A Gallery Director Speaks: What Artists Must Know

Robert Patrick

By Carolyn Edlund

Artsy Shark is pleased to present Part One of a three-part interview with Robert Patrick. He is currently the Director of Marketing and Wholesale (and in-house blogger ) for Linda Jones Enterprises in California, dedicated to the art of legendary film creator Chuck Jones.  Robert has a long history of curating and producing shows, tours and events, including 12 years as a very successful gallery director at the Walton Street Gallery in Chicago. Robert graciously agreed to an interview focused on what artists must know about galleries, collectors, selling, and making presentations.

AS:  Collectors need to know about artists to be inspired to collect their work. What information do you suggest artists prepare to inform prospective collectors?

RP: As a matter of course, they should prepare a short, one page biography accompanied by a C.V. (curricula vitae) that would include education, exhibitions, press articles and awards.  A current photograph of them, perhaps taken in their studio while they are at work would be an excellent addition.  If they are emerging artists, I would recommend an artist’s statement, written in concise terms about what their art means to them, their artistic influences and how they answer the question that is a blank canvas.

If and when an artist begins a relationship with a gallery, it should be an imperative for the gallery owner/director to visit the artist’s studio (if possible.)  They should take the time to understand their creative process, their technique, and their intent.  The artist should understand that collectors want a story; it can be how & where they purchased a work of art, it may include a story about the art consultant or gallery director, but most importantly they will want to tell their friends why this work of art means something to them.  And to do that, the artist must help the gallery by providing insight into what their work means to them.

An artist working without gallery representation is going to have to ‘sell’ themselves to a prospective collector.  They are going to have to listen to what the collector is telling them and take that information and show the collector how what he wants is present in their work of art.  They should consider comparing and contrasting their work with artists of note (“I’ve been influenced by Cézanne, but what I’ve done is taken his structure and freed it from its formality, making it less rigid and more fluid,” for instance.)

AS:  What is the process that an artist goes through with a gallery to establish a working relationship? How is this similar to a sale to a collector?

RP: There are three rules that I believe artists often ignore when approaching a gallery and that I would like to reiterate:

  • Carefully consider how your art will fit with the art exhibited in the gallery.  If you paint flowers in vases in a photo-realist manner, it’s more than likely that a gallery which shows only abstract or conceptual work may not be interested.  Find a gallery that carries work similar to yours.  Research the gallery’s artistic philosophy before you submit your work; the internet was made for this kind of search.
  • Never submit your art for consideration without following the gallery’s guidelines for submission which are more often than not posted on their website.  If they aren’t I recommend a phone call to the gallery and politely ask for that information.
  • Drop-in cold calls are unwelcome.

But let’s say, Gallery XYZ has called you after receiving and reviewing your portfolio and they say, “Let’s talk further.”  You make an appointment, and then what do you do?  They’ve called you for a reason: they like your art; they think it may have a place in their collection.  Hurray!  But now you have to close the sale.  The steps of selling yourself to the gallery are identical to those of a consultant selling art to a collector.

  1. Greet: I don’t want to change your personality (or for that matter your personal habits,) but I do want to suggest that you take a good look at yourself before you leave the house for this important meeting.   Present yourself as you would want your art to be presented.  Professionally.  Introduce yourself.  Shake hands.  Look the owner/director in the eye.  Smile.  Use their name immediately (that way you won’t forget later when you want to ask them to represent you.)  Sit down when offered a chair.  Be gracious.  You may be doing business with these people for a long time (fingers crossed!)
  2. Mini-presentation: This step, along with #3 Qualifying, may be interchangeable or happen at the same time.  It will include idle conversation on topics perhaps unrelated to you or your artwork.  The weather, the local sports team, a compliment from you to them about the gallery.  This is the time that you want to listen very deeply, your attention focused, laser-like, on everything they are saying (or not saying.)  Of course, before the meeting you’ve done your homework on the gallery.  Exhibition schedule, frequency of publication of exhibit catalogues, artists they represent, how long they’ve been in business.  It’s okay to ask them about their gallery; how business is these days.  This could be the time you say how happy you are to be here to present your art to them and how well you feel your work will enhance what they have been doing all these years. 
  3. Qualifying: See above.  Steps #2 & 3 are a time for you to establish your reputation, knowledge, ability, interest (as it will be for the gallery.)
  4. Major presentation: You should be prepared to speak about your work not only in the vernacular that is particular to this business, but also in a way that conveys your emotion and passion for what you do.  What does a line mean to you?  Why do you use a particular totem or fetish, what that means in relationship to the rest of the painting or works.  What motifs are recurrent and why.  This is also the time to brag about your successes: awards, exhibits, sales, and collectors of note (corporate and personal.)
  5. Answer objections: The gallery may not have any objections, but they may ask if you’re willing to paint larger, smaller, make prints, use a different color palette and you should be prepared to answer these questions truthfully, maintaining the integrity of your vision.  At the same time you will want to make sure that if by painting on a larger canvas the gallery would be ready to take you on, that you don’t forego the opportunity.  You might say something like, “I’ve never worked in that size before, tell me why you feel it would make sense for me to do so,” and listen to the answer. 
  6. Trial Close: Trial closing is an important part of any sale; it is usually a statement or a question that implies ownership.  “Tell me why you like my work.”  “How do you see my work fitting in with your other artists?”  “When could I expect a solo exhibition?”  A trial close can happen at any time during your ‘sale’, I always liked to think that my “Hello, welcome to our gallery,” was a trial close. 
  7. Close: Of course, it may not be necessary to ask them to represent you; after all, they called you.  But, at some point, after all of the above has happened (or not) you might just ask them what their plans are regarding you and your art. 

