Artist reception anxiety is a real thing! I know because I had a full-blown anxiety attack on my very first one.
It was in the early 2000’s at a very popular gallery in town. I was one of several featured artists, and we were opening on a 2nd Saturday. 2nd Saturday’s in Sacramento are monthly art walks where all of the galleries are open and it’s a crowded event.
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The artist reception opened on a rainy evening in November, and the rain didn’t stop the crowds. Music was blaring, wine was flowing, and the gallery was filled to capacity.
Not a lover of crowds to begin with, I began to feel anxious being surrounded by so many strangers. And when someone took their jacket off and draped it over one of my fused glass sculptures, I bolted from the gallery in a full-blown panic attack.
I drove home in the rain, feeling like a complete and total loser. Berating myself, I thought about how unprofessional I had been to walk out of my first artist reception. Then I cried about my artist career being over before it really began.
While I did continue to show my work in local galleries, I turned down many opportunities to do solo or featured artists shows. Instead, I was content with selling small glassworks and inexpensive paintings that didn’t require my presence during the artist receptions or art walks.
I never gave it another thought until one of my gallery owners asked me why I repeatedly turned down show opportunities and asked if I still even wanted to show my work there.
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I was surprised at her question, and at the time was so naive about the art gallery business. She shared information about the costs of running a gallery and the investment they took in each of their artists. She explained the price of marketing and overhead and the benefits solo shows were for successful artists. And she told me how critical artist receptions were to them and me.
She confirmed the faith they had in my art and my abilities. And in a gentle manner, told me I was sabotaging my art career by allowing my anxiety to win.
She then offered me an opportunity to be one of three artists in an upcoming show and gave me a week to decide. The artist reception would be held during another 2nd Saturday. Could I do it?
I chose to do the show and it was extremely successful. At the artist reception, I chatted with a ton of people and helped greet people at the door. I kept busy and proudly discussed my work with interested parties, and even several paintings that night!
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The fear didn’t go away immediately, but it did get easier as I practiced more and more. At last, I conquered the artist reception anxiety that had held me back. I can’t tell you how amazing that feels!
If you have anxiety over artist receptions, here are ten tips to help you conquer your anxiety. I hope they help you as they helped me!
1. Wear an outfit that makes you feel confident and beautiful, and wear comfortable shoes. Be sure your clothes fit well and don't bind or restrict your movements.
2. Before arriving, practice how you'll greet the guests. (My favorite is: "Thank you for coming to the artist reception tonight! Are you an artist too?" (This question has opened up so many interesting conversations for me and has led to many sales and friendships with other artists).
3. Breathe. Try my "5-5-5 for 5" count -- it works! Inhale to the count of 5, hold for 5, then exhale for a count of 5. Repeat 5 times.
4. Develop an exit strategy. Many people will be vying for your time, so try to limit conversations to a few minutes if possible. Find an opening and gently let the person know you've enjoyed chatting with them, but you'd better get back to your other guests. Thank them for coming and move on to the next person.
5. During the show, check in with your gallery people regularly. They will often want to introduce you to their favorite customers or have a question about a particular piece that they need you to answer.
6. If your hands shake from nervousness, grab some business cards from the gallery to hand out. The gallery will appreciate you doing this, and it will give you something to hold onto during the show for a bit of support. (NEVER hand out your own business cards when showing at a gallery -- they are representing you and your art, and it is not allowed!)
7. Bring a friend or spouse to the show. It's great to have someone there for some added support, but as soon as you're feeling less anxious, branch out and start working the room. Some people won't come up to talk with you if you are with someone else, and they may very well be your next collector wanting to purchase a piece of art!
8. Talk about your art. What is the story behind each piece? Can you summarize the piece in a few short sentences? Explain what materials you used and what inspired you to create it?
9. If you're asked to give an artist's talk, keep it brief and succinct. Talking points can include how long you've been an artist, where you got the idea for tonight's show, a funny story about your work/the show if you have one, and what your next project might be. End with asking if anyone in the audience has questions, then thank everyone for coming to the artist reception.
10. Lastly, take a sip of water, wine, or champagne if it's available. CAUTION: while alcohol may have a temporary calming effect, do not overindulge or drink on an empty stomach, as this may cause a show you weren't expecting to have!