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Question: How do I get my work seen?

Editor's note: This interview is part of a series on putting your work out there.

FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)

Q: How do I get my work seen?

A: As artists and teachers, Kevin and I get this question all the time. Most people who are asking it have had frustrating and unsuccessful experiences with the first things they’ve tried. In my experience, cold calling galleries and curators and entering competitions and “juried shows” are usually not worth your time. I do have a few ideas that have worked for us and for others we know though.

First, I’d suggest thinking of yourself, not as an isolated artist, but as a viewer and community member. Be a good patron of the galleries you love. This doesn’t mean buying art, necessarily, but galleries and independent curators will see you at their openings. More importantly, you will get a good sense of what and who they show. Maybe you are an emerging artist and they don’t really show emerging artists. I have met gallerists who find it insulting to be solicited by artists who have never been to their space. It’s good to know if you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Meet other artists at these openings. Trade studio visits. You never know who might connect you with a curator, writer, or gallery when they’re excited about your work. Many artists even curate or run artist-run spaces, which are a great way to begin. It’s so much easier to make calls to curators on behalf of someone else than on your own behalf.

People like to connect friends with other friends. In my experience, if someone hears about your work more than once or twice, they begin to think they should probably check it out themselves. If you’re interested in showing at a non-profit space, it’s even easier. Volunteer to help run and assist their programs. I have a friend who volunteered at a benefit show for a non profit in Brooklyn. She helped check-in guests and serve drinks and while there met a writer who is now including her work in a book about art made about Chernobyl, which is the body of work my friend just finished.

Also, ask yourself who you want to see your work. Artists usually reply “everyone!,” but this is actually not a very useful audience. Think about who your work would appeal to. Are you a painter who uses graffiti-like marks in your work? There is a whole scene of graffiti artists, skateboarders, urban planners, brick masons, etc. who might love your work. Maybe that’s a dumb example, but try to think of who you are, what your work is about, and who the extended community of viewers and patrons might include. With social media it’s easy to reach them and easy for them to reach you.

Finally, if you have a studio, that’s perfect. Use it not only to hang your work, but to organize events for your friends, family, and people who should see your work. If you have a new project to unveil, have a party. People love to drink cheap wine and see art that no one has seen yet. Whether or not you have a studio, apply for studio residencies. There are artist colonies nationally and internationally that you can apply to and some may even be in your own city. People think these residencies are to make work—and they are—but they are also to get a bunch of arts professionals and other artist to see your work and help it get out there. Our first opportunities in NYC came from a friendly artist in the studio next to ours who introduced us to a few people who came to his studio. (THANKS Stephen!)

Jennifer & Kevin McCoy

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A lot of times, people are on each other’s radars, but they’re both too shy to say something. Sometimes if I like someone’s work on Instagram, I send them a direct message, like, “Hey, I love your stuff.” Just reach out to them and ask them to get coffee or something. Most of the time, they’re going to be so psyched that somebody likes their work and wants to meet up in real life.

It’s more like you are an artist, this is what you do, this is what you have to do, this is what you naturally do. And you’re going to do that in any way that you can. So what you end up doing is if certain doors are closed to you, you find other ways of making work and sharing work and applying that work. All you’re trying to do is do what you naturally want to do and you’re naturally inclined to do, which is make art and share it.

I like to visualize things in micro steps. And if it’s something that a billion other people that have done before me, I’ll look and see, what does their CV say? What exhibitions have they been in? Who have they shown with? What collections are they in? Looking into these things will give you hints of possible trajectories you could take, and possible approaches.

I’ve been applying for residencies, grants, or thinking of some sort of work exchange. I have a folder dedicated to rejection where these things have been going so far. I like looking at it every once in awhile, to remind myself how much I’m trying.

There’s never any time lost. Even something you might think of as a mistake or as a failure is really just you collecting material or information that could be rearranged or re-applied differently to get a successful outcome.

It’s definitely a good idea to create a network of other people that are doing what you’re doing so that you can test out ideas, ask them what they think of things, etc. You often need honest, open criticism of what you’re doing.

You go where the work takes you and you embrace opportunities as they present themselves.

About the Author

Jennifer & Kevin McCoy

Artists

Jennifer & Kevin McCoy’s multimedia artworks examine the genres and conventions of filmmaking, memory, and language. They are known for constructing subjective databases of narrative material and making fragmentary miniature film sets with lights, video cameras, and moving sculptural elements to create live cinematic events.

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