Welcome to the 9th edition of Open Call! Today we are talking about negativity. Specifically how we sometimes form our own negative biases and, if left unchecked, these biases can affect our sense of perspective and grow to become some of our biggest obstacles.
Email us at [email protected] 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. There have already been way too many good questions to make it into just one edition.
Visit my online author profile and stay updated on past editions. Some emails have been edited for length.
How do you politely ask galleries to consider your work for upcoming shows when most of them don’t even respond to emails?
The first thing I would suggest is to make absolutely sure the emails you are sending are worded in a way to sound at least a little less jaded than the way you constructed this question. I’m not messing with you, whether it was intentional or not you gave me a single sentence and the very first thing I thought was “this dude is bitter”.
I’m not calling this out to make you feel bad, but we work in a space that is like a lot of spaces, full of ups and downs, and I do think it’s important to be aware and make an effort not to lead with or let our stake in that be defined by how unsatisfied or let down we’ve felt at times. It’s a bad look and rarely gets the results we want.
I get it. It’s super frustrating to want something, and believe you have a plan, and then nothing happens. I catch myself feeling cynical sometimes too. But it’s a bad habit, and I don’t feel good when I catch myself starting to look down that road, and I know whenever I see the beginnings of that feeling that it needs to stop ASAP.
First let go of the idea that galleries don’t respond. I see these kind of opinions presented as fact a lot especially since we’ve been doing Open Call. It’s a fact that galleries don’t reply, or “I know that galleries don’t want to work with new artists”, and things like that. There is a message I received this week where the author says she “always” hears about how galleries do not want to look at portfolios and so they never do. These are not even close to universal truths but even if you feel strongly otherwise or these are drawn from experiences you’ve had personally with some galleries, at the very least we should agree that it’s just not a very constructive way to approach a problem you’re having. Perhaps the problem you’re having is that galleries are not responding to your emails.
The good news is that this is a much more manageable problem. At least more manageable than if the problem was getting all galleries to meet and agree to finally start responding to emails. [There are a lot of us and we couldn’t overturn the original decision to never respond to emails until the Federation of Directors meet next in 2017 in a secret conference pod designed by Jeff Koons far below the Lazarev Ice Shelf, anyway]. First check the way you’re writing, make sure your approach is good and appropriate for the situation. Are you talking with any of these galleries beforehand about submitting, or are these all “cold calls”? Are these galleries known for showing similar styles and mediums as what you do? Or maybe your work is not strong enough yet and you need to keep cracking at it.
And to be fair, if you don’t think any of this represents you or how you feel, I think this is still good food for thought, but for you specifically maybe then look at it from sort of a style-guide perspective. For example, up until not too long ago I would innocently use a lot of punctuation in my text messages and then all of a sudden there were all of these articles online that were basically, “if you use punctuation in your texts everyone thinks you are an asshole”. I think that’s kind of silly, and not a fair characterization but instead of being upset or angry that everyone might think I’m a jerk, I thought about it, I took a deep breath, and I just decided to make sure to stop texting people that I was “fine.”
How do I, as a female artist doing provocative art, get my name out there when society is accustomed [sic] to think that female artist only do cozy, pretty stuff? Or in other words; What does it take to be taken seriously?
I think the single best thing you can do to be taken seriously is to take yourself seriously, and be serious about what you do and how you do it. People pick up on that and I believe that good people will respond by giving it back to you. I really believe that.
We live in a society that certainly does not have its shit together when it comes to equality, gender and otherwise. We’ve really got a long way to go, but from my perspective I’ll admit that it is hard to completely accept the idea that the thing standing in the way of you and success is society’s refusal to give you permission to make work that isn’t cute.
We work with a lot of people and as in any industry there’s a lot of talk about what happens behind the scenes, and on a couple occasions I’ve heard an artist share their unfortunate experiences of being treated poorly or differently because they are a woman. It’s disgusting and there should be zero tolerance, so I want to be clear that I’m not at all dismissing or talking around any of that, and I am only talking about whether or not I think gender as it relates to style and subject matter suffers from a negative bias in new contemporary art and I’ll try to explain why I feel the way that I do. I’m going to start with myself and move outward.
For me personally, I like art that goes to a lot of different places but I am definitely a sucker for good work that explores some of the darker parts of the human condition. For me this mostly means places like fear and death and self-destruction, things like that, and may be different than what you mean or do, but my point is that I believe these things are a part of all of us so who am I to decide who’s allowed to tap into it. Moving to Arch Enemy, although I am not doing an actual tally, I am pretty certain that if you listed out all the artists who we represent and all the artists who we’ve shown, a strong majority are women – and these artists have produced great work, with and relative to what we do, and this includes many of the more dark and tortured works we’ve shown. I would say the same is true for many other galleries who I consider our peers, and the same is true for our neighborhood within the art world and new contemporary art in general. And I think that art has historically had a very crucial cultural role in addressing things that society at large is not yet comfortable talking about. It’s one of the things that art does best.
So I don’t think you should get stuck on this idea or feel like this is the one thing holding you back. I don’t think society is telling you this as much as I think you are telling yourself that society is telling you this, maybe because you are still building confidence and worry that your work won’t resonate with people other than yourself, and that can be a struggle sometimes. That I can understand.
And if you have tried to work with anyone who has told you otherwise, I don’t think those people are worth your time and I believe there are plenty of other people out there who have evolved past that way of thinking and will support and contribute to what you truly want to do.
My name is Linda, I am a painter living in Austin, Texas. Since I can’t stick to one style or subject matter, I skip around and back to something eventually, but it’s making it really hard to land in galleries or get shows. I do sell some of my art however, and this leaves me with the wonderful problem of trying to produce at a fast enough pace, but regardless of my subject matter my pieces take time.
I am left wondering if it’s going to take another decade before I am selling my pieces for a decent price? I didn’t mind being broke in my 20’s, but in my mid 30’s it’s kind of depressing, at times. It’s a little late for me to get a degree in something else, and my work is finally reaching a technical proficiency that doesn’t leave me disappointed. I don’t think for a moment that success just happens – you have to bust ass for it! And time and experience and learning how to traverse the scene, this takes time, but really what it comes down to is just making your art and putting it out there. That is the simplest, best advice I have ever received about how to do this. It’s a little too late to GIVE UP now, really.
I think it sounds like you’re on the right track. Keep cracking at it and busting your ass. I think you have a really good and healthy perspective.
Like I said in that past edition, I think it’s important to avoid throwing yourself into a situation where you can’t take care of yourself or your responsibilities but if you have passion and a decent plan and can figure out how to make it work, I think that is an admirable step to take. But a big misconception that I think creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety and dread is the idea that one is supposed to have everything figured out and in order by a certain age. Whether that’s art or a degree or just being the person who you want to be. I think we have an awful habit of convincing ourselves that up until a certain age you can be anything, and after that age you can’t be anything.
Personally, I am of the opinion that we’re all just sort of old children at constantly varying levels of stability who will continue to figure it all out and get better and learn for as long as we’re alive. To me that’s not scary, it’s exciting.
Keep up the hard work.
Have a question for Patrick? Send inquiries to [email protected]
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