I’m a positive thinker, and I really don’t like to burst anyone’s bubble, but even us creative types have to come out of our cosy self-created wonderland sometimes and ask the question “Is my art any good”. Yes we’ve all watched Idol on TV, laughing and cringing as worryingly deluded people step up convinced that they are the next big thing, not even realising that their sense of reality is somewhat removed from the average. You don’t want to be the equivalent of that person in the art world, so lets do a little investigation here before we start.

Are people really interested in your art? Do people stop and stare when they pass your art? Does it have that ‘certain something’, star quality, a ‘je ne sais quois?’.

It’s all relative of course. If you are a beginner artist then your art may not have reached it’s full potential yet, but there has to be a certain something about your art no matter what level of experience you have that makes people stop, look and get interested if you want to have any chance of success with your own art exhibition.

How do you know if your art is any good?

Lets defines terms here. By ‘good’ in terms of an art exhibition I mean interesting, engaging and that ultimately someone would be willing to transfer money from their bank account to yours to own it.

Good art, the kind that people want to see and buy (you want to make a living out of this, right?) engages them in some way. They stop for a good while and stare at it. They say things like “oh!” (in a fascinated way) or “now THAT’s interesting”. It induces some kind of emotional state. Good art gets a very real reaction.

Just because your best friend, mum, dad, great uncle, neighbour three doors down etc says that “you are very clever” and that your art is “pretty” does not necessarily mean that your art is good.

To know if your art is any good, you need to show it to people who don’t know you at all, people who don’t know or even care about ‘your story’.

How to find out the cold, hard truth about your art in one evening over a glass of wine

Here’s my subversive tip for really figuring out if your art is any good in terms of (at least some) people actually being interested in it before you invest your time and hard earned cash in the opening night of your life:

  • Enter your art in local art competition exhibitions

Yes, this may seem obvious, but wait, there’s more…

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If you actually get your work past the committee that chooses the artwork for the exhibition, depending on who the committee is, this might indicate some level of ‘goodness’ about your art, but we don’t really care about that at this stage because we are more interested in what ‘the street’ thinks about our art. What does Mr and Mrs everyday ordinary gallery going person think about what we have to offer? To find this out we need to go undercover.

I’ll illustrate the approach with a story:

When I was a child my mother would often enter her art in the local art competitions, and I would toddle off full of excitement with the family to opening night. Mum really wanted to know what people thought of her art and had no hesitation in sending me, as an undercover mini secret agent to find out the mood of the crowd in relation to her paintings. Glass of orange juice in hand I stealthily lurked in the vicinity of Mum’s creations and cast a sneaky ear on the conversations that were happening as each gallery goer passed the artwork. People can be quite open about their feelings when they think no one is listening, a small boy sipping on orange juice goes quite unnoticed, and I mentally noted down every word and dutifully reported back to Mum with every detail my young mind could remember. I still do this at my own art exhibitions today!

So your mission, should you choose to accept it:

  • Find someone to stand unobtrusively around your artwork on the opening night of an exhibition acting as your undercover agent.

If its a big exhibition and no one even knows who you are then you could even do this yourself. Holding a glass of bubbly and quietly staring at the artworks next to yours will give you ample opportunity to tune in your ear to the mutterings of groups that pass your work. It’s not so much words you are listening for (though this helps), its more a case of judging how well people are engaging, stopping, staring, and noting things to each other about the work. Be aware though that an art competition opening night is filled with other artists, who tend to be arts biggest fans and biggest critics too!

If you do this a few times at a number of art competitions then you’ll start to build up a picture of how your art is stacking up against other art in terms of ‘goodness’. Notice how long do people stop and stare at other artworks in the competition. Does your art get more attention? less attention? more reaction? less reaction? Does it tend to get prime placement in the gallery? Does it get hidden away in a dark corner? Does it win? Winning art competitions is not necessarily the ultimate barometer of goodness but it can certainly help you on your mission; everyone loves a winner.

Spontaneous Adulation

Another marker of art that is likely to do well at an exhibition is that when you show it to people they ask if they can buy it. Again this may seem obvious, but really, if your art can induce someone to ask the price when they’ve never seen it before then the chances are that it might do well at your art show.

When I first started out in the art world I created screen-prints of my paintings in my garage. For some reason I showed them to the staff in the screen-printing supply shop where I bought my equipment. I was almost shocked when they were willing to hand over money right then and there for my screen-prints. It seemed everywhere I took them, people wanted to know if they could buy them or hang them in their gallery, framing shop, restaurant or home. I was even more surprised when an art agent came to seek me out after having heard about my art that hung in the screen print supply shop. When it came time for my exhibition opening night everything did indeed go well, and I made my first ever painting sale for $395 (a lot of money to me at the time) to someone I didn’t know before the exhibition had even opened.

It’s amazing how these things build momentum once you get started and you’ll never know if your art is any good unless you actually show people; so off you go, get out there and start the ball rolling!