Updated: Jan 23
Over the past 18 years I’ve been working as an arts professional. I’ve met hundreds of artists with exhibition fears. Personally, I have always put on a brave face for my art career. I’ve jumped into situations with both feet and I’ve stood tall and proud. I don’t know why but I have immense strength when it comes to approaching galleries and trying to sell my work. At first I didn’t know how so I learned through trial and error and now I teach about my learnings.
One of my biggest fears is talking to a room of strangers. I’m an ok conversationalist once the conversation starts, I’m at a loss for words beyond small talk (unless its about art or the arts in general). Maybe I don’t have anything in common with a person, maybe they will talk over my head, or what will they think if I say something wrong and put my foot in my mouth. Of course this is just one small aspect of my fears.
This blog, about how to face your fears, relates to the art world where I am most confident. As an arts consultant, I love helping people be successful! Perhaps its odd that I can talk to anyone who comes into my gallery if they are interested in being chatty? This is all perspective and in large extended family gathering situations and parties, I need to learn to overcome my fear. I also need to start going out more often to overcome this fear.
Its often that I come across artists who fear showing their work publicly yet their work is incredible. This example will be used to discuss how to face fears in this situation.
First decide exactly how to face the fear, what might be holding you back from starting? There are a few ways you can re-organize yourself to see results from ‘just trying’.
You need to track your progress which will show you of how you can reach even the smallest goals from beginning to end and learn from your experiences. Ex. first go to different galleries to find one that fits your work and is reputable. Once you find it, talk to the director / manager / owner/ staff and start the process. In a year, you may have a gallery exhibition date and by year two you may be launching your exhibition. There is process that happens: it could be a call for submissions or it could be a studio visit after an initial introduction (from your Instagram or website account). The business side of art is a slower pace and you need to respect the process. You also should track about how many people attended the first show, the second and so on to see for yourself that there have been advancements.
At the end of every achievable moment, write about your success in a log book of what worked for you and what didn’t? This will help you reach your goals and help you make changes to your business plan.
Right from the beginning, in many cases, there is a strong sense of fear of rejection. For many years, I never applied to shows or for exhibitions for this reason. Sometimes you just have to remember that “you just have to try your best.” I will admit it takes a lot of guts to start to face this fear but once you have a show or two under your belt it becomes easier. I don’t believe, no matter how many followers we have or friends or supporters that we ever get over the fear of people not showing up to the reception. Recently when showing at an out of town gallery I was incredibly afraid that I’d be standing at the podium for my artist talk and not a soul would be there. Public speaking is a slight fear of mine but I know that people were there to listen and support me. I also tried my best.
If you don’t try you won’t get anywhere, nothing is ever perfect and you need to find the teachable moments to learn from your mistakes. Always try to find ways to move your business forward (find clients, find a gallery, build your social media, build relationships)
Taking action is the only way you get from point A to point B. You have to start slowly, one step at a time, finding meaningful moments being proud of your accomplishments along the way to then redirect fears to having happy results. Baby steps in the art world happen as the top artists in the world all started the same way from the same place you may find yourself in now. Get out there and get started!
Many artists are afraid of not making sales. Having an exhibition is not always about making a sale but receiving feedback from potential clients, other artists, and finding your way. Its a way of saying “hey look at what I created as a body of work.” You can’t pressure someone to buy your work, they really have to fall in love with it. Other galleries have told me that there are no sales strategies to sell art. A person has to be drawn to it and fall in love with it and say they want to cherish this piece forever. Also remember that you, as the artist, have to do the work to get the clients into the gallery as much as the gallery has to try. Its a team effort and its work that takes time. Try to meet new people every week and tell them about your art and career, you never know where it may lead you. Its all about trying. As a side note, art always looks better under gallery lighting, in a white room where there is no clutter so you are more likely to make a sale from a gallery space than from a studio space. Having that focus on the art is crucial to making sales.
Spend your time wisely, make yourself a solid plan and remember that art is a business and its not always fun. Stop worrying about what might happen, take action so that you can’t ‘fail’. Always try a new action instead of doing the same actions again and again. Try one thing at a time and set yourself daily, weekly and monthly goals.
Its ok to be uncomfortable as you are out of your comfort zone. Try new leads and try to change your perspective. You only look foolish to others if there is no obvious effort given when creating the work, presenting the work, or inviting people-inviting strangers.
Where does your fear stem from? Make sure you take some time to analyze. Face it then rewire your brain, try to change your perspective. By developing courage you build up your confidence to be courageous to start.
Really, with what ever your fear is, what is the worst thing that can happen? a. someone doesn’t love the work and you find others that do. b. if no sales are made, you invite new people c. if nobody shows up, you just try harder. d. there is always another opportunity to sell the work or alter it based on the feedback you received.
Another aspect I’ve noticed is that artists compare themselves to others. We are not all in the same position nor do we all have the same talents. Some artists are great at marketing while others excel in creating the art. If you show confidence in the product you are selling then others will see it.
Learn how to take criticism. People don’t like abstract work just like people don’t like landscape work. People may not understand your work or get it and you can explain it and still they may still not get it. Remember art is open for interpretation, if you can’t paint a figure in a realistic way, make sure its exaggerated in a way that is obvious to your stylistic brand of rendering.
Ultimately at the end of the day you need to make decisions, stop doubting yourself and carry on. Everyone has their own opinions and you need to listen to your gut but not your fear.
Self-love and surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you and your art message is a huge part of facing your fears. Find your fans and surround yourself as nobody should face their fears alone.