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How to Start Showing Your Art

by J R Compton & the readers of DallasArtsRevue

pot by Marty Ray

Marty Ray - Boogie-Woogie, 2003 - White Stoneware,
black and colored slips, 12 x 10 x 10 inches

ON THIS PAGE: Open Shows   Membership Shows   Public Galleries   Studio Spaces   Oportunities
Donate your work   Organize Your Own Show   Get On An Art Tour   Art Clubs
What to do at the opening   Membership Galleries   Feedback

People keep asking me how to get their work shown or sold. It's a common question, and this page provides many answers and directions. Some that I know, others from DallasArtsRevue readers.

DallasArtsRevue tracks Dallas galleries, with contact information, who to talk to, location, open times, etc. on our Gallery Information Page with other art spaces and other kinds of information linked on our Resources Index.

As always, however, artists still have to do their own due diligence. DallasArtsRevue and others provide the information. What you do with it is up to you. We can't and won't do it for you.


  the author's resume,   list of exhibitions   and   exhibitions produced

My Best Advice:
Show your work whenever you can.

The venue matters, but not much. A beginning is a beginning. The idea is to get you started doing this important part of being an artist.

The longer you've been doing it, the pickier you can get — about where you show— whose walls and with which artists. In the beginning most of that doesn't matter. Your goal is to get your work seen by as many people as possible.

 

Remember

The primary purpose
of showing your work
is showing your work.

Selling it might come later.

 

Starting showing means you'll get chances to learn more about the process of presenting your work. Not starting means not learning and not progressing. If by chance you sell some work, okay, but keep showing it anyway.

Then make some new art and show that. Don't keep showing the same old stuff. Keep making more. (If you can't make any more. Forget this artist thing.) Show the work that makes everybody else happy, of course. But show the stuff that makes you happy, too.

Especially show the work that scares you silly. That's when you're getting at your unique vision. Your craft. Your reason for making — and showing — art.

The reason we are artists is to share our visions. Everybody's vision is different. If nobody sees them, our visions go unshared. Nobody learns from us and our work. We contribute not.

Later, when (if) you sign up with a gallery, which one matters. But at first, all you need is to get shown. Any forum will do.

Having your work in someone else's home, can be a start, albeit a less assertive, less rewarding one. Be willing to trade or give your work — or smaller, quicker versions — as gifts. Having one somebody else out there talking about your work is better than you mumbling in the darkness.

But more people is better.

Only a few of them will respond to your art and/or to you, and those are the ones who will help carry you on to the next steps. To attract those precious few you gotta brave it out and show what you do to a lot of different people.

Following are some of the ways to start getting your art out to more appreciators:

Blue Dot Art clubs. There's one in every urban and sub-urban area. They mean well but are sometimes led by tethered minds. If you're any good at all and not too outré, you'll find your level. Miniature minds, however, can slice and dice the talented few who aren't earthbound — our real art stars not yet apparent.
 

(ART) At first called Artists of Rowlett Texas' First Annual Miniature
Judged Art Show
at Western Bank & Trust in Rowlett,
The club is now called Artists 'Round Texas.

Art Clubs tend to have cute names and too many rules. But for a lot of young artists (Young has nothing to do with age.), they're a place to garner both people and art smarts. They provide exhibition opportunities and feedback, and they always need help mounting their shows — which experience can help you show yours, there and later.

But there's real reasons to head for bigger city art groups. More people. More open minds. More art. More art spaces, more opportunities and more different ideas of what needs showing. Lots more people who like to look at art, think about art, talk about art, teach art and even make the stuff.

Open shows are easy. Their price is low, and the fact that they have no jurying or curating or other pontificating floats everybody's boat. But these events usually only occur once a year.

Unless you don't care how desperate you look, start with just one or two pieces. Choose related (visually, thematic, hue(s), composition, technique, something...) work, so people will think you know what you're doing — even if you don't. Sign your work legibly, so no matter how they screw up your I.D on the tag or price list, viewers will know who did it.

After you've ploughed through a few open shows, you'll figure out how the art-hangers display their opinions by where they put your art. But don't worry, this is just the beginning of a long trajectory. Save haggles over placement till you figure out where's best — artists rarely agree.

