In 2019, business scholars Paul Ingram and Mitali Banerjee released a surprising paper through the Chazen Institute at the Columbia Business School1 on the role of networking in the visual arts. Their findings—which made headlines around the world—revealed that an artist’s social network had a significant effect on whether or not they became famous. In fact, friendships and social connections proved to be a more reliable predictor of an artist’s fame than his or her creativity.
The most interesting part? The artists they studied came of age in the beginning of the 20th century (1910-1925), long before “social networking” was the buzzword it is today. Researchers are just beginning to grasp the importance of creating lasting connections within the art industry, but as far back as Picasso, Klee, and Kandinsky, artists have understood that networking and community-building are essential for achieving widespread recognition.
Knowing this, how can artists build these fruitful relationships with gallerists, publishers, curators, and other artists? We spoke with a dozen sculptors, painters, and multidisciplinary artists about how they got their foot in the door.
If you’re wondering how to get out there in the art world, read on for their top artist tips to get your art noticed, to promote your art, to market your own art, and to become recognized in the field.
1. Start Locally
“I first got out there by doing tiny local art shows and art festivals,” painter Erin Hanson tells us. “I can’t begin to tell you how nervous and shy I was when I started, but in many ways, communication is like a muscle: if you stretch it and exercise it, you can evolve quite a bit.
“I ultimately started doing bigger and bigger shows, and over the past few years, I’ve been the featured artist at over five of the top festivals in the US. I have artwork in almost a dozen museums, and I sold two million dollars in artwork last year. Going out and talking to complete strangers about my art very much went against my nature in the beginning, but it has all been more than worth it.”
2. Put Your Best Foot Forward
In many ways, it’s easier than ever for artists to promote themselves and to “put it out there,” but the internet is a bit of a double-edged sword. Resist the urge to share everything, and keep your online presence carefully curated. Every time you share something, ask yourself if you’d want your dream client or gallery to see it and if it’s helping you on your path toward how to become the best artist. Artist George Dawnay puts it simply: “If you’re not happy with a piece, don’t put it out.”
3. Don’t Wait
While many artists find success later in life, remember to use the momentum you have early on in your career to your advantage. There’s no time like the present. “Chase down every chance you get,” Dawnay continues. “As you get older, you lose the time and physical resources to execute certain commissions due to their location or size. When you’re young, use that time to go out on a limb.”
4. Find People You Trust
“Keep in mind that once the artwork is created, getting ‘out there’ takes teamwork,” sculptor and painter Gil Bruvel explains. “Create a community, and surround yourself with knowledgeable and competent people. Find and develop connections to get your artwork out there. You can create the greatest artwork in the world, but if no one else knows about it, then it just does not exist.”
5. Target Your Approach
Instead of cold-calling or emailing every gallery or publication on your radar, do your research when determining how to get out there. Study every gallery in your area, visit them in person, and then select a few you think would be a good match for you.
“I got into the gallery I currently show in by going to all the galleries near me in Santa Fe and passing out my card to galleries I thought would fit my work,” painter Shana Levenson explains. “I didn’t purposely go to a show in Santa Fe, but was looking around to see what artists were creating to see where I fit. By handing my card out, I got into a great gallery that instantly started selling my work.”
6. Ask For Feedback
We grow by receiving artist feedback, and beyond that, critiques help us forge stronger connections with people we admire. “Go ahead and ask other artists for help or advice,” collage artist Magda Górska advises. “Sometimes, they may ignore you, and sometimes, they will ask for money. But someone could also decide to coach you and become your mentor—and then you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.”
Consider these artist tips: When receiving feedback, stay gracious and open to criticism. Value the other person’s time, and when possible, reach out in person. You’re more likely to succeed if you’re presenting your work face-to-face, as in a portfolio review or group exhibition. This will also help you practice when you begin you promote your art and market your own art!
7. Develop a Thick Skin
Every artist stumbles at one point or another, but what separates success from failure is the ability to “get back up.” Artist Dan ‘Nuge’ Nguyen tells us, “Receiving negative feedback on your work can be soul-crushing, but what helped me get over that is embracing the fact that art is subjective. Not everyone is going to like what you make, and that’s okay.”
8. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
“On Instagram, it’s easy to get the feeling that everybody else is doing great or is better than you are,” illustrator Holly Jolley admits. Her advice? “Share what you are doing anyway—that’s how you grow. Use the power of social media without comparing yourself in harmful ways.”
9. Stay in Touch
Relationships with editors, curators, and collectors are built over time—so follow up with those who’ve championed your work in the past. “I’m not much of a networker, but it is important to keep in touch with people you meet and with collectors who like your work,” sculptor Emil Alzamora says. “Take good photos, use social media, and have a comprehensive website. Galleries want to work with professionals who are organized and on top of everything.”
10. Give Back
You have to give support to receive support, especially when you’re trying to get your art noticed. In addition to connecting with curators, gallerists, and collectors, look into all the different ways you can help other artists in your community. “The best thing you can do is to be sincere and generous,” artist Andy Boot admits. “Look into opening up a project space with friends—or starting a podcast. Start by building others up.”
Frequently Asked Questions on How to Get Your Art Out There
If you still have questions about how to be the best artist and how to get your art out there, you’re in luck! We’ve rounded up the answers to commonly asked questions and included some great Skillshare course suggestions to help you on your “put it out there” path.
How Do I Start My Art Career?
Let’s start at the very beginning! If you’re wondering how to initiate your career as an artist rather than how to get your art out there or how to market your own art, try Skillshare instructor, illustrator, and graphic designer Brad Woodward’s course Lessons in Launching Your Creative Career: The Art of Self-Promotion. Brad knows that when you’re just starting out, the art world can be an intimidating place; and he’ll guide you through each step. From creating a portfolio and using social media to build your presence as an artist to launching your first campaign, you’ll learn it here.
Once you’ve got an understanding of the basics, you’ll be ready to put it out there and to promote your art.
How Do I Get My Artwork Noticed Online?
Though it’s wonderful to have your art displayed and sold person-to-person in a gallery, these days, most artists sell their art online, too. There are many options for doing so: traditional “stock” sites like Shutterstock and iStock, direct-to-consumer platforms like Etsy, and print shops such as Zazzle and Society6 are all great ways to get your work in front of large communities. Many artists also sell their work on their own websites to communities they’ve built themselves on social media.
If you’re not sure where to begin, check out Sell Your Art Online: 20+ Sales Platforms taught by Skillshare instructor, illustrator, and designer Olga Shevyakova. Olga breaks down all of these online sales channels, explaining the pros and cons of each avenue as well as how to make them work for you and for your art.
How Do I Get My Art Noticed in a Gallery?
If you’re ready to sell your art in a gallery setting, or if online sales is just not your style, you need to know how to draw your customers to your pieces. It all boils down to the way that you showcase your art and the elements that make your art different and special.
Skillshare instructor, photographer, and gallery owner Cynthia Wolf can help with her course Your Art in a Gallery: A Step by Step Guide. In this course, Cynthia will walk you through everything you need to know to get your art into a gallery, from organizing a body of work to presenting to galleries to following up after a meeting with gallery staff.
Where Can I Display My Art For Free?
Remember the old term “starving artist?” Well, it does hold some weight and, especially when you’re brand new to the art world and beginning to market your own art, you may not have much of a budget for promotion.
Though social media is the most obvious answer (many artists have built their businesses entirely through Instagram strategies), sites like Pinterest, Wetcanvas, DeviantArt, and Saatchi Art all allow users to sign up for free accounts to help promote your art.
Ready to Sell Your Art?
How to Professionally Approach Art Buyers & Art Directors with Your Artwork