Open Call: Addressing Your Questions

Welcome to the first ‘interactive edition’ of Open Call!

Are you an artist? What challenges do you face? Do you lack creative confidence?
Are you overwhelmed by submissions, art shows, social media demands, or just “getting your name out there”?

Email us at with any questions you have, concerns, success stories, challenges, or any other topic you’d like to discuss with a Gallery Director. Every other Monday we’ll publish a few of our favorites along with my replies. If you don’t see your email published, it does not necessarily mean it won’t be saved for a future installment. In fact, there were way too many good questions to make it into one edition.

Visit my online author profile and stay updated on past editions.
Keep up the good work! Let’s get to it.

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I am an artist trying to get a little exposure on IG and have never really been successful. My photographs of my art aren’t the greatest, so that is probably part of the problem. I hashtag everything and just can’t get followers because as you know, popular hashtag streams get flooded fast. The only way I get followers (and likes) is to tag artist/galleries onto my photos. HOWEVER, the problem could be that people don’t like my art, but I find that hard to believe. I am broke as hell and don’t have money for fancy photo equipment, but I do have time and passion to make art. Just waiting to be noticed by a gallery and to have my first show… I get really discouraged because I have friends who have over 2-5k in followers and their art is kind of on the amateur side. AND, I have never tried those “get 1,000 followers today” because I don’t believe in that sort of approach-unless you tell me otherwise.

My medium is graphite, so maybe people don’t like my pieces because of the lack of color. However, I see graphite artist getting exposure all the time. Really, all I want is a little shout-out from a well known name in order to get some followers. However, I don’t even know how to begin with this. Do I email sites like Beautiful Bizarre and ask them bluntly how to get noticed? OR is that bugging? I’ve also put my pieces in nice, hardwood frames, but don’t quite know how to present them digitally.

Should I start sending prints everywhere or is that about as effective as posting to a popular hashtag stream?

Thanks so much!

Dear Brad,

I think you’re already a lot closer to answering your own question than maybe you think and a lot of the extra info you provided actually may be contributing directly to why you aren’t seeing your online base grow as quickly as maybe you think it should be. To be fair graphite work is really difficult to photograph for a few reasons. Noah, who shoots all the artwork that we show, often saves those for last and when it finally comes time to photography them his characteristically upbeat demeanor deflates and falls into melancholy, and sometimes we don’t see him again for hours.

Instagram, like other socials, can be a pretty fickle place and most of the time people are just sort of flicking through and half-paying attention. So if you’re starting off with photos that are blurry, or dark, or just not very good – it is already going to be a more difficult for your content to stand out and gain a following. Keep in mind growing a fanbase online is an organic process. Sometimes things happen that make the process speed up or spike for awhile, getting good press, or nailing a next-level piece that generates some wider appeal, but it’s still a process and while I’m sure having a lot of followers is useful for some things, you should never trick yourself into thinking that number is some sort of measurement of your success or overall worth as an artist.

More importantly, I can’t help but notice that the level of recognition you expect your work to be getting seems a little out of sync with the amount of effort you’re willing to put into promoting and marketing that work. You might want to look into enterprise text message marketing software to notify people when a piece of work is being displayed in an exhibit, etc. I’m not saying your work doesn’t deserve attention but keep in mind whether an artist deserves lots of attention and whether they get lots of attention often requires completely different sets of skills and the latter can be its own job entirely. I don’t know about your work or your friend’s work and can’t judge whose is ‘better’, but maybe one suggestion would be to not look at those other people’s accounts and followers with feelings of bitterness or resentment. Instead maybe simply acknowledge that at the very least your friends are better at social media than you are. With this in mind pay attention to what they’re doing and what seems to work well for them, study that and try to adapt those concepts to suit you and your own online presence. I personally don’t think it’s a weakness to stop sometimes and say ‘hey, I am not very good at this but I want to be, and you seem good at it and maybe I can learn something from you”. I think that’s a strength. If having a following online is something that is important to you, you’re going to need to put in some work. Same thing with galleries. If it’s important to show in a gallery, waiting until one notices you is not the best plan. And to be fair the same goes for any gallery you should want to work with. They should also have a plan, a goal, and be working just as hard as you are.

It’s tough sometimes to draw a line and keep your self-confidence and passion from leading you into a place where your caught feeling jealous or resentful because somebody else is receiving the results you believe you deserve. But that’s a bad place to be, and whenever you find yourself there you should get out quick or else you’ll get stuck. Redirect that energy into making yourself and your own plan better, and stronger, and smarter. That’ll work better for you, and for anyone.

p.s. The comment ‘shout-out’ thing never works. Don’t do it. I’d go into it more but this is going to be its very own edition of Open Call sometime soon.


I’m curious if having a webstore is hurting my chances of getting into a gallery. It is more to display the work publicly but since it costs the same for a website I figure why not try and sell at the same time. I have sent inquires to local and bay area galleries that seem like a good fit for my work but never seem to get more than a generic reply. I feel the work is good and really just want it to be seen.

Thanks, Eli

Hi Eli,

I don’t think that having a webstore hurts your chances of getting into a gallery at all. On the contrary, as I would think it was more of a red flag if an artist came in and didn’t have a website or store, or IG account, or anything already set up to help promote and sell their work.

Now, if you’re working with a gallery there should be some communication and planning about how the online store is going to be used around a big show for example, or how exclusive sales or prints or things like that would work – but even that’s much more about having a basic strategy and finding a good balance between supply and demand so you aren’t competing against yourself, and shouldn’t just be about a gallery disapproving of you having webstore in the first place.