One caveat about submitting your art for consideration:  It may take the gallery two months before they even have a chance to look at your work (the submission guidelines may give you a clue regarding receiving a response.)  But I think if you have not heard back from them within 4 weeks, it would be perfectly acceptable to call and ask for your status.  Be polite, not petulant (I know you know that, but it’s important to remember that a good, positive attitude will reward you.)

Robert Patrick has agreed to speak individually with Artsy Shark readers who are seeking consultation about pursuing gallery connections and building their art careers.  For a free initial conversation with Robert, contact him at [email protected]

Comments

  1. I enjoyed the first part of Robert Patrick’s interview and am looking forward to Parts 2 and 3. I alsways find it interesting to hear from the gallery director’s perspective and it is good to have these reminders on just how to approach galleries.

    • Thanks, Jean. Part 2 will address the daily job of a gallery director, and Part 3 is about selling art – similar to selling an intangible.

  2. Thanks for your article! This was more informative than most articles I have read on this subject. A question I have beyond this is: how do you determine not just whether you are appropriate for a gallery, but whether the gallery is appropriate for you? How will it work out economically for you, the artist, as well?

    • Hi Tom,
      Great question and one I think is pretty easy to answer, at least hypothetically. If the gallery is local, you’ll have already been to its shows/events, so you’d have at least an idea of what they’re about and whether or not they’re appropriate for you. If your first interview is going well and the gallery looks like they’re going to ask you to be a part of their collection, it would be acceptable to ask about percentages, payments & credits. Don’t be too shy to ask, it is a business after all. If what they’re offering is acceptable, get it in writing, signed by both you and the owner.

  3. Robert Patrick makes great points not usually presented in articles on this topic.
    I will email him regarding a free conversation–thanks for offering this to your readers.

  4. exellent article, thank you
    M.Giollo

  5. Some painters, when invited for an interview, can manage the smile and the handshake but then go into meltdown, unable to promote themselves through shyness or lack of self esteem. If the art is good, should this deter galleries from representing them or is the marketing of the individual more important ? I look forward to Robert’s point of view.

  6. Hi Carolyn,
    You raise a valid point: not all artists are extroverts (nor should they be just for the sake of marketing themselves.) Yes, the art should be the deciding factor (at least one would hope,) but personality will play into it as well. I’d like to stress that if a gallery decides to represent an artist, they are going to find a way to market the art and as a consequence, the artist. Shy or bold, it doesn’t matter, each has its own benefits & a savvy gallerist is going to know how to handle the artist’s personality & how it will fit into the greater story of the art they represent.

  7. Your article was very eye-opening, in more ways than one.
    I happen to be an extrovert (a former script supervisor in the Hollywood film biz can’t be anything else!), and would have no problem walking into any situation and introducing myself.
    My problem is a lack, an almost total lack, of Galleries in my area. I live in a small, rural village, and while tourism is the major industry, the Art Galleries are all owned by the artist or group of artists. No outsiders welcome.
    Due to an illness, for which I have to take powerful pain medication, I have not driven in 10 years, so even the few Galleries in small City 35 miles away might as well be on Mars.
    What do you suggest for the artists who, like me, can’t make the appointments and make the rounds?
    I have my website, I have a presence on several Art related web blogs along with some images and two of my images hanging in a 4-star Hotel.
    HELP!
    I’ll follow any good advice I possibly can.

    ta!
    Sandy

  8. Hi Sandy,
    Geography and life do sometimes get in the way of marketing yourself as most other artists might. You don’t say if you have a dedicated studio space. If you do, you might consider opening it up to the tourist trade coming through your small, unique town. Tourists love to see a ‘working’ artist hard at work & it would give you additional exposure. If you do something like that, be sure to sign them up for your weekly newsletter or updated blog posts or other social media outreach program you can establish from the comfort of your home. Do you have a Facebook fanpage? You could promote yourself that way. I’d be curious to know why you feel the artist co-op and other art galleries in your small town are giving you the cold shoulder.

