There’s an essential truth about galleries often misunderstood by artists: gallerists are always looking for new talent, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to respond to every single inquiry...
This can cause some strife between young artists and galleries, but it really comes down to mismatched expectations. There are plenty of reasons galleries don't respond to artists. Most often, we don't want to provide false hope. Other times, it’s the way in which an artist reaches out—that fifth facebook message in a row in all caps reading "WILL U SEE MY ART?????" is just impersonal and kind of weird.
Sometimes the work is priced too high, or the content is weak and unsellable. Sometimes the artist is clueless—why are you, an oil painter, asking for representation from us, a photo gallery? Sometimes, the artist hasn't done their research. When I receive an email starting with "Dear Sir," you can bet I'm not reading the rest.
When representation isn’t an option, some galleries will direct artists to juried shows that charge an application fee—a subject rife with its own set of controversies. I’ve been on all sides of the juried show debate: as an artist, gallerist, and juror. I can assure you from all sides these fees are not always a scam, but unfortunately a few bad apples have ruined it for the honest galleries.
It is also up to the artist to be self-aware and not throw money at a show that isn’t a good fit for them. A gallery I used to manage once received over five hundred responses to a call for entry, but a lot of the work didn’t fit the theme of the show. That’s just a poor investment on the part of the artists, who should be asking themselves “are these jurors people who need to see my work?” For artists who show promise, a “no” in the short term shouldn’t be viewed as a failure.
It’s common practice for galleries to pass along work to a colleague who might be better suited to work with that artist, or even just follow that artist for a few months, sometimes years - to see how their work develops. We occasionally receive messages from artists seeking representation who claim they’re selling art faster than they can produce it. If you’re successfully selling work on your own, representation may not be a good fit for you. A general contract usually states artists and gallerists split sales 50/50.
This doesn’t include discounts interior designers, repeat clients or large businesses receive -- suddenly, that piece you were selling for $1000 without a dealer, is only making you $400. I understand for many, there’s a dream out there to exhibit at an art fair like Art Basel or Frieze, and to do so it’s essential to have gallery representation, but I cannot emphasize this next part enough: if your goal is to be a full-time artist, keep making art. Explore your ideas. Fail while doing it, learn from those failures. Continue researching galleries that fit your aesthetic, cause galleries research artists too, and you’ll cross paths.