Question: My question is about which opportunities are or aren’t worthwhile to pursue to further my art career.

Example: I had the chance to display my art at a small, local bar. Being a very unknown, newbie artist with only a few sales and shows as experience, I considered it. However, the owner hadn’t even seen my work! I didn’t follow up on it because I figured no one would see, let alone buy, my work at a dimly lit bar in a small town. Plus, I was concerned they might get damaged, or pick up weird smells! LOL.

My question is, should I display my art anywhere I get the chance? Or should I avoid some opportunities, such as this one?

Thanks, Lisa. Love your art and all the work you do to help us struggling artists!

~Diane O.

Oh this is such a great question and one I think all artists struggle with. Some will say to take every opportunity, as it’s free exposure. That free exposure thing can be tricky. There are SO many who use this as a way to take advantage of artists and musicians.There is no way for me to say what is and is not going to be a good fit for you, but I can share some of my experiences.

On one hand, if you feel the artwork will be safe, then there is no reason to go for it. I’ve known of several artists who sold out of local coffee shops and bars. The first two places I ever displayed my work were coffee shops. Nothing sold, but I had fun knowing my work was on display somewhere.  If the bar allows smoking, then that would be an absolute no for me. That smell will stick to the canvas and cause it to yellow. If I were to display artwork in a small bar, it would be smaller pieces that I did not spend a lot of time on. That way if they are damaged, no great loss. Check where they’re going to be hung as well. Is it in an area that a bored drunk person is going to pull a sharpie from their pocket and start doodling on the painting that is arms reach away or is it up high enough that it won’t get drawn on or have something spilled on it.

For the last several years I’ve had my work on display at a local city hall. They’ve taken great care of my work so far and I have sold a few pieces so that was totally worth it for me.

I think you need to do the footwork and see how the artwork is displayed and cared for. There was a local little art gallery that I had my work displayed in several years ago. They would also hold different events at the gallery. The “curator” did nothing to keep the artwork safe. People were leaning against the walls with their weight ON THE PAINTINGS! I ended up having to watch my own work to make sure this didn’t happen to mine. It was such a joke!  I should have seen the red flags by how the event was organized in the first place but figured I could trust a place that called themselves a gallery. When talking to the people involved in this so-called gallery, I found that they almost never sold any work there. Most of this was because of the type of work they displayed was VERY amateurish but these young artists thought they could sell their work for 4k, without having the technical skill or name built for themselves yet.  They hung artwork on the wall that was already damaged. They hung artwork on the wall that was done on large sheets of paper then thumb tacked to the wall because they weren’t framed.  Because they took everything, and at every skill level, they really appealed to no one and sold very little. I should have been more cautious when I saw this and not wasted my time or risked my artwork.

This is going to be the same for outdoor shows. There are always street fairs or art and craft fairs that we can join. I’ve known some who did well at these but it completely depends on the venue. Some will only have customers who are willing to buy things for under $20 at these events, while others are more high (like a big show at laguna beach every year) end and artists are able to sell thousand dollar paintings. Most of the art and craft shows and fairs are going to fall under the $20 max category.

Don’t pay to be a part of a show or fair like this without having been to one before. Sure that means you miss the show this year, but that is likely for the best. Go to any that you might be interested in and see what it’s like. Talk to the other vendors/artists there and find out if they feel it was worth doing. Make sure that you consider the time of year and weather for that area at that time of year. A city near me has an outdoor show every march. It costs nearly $600 to be a part of it. This area in march is prone to horrible weather. There are no refunds if it rains, has ice storms that weekend, or any other craziness we get. That is not a show I would even consider.

There are even publications that require the artist to pay for the CHANCE to be in their book…which that artist can then again pay for if they want a copy. This would be fine if you were actually advertising in a book that people besides other artists who also paid to be in it were going to purchase. This isn’t advertising though. This is paying THEM to let them use OUR artwork that they will then make more money off of.   If you’re contacted about a real advertisement opportunity, check the publication. Where is it sold? Will anyone even see it?  Is it worth your money to do it? Some people will say “but it’s exposure, it’s all worth it!!”. Exposure to who exactly? You really need to consider that before paying to be apart of something. Your money may be better spent on other things…like more art supplies or real advertisements!

An example of this would be if you’re a pet portrait artist. Advertising in a pet magazine would probably be a good idea. These are people with pets who would probably love a painting.  Advertising your services in an artist publication wouldn’t make sense, though. Those are other artists also looking to make money from their artwork. They don’t need to hire you.

I actually had one dude friend request me on facebook a few months ago for the sole purpose of trying to get me to pay him THOUSANDS of dollars to come to my studio and make a video to promote me here on his youtube channel with the “OMG THE EXPOSURE YOU WILL GET” claim.   He went so far as to imply that I was stupid not to take this amazing opportunity and how I needed it to be successful.   Uh…no. First, the means in which he contacted me were a HUGE red flag. You don’t friend request someone then try to sell them your services. Second…he clearly did not do his research on me or what I already do. If this guy who is trying to get me to pay something like 5k for his services can’t even take the time to research me, then chances are his services also aren’t so well thought out.

There are people everywhere looking to take advantage of our dreams to make it as a professional artist. Really look at the pros and cons of each opportunity that you’re presented with. With the internet and how we can now promote ourselves and get our work in front of people all on our own, we don’t rely on art shows, galleries, or needing to pay to be in other people’s publications to get our work in front of people, which means we can be much pickier about the opportunities we do choose to take!