This is one in a collection of articles intended to help you, the artist, make the most of your exhibiting career. If it whets your appetite for more conversation along this line, please check out my artist mentoring offers here.
For most artists, the time spent in your studio is the best part of your day. Working with your materials, developing new ideas, practicing, learning, making something that didn’t exist before – that’s what you were put on earth to do. The act of creation is your home. Even in those times when you don’t like what you’re doing, or worse, when you can’t get into the studio to do it, you know where you belong.
For most artists, the day also comes when you start to feel it would be nice if someone other than you could see what you’re doing. All those ideas, that production, sometimes even that beauty – it’s worth putting out into the world.
But for most of us, that’s easier said than done. An active exhibition career doesn’t happen all by itself. It must be created and maintained. Most artists will need to spend time and energy approaching and re-approaching exhibition spaces throughout their working lives. That’s the part we find hard.
Looking for exhibitions is work. There are so many artists and so few places to show art. You can put all that time into sending out submissions and feel like they disappear into outer space without even the courtesy of acknowledgement. Or when they do finally come back, it’s with a big black NO stamped on them. You sometimes feel like you get rejected for reasons that don’t seem to match anything the gallery asked for or you provided.
And when your exhibition proposal does get accepted, you feel as though there are risks. If you’re exhibiting in a commercial venue, the work might not sell, or the dealer might be dishonest and cheat you and you might get nothing but criticism. If you’re exhibiting in an online space, someone might steal your images. If you’re exhibiting in a public gallery, they might ask you waive the exhibition fee you’re entitled in Canada by law to receive.
Terrible things can happen to an artist.
If this is how you feel, you aren’t alone. Many artists struggle with the need to make their work known. They don’t want to take time away from the studio. They want their work to be appreciated without having to “pitch” it. They get tired of the effort required to promote their work, and sometimes they get tired of rejection. They’re afraid of the great unknown.
So why offer your art to the world at all? Because your art is good and it deserves to be seen. Because it should be appreciated and even loved. Because you made it and you know it’s worth sharing.
Artists choose to exhibit from a variety of very good motives. The following are some of them, listed in alphabetical order, not in any order of perceived value.
Ambition: Ambition doesn’t mean envy and selfishness, or climbing to the top on others’ backs. It means you have aspirations for your artwork. It means you have hopes or dreams. It means you have a desire that your art find its place in the world. For this to happen, you need to get your art out there. Give your art a chance by looking for and following through with the right places to show it.
Communication: Art is a form of communication. Communication happens between two or more people. Yes, self-expression is also important. But expression is clearer when it’s received by someone else. If you exhibit, you can find out what your artwork looks like to other people. What do they think? Do they understand your intentions? Does the work generate new ideas you haven’t thought of? If you create the art and keep it to yourself, you will never know.
Community: The community of artists is a rich one. It’s made up of people who understand one of your most important values without you having to tell them. Exhibiting your artwork is an effective way of connecting to and being part of that community. But community also means your non-art friends, your neighbours, those who make up your daily life. Exhibiting your art gives you the chance to be really yourself in your world.
For the rest of the alphabet, check out this page.
This article was originally published as a blog post in 2015 and has been updated for 2021. If you’d like to know when new articles for your art career are published, please sign up here. I’ll always keep your email address private.