Art Center and other art group Member Shows can be an early step. Then maybe enter some Competitions — or get involved with some of the other Exhibition Opportunities.

Donating your work. If you can find a worthy cause, and the auction actually benefits artists and their work, you could donate your work. Before you jump in thinking you're actually going to get something worthwhile out of it, however, you should read what other artists think about donating on our Donate Your Art? page.
 

1, 2, 3 ...

There's no correct order or step by step guide to getting your work shown. Go at this process however you want — or think you want — at your own pace and direction. Use your intuition, because there's often not an abundance of logic involved. Your guesses, based on the guidelines and information on this page, are as good as anybody's. A careful plan of attack can be almost as good as a pile of pure accidents.

If you're a student at a school (grade, high, prep or college), enter your work in every possible exhibition and/or competition, local or regional or national, and not just on-campus. Ignore anybody who counsels otherwise.

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What to do at the opening

Stand around and meet people. Stand there listening first, then join in the conversation, but don't hog it. If they ask, tell them about your work. Answer questions. Accept compliments and complaints. Talk to anyone who will share conversation with you. You never know what you'll learn or from whom.

It's nice to have a friend nearby, to take up the slack, so you won't feel stranded when the crowd moves on.

Accept that getting to show your work in ever-widening circles is, for awhile, more dependent on the quality of your networking than the quality of your art. Make friends. Support your friends by going to their shows, and maybe they'll come to yours and help spread your fame. Other benefits are less easy to quantify. It really is more important who you know. And you never find out who'll be important till it's already happened.
 

Galleries are a whole 'nother topic. They say they look at slides from new artists, but I wonder...

My guess is that they might if they already know who you are and their interest has been piqued. I suspect if they don't, most would just shine you on.

Perhaps the best tip I've heard came from Angstrom owner David Quadrini who said the best advice he could give struggling artists is to become the friend of an artist who already has gallery representation. That counsel seemed ironically and deeply disturbingly right on.


 

Who

Following this WHO train of thought brings us to sharing studio space. Bumping into just one other artist every time you go to your studio or make art is probably worth it (whatever it might turn out to be). Studio-ing with a bunch of other artists is worth its weight in gold platted milibnium.

They will insist you join them on their quest to show everybody's work. You'll see theirs; they'll see yours; and everybody will talk about it — and everything else — all the time. You will be amazed how much more art that needs showing you'll make and how much you'll learn about making it. Unless you're extra territorial, settle for a community space at first. You're probably already closed off in your own little cubby-hole.

Not that everybody gets along with everybody all the time. There's a lot of ego involved in this biz, but sharing studio space can also be an unequaled, built-in support system.

Sure, we learn from web pages, but more often, we learn from other, more experienced human beings. The biggest drawback is that studio spaces are not cheap, and there are often space management hassles and hidden expenses.

After weeks, months, years in community spaces or private renta studios, many artists revel in having their own private studio, usually in or near their home.

Much of the sharing-studio-space advice applies, to a lesser extent, to workshops, classes and other group activities.

 

What

What to show is more difficult.

Many new artists show their same old early hits over and over again. It feels good to rest on what laurels we have accumulated, but it doesn't help us grow as artists — or as human beings. I may be an extreme example, but except for special ocassions, when I show, I like to exhibit work I've done in the last month — if not in the last week. I know I won't learn anything new if I keep showing the same old stuff. I know, because I've tried it. Doing that is lame.

I won't get better as an artist, and I will not, especially, learn more about who I am and what I am up to. Nor will I develop a personal style, if I don't push my work every time I show. It's not only important for our development as artists to keep pushing the new, it's scary. And that can be a sort of hallmark. If it scares you to show something, that's exactly what you should be showing..

Laurels don't last. What's new and exciting one time, may be warmed over spit the next seven times you show it.

The way we grow as human beings is by being the who we are when we're not thinking each step ahead but just rush headlong into the situation. We grow as artists by letting our art lead the way. By always shoing new work, we get where we're going as artists much quicker and surer.
  

The Lists

an overall view of the 2002 500X Open Show

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Open Shows

Some galleries have annual (or seasonal) open shows, where anyone who pays, gets in. Many artists get started in these. Established artists sometimes show their work in these venues, too.

