The Cost of Fame

Q. I want people to see more of my work, but how do I get more public exposure if I can’t get into a gallery or show? Is it “selling out” to put my work in a restaurant or office? Would it make me look like a less credible artist?

A. When I first started my art business in the basement of my house, I had no public space for my artists. Did this mean that the work wasn’t any good? Not in my opinion. I was happy with much of the work and grateful that these artists entrusted me with their careers. The challenge was to get them public exposure until I could afford to open the gallery—which came two years later. Consequently, I set up exhibits in corporate lobbies, in upscale restaurants and in the homes of wealthy socialites, and I entered the artists I represented in select art fairs all over the country.

The initial sales we made in the restaurants weren’t numerous, since no sales staff was on hand to discuss the work with prospects. Eventually I offered the wait staff a 10 percent commission on every prospect they brought me, which increased sales. Not a bad beginning.

This isn’t selling out, and it doesn’t make you look less credible. You’re in the process of establishing a following and hopefully creating collectors. Any appropriate venue is fine. After all, a gallery will look at you more favorably if you’ve sold several works than if you haven’t.

Regarding restaurants: These establishments can work well for selling your art over time, but only if the lighting is good and the setting is upscale. It also helps if the managers and wait staff feel genuine passion for what you do. Just make sure that you provide plenty of postcards printed with your contact information and, if possible, try to have a show opening that’s listed in the paper.

Beyond that, simply enjoy the gig. When done well, it can be a major step toward gallery representation. In fact, I discovered one of my best young painters in a Malaysian restaurant a couple of years ago. This turned out to be a very good thing for both of us.

Robert Barrettof Provo, Utah, is an artist illustrator and drawing teacher at Brigham Young University.

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