Marketing Mondays: Five Queries that Got Dumped (and Why)

I have a dealer friend who forwards me some of the artists' e-mail inquiries she receives. She does this partly, I think, because she has to share them with someone (you can't make this stuff up), and partly because she knew that eventually they would make their way into a Marketing Mondays post as a cautionary tale.

The dealer deletes all the names, so all I'm seeing is the message. Unfamiliarity with the submission process is painfully evident in these letters, but also it seems that fear (and in one instance, arrogance) got in the way of basic communication. I don't think any dealer is expecting a formal missive, but a short paragraph with a few informative sentences is not an unreasonable expectation. Take a look at five queries that didn't have what it takes:

1) Hello there,
My boyfriend and I are looking to submit artwork (acrylic paintings) and wanted to know if you would be able to provide us with the fees, how long it can be displayed for, insurance, what percent the gallery takes when a piece is sold, rules and regulations ... etc ... of having our art in your gallery, after being reviewed and accepted of course.
Thank you for your time!
Artist Name and Boyfriend Name w/ URLs
. The dealer was not addressed personally
. The artist included no description of the work and no j-pegs
. The artist did not look at the submission information online
. Says the dealer: "The artist is so clearly inexperienced that I wouldn't consider talking to her because of the work it would take to educate her, or any artist, at this point in their career"

2) Dealer name,
Thanks for the invite, but I'll pass. You actually call this stuff art? You must be desperate to find real talent. By the way, I'm available.
Artist Name
. While the artist did provide a link to his work, no dealer wants to work with a pompous A-hole. Here's what the dealer said: "Who asked for his opinion? The email invite wasn't a request for criticism, it was an invitation. Do I go to his website and say, 'Hey, your art sucks'?"

3) No salutation
I would like to introduce you to my latest work. I paint the colorful souls of dogs! Here's a link to my website. Browse to your hearts content and let me know if you are interested in these joyful spirits captured on canvas. I am currently represented in [artist names five cities]. I am interested in having a gallery in [your city] and this is why I thought of you.
Artist Name
. Not your gallery specifically, just a gallery in your city, any gallery; that makes a dealer feel special. Woof

4) Dear Dealer name,
Attached please find 4 pages of black and white drawings, CV and artist statement. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
Artist Name
. This artist was trying to keep it professional in this physical package, but s/he made the query too short. Say something about your work in less formal terms than an artist statement, at least so the dealer knows you have something to say about it, and at best so that you pique the dealer's interest
. Why was s/he contacting that particular gallery? Dealers like to know you’re familiar with the program, ideally that you've visited the gallery.

.5) Greetings.
No, you don’t know me and yes, I’m a painter. Painting is a joy, a real great vocation and, certainly, a tough way to try to make a living. Yes; I live off it, not a great life but a decorous one. I manage to sell my work every now and then and I’ve even been selling some in the internet. Still, just enough. I write this letter on the very simple assumption that as a professional in the world of art you just might be interested in knowing some different way of painting. I don’t want to burden you with my own opinion of my art work or a bunch of resume data so, how about visiting my site? It won’t cost you, hopefully it won’t bore you and, of course, you are free to log off any time you feel like it. Maybe then you can let me know your opinion and, who knows, perhaps establish a working relationship.
Artist Name
. Too much non-useful information, the opposite of #4
. Give the dealers something to make them look!
. It really does help when the dealer knows, or is at least familiar with, the artist. This is why it's so important to visit the gallery regularly and to be familiar with the dealer's program

My point in sharing these e-mails is simply to remind artists to do their homework in selecting galleries to target. When you write, keep it short, informative and professional. Remind yourself that you're writing to another human being with a very busy workday and a huge overhead, not some all-powerful being who is the one and only entity in the universe to hold the keys to your successful future. Include basic information--describe the work with a phrase about it or about why you're involved with that particular theme--and, ideally, an embedded picture (along with a couple of Jpegs). Then if you get turned down, it will be because the work didn't resonate for the dealer, not because you sounded like an idiot. I don't mean you personally, of course.


Stephanie Clayton said...

These are appalling. How tedious it must be for dealers to be ambushed by such idiotic requests.

Larry said...

Could your dealer share some actual examples of how to do things right?

anne mcgovern said...

These people need a reality check. Why would anyone apply to a gallery for representation in that manner?

Kathryn Hansen said...

thanks for sharing...VERY informative!

