Get Off the Internet Get On the Gallery Walls

MountainSide_4164, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

I recommend showing and sharing your work on the Internet as much as possible. It’s a great way for an artist to really grow, get feedback, and develop over time. I love having small communities of close friends, especially friends I trust very much, to tell me when I’m doing something right or doing something wrong. It really helps. But, there’s more to showing work than just that.

Showing your work in front of real “live people” is a totally different experience. For starters, there is nothing quite like that feeling of sitting in a gallery, playing “mouse on the wall” and watching people react and respond to your work. It’s the best feedback you can get, really it is. Open and honest and all about the work (usually.)

Showing your work allows you to interact with the public. It allows you to meet new people, explore new ideas, and share time with other artists (usually.) These can all be valuable aids in advancing your art career.

Showing your work also help you talk about it better. Many artists, so many artists I work with simply cannot talk about their work. They don’t know what to say. They haven’t quite mastered that “elevator speech” and they can’t say anything meaningful (good or bad) about their work or the work of others. This is one of the down sides of not going to art school, I guess, because they teach you there to critique work. Sure, nobody likes somebody who is always going to criticize but, let’s face facts. If you’re going to be a working artist in this world, you had better get used to some criticism too. Not everybody is always going to love your stuff, and you’d best learn how to deal with it. Showing art in venues and interacting with people can really go a long way towards helping you build up that thick skin and really handle criticism when you get it.

Having said that, most of my interactions with people have been wonderful. Most people coming to see art are there because they enjoy it. They want to see what you have to offer! This is what you do, this is your moment to shine, so really enjoy it. The best artists are not always the ones who can slap paint better on the canvas, no, they are communicators. Part of that communication involves talking with people. So, go ahead, do that meet and greet. Spend a few hours sitting in a gallery and strike up some conversations. Learn to speak about art, practice if you have to, but do it.

Another thing that happens is that, when you show art, you become a part of the artistic community. You immediately join the family of artists living and working in your community. That sense of camaraderie is really something. There’s nothing quite like feeling a part of the “in” crowd, believe me. Many of your contacts and future opportunities grow out of networking with other artists. Nobody should create art in a vacuum, so get used to getting out more.

Before you can show your work, a lot of what you have to do is work out the logistics. If you’re a photographer, figure out how to print, matte, and frame your work. Go ahead and do it. Nobody is going to help you. Most of the artists I know do this themselves. I can’t tell you how many photographers I’ve met over there years who are “just about to get a printer so they can do some stuff with it.” If you’ve been “just about to get” a printer for three or four years now, what exactly are you waiting for?

Printing is a very large part of photography, in fact, I would go so far as to say mastering printing is almost as important as mastering camera exposure. It’s that critical to the success of my work. Sure, most of you never get to see that-you don’t get to see and share the experience of seeing a “real live” print from Carol’s hands, but I’m setup as a photographer to be a print photographer. The print is everything to me. I take great pride (and often great pains-follow me on Twitter if you want a laugh at that bit. Light magenta, I’m talking to you here) in crafting my prints. I spend hours getting them just the way I want them. This is important to me in showing my work.

If you don’t know how to print, you’re missing half the fun.

The same goes for painters. Learn to take great photos of your work, learn how to photograph your paintings so they show in the best light. Learn how to frame your work and present it in the best way. Get nice business cards, like Moo cards, featuring your work and make a lovely Blurb book of your work to show people. Learn how to present yourself, so that your work will be held in the highest regard. All of this stuff is important. I can’t tell you how many opportunities I get from “face to face” contact. From going to show, talking with people.

One of the best “exercises” I ever did was go to a gallery show (it happened to be a show that I had work in but this doesn’t have to be the case) and just going around the room, stopping each of the artists and simply asking them, “Can you please tell me something about your work?” Artists love to share, it’s inherent in what we do, so it naturally follows that we love to answer questions about process or subjects. Many artists can’t strike up a conversation like, “Hi! I’m Carol. I’m an encaustic painter and photographer and this is what I do….” but, if you ask the same artists questions? Yes, that’s when you’ll get an answer. It doesn’t have to be elaborate questions either. Just simple things like, “can you tell me something about your work?” or “can you please tell me something about this piece?”

Every piece of artwork, like the artists that made them, has a story to tell. Learn to ask and tell about that story. Share your stories. It’s part of the entire experience of what we do as artists.

I follow a few newsletters (on-line) and one of them this week has issued a challenge. The newsletter is telling people, actually challenging them, to go and get a “real live show” of their artwork by January 15th. I think that’s a great idea. If you’re not going to do it now, then when? But I’d go a step beyond that challenge. Don’t just show your work by January 15th, no, share you story. Share your story with somebody by January 15th and I bet it will make all of the difference in the world for your artwork.

So, go ahead. The gauntlet has been thrown. Are you up to the challenge? Or are you doing to diddle and dawdle about, fussing over getting some new printer that’s never going to really show up? If you’re not going to do it now, then when? It’s your artwork we’re talking about here. Do you really want to keep putting it on the back burner for so long? Or is it time, is it finally time to get out and share it some? Doesn’t it have a story too that deserves to be shared? Come on, let’s see what you got. Share your story with somebody by January 15th. Are you up for the challenge?

Until next time…


  1. Great Grandma Lin
    December 8, 2011 / 5:17 pm

    well interesting you should ask, i'm having opportunities fall into my lap-tomorrow I'll go and teach a class about my latest book: Find Your Voice: Write your Life Story. Found out that the secret to selling a self published book-teach a class about it and sell the book as the text. It works. Also am going to do a poetry reading and demo on my creativity classes. It's a busy month. Love your Icelandic landscape-especially cause it's not blurry…lol!

  2. mythopolis
    December 9, 2011 / 1:50 am

    Sorry, not into galleries. Clean a couple of your walls, hang some shit, buy some booze, and have a party.

  3. Carol
    December 9, 2011 / 2:17 pm

    Lin, congrats on your class. I usually provide students with materials for my classes free of charge. I don't feel my students should have to support my work, when I teach, to me, it's all about their work and so I try to focus on advancing their artistic vision. Often, I don't even like my students to look at my work, because then they will try to mimic what I am doing, rather than finding their own artistic voice. But, I guess every teacher is different (and I teach in the arts.)

    Mythopolis, I love to do that too. The snobs in the art world call that "salon style showing." I like your term for it better: PARTY. It's totally more fun the way you do it, of course. On the flip side though, the galleries can sell my work while I'm busy making more, so it's good for me to have stuff up a lot. Good for sales, helps pay the bills, and all but, you know, the parties are fun too.

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