Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Where to show your paintings?

"Sweet Escape", Polymer on Canvas, 50x50 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2008

“I don’t paint pictures in hopes that people will understand them. They understand them, or not, according to their own capacity.”

--Pablo Picasso

Okay, so I decided to submit a couple of my recent large paintings to a regional juried exhibit up in Fredrick, Maryland. They wanted artists to submit the actual paintings, so it was a bit of a chore framing and then carrying three very large paintings (the largest was 50x60 inches) 30 miles to the venue. Now the good/bad news, I found out that they accepted one of the paintings (the one in my last post, “These five words…”)--but rejected the others, "Sweet Escape" (above), as well as "Dead Heroes", the painting I put up two posts back. You are probably thinking, hey, you should be happy. You got a painting into a juried show, right? Well, it gets better.

So I go up on Saturday to pick up the rejected paintings and haul them back to the studio--and when I get to the venue I find out that my artwork has been scattered around. One of the paintings is in a closet—with another painting leaning against it—which put a dent into the canvas. The other one is in an office, leaning against the wall behind a pile of other rejections. But, that wasn't the strangest part of it. The woman handing back the work had the "jury sheet" sitting there and was pleased to show me that the painting accepted into the show had a notation next to it...are you ready....it said, "Maybe, if we have room". There you go--critical acclaim if I have ever heard it! I weakly made the point of saying, well, my paintings are rather large--so I understand if there was limited room (hoping for a bit more a positive response), to which the woman replied, "Oh, we have paintings in the show bigger than yours." Thud. I tired again on the way out, “So have you given out awards yet.” You can guess the response—“Oh, yes, they are all given out.” So, I am in the show, but barely--and definitely not the rapturous experience one hopes for.

Okay, so what is an artist to do in when faced with such a situation? The short answer is brush it off. Get back in the studio as soon as possible and get painting again. I have seen artists send work to many galleries over the years, and most do not even get a polite rejection letter. Getting a form letter can be an achievement. With a juried exhibit, politeness is probably the best you can hope for. Even if you get your work into a group show or a gallery, you can expect that your work will be treated for what it is from a gallery perspective...a commodity—and I have heard of many cases where galleries have damaged work due to haphazard handling. Other artists are your worst enemy, as they tend to treat other artist's work with little regard (if they are not looking). I am serious. If you don't believe me, watch what happens when artists bring their work to a critique or for submission to a juried show--if no one is looking, other artist will not hesitate to move your work or treat it in a very haphazard way. I have seen it. To a gallery, you are just one in a long line of eager artist to get their work shown, so don't be surprised if a gallery generally acts like you're work is replaceable. At least until it sells for $50 grand or so--they tend to get more careful at that point.

I think my recent experience also shows some important points to take into account when you think about where and how to send your work out. First and foremost, it is important to find a gallery or event that is interested in work and represents similar artists and/or types of work. I wrote about this early in my blog. But it is worth repeating. If you are painting "cowboys and indians", don’t send your work to a New York gallery—you won’t garner much interest. However, the good news is that they may be very excited in Tuscon. In the end, you need to decide before sending out work if it is likely to appeal to a certain gallery or jurist. In my case, I think it was the fact that my paintings were so different from all the other painterly and more formal painting that was submitted to the show, that it simply did not fit with the show or what was running through the jurist's mind. You want a show that hangs well together--not necessarily to show every type or style submitted--even I can understand that.

Anyway, I thought I would share this experience, so you will be prepared. I know some of you are thinking about trying to break into galleries and submit your work to a show. If you are interested in reading more about how to better showcase your work and build your career as a visual artist, I will again recommend Cay Lang’s book, “Taking the Leap”. I have mentioned it several times in my blog, but it is a great book. I went back to reading it again after my recent experience, and I could quickly see some of the mistake I made in submitting work to the regional exhibit. First of all, as I previously mentioned, these types of modern, hard edge, “color space” paintings don’t really fit the style of the venue or the other art being shown there. So a tepid reception was probably inevitable. Second, I don’t think they together really represent a cohesive artistic statement yet—since they are still evolving in terms of style and technique. This is not to say they are bad paintings, they are perhaps not quite ready for full public exposure or it was not the right venue. Anyway, live and learn.

I hope you got something out of my experience that will help you build your career as an artist.

All the best, sixtyminutearist.