Ballerina Sarah Murphy-Dyson, once First Soloist for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, wrote recently to share her new passion. “I’m a little embarrassed to be asking you this… I started drawing and painting ballet-themed stuff a year ago and can’t stop. My style has continued to develop and grow and I feel I’m finding my voice on paper and canvas. I wanted to ask you about galleries and shows and such… I have no idea about that world. Might you be able to connect me with people from there or advise me yourself? I’d love to have a show and could perform at it, too…”
Thanks, Sarah. Having recently taken up ballet, I was on the verge of getting in touch, myself. Unlike ballet, though, the act of painting woos by welcoming even the wobbliest brush and besots with an early high. This love affair is often accompanied, in this century at least, with a follow-up craving called, “Galleries and Shows (GAS).” Like a baby who claps back at her first parental applause, GAS is a kind of congenital creative side effect. But GAS is not painting, and GAS is not as smooth as painting’s initial, low barrier to entry. GAS is as sticky as the ten thousand hours it takes to get into a pair of pointe shoes.
Showing is part ambition, part urge to connect, part economics, part self-belief and part simply a completion of the creative cycle. To a seasoned performer, a pivot towards visual art with the idea to incorporate performance and explore all its end-of-the-rainbow possibilities is likely second nature. “Boldness has genius, power and magic,” wrote Goethe. If part of this golden period of exploration, discovery and play is presenting your work, here are a few ideas.
Have you got a few hundred paintings?
Select from this year’s production your best 20. If you haven’t got an embarrassment of riches to choose from, go back to your room and paint. Your shortlist should be thematic but varied in ideation and show an evolution of imagination, technique and skill.
If you crave feedback, gather a group of friends to rate your paintings in a blind vote, by secret ballot. You need to be your own worst critic, but anonymous keeners can help. You might even find some insight in the comments of this letter.
In the cold clear light of dawn, examine your technique, brush handling, understanding of materials, colour mastery, drawing, values, powers of observation, clarity and communication of ideas, variety, finishing, originality, style, titles, archival quality and signature. Like the stage, look around at the professionals in your midst and assess your own personal development and caliber. What do you have on offer that’s unique?
Take high res, in focus, glare and shadow-free, colour accurate images, cropped to the edges. Label the files for easy identification by someone who’s never heard of you.
Build a website that allows you to make changes. It need only include your recent work, your relevant bio, CV, email address and a short, clear artist statement.
You may choose to take a workshop or embark on a period of independent study to expand your understanding.
You may choose to enter juried shows through artists’ organizations, sketch clubs or other calls to entry, in order to get your work seen and build an exhibition history.
You may choose to throw a vernissage — a private viewing of recent work, held in an alternative space, rental gallery, in your studio or at a friend’s place.
You may choose to invest time in researching and visiting galleries to get to know their exhibition mandate and the types of artists they represent. Whether they accept submissions and how they wish to be contacted can often be found online.
You may choose to look for answers and connectivity here with us on The Painter’s Keys. Consider this my heartfelt introduction to a few new friends.
PS: “Every artist was first an amateur.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Esoterica: As you know in all the arts, no degree, no license, no certification, no award, agent, introduction or promotion guarantees a spot under the lights. Instead, the long, private fulfillment of creation nourishes and sustains a would-be exhibitor until lightning strikes and she mounts a show. As you know in all the arts, “Galleries and Shows” is not the game’s name, but merely a hardscrabble chance after a million tear-stained tries. Call the game instead, “a million strokes in an applause-free room, inviting your grit and those delighted to be with you to grasp at what it means to be human.”
“Try to put well in practice what you already know; and in so doing, you will, in good time, discover the hidden things which you now inquire about.” (Rembrandt)