5 Steps to get into an Art Show or Gallery


This piece was recently accepted in to a show at LITM in Jersey City.  The show is called Child’s Play and runs from July 2nd through August 5th, 2013.  The opening is on July 2nd, and if you are local, I hope that you will stop by to say hello!  The process for entering this piece was incredibly straight forward, and it got me thinking that perhaps I should write a little post for any of you who may be interested in showing your work.  A little disclaimer – I have, in no way, “broken in” to any art scenes, but I do feel that these basic tips can help if you are hoping to get your work displayed or featured in a venue or gallery.

Before I begin, however, I need to lay a little ground work.  Consider this a pep talk before you really get into the nitty gritty. Ready?

Get over yourself.

Listen.  No, really.  LISTEN. Stop what you are doing and listen to what I am about to tell you.  We ALL have hangups over our work.  We all feel as if this or that aspect of our work could be better.  We all spend time comparing our work to the work of others.  We all have moments when the doubt comes creeping in and we wonder if we are “good enough.”  I am a firm believer that a little bit of insecurity is a good thing. I believe that a little bit of doubt can be used to our advantage, and can drive us towards doing bigger and better things.  I am the Captain on team Wow-That-is-Amazing-I-Wish-That-I-Could-Create-Art-Like-That. I even fall into the trap of letting it pull me down into a resting state where I do very little creating.  I know, however, that I need to switch gears, get the creative juices flowing, recognize my weaknesses, accentuate my strengths, and move forward. Stop comparing yourself to others and throw away the, “I’m not good enough” mentality.  Instead, create a file of art that you admire, figure out what it is that you like about it, and get to work. I’m not saying copy the work that you like and try to pass it off as your own. I’m saying recognize the qualities in the work that appeal to you, and try to recognize th qualities in your own work.

5 Ways to get into a Gallery or Art Show

1) Network.  You have to find the shows, galleries, and venues before you can submit your work, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to network.  I understand that not everyone is in a position to physically go out and connect on a regular basis.  Take me, for example.  The majority of my time is taken up by caring for my sweet girls.  I have managed to netwok online, as well as by reconnecting with old friends who are still creating.  By doing so, I’ve been able to find local galleries who have open submissions for group shows, I’ve been approached to have my work displayed in shows on the other side of the country, and have been notified of online publications and contests. Remember, however, that when you network, you have to give back a bit of what you receive.  Make sure you either reciprocate or pay forward any information or leads that you have been given in order to maintain and grow your relationships.  Just because you are online doesn’t mean you that you can “eat and run” so to speak.  You need to make sure that you keep things in balance by contributing back to the community that you are joining. 

2) Know your Audience, the venue, the theme. So you’ve found a show? GREAT! Now you need to decide what to submit, and the best way to do this is to understand what the show is about, and the sort of crowd they are appealing to.  One sure fire way to get your piece denied is to submit something completely irrelevant.  For example, if the show has a specific theme, like hot dogs, do not submit a piece about birdhouses.  Specific themes are pretty easy to understand, and usually you have a little freedom to interpret the theme, just be careful.  If the gallery literally wants 30 images of hotdogs, they are not going to accept your carnival concessions piece.

If the theme is a little more abstract, then you may need to put in a little more consideration into what piece to choose.  The following may be helpful in helping you decide what to submit.

  • Dimensions: Is the venue a large or small venue?  About what size is the show?  If the show is about memories, and the gallery is small space, then you should probably consider submitting a smaller scale piece.
  • Price:  What is the demographic in the area that the gallery is located, and how well known is the gallery?  If the gallery is in a firehouse in a small town where only working class locals will be attending, then you need to price accordingly.  If the gallery is in Brooklyn, has openings that run into the wee hours of the morning, and appeals to art collectors then you should take this into consideration as well.
  • Perception of beauty and art:  This is the hardest part of choosing.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.  At the same time, the curator of the show has a specific feel and mood in mind based on the audience, and by attempting to tune in to these specific ideas, you will have a higher chance of being accepted.  For example, if the show is a local and being sponsored by a local nursery as a fundraiser to beautify a community space, you may want to consider submitting a piece that is more straightforward and appealing to a larger crowd.  If the show is in a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that serves quinoa instead of steak cut fries, than you may be safe in submitting something that is a bit more open to interpretation.

