Yesterday, Jennifer Foster wrote, “I was recently at an arts professionalism seminar where one of the presenters was a gallery owner. I asked him about submitting work to galleries in more than one medium. He surprised me by saying that anyone who did this simply showed that they didn’t know who they were as an artist. I always thought that diversity and ability in many media were strengths — just as cross-training is for an athlete. When submitting to a gallery or a jury, do artists do themselves a disservice by showing work in more than one medium?” Thanks, Jennifer. Artists need to realize that dealers are often coming from a different place than artists.
While you and I know that cross-training and diversity are desirable, even necessary for creative growth, a dealer looks at an artist’s work with other things in mind. Product consistency is one of them. Dealers are, after all, entrepreneurs. In this role, most dealers like to slot each of their artists into specific media and genre. Many of them think they know what their customers want, and don’t wish to muddy the waters. It’s sad to say, but many excellent dealers are not too interested in your range of capabilities. My advice is to submit consistent, one-medium work at first. You can go about showing your breadth and depth later. Here are a few ideas for the multi-media and multi-talented artist:
— Keep working and developing independently, no matter what.
— Deliver work in different media to different galleries.
— Deliver work of different subjects to different galleries.
— “Leak” your multi-media activities by blog or word-of-mouth.
— Give dealers exclusivity in specific geographical locations.
— While it’s good to make consistent and regular deliveries, don’t worry if you miss a stroke or two.
The nature of our game is to be distracted by our muse, and while this may not always be good for the wallet, if the dealer has character, he’ll respect your wanderings. Finding copacetic dealers is a fact of life in visual arts. You need to vacuum out the scissorbills and the not-so-swifts. After the cleanup, you’ll find the rest to be gentle enthusiasts, strong advocates, and good friends.
PS: “The person who reps you is golden.” (Nick Farbacher)
“Galleries are displaying a product. They’re not museums.” (Nohra Haime)
Esoterica: Juried shows present a refreshing facet to the acceptance game — generally no commercial instincts are in play. As a juror I’ve often noticed an artist’s change in media opens a door to new brilliance. Opportunities sometimes follow. Even switching from oils to pastels may bring out a capability that was stultified in the previous medium. In today’s world of electronic arts, fractals and Watson-inspired machine-art, it’s all so very hard to resist. For an artist, exploration is oxygen.
This letter was originally published as “Problems of the multi-media artist” on March 1, 2011.
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“Business sure screwed up the art world universally.” (Robert Rauschenberg)
My aim as a painter is to bring to life a slice of the world as I experience it. Light, color and form are my vocabulary.