Robin Timms of North Vancouver writes, “I am hoping you might provide some words of wisdom as to how to make my approach to obtain some critical input from galleries. I am thinking of sending out this letter… and would welcome any advice.”
Robin’s “gallery letter” opens with a detailed artist statement followed by a request: “As an emerging artist, a practical next step in my painting journey is to seek realistic, honest and knowledgeable advice from those experienced in putting gallery shows together — to understand whether my work is gallery-worthy, or whether it even ‘holds’ together as a series.”
In other words, Robin is looking for feedback — straight from the dealer’s mouth. She explains that rather than send images, she’d like to take her work to the gallery, as her paintings use glazes and are difficult to capture in photos. She offers to be available any time that’s suitable, lays out how many paintings she can bring, their sizes, and confirms that the work is recent. In her letter, Robin includes no link to images.
Thank you, Robin. Here are a few ideas on how you might refine your approach, with an order of operations for others who may be wondering about their own:
First, research suitable galleries, get to know which ones are open to artist submissions and visit them in person, if possible. This allows you to appreciate how the gallery does business, get to know the personalities involved and introduce yourself. A dealer of mine who was bombarded with artist submissions warmly called it, “becoming a friend of the gallery.”
From here, make a short list of dream dealers. Galleries, afterall, are really dealers, and dealers are people.
When drafting your letter, keep your message simple. Introduce yourself briefly, including where you’re based. Avoid referencing other artists when describing yourself and your work.
Follow this with why you’ve chosen the gallery. Be specific and succinct.
Now, compose a simple statement of intention, something like this: “I’m seeking professional feedback, to understand if my work is gallery-ready.” If you’re looking for representation or something else, be clear about it.
Finally, the most important part: Your letter is a request for the gallery to look at your work, and most galleries have their preferred method. Ask them what theirs is and do offer a link to view images — your website, a Dropbox folder or even Instagram is an immediate answer to the question of what you do. Whatever your link, it should lead directly to a curated, cohesive set of current work with titles, dates, sizes and medium. Your images need to be sharp, cropped and colour accurate. Some dealers also appreciate seeing works in situ — installation photos that show the work to scale or reveal light-raking effects on impasto — these can also help with hard-to-read work. Offer your CV and artist statement in a nearby spot. Here’s the zinger: If you have to apologize for your images, they’re not fit to share. Keep at them until they’re a pride and joy. This is modern portfolio building. Professionals understand that images of your work are not your actual work, but that images perform an important function. If all is in place, the dealer may just ask, “Can I see them in person?”
PS: “We are looking for visual info, not written — at least initially. The most useful critique is gained from a wholly uncontaminated first impression. First impressions matter. A lot. Let your work speak for itself, with the fewest possible preliminary remarks.” (Dennie Segnitz, White Rock Gallery, White Rock, BC, Canada)
Esoterica: Gallerists are engaged in the full-time business of developing, promoting and selling the work of artists they already represent. While the great ones are always on the hunt to nurture new talent, it’s unreasonable to expect them to portion time to meet with you without first seeing a few choice jpegs. Gallerist Dennie Segnitz writes, “Respect the gallery’s time. Do not appear out of the blue — arrange an appointment. If you receive a meeting, come fully prepared. Do not subject the gallery owner to tedious unwrapping, endless leafing through your binder or portfolio, etc. Again do not initiate long explanations about the inspiration or technical process underlying a painting. If the owner wants to know, he or she will ask.” When it comes to a crit, Segnitz reminds artists that a gallerist’s feedback will come from his or her own knowledge, experience and philosophy. How to know what those are? Check their walls. “Please do not be hurt or offended if the gallery does not reply or is late in its reply,” she writes. “For a gallery owner, it’s all about allocating his or her time, almost all of which needs to go into meeting the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, direct demands of the business.”
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“A good sketch is better than a long speech” (Napoleon Boneparte)