3) Organize Your Body of Work and find a place to share it.  Let’s start with organizing.  Remember when we talked about knowing your audience?  When it comes to submission time, if you are going to use a piece that you have already created, then it is going to be way easier for you if you have photographs of all of your work already taken, and you have it organized on your computer.  For example, organizing by date is a pretty straight forward way of organizing your work.  If you are applying to a show that has date restrictions (ie work that has been created in the past 6 months), all it will take is a simple click of the mouse to see which of your pieces fall into this category.  Also, consider subcategories in conjunction with, or in addition to, organizing by date.  Categories can be based on theme, location, mood.  If the curator loves the piece you submit and wants to see more, it will take just one more little click to pull up all of your pieces that have to do with brown rice, or fog, excitement, or row boats.

Also, consider finding a place online to share your work.  If you submit and are being considered for a show, there is a chance that you are going to get googled.  By having a Facebook page with organized albums of your pieces, or a flickr stream with sets and albums, you are giving the person you are submitting to an opportunity to familiarize themselves with you.  This could very well deepen their interest.  With all of the (free) ways to network these days, there really is no reason why you can’t share comprehensive body of work.

4) Stay Current. I am not saying that you need to be a trendsetter, but you do need to have a current body of work, or at least be updating your portfolio on a regular basis.  I know how much you love your final portfolio from your senior year at RIT.  I know how special that series with the masks and feathers is to you.  I know how much time you spent setting up that page on your site with all the mirror work, and how difficult it was to photograph.  But be certain.  Galleries and venues are businesses and the even though they really do want to promote the work of artists, they also want to stay in business.  This means that if you are interested in having your work displayed or represented, you really need to have a presence and a way for people to find what you are doing now.  For goodness sake, do not take down the album on Facebook showcasing your photo work of the root systems of root vegetables, but be sure to update it from time to time.  People want someone to follow, and the best way to do that is to include them in on what you are currently doing.

5) Read the Fine Print.  And then read it again.  Read it one more time, and then submit, enter, apply.  Once you are sure that you are able to meet all of the criteria set out by the venue (hanging guidelines, dimensions, how current the work is, drop off and pick up times, etc), then make sure that your piece really fits into the theme of the show.  There is usually a blurb explaining what they are looking for in group shows.  If you are looking to have a solo show, but sure that the work you are submitting is coherent, relevant, and feels as if it belongs together.  Before you start the application process, make sure that you have everything together.  Know where your files are on the computer, and make sure that the file names are clear.  Img090293208 may not be the best file name.  Fahrenbach1 may be a bit easier to identify.  If there are fees, be prepared to pay them.  If there is an application that needs to be sent in with the files, fill it out clearly.  If they are expecting your .jpgs to be certain dimensions and sizes, then thats what you need to send them.  Some shows are so big, and receive so many applicants, if the staff, volunteers, judges, whomever, needs to take the time to figure out what the heck you have sent in, or they have to hunt you down to finish your application, then you may just get tossed aside before they even open your files.  Dot your i’s, cross your t’s, and make sure your .jpgs are sized for web viewing.


One final tip before I go.  If you are excepted into the show, try to make it to the opening, and while you are there, do your best to socialize and reach out.  Try to be approachable, and reachable.  Follow up with your contact after the opening and thank them for a great night.  Touch base with them during the show.  Stop back in to say hello, and bring a friend.  When the show is over, thank them again.  Stay in touch!

I hope that you find these tips helpful.  Have any tips or experiences on shows to share? I would love to hear them.  Just leave a comment hear, and I will quote and link back any suggestions in my follow up post.

  • Aeleen

    Love your photo! I especially can use the advise on getting over myself. I very critical of my photos and I need to remember I’m a novice and move on from there. I’m not as good as most photos out there, but I can be….

    Good luck in the show. It represents so many good things in life. Not everyone has fireflies. I’m so glad you do!

  • Matt

    Great tips!!