Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve been painting for a few years, gradually improving at your craft and you decide it’s time to hold an art show. You work gruelling hours to prepare, painting harder than you’ve ever painted, burning through canvases furiously, framing paintings, setting up the gallery and buying piles of refreshments for the opening. On opening night only two or three people show up. And they’re either your friends and family (if you’re lucky) or (more likely) fellow artists looking for a free glass of wine, some hors d’oeuvres and a chance to reassure themselves they are superior creators.
It’s happened to all of us. And it hurts — it’s embarrassing, it’s humbling and it just plain feels bad. But rather than throw your hands up in despair, toss out all your canvases and convert your studio into a storage unit, ask yourself the following questions to help prepare for your next, more successful show:
1. Do you, yourself, attend others’ art shows?
If not, why would you expect others to attend your show? There’s no official swearing in or application process, but you’re part of an art community and it’s important to give to the community as well as expecting to receive from the community. A little quid quo pro, if you will.
2. How did you promote the show?
Let me guess — you created a Facebook event and posted one story on Instagram. And you were surprised no one responded, besides your mom giving you a “like.”
Promoting an art show isn’t simple, isn’t fast and isn’t guaranteed. There is a lot of competition out there for people’s time: families, work, shopping, movies, travel…the list goes on. Stacked up against those things, your art show might not stand out as a priority.
3. Realistically, what did you expect? To sell out on opening night?
That’s the dream, isn’t it? Little-known artist from a small town holds her first art show, sells everything to eager collectors and is suddenly catapulted to fame and fortune. Right.
It’s important to set realistic goals for your art show. Unless you’re already a big-name artist, it’s unlikely folks will flock to your show. Unless you’re giving away free cars or something. In which case I’ll definitely be attending your next show.
4. What else was happening on opening night?
It’s hard to imagine, but your art show opening might not have been the only event in town. As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of competition for people’s attention and can’t plan around all of it — movies happen all the time, for example — but if you know there is a big concert coming to town or a big sporting event…maybe pick a different day to hold your opening.
Other happenings are more difficult to control. For instance, if you are holding your art show in the winter there could be a blizzard. Who wants to go out in that? In spring your town could be flooded. In summer wild fires. Etc. You can’t control the weather. And as we’ve seen recently, there’s no controlling things like pandemics, which can shut down your show in the blink of an eye.
These are just a few questions you should ask while you’re sitting in a quiet corner philosophically drinking all the wine you bought for opening night. The important thing (besides hydrating while you’re drinking all that wine — you don’t want tomorrow to be even worse!) is to learn from the experience, determine what you’ll do differently next time and — most importantly — get back to making art.
See you at your next show. And let us know how it goes!