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The Studio Visit: Five Helpful Hints
Editors’ Roundtable
Column by Matthew Kangas

Burton Gray talking with a of couple visitors about art and the science of creation. Courtesy Burton Gray Studio, Brewery Art Walk, Spring 2015

Congratulations. You have successfully pursued and received a promise for a studio visit from an important and influential (Select one): art critic, curator, dealer or collector couple. Here are a few helpful hints so as to further the future prospects of enhancing both your art and art career.

When will they visit? Saturday afternoons or weekday mornings are best for you, if asked. This avoids scheduling conflicts in most cases. Don’t ever, ever invite someone over for a studio visit without a whole lot of work to show them. To do less amounts to seeking teacher’s say-so before proceeding or, worse, to seriously misread the limited time they have to spare for you. Sure, it’s “part of their job,” but every art museum curator, dealer or critic I know is dreadfully overworked (even though it doesn’t look that way).

How to prepare? Comfortable seating and expensive mineral water (still and sparkling) are a must. Fruit juices, chocolate, wine and coffee are OK, but don’t overdo it. You will have as much art as possible already on view when your guest arrives. Give them a few minutes to take it all in before expecting a response. Have stacks of unframed works on paper lying around for them to “discover” and, by all means, if they seem to want to stay, after 45 minutes or an hour offer to show them your “secret stash,” a portfolio that you have already filled with old and new prints, photographs, sketches, and generally unsalable or unshowable work; this cements your authenticity and reassures the visitor that they now know more about you than their rivals or colleagues do.

What should you say? “Thank you for coming to my studio” is good. This begins a tango of gratitude and pride. They are lucky to visit you: the studio is a sacred precinct of creativity. You are glad they came and want to learn all about your art. Gauge the interest of your guest to determine the quantity of discussion. Let them natter on (usually relationship or job problems), remaining attentive and sympathetic. However, always return the topic of the conversation to you and how excited you are about your new work, or old, as the case may be. At first, try to agree with what observations or insights they are sharing but, at the right moment, politely disagree to demonstrate you think for yourself. This may surprise your guest, but will puzzle and impress them. This is right where you want them.

How to end the visit? The guest will decide when he or she has to leave but, remember, the longer you can detain them, talking about your art and looking at it, the more likely they will want to spend more time with you and continue to look at your work. You may be offered an exhibition, put in a group or introductory show; a purchase proposal might be made for a particular work (you should have your prices thought out, please never posted, beforehand); or an article, book or monograph might follow. As to their summary remarks upon leaving, promise your serious consideration of everything they tell you. If they recommend a book, do not admit you have already read it: you cannot wait to read it — and hold off discussing it until the guest's next studio visit.

How to gauge the success of your visit? Ideally, another visit is promised but without setting a date: you’re both too cool to do that. For most artists, this alone is equivalent to attaining the sixth chakra of erotic ecstasy. If the visitor is ambiguous or evasive, do not be dismayed. Often the most powerful people are the most non-committal. Such a façade may be interpreted as pro or con, extending the amount of time they have to make up their mind about you.

Critic Dwight Macdonald referred to postwar New York intellectuals as a “herd of independent minds;” so it is with the movers and shakers of the art world. They want the consensus of other “risk-takers.” You have crossed the hurdle of your studio visit. Next time I’ll address the collector couple’s studio visit and how to approach (or not approach) people of power to whom you want to show your work and have pay attention to you.

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