Opening responsibilities


Dear Artist,

In the comments section of last Friday’s letter, Sharon Lalonde asked, “What is the responsibility of an artist to be a good host at her opening, and what would that look like? I have been to openings where one has to guess who the artist is, or the artist is comfortably in a corner with a few friends and does not engage. I think some education in this area would be valuable.”


“The Yellow House” (The Street)
oil on canvas, 1888
by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

If you’re throwing your own vernissage, studio visit, artist-run or collective affair, then it probably makes sense to put on a hostess hat and work the room. But if you find yourself standing at your own opening in a commercial gallery, one engaged in the business of promoting and selling your work, you may have a little more freedom to do what my grandmother Lorrie Genn advised my dad on the eve of his first exhibition: “Be yourself, Bob.”

Not all creative people relish the spotlight. Many of us are introverts and have to work at being outgoing, while others among us may deeply enjoy cultivating a scene.


“The Man is at Sea”
(after Demont-Breton)
oil on canvas, 1889
by Vincent van Gogh

My personal feeling has always been that by the time you’re at your own opening, your preparation is complete and your work should stand on its own. Now, depending on your individual rhythms, expectations, people skills and desire to share, it’s best not to force anything. Be yourself, whatever that means, while allowing your partner — your dealer — to carry the ball the rest of the way down the field. She has a personal style, too, and a job to do, with or without your gentle help. If you’re lucky, she’s the kind of person who crosses a room with her hand outstretched, keen to spread her own passions, connection and joy. If you’re lucky, together you’re a team with complementary skills, shining light on the real star of the show.


“Miners’ Wives Carrying Sacks of Coal”
watercolour painting, 1882
by Vincent van Gogh



PS: “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” (William Butler Yeats)


“The more you know the artist, the less you like the art.” (Anonymous)

Esoterica: I remember travelling with my dad to the opening of our first two-person show. He ducked into the airport newsagent and bought two pens. “Before a show, I like to buy a pen,” he explained, “as a symbol of good luck and good faith.” His private ritual was a revelation, as I thought back over my childhood attending his openings, watching him take a seat in the gallery, trying to stay relaxed in the way that worked for him: through the intimacy of talking one-on-one with thoughtful people, finding the laughter in the experience, inquiring about others’ creative lives or travels, making friends. At times, he could be found in a corner in an act of personal connection, signing and dedicating one of his books — with his new pen.

“An artist needn’t be a clergyman or a churchwarden, but he certainly must have a warm heart for his fellow men.” (Vincent van Gogh)


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

“What am I in most people’s eyes? A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man… I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody. (Vincent van Gogh)




  1. Nic Battigelli on

    Thanks this came at a good time as I’m currently thinking of having a book launch with my paintings. Be yourself has always been my motto, also what you see is what you get. I think knowing the author or a creative person, gives one a deeper insight into the “collective soul” of others. I think I’d be there to answer questions and give input where necessary. Pricing a piece is also something I’m struggling with, if there is a future edition on this topic I would be interested.

  2. Thank you for this Sara, I was at an opening last night for my work and I felt many of the things that you wrote about. “Be yourself.” was the best advice your Grandmother could give your talented father. To visit and paint in a place where the eccentric, nobody, Vincent Van Gogh lived, painted, and had a shop, is just what I and the artists who join me will do next August when the lavender is in bloom. Bronze footsteps have been placed in the pavement in the exact locations where Van Gogh stood and painted many of his paintings in the city of Arles, France. Most of the same buildings in his paintings are still there. I love this quote to his brother Theo: “The sky is frightfully difficult but it is just why I want to conquer it. Its terrific these houses, yellow in the sun, and the freshness of the blue. And everywhere the ground is yellow too.”

  3. Yes thank you..i also have an exhibition next i am glad to read this..i have a question…do i need a book…for the clients to.write something about my paintings?
    Pleas let me know…thank you very much..
    Corinne Boyé

  4. If one is showing work one needs to claim it and be present. Do do otherwise is just rude and perpetuates the false notion that artists are in ivory towers. It’s business and requires class. Shake hands and keep your responses simple. It’ll go a long way to support your working life. LAS

    • I just peeked at your website, and your work reflects your comments; beautiful and classy; thanks Linda! :) I completely agree with you. I do not have my current works on my web page; have been adding those to facebook, but, eventually I will once again. Enjoying my process.

