Rejection from Art Galleries, is it because your work sucks or what?

Rejection from Art Galleries, is it because your work sucks or what?

Most artists presume they get rejected from a gallery because their artwork isn’t good enough, but it’s not always the case. Having worked in several art galleries over the years, I know that it often could be as simple as an artist being 'too difficult' to deal with. Even best-selling artists have been dropped from showing because working with them is a nightmare from start to finish as in trying to get work out of them, or their demands for better or more wall space or hassling for money over other artists, expecting to jump the queue because they are ‘such and such’ and should be treated better than everyone else, sort of thing.  I’m not just meaning that the artist was necessarily a bad person, sometimes they were actually very nice but didn't know how to operate professionally such as with presentation of their work, or timeliness or keeping their records in order, expecting the gallery to know where all their work is at any given time including artwork that hadn’t even made it in the doors, believe me, there have been instances where artists have sworn black and blue that a particular gallery has their work only to find that it was taken elsewhere or hadn’t even left their studio in the first place!

The harsh reality of the situation in having a gallery love your work is only one very small part of what goes into the gallery’s decision to represent an artist. Taking on a new artist is a business gamble much like buying the correct house in the correct street if you’re into property investment, it has to be a likely good return on the investment because that’s what they are doing, investing in you. They need to be sure that your work is going to be popular with their buyers and bring in many sales so making a profit for them. It’s nothing personal. Ok so while liking the artists work is certainly the first criteria, there are other reasons a gallery has to consider before a gallery will commit to an artist. Understanding what those are will help you to effectively present your work to galleries and remove that inevitable sense of personal failure that follows when a gallery rejects your work.

Some of these reasons are generalisations, they’re not always the rule, some galleries will love your work or despise it for very different reasons but fortunately those are rare and not worth mentioning –

1) The artist lacks experience: often artists will start to approach galleries way too soon, as in before their work has fully developed. Galleries want to make sure that once they commit to you, your work will not make radical and/or unpredictable changes. Even if a gallery really likes your work, they may want to watch your development over a period of years to confirm their initial opinion. You also need to have a body of work that shows your unique style and enough to be able to have an exhibition. I’ve seen artists come in with one or two paintings wanting to suddenly be able to sell their work and become a top selling artist, it’s not like mowing the lawns once or twice and deciding to start up a lawn-care service, experience is important here too!

2) Similar to other work they have: Often galleries are reluctant to take artists that are too similar to an artist they already represent. It’s a good idea to approach galleries that have similar work styles to yours i.e. landscape and portrait work or abstract contemporary styles, but you paint people with square heads and they already have an artist who paints people with square heads, its highly likely they wont want two of you.

3) Really really different stuff: galleries like to represent artists whose work is similar as described above, its not good business practice to have a mish mash of styles and contrasts of genres as each will have their own following and clientele who are looking for certain things. If you have too broad a range of artwork you need the space to give enough variety to your audience and its very rare that there are enough walls to hang that amount of work on for most gallery spaces. If your work is outside their usual genre then that can be a reason, e.g a gallery specilaising in minimilistic abstract is no gonig to take on your watercolour scenes of mountains and lakes or vice versa.

4) Over priced: sometimes there are artists with a totally unrealistic sense of how to price their work. Prices should be worked out on the law of supply of demand. If a gallery feels they can not price your work fairly and still make their cut on commission, they won’t be likely to take a chance on you. 

5) Under priced or looks cheap: if you’re work isn’t likely to make much money for the gallery they’re not going to be likely to want to sell it, it will take up space that better priced work should be taking up. One artist I saw a while back brought in artwork made from iceblock sticks, another used recycled frames and cheap paper, which I'm not saying cant be done but it needs to be done well and these two examples were not unfortunately, so they were never likely to sell for much, if at all as they weren’t finished to a high standard and the gallery knew it. Even though the actual work itself was good, the artists didn’t want to use better materials and therefore did themselves out of representation with that gallery.

6) Hard to Store: most art galleries never have enough storage space. Artwork that is 3 dimensional, breaks easily or is heavy or hard to handle, they won’t want to deal with it. 

7) Hard to deal with: dealing with galleries means a relationship where you need to be able to talk about the things that are most often difficult to discuss with anyone like the nitty gritty of your artwork and big surprise (not!) money. Both the artist and the gallery need to have a level of trust and comfort that will guarantee honest communications. If a gallery sees you as being a difficult person to work with, they will most likely stay well clear of you. Funnily enough people talk in the art world and your reputation will often precede you, make sure it’s a good perception!


All in all it is possible that a gallery just doesn't like your work. Having a thick skin is the best way to cope with being rejected, and always keep in mind that there are hundreds of other artists out there, and not many galleries so its hard for everyone to get represented if at all. I hear artists talk about being rejected at 9 out of 10 galleries, its not uncommon even for well known artists, just keep on persevering, and look for the one in ten that will say yes!

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Posted: Wednesday 30 June 2010


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