500X Open Show each summer. Was $20 per piece, may be a little more now. Their website is not often updated, and when it is, they change all the links, so good luck with that. Their site stays at www.500x.org/

The Fort Worth Community Arts Center's FWCAC Biennial, formerly called the 39-Hour Show is open to all with a $5 entry fee. Professionals and amateurs are all invited. Artwork for the 2006 FWCAC Biennial must be under 36" x 36" x 36" and can only be brought in Wednesday, March 1 from 9 am till 9 pm, through Friday, March 3. The artists reception will be 6-9 Saturday, March 4. Volunteers will be needed to help process entries and hang the artwork. The 2004 exhibit had over 740 artists and was a great community success. T

Others?

More information about Dallas-area galleries and Museums and Art Centers and, especially, opportunities to show your work.

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Membership Shows

Various organizations have membership shows, where they'll show anything that's delivered. Usually limited to one piece, often with dimensional and other quirky limitations.

The Dallas Contemporary Arts Center (formerly D-Art) has recently begun again to show Dallas artists.

The MAC (McKinney Avenue Contemporary) - Earn a free membership by donating an ornament to their annual Blue Yule auction just before Christmas.

Texas Art Coalition (at the Fort Worth Community Art Center)

TVAA (Texas Visual Arts Organization) downtown in the Plaza of the Americas building. Parking's a nuisance, but the camaraderie can be superb

See our listing of Visual Art Groups, Museums & Art Centers, and the Resource Index for more info about these and others.

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Public Galleries

Many governmental spaces offer single and group exhibition opportunities in a variety of venues from hallways to actual galleries.

The Bath House Cultural Center

After you've been accepted into a couple of their competitive exhibitions, you may get invited to participate in invitational group shows.

Meanwhile, you can submit your own exhibition proposal for your own or your group (more likely to win through the bureaucracy)

The South Dallas Culture Center

The Fort Worth Community Art Center

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College Galleries

Not quite as accessible as Public Galleries, but many college spaces are open to showing well-organized exhibitions of groups or individuals. The turnaround time may be months or even years, but colleges — especially in the Dallas County Community College District — have carefully organized procedures for proposing exhibitions anyone may attempt.

Usually you need a formal proposal — a paragraph or two explaining what you want to do and who will be involved, and a CD or portfolio showing high-resolution photos. Each gallery director can tell you quickly and easily what they need from you.

Submit the package in time to be considered by their committee, then help the director choose the work, hang the show, maybe talk at the opening (the educational part), and take it down and have the artists (or just you) pick up their work.

Sounds easy. It's a little more involved than that, but those are the basics. Many well-known Dallas artists not only started showing this way, but they continue to show at college campuses.

Some colleges galleries are listed on our Schools & Universities Page.

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Studio Spaces

commercial studio spaces for rent or lease:

Continental Gin Building (under the funky water tower south of Baylor)

The Shamrock Hotel Studios - 4312 Elm Street, Dallas, TX. 75214

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Donating Your Work

First, read a lot of artists' opinions about this risky "opportunity." Many chairty art auctions are rip-offs for artists. Slowly, some auctions' policies are developing to protect artists and even give them a share of the profits (if desired). However, beginning artists rarely get their work promoted in charity auctions, which seem to concentrate on ballyhooing name artists, often has-beens.

The Arlington Museum has significantly advanced the intelligence of their artists auction operating procedures.

EASL - The art benefit auction that has the best set-up for donating artists — and whose charity actually benefits this area's artists — is EASL (Emergency Artists Support League), but they have their auctions only about once every two years.

The people who attend EASL auctions are mostly other artists — and of the calibre you want to become someday. These are the folk you'll learn the most from, especially if you [Blue Dot See what to do at the opening, above.]
 

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Art Opportunities

DallasArtsRevue has an Artists' Opportunities Page listing open and competitive exhibitions, art-related jobs, open bids, calls for entry and other art-making and showing opportunities. It also lists other lists.

It's free for everybody and has grown larger and more diverse.

Join DallasArtsRevue, show your art on your member page and get it seen by curators.

How to Join DallasArtsRevue as a Supporting Member or Subscriber.

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Organize Your Own Show

We recently attended a first showing by an artist at a hair salon. She organized it and peppered the wall space throughout the building with her work, got a professional to design her postcard and sent them out to her friends and acquaintances. It's nice that she sold more than enough work to pay for everything.