  5. In my experience, it is very rare that ““The more you know the artist, the less you like the art.” Quite the opposite, unless the artist is truly antisocial. It is perfectly fine for an artist to be introverted, and “be themselves” at an opening where they have an agent acting for them. But perhaps the best thing to do, as with all relationships, is to work with your agent before the event to understand what their expectations/hopes are with regards to your engagement – because an opening is an engagement with potential clients. They will likely be very helpful and if you are honest about yourself you will work better as a teammate with them to promote your work and your art practices. Don’t be afraid that you will lose some of your mystique with your dealer by asking for their input. And don’t be afraid to say which situations will be comfortable and which will not. If they don’t know these things they can’t help to make the event more successful.

    • Rick Rogers is right on. I’ve been in both shoes, gallery owner AND artist, not usually simultaneously. It’s okay to be introverted, I certainly am, but at a special show of your work, you help the gallery sell your paintings when you’re nice to people, even if you don’t feel like it. It isn’t going to kill you to smile and nod, even when you feel like climbing the nearest tree. You’ll have a certain amount of leeway as “the artist,” but in the end, you’re helping the gallery sell your work.

  6. Thank you! I believe our goal may be to be the best versions of ourselves, as each time we venture out beyond our comfort zones, we learn from that experience. Enjoy the process, friends .

    Thank you for this newsletter; it is like being with kind, sensitive, like minded friends, without having to be away from the studio for very long. Peace. :)

  7. Thank you. This is gerat advice and also full of useful comments by others. I am intrigued by the idea of a book of one’s works, that can contain many more pieces than an exhibit.
    I might just go that route.

    • Yes it works really well. My husband encouraged me to make a large square booklet of the series of my paintings, and I’ve sold more works from this than I have at the exhibit. I included a description of each of the paintings and their size, plus a short Bio. It didn’t cost much to print and I sell it at the exhibit at cost. I also have it available at subsequent exhibits, and the same thing happens.

  8. Wow Sara. I am really relating to and enjoying your posts. As an artist who makes work,
    teaches, critiques, judges shows, and all of the other things us self employed artists do, I appreciate your comments. They are realistic, inspiring and spot on. Thanks so much.

  9. My first ever show was shared with two other artists. The gallery owner had the policy of never letting his artists anywhere near the clients, bizarrely we were not invited to the private veiw. My lasting memory of the show Ihad worked so hard for was of standing in the rain, on the pavement in the dark, gazing through the window of the gallery clutching a chinese takeaway that was getting damper by the second, watching the guests eat canapés whilst inspecting my work. I have another gallery now.

  10. I liked this very much! As a quiet person, even for an Englishman, if I ever had the chance to host an exhibit, it would be something that my wife would really love to help with. Then you will have your greatest supporter, as well as the gallery owner on your side.
    On a separate note, I liked the story of your dad buying a new pen. It reminded me of a book signing in London, where the author inscribed a book “To Alma Chizzit.” The person looked at it, shook her head, and said (in broadest Cockney) “na, I said ‘ow much is it?”

  11. Several of the galleries I show with supply name tags for the artist. If they don’t I supply my own. I’m much more comfortable with a name tag on especially if it is a show of two or more artists.. If someone seems interested in my work I walk up and say “I’m the artist. Would you like to know about that piece?” Or something similar. Some people will say no thanks but most of the time this will generate a conversation about your work.

  12. As I witnessed this past Friday evening at an artists’s open house and studio sale I saw first hand what a tremendous undertaking this was. Wine and an assortment of food were served to the guests…all lovely done. The art hanging on the walls was all priced and there were paintings that were also not framed for sale in various locations in the lower portion of the home. The artist was so successful with the number of attendees, however, she had so little time with each one to engage in any sort of conversation, except to welcome her guests. The point is that she was very gracious and welcoming in a natural way. So the idea of being yourself is the best advice.

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