Skip to content

Get a Show.

Getting a Show: Avoiding the Pitfalls & Pratfalls by RLGibson began as a way to keep track of shows worth entering for artists, friends and peers– beginners, emerging & established.  And over the years, I have found that established artists still make many the same mistakes I see from beginners, over and over again.  As a gallerist, juror & critic, I am regularly asked why I choose one artist’s work over another.  There is never just one reason, but there are a handful of regular mistakes that influence my decisions NOT to choose work.   The obvious first issue: the art must be good, or at least promising–that should be the most important fact.  But to tell the truth, there’s a gallery or a show out there for most art– the sumptuous & the sour.  But, because the world is full of banana peels, I offer… Getting a Show: Avoiding the Pitfalls & Pratfalls.

Step 1 of Getting a Show: Read the Recipe1. Read the Recipe.  If you are trying to build your resume, I recommend starting with juried group shows.  Most galleries offer an online prospectus that you can download and/or print.  Read them carefully from start to finish and follow the directions. Follow the directions.  Please make sure that your submissions are the right size, right format & named correctly.  Then be sure to send the right payment and on time.  And always note the time zone.  Midnight EST & midnight PST are two very different deadlines; it seems obvious, but I hear from artists that have missed deadlines by an hour on a regular basis. If the Call for Entries/Submissions was themed, make sure that you clearly understand the theme.  If you don’t understand it, then don’t submit.  And don’t take it personally.  It isn’t a comment on your intellect or work if the thematic content of a show doesn’t apply to you.  Don’t force your work to fit.  It either fits or doesn’t. Relax.  There will always be another hot new cookie recipe.

Step 2 of Getting a Show: Set it and Forget It2. Set it & forget it.  In fairness, this slogan belongs to the Ronco® rotisserie, but it still applies. The deadline for notifications on a juried show has passed, and you haven’t received word.  Do you call?  Do you email?  No and No.  Artists are often deadline-challenged and so are jurors.  Be patient; they’ll get back to you.  Bonus tip: pay attention to the amount of time between notification & delivery deadline.  If your work is accepted, will you have time to get it there?  This is a common issue with shows on a different continent due to delays in affordable overseas shipping.  So, this is the ONLY exception to the set it & forget it rule:  If the show is international, and you know that you are going to be pushing it to get the work delivered on time, you can contact the gallery only after the deadline has passed.

Step 3 of Getting a Show: Use Quality Ingredients3. Use Quality Ingredients.  The best meals often start as the best ingredients, and art follows suit.  So, be careful to use quality materials–canvas, primers, paints.  With rare exception, hot glue and craft paint is discouraged.  I would like to see you use archival materials so that your collector can feel confident that their purchase will stand up over time.  But there IS a whole school of artist and theorists that believe artwork should be ephemeral or, at the very least, allowed to age gracefully to a finite end.    It never fails that the one time you’re goofing around sketching on the back of a napkin–you’ll create a masterpiece.   The one time you decide to “practice” on newsprint or skimp on a sculpture’s armature, you’ll create your best work.  I suspect that phenomenon is connected to removing the pressure of expectation.  Remember that a masterpiece can be copied but never duplicated.  Doodles on the back of a Waffle House napkin are not often sought after for gallery shows.   It is worth Googling it.  There are a lot of artists that have posted fantastic napkin art proving me both wrong …and right.

Step 4 of Getting a Show: Limit Wear Your Chef Hat!4. Wear Your Chef Hat.  Self-taught artists are often treated like the dishwasher in a 5-star restaurant.  You have to prove you can cook with the best of them.  Do your research.  Understand each gallery’s mission & investigate their previous shows.  Learn about both the gallerist & the current juror.  If you have time, research past jurors too.  Google is your friend.  Then package yourself for the show and the gallery.  Do not lie on your resume (ever…and I mean it), but learn to present the side of you and your work that they want to see.  You may be the best abstract expressionist painter on the planet, but a gallery that only shows representational  work isn’t your best option for gallery representation.  Beating the odds makes for a great war story, but setting yourself up for failure isn’t a good habit.

Step 5 of Getting a Show Don't cry over spilled milk!5. Don’t cry over spilled milk.  Your work WILL be rejected over and over and over again regardless of how well-executed, regardless of how well it suits thematically.  It is inevitable.  Keep records of every entry in whatever way works for you (email folders are most common these days).  Know exactly which work you sent to which show and/or juror and when.  Keep all rejection letters; you will likely feel vindicated in some way for them one day.   When it is time to send out submissions in the future, you will then be armed with what has and has not worked for a gallery or juror in the past.  Don’t re-send rejected work to the same gallery OR the same juror, even it fits the Call.  Jurors remember.  Gallerists remember.  And every once in a while, you might get an HONEST rejection letter that will teach you something.  Most of them are form letters, but sometimes a juror will tell you the real why they rejected your work.  If they do, don’t argue, don’t reply, just be satisfied that you’ve seen a unicorn and let it go.  Believe it or not.  Try to remember they rejected your work, not you.

Step 6 of Getting a Show Cream Rises!6. Cream Rises Learn how to self edit.  Don’t send all your work to a gallery for review.   Only send your best.  And organize the work by media or aesthetic or series, whatever makes sense.   More & more often, juror’s want a link to work, not images in an email.  Remember that you CAN create a page online and send a link that will reveal only the work you choose.  It is all about editing.  If you cannot self edit yet, ask for help.  Find a peer, find an public arts organization, find an art consultant, buyer or designer.  The only rule of thumb is avoid asking anyone that likes or loves you enough that they wouldn’t hurt your feelings.  Be prepared to pay them.  This is not the time to look for someone to do you a favor or be nice to you.  This is the time to look for someone professional that will be honest with you.  Allow yourself the freedom to create bad work …just don’t send it to a gallery.

