Marketing Mondays: "Unsolicited" Submissions

There's no mystery to this message

Kim from Minneapolis writes: "Lately on gallery websites I've been seeing the specific phrase: 'We are currently not accepting unsolicited submissions.' Why the change from 'We are currently not accepting submissions?' What does unsolicited mean in this context?

Are they trying to say, 'We're not taking on any new artists but we might be willing to look at your material if you ask before you send it.' Or 'Stop! We really mean it!' Or something else? I've seen this enough times of late that it seems to have some sort of meaning that is eluding me."

Kim, you're overthinking this. There's no hidden meaning here. Submissions have always been unsolicited, unless a dealer specifically requests that you send a package of materials. By adding the adjective unsolicited, dealers are simply reminding artists that the packages we prepare with so much care and expectation are, in fact, not requested by them.

The recent two-part series on How Galleries Are Considering Artists Now makes clear that while some dealers do look, the cold-call submission is the least effective means of introducing your work to a dealer. A Midwest dealer gave the odds of success as “one in a million.”

In his book, How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, the dealer Edward Winkleman lists these methods by which a gallery finds artists. Note the position of the unsolicited (aka cold-call) submission package:
. Recommendations from gallery artists, curators, other dealers, collectors
. Institutional exhibitions such as non-profit galleries and contemporary art museums
. Studio visits and Open Studio tours
. Cold-call submissions

And here’s what he has to say about them: “Because cold-call submissions are often the least productive method of finding suitable artists, they tend to be most dealers’ least preferred means of searching. . . . If you reach a point where you are sure cold-call submissions are no longer a good means of finding new artists for you, I recommend posting that fact on your Web site. It probably won’t stop all future submissions, but at least it will prevent the artists who check first from wasting time and money.”
Hence the emphatic unsolicited you see on so many gallery sites.
So how do you get in? Referrals, recommendation, buzz. How do you get those? Network, network, network.

Over to you: Have you had any success with the unsolicited submission? If so, are there things you have done to pave the way for it (i.e. sending postcards of your work, visiting the gallery regularly)? I suspect this is more likely to happen in cities that are not New York, but do tell.

If you work in a gallery: Would you share your advice and insights about this hit-or-miss method for artists to get their work seen? What has impressed you? Have you ever shown anyone as a result of the unsolicited package? And without blowing your anonymity, if you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know if you are from a large metropolitan city or elsewhwere, as accessibility does seem to favor artists who are looking for galleries in cities other than New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco.


Philip Koch said...

I have had success sending unsolicited submissions, in fact almost ALL my gallery connections came about that way. If like most artists one doesn't live in New York, Chicago or LA, you're pretty much forced to go with unsolicited submissions to galleries.

One thing I did to help "grease the skids" with such submissions was to regularly send well produced show announcements to the art galleries I knew I would be wanting to approach in the future. Just persist in making the very best work you can and be persistent in letting people know about it.

I completely agree that no matter where you live networking is important, but that can dovetail nicely with long distance unsolicited submissions.

Tracy Helgeson said...

My three best gallery experiences have been the result of unsolicited submissions. In all the cases (one was a NYC gallery which has since closed) I either mailed or emailed my info. I was asked to bring in some work for them to view in person. One gallery scheduled me for a show at the meeting, and the other two "tried me out". And in both of those cases, the work I initially gave them sold rather quickly so I was 'in' at that point.

Of course, MANY more galleries that I have sent my info to have either been not interested or have ignored me entirely, so I sure know the odds! But since I live hours away from any galleries, let alone NYC galleries, sometimes my best option is just to send in my images and a full resume that shows my exhibition history.

Also, I have been referred to galleries by other artists, or called by directors after they have seen my work somewhere, but most of those situations have not been particularly good for a variety of reasons.

Caleb Taylor said...

Joanne, it's as if you read my mind. I was thinking about this the other day and was wanting to know if unsolicited material includes a simple postcard or mailer.

I haven't sent many packets out because I would prefer to have some familiarity with each program. One I did send to a gallery responded with positive interest and they asked that I continue supplying them updates. So I remember to send them postcards and occasionally drop them a new disc of images. I just don't want to fall off their radar.

Anonymous said...

Unsolicited submissions are not what they use to be. For most galleries that would mean an artist walking in unannounced and presenting their work. The artist may also have no idea the history, background, or type of art of a certain gallery. The gallery owner was forced to reject the artist right on the spot or to blow them off. This obviously became quite a strain for the gallery owner.

