Marketing Mondays: “Should I Pay to Have My Portfolio Reviewed?”

Who’s doing the reviewing? How much will it cost? What do you hope to get out of the session? What kinds of promises are being made?

Commercial gallery: Unless there’s some kind of special program or class the gallery is running, commercial galleries don’t charge to view work. Dealers do, of course, review work by artists they might like to work with, but here the review is not to help you develop your vision or technique; it’s to help them decide whether ot not they wish to take the next step with you.
Non-profit art organizations: Advice comes in many shapes and forms from a range of non-profits. Check out the options in your region. Grant funding, for instance, may allow an art center or museum to offer a day of free career advice to a first-come group, or a selected-from-application group, in which a portfolio review is part of the package. Some venues may charge a nominal fee to cover their costs. Find out who is offering this advice. You want people who know how to look at and talk about art and—this is important—who know how to do it concisely, because those one-on-one sessions are usually brief. A reviewer who is connected to a museum or gallery is a bonus.
Also check out venues that offer services to artists as part of their mission. A venue like the Drawing Center in New York City will look at your work if you apply and are selected for an appointment. There’s no charge. I had a review some years ago and got absolutely nothing out out it, but I’ve heard many artists say it was career changing.
Professional events: I’m thinking of the Mentoring session offered by the College Art Association at its annual conference, in which you sign up to have your portfolio reviewed by an art professional for 20 minutes. I believe it’s free and first-come, but you have to be a paid registrant for the conference. At other conferences and symposia, you may pay a fee to meet individually or in small groups to talk with a critic, dealer, curator or other art pro. Before you pay your money, be clear on what is being offered and how much individual time you will get, if individual time is what you are seeking.
Career consultant: This is a private individual you pay for career advice. A good consultant can offer critical feedback about the work--not just in a portfolio but actual artwork--as well as suggest where to take it, both esthetically and in terms of getting it out into the world. A good consultant can step back and ask the kinds of questions that make you dig for answers, or connect the dots between you and other artists or venues, or offer comments that serve as a bridge to your next career step.
But due diligence is required. There are folks who would take your money--lots of it--and offer little in return. Beware the consultant who promises you the moon, like a solo show. S/he may a gallery set up just for just this purpose; if you haven’t heard of the gallery before, chances are no one else has heard of the gallery either. Ask around. (Disclaimer: consulting is something I do at a reasonable rate for midcareer artists. The only promise I make is that while I can offer esthetic feedback and career suggestions, the artist is the one who will have to do the hard work of moving her work forward and getting it out into the world. I’m not advertising here, just making it clear that I think consultations can be a good thing IF you do your research.)
Vanity gallery: Is a vanity, aka a pay-to-show gallery, offering you a review of your work as part of the “package” it’s selling? Run in the other direction, not just from the review but from the whole pay-to-show concept. When any entity receives a ton of money up front, it has no incentive to do anything for you. A definite no on this option.

A group of peers: A small group of artists at more or less the same career level who meet regularly, who are serious in their intent and willing to speak honestly, may do more for you—and you for them—than any paid consultant. But it’s not easy to navigate the waters of friendship and criticism, a topic I covered earlier this year. Another caveat: If you get along well, it's all too easy for a group to start out with studio visits and serious talk and gradually morph into getting together for lunch. Of course it's lovely to have art friends, but that's probably not what you signed up for.
Whatever option you choose, know that a good reviewer will take the job seriously. You should expect some encouragement, but be prepared to hear things you don’t like.

Over to you.


matthew beall said...

"Beware the consultant who promises you the moon.." There are no easy and quick ways into the art world.

"But due diligence is required. There are folks who would take your money--lots of it--and offer little in return." Indeed they will!

annell said...

I like all that you have made in your post. And the suggestions you have made can be really helpful! Thank you so much. Yes, and I think sometimes an artist might just want a pair of eyes to look at something we might be working on, just to get some feedback, and you probably do this, too. Good marketing to you.

joelc said...

I had never had a portfolio review until recently, as I'm my own worse critic and know when a piece I finish is a success or failure. But, this year I decided to attend Fotofest in Houston. They have a group of reviewers including gallery owners, curators (from the US & Europe), publishers, and collectors. The reviews are 20 minutes in length and over the four days you receive 17 or 18 reviews. The main reason I did it ( and was willing to spend the money) was to have my work introduced to a large number of people I would have had trouble reaching in an environment where they are receptive to seeing work.

Was it worth it? Yes, in the sense that my work was well reviewed and most told me to stay in touch. I didn't go there for a show, I went for the personal contact that seems so important.

kim matthews said...

There are plenty of commercial galleries charging $35 for portfolio reviews these days. I guess it's one way to gauge commitment as well as pay for the time spent. But again, it's just the traditional submission process with a fee.

I'd rather pay to have my work juried for a specific show, if I'm ponying up. It seems like a better chance versus a cold submission packet and it's time sensitive. If my work and their ongoing programming is a good fit, we can talk about that later.

Here's a recent phenomenon that seems a little sketchy: the "virtual" exhibit, where the gallery puts your work on their website if you're juried in, and the winner of an online poll gets a brick-and-mortar show. I did that just once and am very unlikely to do it again; it's not a resume builder and I already have a website. Thoughts?