Step 7 of Getting a Show: Hold the Glowing Bananas7.  Hold the Glowing Bananas. Photoshop is a wonderful thing. Color correction of photos has made the art world a better place and has allowed for beautiful prints of masterpieces with startling accuracy. And for the working artist, what you can do to the photo you took on the grayish wall (in your bedroom lit only by the single bulb suspended over your bed) is a gift.  However, if your still-life oil painting of bananas does not glow like a bowl of Cheetos® in the original format, please don’t over-saturate your documented photo of it.  You are NOT doing yourself any favors.  Be warned; if your little banana souffle is juried into a show and fails to rise to expectations upon arrival at the gallery, it will be returned to you without comment or consideration.  And gallerist talk.  So do jurors.  Don’t let one mistake follow you for years.

Step 8 of Getting a Show: Iron the Tablecloth!8. Iron the Tablecloth.  Not all artists are photographers, and not all artists can afford a professional photographer to document all work.  Not being a photographer does not excuse bad backdrops or backgrounds.  Please stop photographing your sculpture or painting in front of a wrinkled tablecloth, stained sheet or scuffed wall.  Iron the tablecloth. Dust the table. Wipe down the counter top. Put a fresh coat of paint on the wall.  Crop out the light switch.  Yes, I can see the stain in the bottom left corner.  In fact, that is all I can see.  Bad backgrounds are second only to bad lighting.  Your work might be fantastic, but it is your job to make that EASY to see, not more difficult.  If you do not have a white wall or perfect lighting, choose a natural setting and natural light.  I will take a brick wall and natural sunlight over a sheet and fluorescent lighting all day every day.

Step 9 of Getting a Show Bread does not make the Sandwich9. Bread Doesn’t Make the Sandwich.  The same sentiment is true of frames.  If your work needs a frame, not to disguise the edges, but to make it “look better”, then your work is the problem.  The fastest way to have your images rejected is to submit it with a bright brass sectional frame.  Frame your work conservatively.  Most galleries prefer black frames and either black or white mats.   This is not meant to force your square peg in a round hole; it is meant to put focus on the work instead of the framing.   As a juror, I prefer submissions that crop images tight so as not to be distracted from the work.   But I will still y send your work back un-hung & unapologetic if it shows up with a terrible frame.  An excellent alternative to framing, for paintings, is full-depth (1.5″ or deeper), gallery-wrapped canvas; however, do not neglect to paint the edges or it will be considered unfinished.

Step 10 of Getting a Show: Clean your plate!10.  Clean your plate.  While I do not believe children should be forced to clean their plate, I DO believe artists should be forced to finish their work before submitting.  Do not submit wet paintings, unresolved drawings, unfixed pastels, etc.  There are a multitude of reasons. Wet paintings eventually cure and sometimes their appearance is drastically changed.  Sometimes wet paintings take a long time to cure.  If you ship an uncured painting, or mixed media with uncured varnish, the result could be damaged work, sagging canvas, crazed surfaces and wasted effort for both you AND the gallery.  Unresolved & unfinished work can be entirely different when it is time to ship than it was when you submitted it.  If the work is later rejected, another artist has lost an opportunity, and neither the gallery or juror will forget.  I still remember the artist’s name that sent a wet painting to me in 2002 –really.

Step 11 of Getting a Show: Limit Fast Food!11.  Limit fast food.  Online shows are now more commonly available than brick and mortar shows.  Many online shows are even hosted by physical galleries as an additional alternative to, not just in lieu of, a gallery show.  Should you enter?  Like fast food, online shows serve a purpose but shouldn’t be your one & only.  The pros include providing exposure, not unlike printed art publications did 10 or 15 years ago.  The backlinks & other web marketing can drive traffic to your website.  If you are working the kinks out of a new technique or aesthetic, online shows can offer easy feedback with reduced costs, no shipping & occasional cash awards.  The biggest downsides are that you have to investigate each opportunity carefully to weed out the cons, be certain not enter too often so as not to appear desperate & read the terms carefully so as not to “accidentally” sign away copyright to your images.   Drive thru… just not every day.

Subscribe FREE for more tips & tricks!

5 Responses
  1. September 12, 2009

    Fabulous! I love it! Your design is so colorful and eye-catching. I had no idea you were working on this. I’m so proud!!!! 🙂 Let me know if I can be of any assistance promoting, although you seem to have a pretty good handle on that.

  2. September 12, 2009

    Thanks for the support. A food-themed art blog seemed right up my alley. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Don’t forget to subscribe…I would really appreciate the ongoing feedback!

  3. Jessica Rowshandel permalink
    September 12, 2009

    This is absolutely awesome and BEAUTIFUL! I love it. I love how you wrote about “motivational anorexia.” It’s sadly too true.

  4. October 26, 2009

    wowWOW…the art of cooking was so informative it blew my mind! thank you for this intelligent artsy witty blog! i will definitely use your advice before i submit my work

  5. October 27, 2009

    I’m glad is was entertaining and maybe helpful. I’m sure there are dozens of things to add to the list. Make sure you let me know if you think of any others. I hope you subscribe. By the way, I enjoyed your thinking head. You should submit your artwork.

Comments are closed.