Now submissions of art work can come from the internet. You can e-mail pictures of your work, as well as your resume and artist statement. You can e-mail them your web site, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. You can actually set up a e-mail marketing campaign to a gallery, nothing obnoxious, maybe two or three announcements over a 3 month period so that when you do ask them to look at your work then they will have some familiarity. They may not know why, but that once a month announcement may have helped!

And by all means networking and connections is the greatest source for a lead into a gallery or museum. Happy gallery shopping!

Joanne Mattera said...

Unsolicited submissions are the packages that artists send out with such high hopes. With galleries downsizing their staffs, there's pretty much no one available to go through the packages. One dealer told me she'd have to hire a part time person just to go through the packages, sort the material and send Yes and No letters.

But your point about sending postcards is well taken. While most dealers say they are not currently seeking submissions, they certainly look--at postcards, reviews, art fairs, and the like.

But I'm not so sure about e-mails. As an artist who blogs, I'm on every art fair mailing list, which means I'm on the mailing list of all the galleries who show at those fairs. I can get 20 or more e-mails a day from galleries. Unless I know the gallery, I delete the email so that I can begin to plow through what's in the queue. I know galleries do the same thing.

nic said...

an aside: i would love to sift through some galleries' incoming packages (kind of like someone who reads the unsolicited scripts and manuscripts at a publisher or movie house....). if only location and specific expertise weren't an issue.....

Joanne Mattera said...

Interesting aside, nic.
The MM post from August 10 was called "Five Queries." A dealer friend, on the condition of anonymity, let me publish five queries that s/he had received.

Here's the URL: but it's live linked if you go to the MM list on the sidebar of this blog.

Oly said...

PACKAGES are the bane of our existence.

Email submissions only.

Packages are my ultimate nightmare because of clutter, and return postage issues.

Submissions must be digital only.

I'd say an honest one out of every 30 we are sent are worth looking at.

My two cents.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for those two cents, Oly.
Would you take us to the next steps? After you've looked at that one-in-30 package, what happens? Do you contact the artist to set up a studio visit? File the CD and contact info for "later"? Has a package ever led to inclusion in a show or gallery representation?

Oly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oly said...

Hey, Joanne.

Indeed, one of the gallery's represented artists was found in this manner. He was an exception to the rule by far-- came into the gallery with his portfolio, which I then actually kept a month for us to look at. I soooo must have been in a good mood that day... :) But he truly won me over with his 100% lack of ego, sweetness, caring manner and enthusiasm for his work and the art world. Being a total sweetheart will always gets my attention. What will get my scorn are the uttered words "I WANT YOU to look at my work."

It isn't about what the artist wantw, it is what the gallery can fit in to its schedule.

Aggressive people are unfortunately the norm, and this artist's demeanor was just the opposite. He started out with a "I hope I'm not disturbing you"-- and then his brilliant work spoke for itself.

Truth be told, I think more than anything, strength of work is the most important part of the submission process along with being on same level of personality types. There's a reason many galleries share similar type of artists from similar backgrounds in life and demeanor.

Several other submissions have also ended up included in group shows. I opened up this artist's package, and out came a beautifully printed tri-fold catalog. Again, simple, and easy to look at. BOOKS are a huge no-no. There's no way we will ever get through it. Time is of the essence. After looking at his work, it just flowed naturally from there. Again, simplicity.

Of course, in both of these situations it was the gallery getting back to the artists. I don't know of many occurrences where it is ever worth disobeying the "Don't call us, we'll call you" rule except for initial contact.

Hope this helps.

Denise Bibro Fine Art, Chelsea

Cervini Haas Fine Art said...

Everyone's made great points - I just want to second that a show postcard has been an effective way of staying on our radar, passively, and that I also prefer email submissions. Those beautiful, expensive physical portfolios were ending up abandoned in a box because we simply didn't have time. Unfortunately, I still have an email folder full of digital submissions, but at least this method is more cost effective for the artist.

When you send an email to a gallery, think about whether or not it looks like spam and may get deleted without being looked at. A blank or unspecific subject header will get deleted for safety. Simply "Portfolio" is enough. And see if you can get your images to appear in the body of the email rather than attachments (low resolution is a MUST!!!) - it's that much closer to being looked at. And true, in the end it's all about great art and professional, friendly relationships.

