Blog after blog, article after article, book after book, they all have a common theme. That is, what is it that makes one artist successful while another struggles for years? Is it knowing which galleries are right for your work? Or is it collecting enough degrees and accolades to be taken more seriously? Just what is it that launches some artists into the stratosphere while others remain here on earth? One question that has often plagued artists over the years is, just how much does personality count when trying to get in with a gallery? It’s all about the art, isn’t it? According to most sources these days, it’s definitely not.
A recent article on Artsy asked this question and the results were perhaps surprising. It turns out that personality not only counts but very likely may count for more than the artwork itself. As in all things, at the core, this is an interaction between people and personalities, and both sides want to get the relationship right. For the gallery, this means taking a risk on a sometimes unproven artist. One fresh out of school who hasn’t got much of a track record when it comes to sales or original work just yet.
Many gallerists, therefore, rely on the perceived personality of the artist to inform them where the work can’t. Taking a gamble on someone who seems unstable or unlikely to continue producing is bad form for a gallery. Predicting these things is entirely unreliable at times, of course, but most gallerists will try.
As Artsy points out, there can be a big discrepancy between the initial impression an artist’s work makes and what happens after. Of course, most people will put their best foot forward when approaching a gallery, it is up to the gallerist to decide whether this person will remain an asset to the organization. Artsy quotes Jennifer Silverman who says that other things like “their personality, level of ambition, and stamina…guage whether they might make future bodies of work that will be of interest as well. Because nobody wants a one-hit wonder.”
And before you start wondering whether this is a recent feature of the life of an exhibiting artist, listen to the tale of Andy Warhol’s big break. Irving Blum, who was the first to offer Warhol a solo show in New York City, explains in a documentary film about Warhol’s life and career that when first approached by the artist he didn’t like the work presented. It was Warhol’s personality rather than his work that made Blum gamble on the little-known artist in 1962. According to Blum, Andy Warhol’s work was entirely confusing. But the man himself was engaging, a personality to be reckoned with. And so Blum took a chance.
While it may be frustrating to learn that personality can often count for more than the art, know that this is true across virtually all fields. The same is true for the art business. If the personalities don’t mesh, no matter how established the individuals, the relationship between artist and gallery will suffer. And just because you may not be a match with one gallerist does not mean you won’t be with the next. Yet another reason to never limit your options. Get your work, and yourself in front of as many potential galleries as possible.
All this said it is also important to remember some immovable wisdom when it comes to art, artists, and the so-called “business of art.” At the end of the day, art is about expression and life, it is about love, about the soul, about humanity, about hope, at least in part – it is hard to define but we know art is made even when there is no remuneration, no payday, it is not about the money.
Unlike pretty much every other field, the art world has a history of rewarding the unique, the non-conforming. As humans, it should come as no surprise that personality does matter in the art world. We are social creatures by nature and spend our entire lives quietly interpreting each other. It is an established truth that art can be big business, but the above is also eternally true when it comes to art. Be whatever you want to be. Do not feel as though you have to play it straight. Oftentimes in the art world, big personalities mean big results. Eccentricity and originality are typically assets in this community. Betty Cunningham confirmed that in an interview with me saying that she generally prefers artists who are a bit outrageous. The art world is known for personalities. And not necessarily the same ones you might encounter in your average neighborhood. Again refer to the story of Irving Blum and Andy Warhol, not an artist known for his demure personality, he had no natural charm in the traditional sense. Don’t be intimidated into subduing your more offbeat characteristics. Let your true colors shine, or your freak flag fly – and trust in your devotion to the work. It’s not about the money, it’s about communication, and with communication and exhibits, sales can indeed potentially be made by people who understand the beautiful things you are making with all their heart.