How much of it is who you know? I'd say...80%. It seemed too cynical to say more and I couldn't wholeheartedly say it's less. There are an innumerable amount of artists out there that have and never will make a career out of doing what they love and what they're good at. Then there are the artists who you see over and over again in the media. You could argue that the artists of the former group don't get "out there" enough and that perhaps the latter group are much more marketable. Believe it or not, there are things that you do have control of and a big portion of that as an artist is your public persona. Be professional, punctual and follow-through on promises.
If you feel you don't know the "right people", how do you put yourself out there? Here are a few Dos:
- Go to gallery and museum openings. Get more out of it than some free wine and hors d'oeuvres. It's a free education in social behavior of collector-types if nothing else.
- Meet the artist* if you can. Ask them about their current work and if it seems appropriate, how they they secured the exhibit. *I would suggest doing research on the artist prior to going.
- Make a list of galleries with addresses that suit your work and would be a potential match. Fully qualify galleries and dealers before you send them examples of your work. See #4 below.
- If you're a painter/printmaker/whatever and you don't feel confident in your graphic design skills (be honest), hire or do a trade with a graphic designer to have them do it for you. Most importantly, carry cards on you at all times.
- If you're an introvert (there's nothing wrong with that) rally a group of friends and family that will market the hell out of you and your work.
- Find a mentor in the field you want to pursue and stay in regular contact with them.
- Don't go to interviews dressed inappropriately. For instance, a skintight see-through white waffle t-shirt is not appropriate to work in a gallery much less interview for a position - especially if you have a large rack. Neither is coming to an interview fifteen minutes late with a rat's nest on the back of your head - brush your hair.
- Don't show up late.
- Don't show up unannounced and solicit a show during a normal work day, gallery opening and/or any other function looking for a job or show.
- Don't send your work to galleries that will never exhibit it. Meaning, the gallery down the street that shows marine paintings is never going to represent you no matter how many times you email or send them your portfolio. This may seem like common sense but I got so many solicitations for work that I couldn't show (I dealt American Impressionism <more specifically the era 1890-1940> and market established contemporary). I felt bad for the hundreds of dollars worth of wasted mail I got over the years.
- Don't downplay or bad mouth your work. Ever.