One of my favorite, best selling painters now is someone who patiently, quietly sent us postcards and an occasional catalog, probably over the course of a year. When I finally had that moment of time and clarity to really SEE his work, he was so obviously a perfect fit for the gallery we couldn't call him fast enough!

Joanne Mattera said...

Wendy and Oly,

Thanks so much for your insights. It's wonderful to know that some galleries still do look.

Since Wendy Hass has responded, let me tell you how we began to work together. Back in about 1998, there was a classified in one of the art magazines, something like, "New gallery in the Southwest seeks contemporary artists." I'm normally wary of galleries seeking artists (they're usually those dreadesd vanities trawling for suckers), but I decided to take a chance. I had a brand new website, so I sent her a postcard with my URL and suggested she take a look. (Do you remember this, Wendy?) This was when most people were still on dialup, so sending the postcard made sense.

Wendy visited the site and e-mailed me. We set up a studio visit for her next trip to New York. The visit lasted five hours, and I think we ended up going out to dinner. I was one of the first artists to join the gallery, and we've been working together ever since.

My story is not exactly appropriate to the post, but it does underscore the power of the postcard, as Wendy mentions, and it reinforces Oly's "Don't call us; we'll call you" approach.

I also think Wendy's advice to make sure your e-mail doesn't get filtered as spam is important. Probably the best thing we can do in this regard is to read the subject lines of all the emails that end up in our own spam filters and stay as far away from that wording as possible.

Unknown said...

As director of a university gallery and an exhibiting artist, I get to work this issue from both sides. As gallery director, I initially want only electronic submissions. The best impressions on me with positive results are when I receive an email introducing an artist and inquiring about the possibility of being considered for a future exhibitions. Our gallery’s mission statement and other details are listed on the website, and informed artists will have perused this listing and have a sense of how they fit the criteria.

In that first inquiry email from the artist, a link to images or an attached PDF of a few (4-5) images with a brief statement is enough for me to make an initial assessment. I can look, make an decision, and respond right away to their request by suggesting they keep in touch and send up-coming announcements, (giving me time to see their development), or that they don’t meet our mission and may be better served by another institution/organization. In some cases I may have specific galleries or curators in mind that would be interested in their work. Sooo, a rejection is not always a loss.

Email/electronic information is the most efficient for me. I don’t end up with the proverbial artist packets that are cumbersome and annoying to return. Based on current business standards and I expect artists to be electronically literate, OR pay for the service to prepare materials that can be emailed or viewed online. I would equate this to hiring a photographer to shoot your work if you don’t have the skills yourself.

I do keep in touch with some cold-call artists and have kept contact for as much as 3 or 4 years before scheduling an exhibition. In other cases it is shorter, but long or short, if I begin a communication with an artist it most often leads to an eventual partnership.

As an artist seeking exhibitions and gallery representation, I use the above process for my own submission inquiries. It is easy and fast with little or no cost involved. I did the “NY gallery slide packet inquiry cold-calls” back in the 70’s and 80’s, and I can attest to the time, expense and rejection of that experience. Electronic is much better for an initial contact.

Catherine Carter said...

My best experience with gallery representation was with an unsolicited submission, but I had done my research and my work fit this gallery SO WELL. I later found that I was one of the few artists whom the gallery had found that way.

I've recently sent several unsolicited packets, but they were to galleries other artists had recommended for me. I found that mentioning the recommender's name in the first paragraph garnered me responses right away. Encouraging responses, too, I'm happy to say.

I've tried the email application method several times and never heard anything back. Perhaps that's because I dropped the ball; time to follow up!

Thank you, Joanne, as usual your blog entry has generated some very helpful information for me.

Jill said...

I am the former owner of a gallery in Fredericksburg Texas ( I am an artist as well. While Fredericksburg is a far cry from NYC or LA, I can say as a gallery owner that great art is great art and we were happy to get our hands on it no matter how we heard about it. Some of our best and most successful exhibiting artist were "unsolicited."

On that note, I have to agree with Steve, walk-ins are horrible and awkward! DO NOT WALK IN a gallery with pictures or samples of your work....big turn-off. I would advise to send packets, discs with images, emails with new work, a post card, etc. At least that way, the gallery can review it on their own time and reply accordingly.

Anonymous said...


in response to the comments from people who said that unsolicited submissions worked, was that for a gallery that specifically said that they were not accepting submissions?