Marketing Mondays: The Rules

Well, not these rules. I'm talking about the understood concepts that make the art world run more smoothly, or which provide an easier path for you to travel within it. Image from the Internet
In a small gallery in Tribeca in the early 90s, a panel-discussion with four gallery directors took place on a weekday evening. It was billed as an event “for mid-career artists.” Fifty or so artists were expected. About 200 showed up, waiting in a line that stretched around the block. The age range spanned seven or eight decades. All were looking for the advice that would send their careers soaring. 
After each of the dealers talked about their gallery protocols and how they find artists, one of the older artists rose and said something like, "In art school I learned that success would come at midcareer, so I waited my turn. But now I find that the younger artists have moved to the head of the line." He was angry.
A panelist responded kindly: "Times have changed. What you learned in art school about getting shown and finding a gallery no longer applies. One of the reason younger artists are meeting with success sooner is that they aren't operating under the 'old rules.' They don't know what those 'rules' are. You can't rely on the rules that you followed 20 years ago. Or even 10 year ago.”
“Well,” he demanded, “what are the rules?”
Advance the discussion by two decades. Artist Rob Tarbell emailed recently with the same question: “What are the unwritten rules of the art world? Do they differ by city or region? Do they differ by gallerist, curator and artist?”
This is a job for crowd sourcing—I hope you’ll all comment  below—but let me start off with a general comment. I think there are subtleties from region to region and, personalities being what they are, from dealer to dealer, or curator to curator whatever the region. For instance, there’s a well-respected dealer in Portland, Maine, who is totally open to having you call and ask, “May I bring in some work to show you?” Try that with a New York dealer, and you won’t get past, “Hello.” On the other hand, a new curator even from a major city, is likely to be more open to looking in the early days of her tenure, while she’s assessing the art community and the artists in it.
Here are some “rules” that do seem to apply pretty much across the board. I’ve culled them from previous Marketing Mondays posts, informal conversations with art world friends, and a check of my trusty reference tomes, The Artist’s Guide, Art/Work, and How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery..

1. Do your homework
One of the threads that runs through the four years of this column comes from dealers and curators: To find the gallery that’s right for you, you have to eliminate all the ones that are not. That requires time spent visiting galleries, going to openings, and following the galleries’ exhibitions online when you can’t visit them in person. You can call it reconnaissancehomework, or visiting the galleries with a purpose. .
Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, authors of Art/Work, call this “The One Year Rule.” Their advice: “Follow a gallery’s program for about a year before you even think about asking a gallery to look at your work.”
Here’s Edward Winkleman, owner of the Winkleman Gallery in Chelsea, blogger, and author of How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery, in a 2007 blog post that remains as timely now as it was then: Understand what your potential market is like and find the galleries that target that market. This takes work and research but will pay off your entire career.”
2. Dealers are always looking even if they tell you they're not
Most gallery websites post a “We are not currently accepting submissions” disclaimer (reason: Not enough artists do their homework, Rule #1), but they are always looking. A Midwest art dealer I talked to for How Dealers AreConsidering Artists Now, a Marketing Mondays post from 2009, says this about how and where they look: “The order has changed: One, recommendations from other artists who know me, my program, and the artist they are recommending; two, discovery as I travel to art fairs and, sometimes, other galleries; three, unsolicited submissions, about one in a million.
3. You will be rejected
“No matter how renowned, well-connected or talented, everyone will get rejected from opportunities they want,” writes Jackie Battenfield, artist and author of The Artist’s Guide. Knowing this doesn’t lessen the hurt, but it does put you in good company. Battenfield’s mantra: “If I’m not being regularly rejected, it means I’m not pursuing opportunities.”

