ARTRIGHT is a project established to promote professional practice and business acumen in the South African visual arts community.

Identify your audience(s)

Content developed by Artquest

Your audiences are all the people interested in your work. They may be interested in a number of different ways: curators want to find artists to exhibit, collectors want to find artists to buy from, public galleries may be looking for artists to lead workshops or events, universities might be looking for visiting lecturers, other artists might be looking to collaborate, members of the public might be looking for entertainment, education or just a good day out. These different audiences need to be approached in slightly different ways - and you may not be interested in approaching all of them. Additionally, your work might 'naturally' appeal to different audiences more easily. 

Self promotion is the active process by which you increase the audiences you are interested in, depending on what you want to get out of your career. You may be looking for exhibitions, commissions, sales, a job or just to raise your profile to other artists. It can be useful to break down your 'total' audience so that you can create smaller tasks for yourself that won't become overwhelming or take too much time on their own. Trying to create 'something for everyone' can quickly become tiring and depressing. 

Remember that everybody you already know is a member of your 'network' and it is through this network that you will increase your audiences. You can use this network to expand your audiences, and advocate for your work along the way - just as you will be doing this quite naturally with the other artists you know too. No artist operates in a vacuum - the art world is very interdependent, based on mutual trust and reputations, and a personal recommendation will open more doors than simple cold calling or sending out copies of your work or unsolicited emails. 

Target specifically who you are trying to find and research how you can find them. For example, if you are trying to find an exhibition, ask yourself: what stage of my career am I at, and what types of venues are likely to be interested in my work? Some venues do not accept unsolicited proposals; some only show specific types of media - research where you should be looking and who you should be sending information to, and consider asking them what kind of information they are interested in. 

For whoever you are looking for, you need to carry out some research to make sure they are the right person to get in touch with and build a relationship with. It can take years, potentially, for an initial contact to turn into a concrete opportunity (see our How to meet a curator article), so spend your time wisely and find the right person to contact. 

  • Does this person have an interest in the kind of work I am doing (find out about projects  they have been involved with, who they have worked with etc). Once you are confident that what you do overlaps with what they are interested in you can tailor your messages to ensure you can present your interests as substantially the same as theirs. 
  • Am I saying what I want to say in a suitable way for this person? Are they likely to respond better to an academic, philosophical treatise on my work, a market-driven analysis of where I fit into the art world, a simple and jargon-free introduction to my practice? 
  • Although you have things you want to say about your work, and want to say this to all your audiences, you should expect to tailor your communication to each individual or  organisation. This means saying the same thing but in different ways - ways which highlight how what you do overlaps with what the individual or organisation is interested in. 
  • Look at their previous projects or past exhibition programmes and assess the career stage of artists they work with or the types of work in their programme.  Find out from people who know them what timescales they work to and how they construct their programme of exhibitions, commissions and residencies. Talk to artists  who've worked with them. 
  • Look at how they write - press releases, blurb on exhibitions, articles, how talks are structured, mission statements, introductions in catalogues etc. From this you can pick up key words and ideas that reflect the things of interest to them. When you communicate with them you'll know what aspects of your work to emphasise to them. 

You may, at the end of this research, decide that the person you were trying to contact is not right for your work; their interests are not the same, they are unlikely to be receptive to your work, or they are simply too busy and unlikely to have time to meet with you.