But having a lot of comfortable people sitting around eating and drinking and talking about her art — and thinking about it later, even if they didn't buy anything, is priceless.

Lots of places have not yet, but could be talked into showing art. I've seen shows in salons, books and clothing and jewelry stores, bars, clubs, theaters, restaurants, old and new houses, flea markets — the list goes on. Then there's our list of Dallas places that aren't galleries that sometimes show art.

Always make sure your name is on whatever publicity or postcard that goes out.

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Get On An Art Tour

There are lots of tours, stories about which are linked from our Art Tours Index.

The White Rock Lake Artists Studio Tour is one of the better tours and has a waiting list. Like most tours, they have geographical limitations.

Other top-grade tours include

Art In The Hood -

The Cedars - Of course, you have to live there, but it's a great little tour.

If you live in North Dallas, it should be easy to get on the North Dallas Artists' Studio Tour. You don't need a studio — or talent. Perfect for potters and jewelry makers. A garage or even a driveway will do. Check out our story about the 2005 tour for examples of what passes.

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Art Clubs

I used to know some. Now I don't. But they're out there. Some are helpful.

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Membership Galleries

Some galleries sell memberships, then show whatever those members want to show, or so it seems.

Artists Showcase Gallery

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F E E D B A C K

This story needs your input. Email the editor (See "contact us" at the top of all our pages)
to add your knowledge, experience and opinions to this story.
Pen names are acceptable. Please note if you don't want your real name used.

J R:

(This is a big subject that I think about a lot. The advice and suggestions others gave me before I started showing my work in galleries was invaluable to me, and I believe it's very important to pass that kind of help on to everyone who follows.

Beginning with this message, I'd like both to add to what you've already posted, but then to respond in the future in a more thoughtful way to some other points, so I may write back several times if that's okay. For now, here's something I believe is very important to address.)

[Of course, it's okay.]

Possibly the single most important first step I took in getting my work shown was investing in good photography. I truly believe it has been a crucial factor in my work being accepted into shows, and in getting my foot in the door with galleries. Good photography can make your art look its best — in my case sometimes better than it really is, I think— and bad photography can sabotage your best efforts.

In the past six months alone, I've had publishers request images of my work for at least three different magazines and three different books. These people didn't really care anything about my resume, where my art has been shown or if any of it has sold.

They contacted me because they liked my work based solely on how it looked in photographs (72 dpi jpegs on the internet at that, not the best way to view great photographs, but even more challenging to poor photography). I seriously doubt they'd have had any interest in it whatsoever if I'd been using images that weren't really good. (Interesting how all this also relates somewhat to your Eat Art 7 series, "Should We Donate Art?")

Unfortunately, photography is somewhat like writing. Many people who know how to operate a camera think they can shoot art just as many folks who've graduated high school and know how to diagram a sentence may think they can write well.

I tried to photograph my own work once, and the resulting pictures look like crap next to those produced by the professionals who've been shooting my work ever since. Take any good, effective photograph of a piece of art, especially three-dimensional art, and have a knowledgeable art director or photographer tell you how much time, effort and equipment it takes to make such an accurate record of all that beauty, and you'll begin to appreciate how difficult it is to do.

Even a professional-level photograph of flat, two-dimensional art is not as easy as it looks. Realizing of course that you photograph art as part of DARts, I've found two professional photographers who specialize in shooting art in Dallas to be unsurpassed in documenting my own work: Steve Beasley, photographing two-dimensional work, and Harrison Evans, shooting three-dimensional, are each hard to beat in their own specialties.

When you're struggling to cover all the expenses involved in an art career, it can be very tempting to scrimp in this area. But I feel it's smarter to get in the habit early on of documenting your work professionally. Once you've established that habit and begun an effective archive of your work, I think you'll see how essential it is and rarely think twice about the expense.

Conversely, I believe that it's human nature to do just the minimum to get by and tell yourself you'll have your work shot professionally after it's finally paying for itself. But this can come back to haunt you, as the stepping stones that come along early in your career, the opportunities that can lead to getting in front of gallery owners or museum curators, may be based on your having a complete collection of good images from the start.

James Michael Starr

Information about helping support DallasArtsRevue— including an Easy Guide to Joining is on the DARts Member Page Index.

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