, but if they could tell the work as astonishing, they’d still take you up.

So today’s tip for getting gallery representation: Galleries that host juried exhibitions and encourage people to apply might just be looking for those fresh faces. Apply to the ones you think might be a good fit for you.

In fact, you should/could follow up with them after the show, EVEN IF YOU WERE NOT ACCEPTED into the exhibition. Why? Because when putting together a cohesive show, some amazing artists might be excluded (ruefully), because their work doesn’t ‘go with’ the rest of the work in the show. Your work might be greatly admired, but simply not ‘fit in’ with that particular batch of artists.

Remember–a gallery that treats an artist badly at the get-go….is that a gallery you’d like to work with? Yes, galleries always say you should make an appointment, contact them before visiting, etc. But in reality, as long as you chose a time when they weren’t busy, and you weren’t pushy or demanding, a good gallery will ALWAYS take a few minutes to take a look. And even if it’s not a good fit, they will often recommend another gallery that might suit.

There are other strategies to building a ‘resume’ of shows and honors, but the short story is, what you learned is, this was not a gallery you’d want to work with anyway.

. A gallery only interested in your resume? A gallery treating an artist rudely? Condescending, snide? Remember, it’s just as easy to be kind and respectful as it is to be arrogant and condescending. If they chose the latter, walk away.

Your work is awesome! And there’s a place for it in the world.

Count your blessings, dig in, and keep going. Find the best home in the world for your anamzing work.