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Show And Tell: Studio Dos And Don'ts

Knowing how to handle a gallerist, curator, or collector’s visit to your studio will give you the confidence you need to move forward as a professional artist.

After working for months on a new body of paintings, your phone rings. It's the owner of your favorite gallery. She wants to see the work. She'll be stopping by your studio in the morning. Trying not to panic, you look around the loft where you paint (which is a bit of a disaster) and wonder how to move forward. Do you show her everything? How much do you talk? Does she need a resume?

If you're like most artists, studio visits by gallerists, curators, or collectors can be intimidating. In art school, critiques are made in a safe environment. Professors and fellow artists give their input, but rarely are professional opportunities on the line. Knowing how to handle what is known as "the studio visit" will give you the confidence you need to move forward with a career as a visual artist.

Below are some Studio Visit Do's and Don'ts to make that first studio visit a little easier.

Do show hospitality.

Greet guests with the same level of professionalism someone might in any other field. Having a place for visitors to sit, offering a glass of water, and taking coats are musts for making a good first impression. Gallerists and curators expect that studios may be messy (as seen in Photo 1) or in a spare room of your home, but making them as comfortable as possible when they arrive will get you off to a good start.

Do organize your work.  

If at all possible, organize your work ahead of time into coherent bodies, organized chronologically or thematically. For example, if you went from making bright abstract drawings to large black paintings, keep them separate so that guests can see the progression of your practice. 

Don't show everything.

In a studio visit with an arts professional, you want to show your best work. It is okay to turn paintings around and to place sculptures in a corner that you still aren't sure about. You don't have to show everything. At the same time, you may choose to show one or two works-in-progress (as seen in Photo 2), as this is often helpful for explaining your artistic process.

Don't over-explain everything (at first).

One of the biggest mistakes young artists make when sharing their work is explaining everything to death before viewers have a chance to take it all in. Don't overwhelm guests with critical analysis, a long list of artistic influences, and why you think you're great (before they ask). Providing a brief introduction to a group of works by explaining their material composition or basic subject matter is often enough to get things started. Sharp art professionals will inevitably have questions, and when they do, then let your thorough knowledge of your work shine!  

Do mind the time.

Studio visits can vary in length from fifteen minutes to an hour or more. Discerning ahead of time how long your guest plans to spend with the work will help you to make the most of the time you have. If you've been given a target time, stick to it. Even if you're in the middle of a conversation, pause and give your visitor the opportunity to end the visit when they intended to.  

Do follow-up.

When your guest is ready to leave, having professional take-away materials (like a current resume, business card, or link to a web address) is a good idea. Be sure to get his or her card, and send a follow-up "thank you" email within two days of the visit. If you don't hear anything back, it is okay to periodically update someone on your progress every three or four months.


Photos Courtesy of Cameron Douglas