Critical questions


Dear Artist,

An artist wrote, “I would like to find a gallery but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have a system for narrowing down choices and how to actually do it?”


“Panorama: A Question of Perspective” 1970-74
oil, charcoal, dried reed, eucalypt branch, rubber snake, taxidermied Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, collage and plaster on plywood 203 x 324.5 cm
by Brett Whiteley (1939-1992)

Thanks. First, you’ll need to understand what galleries are looking for in you: a cohesive vision, archival quality, steady production, some kind of exclusivity, a signature style, point of view and professional support materials, among others. Next, assuming you’ve got a top-notch body of work you’re ready to send out into the world, you’ll want to make a shortlist of your own critical questions. As with any venture, a plan allows you to create a detailed vision of what you want. “Quietly go about your own agenda,” my Dad told me, when he noticed the arrows flying from all directions. Here are a few critical questions:

What would you like to happen to your art?
How much new work can you make in a year?
Do you have a set pricelist that reflects your level of experience and sales?
Do you have perfect, colour-accurate and labelled digital images?
Where do you see your work going in the next 12 months? 5 years? 10 years?

Questions for galleries:


“Willows at Carcoar 1978”
oil on plywood panel 122 x 122 cm
by Brett Whiteley

Do they accept artist submissions?
How many artists do they represent?
Is the quality and style of the art of existing artists in a vein with your work without conflicting or competing?
Does the gallery style of presentation align with yours?
What is the gallery’s programming? Do they do studio visits, museum or public art proposals, media kits? Does the gallery work with designers? Do they do art fairs? Do they print catalogues, books or other reproductions? Do they have a record of critical reviews or other press?

While these may seem like lofty or insignificant factors based on your own personal goals, the answers can probably be found by looking at their website and a few quick searches on google. It pays to do a little research and most galleries appreciate the preparation. The thing about galleries is that everyone is invited to visit in person. It should all start by attending an opening, where you can quietly soak up the vibe and catch a glimpse of whether or not you can see yourself there. Then the striving, or I should say planning, begins.

Remember that the gallery business is a people business. The gallery professionals in our world are like us — varied, unique and totally individual. Find your people, do your best work and make a plan.


“Seagull (Japanese: The Screaming Voice)” 1988
oil and collage on plywood 175 x 205 cm
by Brett Whiteley



PS: “Plan your work and work your plan.” (Napoleon Hill)

Esoterica: Showing in a gallery is only one way for an artist to share her work with the world. Many different models of distribution and exhibition are available. Local arts councils, public galleries, not-for-profits, artist-run spaces, studio tours and pop-ups can all garner enthusiastic audiences. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, an online social media platform is a terrific way to share what you’re up to in real time. The galleries and collectors are out there looking and sharing, too.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“Never trust an art dealer who’ll sit in a room for more than ten minutes with a crooked picture.” (Brett Whiteley)




    • Harry. Weisburd on

      Brett whitely became famous creating drawings of well known killer in the UK. In Amerixa. it is called and known as HYPE .

  1. “Arrows in all directions”… how well I identify with that. Eventually I decided it is my signature and my goal is just to enjoy what happens.
    Brett Whiteley is one of my all time favourite artists. That combination of oriental and occidental sensibilities is magical. Pity he died so young but he just had too much energy and it must have burned him out.

  2. Your galleries should be not too far away. I have had galleries across the Atlantic, thinking that how wonderful to have that on my resume. However, you need to be able to check on them. Make sure they are showing your work and not leaving it in a closet. I know that galleries sometimes rotate what they have, but you will find they are more careful if you pop in on occasion. My current galleries are all within a days drive. I can ship work if need be, but I prefer to visit if I can.

  3. Sara is so, so right – ask questions. When I started art making, I headed to the library and researched a business plan. I did some hard thinking and decision-making using many of the questions Sara brought up.

    I also made three promises to myself – no portraits (I wasn’t skilled enough); no commissions (I was only a beginner); and no galleries. When I broke two of those promises – I experienced extreme stress over a commission; I discovered the newly opened gallery/gift store was telling any potential buyer that my favourite tryptich wasn’t for sale – they were using it as their gallery centrepiece, planned their colour scheme around it, and had no intention of selling it. Pretty bold. Seller, beware. Ask ask ask questions. How long will they keep your inventory? What mark-up are they going to price your work at? Do they loan out work to potential buyers? What happens when one or more of your works go “missing”?

    Plan, protect, and then go make your unique mark in the world.

  4. Terrific post as always. Our “art district” street is crammed with vanity galleries, filled with low-grade work by folks who haven’t been able to get to legit gallery status. They’re not ready for prime time but they can’t really wait to get there.

  5. Anita Williams on

    The single best advice I got from a mentor and well known local artist was to skip worrying about galleries and to enter as many juried shows as possible. Commercial Galleries tend to charge 40-50% commission on your work. Colleges, Libraries , Museums and other non-profit venues usually catalog your work and charge little or zero commission. It is a great way to build up your resume as well.

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