I’d need more info about how you approach and submit to galleries to be able to help you with that, but I’m sure that the store isn’t the problem.

Also, try not to be too discouraged by gallery replies. And to be fair sometimes those generic replies are more honest than you think. (Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t I’m sure). I can only speak for us, but for example having a full programming schedule for the foreseeable future is a real factor even though we can tell that sometimes people think we’re just saying that to blow them off. Or redirecting someone who puts in a general submission to one of our two annual open call shows isn’t a blow off either. For us we’ve caught onto a lot of amazing new artists through one of those open calls and that’s where we are coming from even though I get that it might be a little disappointing if someone comes walking in with the expectation that we’re going to meet them and jump right into a solo show and instead they get pointed toward a group show 6 months later, but that’s still what generally works best for us. Not saying every gallery response from every gallery is always legit! Just another perspective.


Hello Patrick,
Do you have any suggestions for an outsider artist who has been frantically creating art for the past decade and suffered only misfortune and ostracization, who now finds himself with the majority of his work either stolen or, recently, burnt up by vandals? Do you think it’s my personality? Is the work actually not that good? Too controversial? Too sick?
Any advice you could offer would be immensely appreciated.

Thank you for your time,

Hi Killian,

This is very bad.

But on the bright side I admire and applaud your persistence in the face of adversity. And arson.

I would say that you have two choices. 1) move, change your name or create a pseudonym for your art, begin making art somewhere new with a fresh start and less baggage. 2) Keep doing what you are doing but hire a publicist because if even half of your first paragraph is true you at least have a good story. Maybe even a film deal. Call it: Against All Odds. Something like that…

I don’t know you so all the second paragraph tells me is that you think it might be your personality. Maybe you can reflect a little on why that is. Also, do other people tell you that your work is controversial or do you tell other people that your work is controversial? How you answer this could be important. Keep fighting the good fight.


Have a question for Patrick? Send inquiries to

Patrick Shillenn is the co-founder and director of Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He just wants to have the conversation.
Follow him on IG @pshillenn & Twitter @mathclub


About Author

Patrick Shillenn is the Co-founder of Arch Enemy Arts.

1 Comment

  • Killian Skarr
    September 4, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Dear Patrick,
    First let me thank you for responding. I know you’re a busy man and I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer me.
    You know it’s funny because I realized this was going to be an advice column, but I didn’t think the format would be adhered to so rigidly. I had expected, or hoped for, more personal instruction, based on my portfolio, but I should have known that it would be a much more general response. Actually the question of “controversy” was put more rhetorically than anything. That is to say, it is quite obvious that my work is in fact controversial; not only to myself but also to all of the interviewers I’ve dealt with, as well as comments from gallerists and art lovers alike. In my opinion art should always push at the boundaries of the taboo and explore where ever that path may lead. And I recognize that this might be an impediment to my ‘career’ in the short term, but I also know of countless artists who thrive even though, and perhaps because, their work is controversial.
    And to be honest, this phenomenon of failure is not limited solely to my art; every aspect of my life has always been fraught with obstacles and seemingly insurmountable difficulties as long as I can remember. So in this respect it is most certainly my personality, or my self, who I am, that has held me back thus far. Especially in art; which is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever had an aptitude for.
    So yes, I suppose you could call my life story “Against all Odds”( but you’d have to get Phil Collins to do the soundtrack. Haha.) Truth is, Art, the creation of it, and the desperate attempts I’ve made to show it to the world have taken huge chunks from my life, killed me bit by bit, with each new work completed I die a little. And as for the ones that infest my mind, that may never see fruition, those are the pieces that really kill me, moment by moment, as they crowd out any semblance of sanity in my brain. It is for this reason I am so hellbent on succeeding, and so devastatingly disappointed that I have not yet; that I have not yet been able to persuade any galleries, or publicists for that matter, to give me a chance. Because I have tried publicists and galleries and shown my work at every venue brave enough to allow me, but it has all been to no avail. It has all been for naught. And what I ask of you is simply why this might be; assuming the work is good, assuming the work is interesting and compelling.
    And to be honest I’m sure that it is. I’ve seen jaws drop, I’ve been told countless times that my work is amazing, brilliant, and yet invariably nothing becomes of it. Take this brief bit of correspondence I had with a certain Philadelphia gallery a couple of years back:
    “HOLY SHIT KILLIAN!!! I love it! Give me a couple days to respond in more detail with potential show dates and opportunities!…”
    Guess what? I never heard back. And any further attempts at contacting this particular gallery have been met with silence. And this is by no means an isolated incident. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time a gallery responded with initial enthusiasm, only to ignore me from there on out, well, I wouldn’t have to sell art to finance the making of more art, let’s just put it that way.
    As far as taking up a pseudonym and fleeing town: absolutely not, and never. I am proud of my work, every bit of it. And if I have a reputation, I own it; no matter what that might mean. And I want all of my future work to be assessed with the work I’ve already accomplished. I don’t think it would be right to do it any other way.
    It’s just that I always thought, as someone with mental-illness, someone as strange as myself, at least in art I could be myself. At least with art I could truly be who I am and for once let others judgment of me actually fuel my work instead of impede its progress. And as long as the work was good, something that others could not look away from, could not stop thinking about, talking about, then I could succeed. And only in art did I think this was possible. Well how naïve I was. The art world is like everything else, it comes down to money and politics. Great art by impoverished artists is only valuable posthumously. Well so fucking be it…


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