Tag Archives: exhibition theme

How to prepare a theme or concept for an art exhibition

Unlike many professional artists, I didn’t go to art school. I always figured I could learn to paint just fine on my own, through practice – and I was probably right. However, I’m just finding out that there is a great deal of business methodology that I missed out on. You see, fine artists, galleries, dealers and other art-scene people speak the same language. They do things a certain way; doing things in this way automatically opens doors for artists – they are ‘in the club’ and galleries assume they know all the rules and will be easier to work with than someone who just paints.

This is largely true. I usually do things the ‘wrong’ (novice) way because I don’t have all that training.

A piece of this is preparing a ‘theme’ or concept for an art exhibition. The first few times I heard this, it threw me. I’d already done the paintings. Some of the paintings I’ve had for years. I can slap on a nifty title of the exhibition, but writing up a whole concept/theme of why I had painted those? It wouldn’t be honest. And I’ve had several exhibitions this year, with mostly the same paintings. How could I possibly have different themes?

Alas, I’m supposed to. I can’t do things differently from the accepted art world way and expect to be successful. I’m not speaking their language.

A friend of mine – who went to art school and learned the right way to do it – told me he spends several months researching his concept before he starts painting. Now to me (being very cynical and from the vantage point of an outsider) this sounds ridiculous. I guess it’s because very few artists nowadays are making anything distinctive or interesting on their own; there is no new movement or new style of painting – there is very little that hasn’t been done before. Hence, the only way to separate yourself and be unique is to explain in detail the why behind your work. So you research for several months until you can say a lot of smart things, then paint a series of whatever (probably some big, messy abstracts) and then tie it into that concept.

Yes, in a large number of cases, it’s probably bullshit.

That said – it’s the bullshit the greases the wheels of the art industry. If you have an exhibition of paintings with no concept, statement, interpretation of your pieces, etc, you will stick out as unprofessional. Don’t let this happen.

Art is usually about trivial stuff like mind, emotion, feeling, psychology, exploration, self-empowerment, communication, relationship, Truth, God, eternity, soul…. etc. Read some academic drivel about these things, throw it all together. Do this for every show – it can be similar (your artist statement need not change) but for each show you should be ‘striving to find/discover/accomplish’ something a little different.

Have this ready before you approach a gallery about an exhibition.