It took me years to even be able to talk about my first rejection, but what I learned ultimately is that I ceded far too much power to that turndown. It was one dealer’s response to a small body of work on one particular day.
4. Be professional
This seems too simple to be a "rule" but professionalism is a prime directive in business, and the showing and selling of art is a business. All things being equal, your complete package, timely delivery, positive attitude, good humor, and willingness to work with a dealer or collector will get you more of what you want and need. Conversely, the diva/o who makes everyone's job more difficult, or the guy who writes the mean blog and insults everyone on Facebook are cutting themselves off from whatever opportunities might have come their way. .
5. Represented by a gallery? Don’t sell out of your studio
A dealer, interested in the work of a particular artist, did his due diligence. What he found: the artist’s reputation of selling out of his studio while represented was true. The dealer did not extend an invitation for representation. The full story is here.
Ed Winkleman says this very clearly in his book: “So much of the relationship between an artist and a dealer is based on trust. Nothing tests that trust more that the questions surrounding an artist selling his work directly out of his studio."
6. Keep one set of prices, wherever you’re selling
If you’re a represented artist who sells during an open studio, or if you're an unrepresented artist who sells in a variety of venues, from group shows in commercial galleries, to solos in non-profits, to open studios, keep the same price list. You may make more or less depending on the situation (and you can extend a discount if necessary), but you don’t want collectors seeing your work at a lower price in one venue, higher at another.
Here are Bhandari and Melber: "Make sure your prices are consistent in all the venues showing your work. This is important for several reasons: you don't want collectors bargaining over your work, you don't want dealers competing over prices, and because it's customary for prices to be consistent, it looks like something is wrong when they aren't."
Corollary: Everyone asks for a discount. Make sure your price is set to accommodate the standard 10% “courtesy.” The discount is also a way for your galleries in smaller geographic locations to sell at your New York City (or any large city) price.
7. It’s not easy for any artist to find or make a place in the art world, but it’s easier for men
We all know the statistics: More women than men attend art school; in the galleries, and especially in museums, the numbers flip dramatically. In art sales, too, the selling prices are higher for men. It may be hard to sympathize when a Cady Noland goes for $6.6 million, but here's "S.T.", writing on The Price of Being Female in the blog, Prospero:  "Indeed, depictions of women often command the highest prices, whereas works by them do not."

Are there exceptions, yes?  But the rule is what's weighing us down.
Corollary: Ageism. Even for the men. Just wait.
8. Vanity Galleries are the kiss of death
Vanity—aka pay-to-show—galleries bank on the rejection so many artists face in finding a commercial gallery to represent them. But if you pay up front to show, the gallery has no incentive to actually sell your work, and certainly no interest in nurturing and developing your career. The opinion of most professionals: Stay away. I wrote about them here in 2008, and artists are still commenting.
Here’s Jackie Battenfield in The Artist's Guide, on pay-to-shows: “They are not career builders. Reputable galleries do not charge the artist for shows. Your art will be better served if you spend your time and money looking elsewhere.”
Corollary: Artists'
co-op galleries are an entirely different species. Knowing that all galleries will not find commercial representation, artists in co-op galleries, which are maintained by membership dues, work to maintain standards by jurying new members and seeing that all members adhere to co-op rules. The artists are co-operative owners. Moreover, some artists prefer the freedom of a co-op to show work that is not commercially viable. (The whole truth: In a city like New York, they are generally lower on the food chain. But consider that a good co-op with a long history of experienced management and good exhibitions has more currency that a commercial gallery that's opened by a novice and gone in a season.)
9. The taint of “careerism” is past. It’s OK to self promote (but venture outside the undefined parameters and you’re an annoyance)
Many midcareer artists are still laboring under the benighted concept that promoting themselves tarnishes their integrity and ruins their art. Several decades of art school professors willfully or ignorantly promoted those ideas. But it’s a new millennium. 

So, websites, blogs and business cards: Fine. Postcard announcements of an exhibition or other big career event: Fine.
A quarterly or monthly newsletter: Fine, as long as you offer an unsubscribe option.  Daily “Sold!” updates on Facebook: Annoying. And I think you know the verdict on those endless Tweets detailing every career move. Rule of thumb: If someone else does it and you find it annoying, it will be just as annoying if you do it.
Apropos of exhibition postcards, Valerie McKenzie, whose McKenzie Fine Art is newly located on the Lower East Side, whom I quoted in a blog post on Self Promotion, suggests you distribute those announcement cards judiciously in certain instances: "I discourage the obnoxiousness of handing out your own announcement card at someone else's opening! " 
10. Two words: Professional courtesy
So much of the art world runs on reciprocity. Courtesies extended to another are then returned it in kind or in a related way: referrals, advice, reference letters, mentoring and more. My friend Susan is a great example of how reciprocity works. A midcareer artist with a long resume, she understands how to network and she has the contacts to do it well. Because she’s secure in her career, she knows that sharing information or recommending someone will not diminish her achievements. On more than one occasion she has given my name and website to one of her dealers. I have done the same for her. Result: I’m with a gallery on her referral, and she on mine. We’ve each expanded our careers that much more by the simple act .of mutual support. Read more here.
11. Rules change: DIY is no longer a career killer
Indeed, it's a badge of respect. The idea of artists taking control of their careers has never been stronger. Exhibitions, publications, blogs, and curatorial projects are being undertaken by artists for themselves. Want a solo? Find a space and have one.  Have an opinion? Write a blog. It helps if you’re savvy about the system and can self-promote well, but doing it yourself has all kinds of permutations and possibilities. Indeed, many artists are hyphenating—to artist-gallerists, artist-curators, artist-critics, even artist-art fair organizers. I wrote an extensive post here.
I believe the newfound respect for DIY has to do with art-world folksdealers, independent curators (many newly independent as a reult of institutional downsizing) and writers (many freelancing as opposed to on staff)—who are struggling since 2008 in a way that many had not struggled before. "When I see what artists do for themselves, I am in awe," said a dealer to me just after the 2008 crash. (Then he asked if I knew of any jobs.) More here.

