The art world can be difficult to break into, due to the competition for limited spaces in gallery shows. Getting into a gallery is a great step toward selling your art and feeling more serious as an artist. Competition is fierce, but if you are able to make your work stand out and generate attention, you can get your art into the gallery of your dreams.
EditVisiting Galleries and Gaining Exposure
- Visit galleries near you. Many galleries are run by curators with specific tastes and a vision for their space. Take a look around each gallery and identify what connects all of the pieces. Speak to the curator if they are present, and ask them what kind of pieces they are looking to add to their collection.
- Developing a positive relationship with the curator and becoming part of the gallery community is a great way to get yourself on their radar, even if your work might not fit their specific gallery. You never know who they might know!
- Go to openings and network. Openings are normally on a set night every week. View and appreciate the art, but sell your own enthusiasm and skill. Approach artists, curators, and spectators to discuss the art being shown and your own art.
- Have your elevator pitch in mind! Keep the discussion of your art short, especially if they don’t seem interested in discussing it. Remember you’re at someone else’s gallery and viewing someone else’s work.
- Apply for grants. Grants provide funding for artists to continue working on projects that fit a certain theme. When you apply for grants, you expose yourself to artists and curators who are on judging panels. This will establish you as an artist who takes your work seriously.
- Avoid shows that require an entry fee. These “competitions” are usually fundraisers for the organization or gallery and offer very little in terms of career advancement. It is best to save your money and avoid paying fees to be involved in a show or gallery exhibition. Legitimate galleries make money off of the sale of the art, rather than entrance fees from artists.
- Create an online gallery website. Having an online presence for your work is extremely important. You can invite other local artists, or other artists with similar styles, to showcase art on a website in a digital gallery. Make sure to include the professional contact information of each artist on the website.
- Include only high-quality digital images of your artwork. Once you have digital images of your work, create a website and get a professional email address.
- Join an artist collective gallery. These galleries normally don’t take a cut of your work, but require monthly membership fees. Membership will allow you to make many connections and participate in a larger body of work with other artists over a long period of time. You might also have access to group resources and a space to work.
- Becoming a member can be very competitive, so you will likely still need to present your work and artist statement for acceptance.
EditSubmitting Your Art to a Gallery
- Check gallery websites for submission policies. It is best not to approach a gallery about submitting your work until you learn their policies. If you can’t find the information online, call them to inquire about submission, or ask in person. Follow the guidelines closely to demonstrate that you respect their rules.
- Some galleries do not accept submissions.
- Email a “letter of inquiry” to the galleries of interest to you. Include illustrious examples of your work, a description of your artistic approach, and a link to your artist website. Focus on what you can offer to the gallery, rather than what they can offer you. Many curators like to collect paper documents on artists before they will show their work.
- Include high-quality images of your work as attachments to the email. If they’re interested, they’ll look through your work and have a copy of it on hand.
- Practice talking about your art. Often, you’ll have to sell yourself and your work to a curator in order to get them interested. Practice your elevator pitch and decide what makes your art exciting.
- For example, if you’re a painter, you could say “I work with oil on canvas to create representative images of the contemporary, middle-class version of the American Dream. I like to focus on the imagery of capitalism and overabundance.”
- Demonstrate how your art is different. Although curators are sometimes interested in specific types of art, they won’t want too much of the same thing. Identify how your art fits into a common theme, but stands out due to the craftsmanship, quality of work, perspective, or experience of viewing.
- Evaluate what rate of commission you are comfortable with. If the gallery is interested in your work, they will inform you of their interest. Galleries make money off of the commission of the sale of art. Normally, this can range from 30-60% of the total amount paid for the piece by a collector. Have a percentage in mind, based on the listed value of your art, that you would feel comfortable accepting.
- Keep in mind they are offering you a space to exhibit and sell your work that you would not have otherwise had.
- Sign with a gallery. The gallery will present you with a contract for including your art in their space. Be clear with what you desire, but remember that they are the business owners. Ensure the commission percentage is clearly specified in the contract. 
- Thoroughly read any contract you sign, as it may stipulate that you may show and sell work exclusively through that gallery.
- Don’t limit yourself to local galleries, search far and wide for the best fit.
- Persistence pays off, you may want to approach the same gallery several times over a few years. Repeat these steps until you are approached by a gallery that shows interest in your work. Find out where the curator lives and ‘just so happen to be in the area’ one weekend. There are so many different types and styles of art appreciation, someone will admire your work!
- Make the paintings before you sell them.
- Make business cards, flyers, stickers. Self promotion will provide fantastic networking opportunities. Post them into the galleries.
- Travel and physically expose yourself in galleries that are in your area. Visit any place that speaks to you when you walk in, or just talk to the friendly staff. Most of them would love to have a conversation with an aspiring artist.. Even if it has work from Warhol or Hirst in it, if you feel confident in your work and comfortable in the space, submit your work for consideration.
- Dress, speak, and behave professionally. Treat art as your full-time profession, even if it isn’t your only job.
- Be prepared for rejection. Everyone gets turned down. Keep trying.
- Watch your budget. Spend as little as possible, but try to maintain a high degree of professionalism.