Carol Brooks Parker was one of the talented artists represented by Agora Gallery. She was chosen out of nearly a thousand entries to take part in the 2014 Best of Nature Photography Show, which took place at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Carol’s sensitivity to the beauty and complexity of the natural world makes her images almost breathe with an infusion of life, making her work a natural choice for this prestigious exhibition. But what can other artists learn from her experience? Read on to find out how to market your art.
How did you feel when you heard that you’d been selected for such an exciting show?
I actually got the news on my birthday! The competition guidelines had stated the selections would be announced on Friday September 12. I had positive vibes regarding my entries in the competition but Friday came and went without a word, as did Saturday. By then I was disappointed but philosophical. Then Sunday evening, on our way out to a birthday dinner, the email came through on my iPhone announcing the selection of not one, but two, of my images! I was elated. It was the best present I could have received!
Can you tell us about the experience of exhibiting your work at the San Diego Natural History Museum?
Just the word ‘museum’ conjures up an aura of exclusivity, conveying a stamp of quality and legitimacy to my work. It generates bragging rights that compare in impact with stating that my work is represented by a contemporary art gallery in New York City!
The San Diego Natural History Museum is 140 years old, a small and vibrant museum located in San Diego’s Balboa Park. It offers a rotating calendar of compelling exhibits. For example, in conjunction with the opening of the Best of Nature photography show, the Museum was also hosting a “Discovery of King Tut” exhibition.
The artists’ reception was well attended and the spectators seemed to really enjoy seeing and studying the works on display. There was a presentation of awards and I was highly honored when one of my images, “Exhale #2”, was awarded a prize. Just being included in the exhibition was exciting, but to receive this extra recognition was the icing on the (birthday) cake!
How did you get to hear about the image submission contest?
I actually entered the contest on the prodding of my daughter. She lives near San Diego and forwarded the announcement of the contest and its specifications via email. That was flattering, primarily because it showed she believed in my work and considered it to be a worthy equal to the previous prizewinning images.
Do you try to keep an eye out for competitions and other art opportunities?
How do you choose which images to enter?
Of course for each individual venue I try to select images most suitable for that particular audience. For a contest, generally I can look back at the winning entries from previous years to help me choose from among my own works what might fit in best. But to catch the judge’s attention, it helps to stand out from the crowd. I try to put forth an image that offers an unusual take on the subject matter. “Exhale #2” is a very unique view of a dolphin and always stops people in their tracks, even if only because they want to ask what they’re seeing!
I also try to view my work objectively – it is so easy to get emotionally wrapped up in an individual piece for multiple reasons other than its artistic merit. It’s important to have an unbiased eye when choosing your submissions. For this it can be helpful to enlist an outside party (not your mother!) for an honest evaluation.
I feel it helps to narrow down the selection to suit a specific venue, rather than blast the viewers’ senses with too much variety. For example, the subject matter of my own work is eclectic, but in the case of a local Tucson art show, I focused heavily on presenting my desert southwest images, feeling that subject matter would most resonate with potential buyers in Arizona. If I were exhibiting on the coast, I would show my seascapes and marine life work instead.
Can you share some of the other ways you market your art?
Not too long after my Agora Gallery exhibit, I joined a group of local artists in coordinating a two-day cooperative exhibit here in Tucson. When the organizer first reached out tentative feelers, I jumped at the opportunity as I felt this particular venue would be a great way to connect, as an artist, with my local friends, family and fans who wouldn’t be able to attend an exhibition in New York or San Diego.
It turned out to be a great success for all the participating artists, with an enthusiastic crowd and multiple sales. Don’t ignore the local impact – look what it got me: the show generated even more publicity for me when one of the attendees, an editor for a local magazine, asked to feature me in an issue. Each step along the way – an exhibition, a contest, a magazine article – helps open a door to the next. Bragging rights in your resume expand and look more and more impressive. Your admirers are validated and newcomers are suitably impressed.
I also donate artwork to support charity auctions in town. I make sure the work on display is accompanied by flyers and business cards. The base cost is not too burdensome in my case (photography), and it widens the audience being introduced to my work for the first time. For an artist who can’t afford to donate an original painting, perhaps an art print of the work could be offered instead.
I have read that participation in art fairs can be a successful approach, but that doesn’t fit in with my current lifestyle so I have not pursued it.
I try to keep my website attractive, professional, fresh and easy to navigate. Sharing the website link is a quick way to invite an interested party to see more of my work and peruse it at his/her leisure. I include the link with my signature on my emails, which often generates enthusiastic feedback from contacts that were made originally for completely unrelated reasons. Blogging and sharing recent work can serve to feed an updated fresh flow of information to interested parties and maintain or renew their interest. I also maintain an assortment of up-to-date marketing materials – brochures, artist statements, press releases, business cards – much of which were created or improved by Agora’s input. That’s an easy way to sell yourself without having to actually speak the words out of your own mouth, which many artists feel uncomfortable doing.
If you’re not happy creating your own promotional material, get help from professionals who specialize in this area, like those at Agora. Social media is another way to spread the word, although for photographers it is a double-edged sword due to the prevalence of image ‘stealing’ on the internet.
In a nutshell, what would be your advice for other artists who would like to gain a wider audience for their work?
The cumulative effect of all these efforts is to create a multi-pronged marketing campaign to bring attention to your work. You may be the greatest artist of your generation, but if you aren’t giving the world a chance to discover you, your talent will be overlooked.
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