12. Some rules don't change: It really is about the work
Galleries have their programs, museum have their protocols, and critics have their point of view, but the bottom line is this: It’s about the work, for the artists who are laboring in their studios, and it’s about the work for those who are considering it.  Yes, the physical persona of the artist helps, especially in a beauty-conscious, youth-obsessed, boldface-name culture, but the work still has to speak for you and to the person who is viewing it.

Corollary: Don’t assume the work will speak for itself. Be prepared to advocate on its behalf. When Barbara O’Brien, now director of the Kemper Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, spoke a few years ago at an event I’d organized, one of the comments that stayed with me was the idea that the making of your work, essential as it may be, is helped immensely by you, the artist, in speaking or writing clearly about it and presenting it well.
Over to you. What rules would you add to this list?

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Anonymous said...

Ahhh...from the bottom up: #12. If it were all about the work it would be a "level" playing field...but since the beginning it's mostly been about relationships between people, what we do and how we see ourselves and the world around us. There is no longer one "art world", there are simply so many of us now: artists/collectors/curators/critics/gallerists that there are too many variants of interpersonal chemistry to predict (even when the "relationship" is only digital), AND IT MATTERS. As much or more than the work when all is said and done.

Question: How many of the above participants don't think that much or most of what they see in the galleries and museums seems arbitrary and not very good, no matter what one's preferences ?

If there ever were any real rules of engagement,They now are reduced to one:
Relate well to all those you encounter, and appropriately select your approach and "strategy" from the deepest toolbox you can assemble...based on being the kind of person that you would want to deal with, and by making art that is the best and most important you can...but be prepared for an overwhelming ratio of misfires, because in the end, it's unfortunately, not all about the work...although some of us wish it were.

Anonymous said...

Some disagreement with anonymous 11:40 am.

I think Joanne hit it about right-- interpersonal chemistry and social relationships do matter, as she said.

But I also agree with her that quality of the work is essential, and it does make all the difference in the end.

To answer your question, much or most of what I see in museums and galleries is, truthfully, NOT "arbitrary and not very good". Usually it's arguably legitimately good on some level, or if not, at least I can understand the criteria for it being there.

It's easy to say it's all social connections and quality means nothing. This is a common form of sour grapes argument (though I don't know if that's where you are coming from) I wouldn't mind agreeing if it were true, but that's not been my experience at all, and I see a lot of art.

Sure the gallery and museum systems have objectionable aspects. But without some form of editing, some form of selection involved regarding what's good/interesting and what's not (maybe there are better mechanisms for this, there are certainly other ones), we all would drown in a flood of banality. Right now (for better or for worse)that editing is part of what galleries and museums do.

Maybe my perspective is skewed by the fact that I am also always editing-- choosing which shows I'm going to see-- if I went to galleries randomly, or only certain galleries I don't consider good, or galleries in another city (not NYC), who knows, maybe I'd be tempted to agree with you...

kim matthews said...

I'm certainly midcareer agewise but am currently not represented, haven't had many solo shows, and no museum acquisitions. I used to believe that one's career is essentially an upward trajectory: more exposure, more sales, more prestige, higher prices, etc. But since the crash almost everyone I know is struggling to make more "accessible" work, which roughly translates to doing the same amount of work for less money and trying to brand the work in such a way that it doesn't have an adverse effect on future pricing. I really respect those of you who've been at this for thirty or forty years and just keep going. I wonder if most artists will ever have the luxury of handing all sales and marketing over to a rep again. The only rule that still seems to apply is the Golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated.

natalie said...

one of the new trends which irritates me to no end is posting not a "hey, i was accepted into this show" or "check it out! i won honorable mention", but that plus copy pasting the entire announcement. seriously, is anyone really going to read that? i find it annoying.

Eva said...

Rule Number One is something you can spends years at and should. Think of it as looking for peers and like-minded people. First, you should be looking at artists who are working in the same terrain as you in some way. It could be method or materials but more likely it's just a vibe which can be felt more than explained. Follow those artists, look where they are showing, look how they are connecting. They can provide you with clues.