Philip Koch said...

One of the best tasks I was ever assigned was to serve on a search committee hiring new art faculty. You start out with the best of intentions to give a serious look at every applicant. But then the volume of applications overwhelms you and you become irritated by anything that isn't short and to the point. The challenge is to quickly give an intriguing introduction that makes someone want to look more. Having basic consideration for the time and energy of others goes a LONG way.

Joanne Mattera said...

You make a good point. That being in a position to select (whether for a faculty position, a juried show, a grant) really helps us do better in our own quest for whatever brass ring we're after.

Good idea. I'll work on compiling a few effective submissions-- though it's worth mentioning that a letter which works effectively for Dealer A may not work so well for Dealer B, if the work in question does not fit B's needs or strike their fancy. And as Ed Winkleman points out in his book, the least effective way dealers find artists is via submissions. (See my post:http://joannemattera.blogspot.com/2009/07/marketing-mondays-what-artists-should.html )

Meanwhile, I can give you a personal example of a hard-copy submission that worked for me:

In 2001 my book on encaustic painting was published. For several years it was the only published source on the topic. During this time I got a lot of letters from artists asking to be considered for the second edition. I had spent two years on the book, so that last thing I was thinking about was a second edition. I needed to get my artmaking back on track.

But I did appreciate one artist's information package. It contained a short letter--some kind words for my book, familiarity with my own painting, and a few descriptive lines about his painting: he worked representationally, focusing on domestic subjects; he showed regularly (a resume was included); and wished me to have a few slides for my file (this was in 2001). He also included his catalog of a recent show.

It so happened that I'd had my eye our for representational work, to better present the range of work in the medium--and I liked this artist's work, so when I had the occasion to do a slide talk, I included a few of his images. And when I consulted on an exhibition in 2005, I suggested this artist for inclusion. Since then we've become friends, and I have invited him to participate in several projects I've been involved in.

I'm not a dealer, but the process was the same: This artist indicated his familiarity with my project, gave me a few images and a catalog. No pressure. No request for the return of these unsolicited materials. He kept me on his postcard mailing list, so occasionally I received a visual reminder of his work.

He did everything right. If I hadn't responded to the work, nothing would have happened from my end, but that wouldn't have taken away from the fact that the presentation was just right. (In 2009 the "package" would be electronic. The catalog would have to be sent separately.)


I know a cartoon that would go just perfectly with this entry of Marketing Mondays.

Joanne Mattera said...

Why don't you e-mail me that cartoon?



I have finally come to the conclusion that I should just stop posting for a few days or weeks rather than delete my blog. I will send it as an attachment to the email address you list on this site. Sorry I don't know how to post it in a comment thread.

Kesha Bruce: said...

No, but seriously...

The letter about the 'souls of dogs' kinda made my day.

Natasha said...

Pretty funny, but it made me wonder how some of the famous artists of the past would sound if they were to write a letter to some art dealer. I don't think all of them would be all that coherent...

Anonymous said...

If I was dealer, I could careless about your slick letter and diplomas or if you were deaf, dumb and blind . All that matters is the soul and quality of the work.

Larry said...

If I was dealer, I could careless about your slick letter and diplomas or if you were deaf, dumb and blind . All that matters is the soul and quality of the work.

Sounds good, but a dealer and an artist have to be able to work with each other. I can see making an exception for Michelangelo or Jackson Pollock, but otherwise you better be damned good if you think you can get away with appearing unprofessional.

Larry said...

(continuing the above)

What's more, there are a lot of talented people seeking galleries (even if maybe not a lot of Jackson Pollocks). If a dealer has a choice between two people whose work looks equally good but one comes off as an unprofessional a**hole, which would any dealer pick?

Liz Hager said...

Marketing Mondays is a real service to the community; thanks for all the juicy and useful tidbits.

I'm new to selling (my) art, but not new to selling high ticket items. It strikes me that art is a "relationship" sell. It takes time to "make the sale," because you must if and how you and your art can satisfy the goals, desires, likes/dislikes, needs, pain points of the buyer.

In this vein, I completely agree with you that DOING YOUR HOMEWORK could make all the difference. . . To your list of suggestions, I would respectfully add the following points: Find some nice things to say about the dealer/gallery (be thoughtful, don't be disingenuous); understand why s/he is carrying a particular selection of artists; include a statement about how you might fit into the roster, or, if you clearly don't, why s/he should be interested in you; perhaps try to get to know some of the artists in the gallery, third-party referrals probably help cut through the clutter; and finally follow up, either by phone or in person. The fear of rejection stops too many talented people; just because you haven't heard back may not necessarily mean the dealer isn't or never will be interested. And, even if you aren't selected, you might want to ask the dealer what contributed to his/her decision; the feedback you get could help you in the future.

