You know the old saw, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The who you know part is certainly true for us. The art world is full of referrals.
“I’ve looked at hundreds, probably thousands of submissions from artists, and only one of my artists came from that pile,” says a dealer I know, waving her hand toward a box full of submissions. “Everyone else came either from referrals or as a result of my own research,” she says.
This social network map above shows the email flows among a large project team.
Other images below show various forms of networks; they're related, but not specifically, to artists' networking. I've used them for their visual appeal
Artists Share Information
As a represented artist, I often get asked by dealers or critics, “What have you seen out there?” Sometimes it’s just conversation on their part, but sometimes its informal research. I often suggest a particular show or website that a dealer might want to check out, and sometimes I'll e-mail a link to a critic friend. I’m not alone in this. It’s part of the dialog. And, of course, artists share information with one another. I’ve learned of exhibitions, grant opportunities and academic opportunities as a result of the artist network. Image from University of Chicago
Dealers Share Information
Dealers are networking, too. Indeed more than one “horse trade” has taken place in the downtime at a fair. Dealers see the work, conversation ensues, and before you know it, an artist from Gallery A is showing in Gallery B and vice versa.
One Bay Area artist got her current Boston dealer as a result of a conversation with a different dealer, who said, “I like this work, but it’s not right for my gallery. Why don’t you contact Gallery X down the street? In fact, I’ll call my friend at that gallery right now.” The dealer did, the artist made a visit on the spot, a painting was sent and then sold, and an artist/dealer relationship began. True story. (Informal conversation also lets dealers know who the difficult artists are, just as we know who the difficult dealers are.) Image from Blog.strands.com
Collectors and Critics Share Information
Add collectors to the mix. “More than once a collector has come into the gallery raving about a new artist whose work he bought at an Open Studio,” says a dealer I know. “I might be inclined to include that artist in a show or two. If a collector is going to keep acquiring work from that artist, it might as well be through me.”
And critics. Here's Boston critic Shawn Hill: "Get to know people. Go to galleries and shows. Go to openings. Network. I often see shows that I hear are good through word of mouth, or that trusted advisors recommend." Image from boxesandarrows.com
Our Electronic Network
I’ve had a website since 1998, and many good connections have come about at a result of my presence in cyberspace. I show with a small gallery in Northern New England that found me on the internet; I am part of Geoform.net, Julie Karabenick’s curatorial project for abstract geometric art, and recently I was contacted by an artist who curated a show of artists from the Geoform roster. I was contacted by a Midwest dealer for his inaugural show (he Googled “New York artists”); turns out I was the first person he found, and I referred him to several other artists who fit his exhibition parameters. It was a terrific show. Work was sold, a commission resulted for me, and our group of four, while not necessarily BFFs, remains collegial to this day. I tell you my stories not to brag but to illustrate. Anyone with an electronic connection has a story or two (and I’d love to hear them).
Blogs, with their instantaneous links, create electronic networks that unite us over vast distances and cultures. What a great way to see and be seen! (Relatedly, come to the Blogpix panel this Saturday, March 7, when blogosphere denizens will convene at the Platform Project Space in New York to meet and talk in real time; info on the sidebar, right.) Scale-free image of the Internet from lumeta.com
The more you network, the more you share information, the more your work and name get out there, the greater the likelihood that someone will refer you for something. And it works both ways. Call it art karma.
Atlanta Dealer Marcia Wood Sums Things Up
“I really am learning, after all these years, that the network is the key. (It’s as true for dealers as for artists.) . Share information with your artist friends. Develop relationships with people who are active, engaged, showing. Develop relationships with gallery people and curators and writers; all are part of the art world.
“Go to art fairs. Schmooze (discreetly in the case of a working dealer). Don’t be obnoxious; just be engaged, aware, and on the ball.
“Even if you aren’t showing in their galleries or being written about, the act of socializing and being in the loop is priceless. It keeps you tuned in and on the spot when opportunities develop.”