  9. Robert:
    Thank you for your suggestions. I’ll give the “open studio” idea some deep and careful thought, as I do have a dedicated studio space in my home.
    As to the galleries in the village giving me the cold shoulder, I have inquired (I am *not* a shrinking violet), and the owner/operated galleries have said, all, that that they are are only interested in carrying their own work. The co-op gallery was actually nasty, at least the woman I spoke with was, and said that the artists had been in the co-op for many years, had a known track record as well as a financial interest in the gallery, and they weren’t looking to add any one to the roster in the foreseeable future.
    I can honestly understand that logic. However, what makes it amusing is that my framer has his shop in the gallery, so I am occasionally on the premises with large giclée prints to be encased in the float-frames I designed.
    Every time I come in, all the staff makes a point to visit the frame shop to see my latest creation.
    I am biding my time, waiting for the manager to finally come to me.
    The gallery deals oils and acrylics, fantasy and dreamscapes. Some glassworks images of fantastic subjects, beautiful and funny.
    There are no other photographers in the gallery, and my photography is far from photo-realistic. It is photoabstract. It would fit.
    You can see some samples at:
    http://www.seguebythesea.com
    The other curious thing is the local Art Guild. It is made up almost exclusively of elderly “Sunday Painters” for whom photography is not considered an art form. I wonder if they have any influence over the galleries?

  10. Sandy, I’ve been thinking about the ‘wall of resistance’ you face in your local area for the last couple of days and would like to offer a couple of suggestions. Because you feel the ‘them’ are not open to photography as an art form, I’d recommend starting a Saturday morning photography class aimed at high school kids. You could limit it to however many kids at a time you think you’d be comfortable with (say, 10, for instance.) You’d want to make sure your local paper ran an article on what you’re doing so the word will get out among the ‘them’. You could be quoted as saying, “Photography is so often misunderstood as a fine art means of expression, I felt it was a way for me to share my knowledge and abilities with these young people so that they develop a deeper appreciation for the medium.” Are you seeing what I’m getting at? You could even be so bold as to offer the same classes (free or for a nominal fee) at the frame shop, this time for adults. I think in time, the ‘them’ will open up to your positive, giving nature and your fine art photography, because they see you doing good in the community.

  11. Robert!
    Remember the old saying, “Great minds think alike”?
    Well, the adage may not be true, but in this case, it comes awfully close.
    My printmaker, Will Espada, of Espada Fine Arts Printing, and I have been kicking that idea around. He and I would do it as a team, and use his studio as the classroom.
    At the end of every group of classes, each student would receive a print made from their best photo.
    So, yes, I have given this idea a lot of thought, and it looks as if it will see daylight in the New Year.
    Thank you so much for seconding this idea, without even knowing it, it means it makes it that much more sense than even we were giving it!

  12. Brilliant!! Let me know how it works out for you.

  13. Or, let’s say that I would like to know if the general public thinks of my art as such… I’ve shown close friends, and haven’t gotten anything other than good remarks. But, I am almost wanting to see if there’s more out there. Not for me, but for my art. They are almost like kids to me. It’s a weird situation. But, anywho… just thought I’d ask for input on this subject.

    Many thanks,
    Michael

  14. As a twenty year fine art teacher at Fletcher Farm for Arts & Crafts in Ludlow, VT
    I was very impressed with your practical and down to earth approach to artists and how to deal with the problem of creating a sale atmosphere for their art.
    I have had conflicting experiences first on Ebay with a pen & ink drawings of animals. I sold 286 of them and had 100% positive feedback, Then I realized that the expense of backboard. acetate. cards. prints, and cost of prints not sold each time I put up 30 or so, would all but eliminate my profit. Raising the price made
    it worse. I am now on fineartamerica with my fine art collection with their handling prints. shipping etc. They show some 3,000, people that looked and not one sale to date. I know that there are many artist on it but not one sale? Help!

    • Robert Patrick says:

      Hi Donald,
      I know nothing about FineArtAmerica, but I imagine they have no financial equity in your art and consequently, no deep need to see a return on their “investment.” Great for exposure, lousy for sales. This might be a good time for you to rethink your entire marketing strategy.

      Here are some questions you might ask yourself: Have you contacted all of your past Ebay buyers alerting them to the fact you are now on FineArtAmerica? How can you drive buyers to your art on FineArtAmerica? Is the local press ready to do an article on your work/your teaching/your life where you would be able to mention your representation on FineArtAmerica? Do you use social media to market yourself with a Facebook fan page, Twitter Account, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr? You can use all of those outlets to drive business to FineArtAmerica.

      However, you may want to ask yourself some other questions: Would you rather invest your energies in selling hundreds of inexpensive prints of your work or concentrate your efforts on selling your more expensive original work? Is there a gallery (or galleries) in your market area that would be interested in representing you? Have you considered exhibiting at summer art fairs?

      Good luck!

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