From there it is building relationships and that takes time. In fact it's never over. It is not ass-kissing, it is not just "networking." It's a relationship and an on-going conversation. If you think your work is just about the objects you make, you're wrong. This is something I knew instinctively when young but then had to learn all over again in my 40s.

Unknown said...

Joanne, first off, thanks for a wonderful blog. I've really enjoyed reading your posts and your Marketing Mondays are always spot on. I totally agree with all that you've listed. One thing that has been a huge tool for me, which falls under 'doing your research', would be the internet. I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but the net has offered me a great way to seek out and be part of a like-minded community of artists. Some of those connections have remained strictly from a far (people that live in different cities, who I've conversed with either on blogs or social media) but surprisingly, there are instances where I've sought people out and met them in various cities. It's also a great way to narrow your scope as far as finding galleries where your work might fit in. You can do huge amounts of this research from home, so when you do go to those openings and visit those galleries who show the work you like, it becomes a more efficient and targeted experience.

Anonymous said...

#13: Think of it all like dating; timing is everything!

Mark Warren said...

There are too many art schools and too many artists; who isn't an artist today?? Technology makes it easy for anyone to play. If technology were art then this would be a Renaissance!!

Joanne Mattera said...

Mark: That's not a rule; it's an observation. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I agree on all the points Joanne. I do, however feel a strong urge to challenge the system as it currently exists. I'm willing to admit that maybe this feeling is due to some partly accountable and partly unaccountable frustration and yet I do not have some idealized system to replace it. Acceptance can be considered acquiescence.
I am a member of an artist networking group. I will not name it, but it is very large, 400 members are in the email chain and the monthly meetings (though not 400 strong) do fully fill the large space the meetings happen in. The vast majority of members are female and tend to the near or over the 50 age range. I am a 40+ year old male and aside from feeling a little bit of anxiety in these meetings because I am in the (by current prejudiced Art World standards) more advantaged gender and age group. All these artists are trying to make their way in the art world, a few are represented, but nearly all are in pursuit of better circumstances.
I personally see, as you mention at the beginning of the post younger artists getting praise and advantages, yet these occur in very, very few situations, many other artists go through school, or have developed outside of school and continue their art making in a world that can largely be unconcerned about their endeavors.
It appears that an artist has to change and adapt in order to fit-in with the current system, yet some part of me (intuition, maybe?) insists that the artist should be the lead in setting the tone and not the follower that is making art to accommodate the curator or dealer. The bottleneck of artists allows curators and dealers to pick the artists and art that fits their own idealogical models and the critic steps in when it appears to be something put in front of them worth commenting on. In all this what does not fit is ignored. It is a pyramid scheme in which we artists are led to believe that the best always reaches the top while the top seems to only be concerned with monetary value. It could be said, I suppose, that those other artists out there are the hangers-on or the failures after coming along so far and little or nothing gained from the endeavor. I believe now that an artist does not exist in a vacuum and that people and other artists do influence me yet the rewards, if they come at all seem to only merit the singular artist leaving the support network in the cold.

Or am I wrong about it all?

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 2:08,
Interesting question. I am one opinion here, but I'd ask: Why can't you be part of a group *and* strike out on your own? Groups are wonderful for the sharing ideas and informaton, for moral support, and for the friendship that is so necessary after solitary time in the studio. Some groups also show together. But making your work and getting it before the eyes of dealers and curators is something you do on your own, There may be a referral in there (which, ideally, you will reciprocate in some way), but securing a place for yourself is your personal work>

As for the artworld being a "scheme," I think we all have to stop thinking that way. No higher power said, "Hey, let's make way more artists than galleries." That's the dynamic, not a plot. But as I suggest, self promotion and DIY projects are great ways to give yourself visibility and traction.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting conversation, thank you. My concern however, is that the old rules are already redundant and we really do not know what the new rules will be until they become self-evident. What I'm referring to is the impact of technology: the Internet has changed forever the "rules" of music and literature creation/dissemination/consumption and in the process laid waste to a whole range of industry gatekeepers. Is it feasible that Ms. iTunes or Mr. Google will define the rules for us when they finally decide that the visual arts are ripe for plunder? Will galleries go the way of record stores and bookshops? What will getting noticed, or being represented mean in this new world?

Ruth Andre said...

Wonderful blog post with good information. I live n the hinterlands with no art market what so ever so I am thinking a good rule would be- Find a good art location. If you are going to view art, you need to be where the art is. I am finding my competition in the past was with artists that had been around long enough to know the right people. They have made friendships of sorts. It does not seem to matter if the art is good and reminds me of the King that wore no clothes. Both sides seem to just go along. Thanks for your blog and a view of events in the art world.