Interesting conversation, thanks to everyone who has posted.

Oriane Stender said...

I know a dealer who had the following exchange:

Mrs. X sent in a package on behalf of her husband, an older painter who was fairly well-known a few decades back, had had some museum shows, but whose work didn't really fit the gallery's program. The package included a catalog and slides and Mrs. X requested that the materials be returned, but did not include an SASE.

Dealer returned the materials along with a note explaining why the work wasn't right for the gallery and mentioning a few tips in how to update the artist's submission style, including that the usual practice is for the artist to provide postage for the return of the package.

Mrs. X sent back a dollar or two in coins with a sarcastic note saying something to the effect of, "You poor thing, I didn't realize you were so strapped for cash that you make the artist pay for postage."

I think Mrs. X was trying for a 'Lee Krasner organizer/manager on behalf of her pure, wild genius husband in the studio who can't be expected to deal with such mundane things' vibe.

Jonathan David Parks said...

I have thought a lot about this recent post, and wanted so much to write, but lacked the time; however a recent post from my sister resulted in a possible reply. My sister (a writer) posted: Why Can't We Accept, NO? on her website http://www.hurricanehetta.com/
The post was for altogether different reasons and maybe even a more important one, but it has a lot that rings true for so many other situations; so please give it a read.

Sorry I haven't quite figured out how to embed links so you may have to copy in paste it into your browser.

Joanne Mattera said...


The post you mention is interesting, but it's really not germane to this post, which is to learn from five poorly conceived and written contact letters so that we can do better and ideally receive a YES for our efforts.

As artists we have all learned to live with No--rejection is part of the business of being an artist, after all, after all--but if you want to show your work to more than a small circle of friends, you really cannot take NO for an answer.

Joanne Mattera said...

P.S. Oriane, thanks for your anecdote. It's a good example of how we can and should learn from rejection. What a generous thing the dealer did to help an out-of-touch artist and artist's rep (Mrs. X)to move into a new century, and too bad that generosity was rebuffed by old- school thinking.

Jonathan David Parks said...

I recognize that it may seem slightly irrelevant; however, I felt that the article, "Why Can't We Accept, NO?," was relevant. The reason why is: regardless of how naive some may be in their search for representation, we all will be rejected- its a learning process- as I believe you mention. I took this, "Marketing Monday's," post as not just to showcase the lacking of individuals ability to address outside interests properly; but, to inform others to be professional in their search- for that is what many of us like to strive for- professionalism. No matter if you are professional or not, rejection will be there. "The word NO doesn't have to be the end to all roads travelled. Rather, I like to think of NO as a possibility, one of which encourages me to simply turn around and take another path."I believe you meant something to this fact by saying, "you really cannot take NO for an answer." I felt it was relevant to those needing to be more proper in their approach and for those of us who try to do our best; a bit of encouragement. "I don't mind discovering what's around the next turn even if, it just happens to be another dead end." The point is: move on, don't stop, and work towards YES for an answer.

Joanne Mattera said...

The title of the piece you cite is misleading--catchy, but misleading. We're in agreement on the sentiments expressed within it, however. You may remember that the very first piece I did for Marketing Mondays on January 26 was on Rejection (see sidebar for link). The bottom line. Get over it and move on. (Getting over it is different from accepting it.)

KFM Gallery said...

great info... thanks for sharing!

Liyunfei said...

I never realized dealers or galleries even read submission letters!

Emily Rose said...

Thank you for sharing these rejected letters, and I also want to thank everyone who, in the comments, brought more relevant information to the table. I myself, have been an artist my whole life, had some set backs after highschool, and then in 2009 started making tons of art while experiences manic episodes (bipolar) and now I have a wide range of experiments and they don't seems to be in any way ready for a gallery, but I am learning now what I need to be more focused on so that I can have a body of work that looks like mine, and when I do, I want to be able to submit to galleries, so I am so grateful when I learn how not to do it! I really don't want to give a gallery dealer a bad first impression, I want them to see the art and how and why i made it before deciding against my submission.

Thank you again!