Ask a Gallery Owner | What Do I Do When a Friend Is Chatting Me up at an Art Show?

art show

From a recent email:

Dear Jason,

Thank you for the great class. I wish I would have known these things when I was a gallery co-owner. There were 11 owners and we were not trained in selling, just learned by experience. I know there were times like you mentioned when I could have done more to close the sale. However I am armed with new info to use at outdoor events and show openings.

Perhaps that is another subject. How to promote yourself and your work during a a show’s opening reception that includes your work.

I did type a question at the end of your broadcast:
How does one handle friends at an event that want to chat.  However, there are people looking around in your booth or at an opening that you would like to interact with. Any thoughts for a graceful transition?


Joey F.

My Response:

Thanks for attending and for the feedback. Great question when friends want to chat you up and I run into exactly the same thing in the gallery. I have found that being direct is the best way to deal with the issue and I will grab a friend’s arm while they are in the middle of a sentence and say, “Excuse me, I’ll be back,” and leave them. They will understand the importance of what you are doing and won’t be offended (if they are you can start working on getting new friends!) Your number one priority when participating in a show is your customer, don’t let anyone get in the way.


What Would You Do?

Have you ever had to walk away from friends at an art show? What do you think is the best way to handle this situation?

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I be as polite as possible but I say “Excuse me while I deal with these people over there”. I have yet to have someone be insulted if I deal with customers before friends. Everyone seems to understand. R.

  2. Hi Jason, I was just wondering if you had considered letting thosew who attended
    have a copy of the class maybe on a download. I would have liked to be able to hear it again before my show this wekend, it helpsme to hear things a couple times to seep into my brain. Thanks again for a great seminar! Teri

  3. Me too . .”You don’t mind if I leave you to go talk with customers do you?” Then my friend will get very excited, for me, and say “YES, of course!” Then smile as they push me away

  4. Thanks to you, Jason, I started a blog today on art. You are so inspiring. Plus I have time now to do this.

    Do you do layaway on art? I had a gallery for four years and sold a couple pieces on layaway.

  5. I usually find that friends and co-workers like seeing me in this new light and get excited about the event. I like the suggestions mentioned and I would agree that most friends would be fine with running off to talk to a potential customer. Keep in mind that your friends may also purchase something so be careful not to treat them like they are simply there for pats on back and to drink all of your free wine.

    I met a few artist friends in Indianapolis recently and they had questions about marketing and setting up their business. I’ll share a piece of advice I gave them.
    1. You need to determine early on exactly how much you are going to charge your old college roommate, aunt Sharon, the lady who sits next to you at work, or a neighbor. It’s easy to hem and haw when a personal friend or relative asks for a price because it’s uncomfortable to ask these people for money, but here’s my point. In the beginning, ALL OF YOUR CUSTOMERS WILL BE PEOPLE YOU KNOW PERSONALLY! If you can’t look them in the eye and give them a straight answer you’re dead in the water. Figure out a specific price point, then a discount for friends and family and go for it. I’ll let them make payments if that works best.

    I hope this helps!

    1. I think you’re right James, deciding before the situation comes up. I recently was talking to a friend who was looking at several pieces of my work and asked the prices. I was flummoxed, felt like a deer in headlights. I told him a number off the top of my head, but I won’t let that happen again. It IS best to have it all figured out and a discount amount, if any, you’re willing to consider.

  6. Very timely.
    I was invited to exhibit at the opening of a new Art Heritage Center in our town.
    It will be a weekend of events but I have been asked to be “on hand”. The work will remain up for a month.
    I know people I know will be there and they will want to chat.
    Heck- I like to chat too.
    But- as you have said before Jason, “Always bring your A-game.”
    I will be taking the day of the first evening’s event (private reception) to memorize the lines and advice.

  7. My advice, don’t invite friends, only clients, unless is your best friend and wants the best for you and also get’s it! In my experience friends ask annoying questions like -how you got in here? or -the prices are ridiculous!- like saying I can’t believe you have any talent at all. They also like to drop massive news about their personal lives like- I am pregnant!- literally this happen to me the first time I had a big group show, as if they could not wait for another moment to talk about themselves. They can also get jealous and not let you talk about the show at all and of course they do not understand you are there to make connections and attend the needs of anyone who asks questions about your work. They might even get upset if you want to talk to new people or get complements from strangers. I have had relatives taking away the conversation with clients towards something else and I have lost the chance to make a new sale for this reason. The thing is people think shows are parties and they think an artist is in them just to enjoy. If you want your friends to go because you want to drive more people to the gallery or to your show so they buy or learn send them after the opening!

    I only go with one person who understand those three hours are about me working, no matter if I am looking at other artists’ works or saying hello to the curator, if there is ever the slight chance or meeting people that can become clients or even taking pictures of the event. I might look like I am having fun in a party but I am completely focus on even watching what sells! If you want to sell to your relatives and friends do it in a different setting where is more familiar.

    1. I have had the same thing happen. Friends jumping in to intervene “for” me with potential customers as if they think I am messing up somehow. Or others who are there for a good time and monopolize every conversation.

  8. My husband would take over the conversation away from art and talk about sports and other things It was hard to get back what piece of art they enjoyed looking at etc. . This was on art walk nights. Oh well😊

    1. Yes! Partners do that often and they can destroy your chances to make sales and to connect with the clients. Talk to your partner and ask for their support telling them for you is not a party but an even to work. If they do not get it go with another person that can support you!

    2. I have run into that as well. Husbands/partners not versed or not aware of the necessities of an art business can be disaster. When I had my gallery, my (now-ex) threw people out at the end of a reception once…Okay folks, time to go home…our marriage didn’t last long after that.

      1. I’m sorry, I know it’s not funny, but your comment made me laugh out loud. I’ve known only one person that had the temerity to say that exact thing (okay folks, time to go home) to people and I remember how shocked and upset I was by it. I suppose there are some people who are just insensitive or, well, something..

    3. my late husband was uninvited to art events for that reason. I would make an effort to give him and some family a private viewing making it special.

  9. If a friend is standing before a piece of art ….and is shooting the breeze about something unrelated to art… I direct them back to the art and talk a little bit about the piece itself… Often that gets the attention of other people and the focus is where it should be.

  10. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and I really enjoy the information. It’s stuff I haven’t
    seen anywhere else. Thanks! (I am a new artist, I have a website on ArtStoreFronts. I like hearing about galleries too!)

  11. Great conversation and I have had so many situations like this until I hired a friend who is not an artist, but a good talker, sales person, and promoter. She would not accept payment so I bought her a day at the spa! I watched her in amazment as she asked passers-by, “what brings you to the show” or if they were looking at my artwork, “what do you like about this art” or do you have a spot for this? etc. etc. Often I found myself talking about concept and process, but she would clench the sale. Also, yes, good-meaning friends do come and chat, and it is important that right from the get-go I say, “if someone comes along, I’m going to have to go talk to them. Or I say, let’s step over here so the booth isn’t blocked. I also invite close friends and family to see the work prior to going to the show, or ask them to come at slow times. It took a while to learn this, but it really works.

  12. I have a dear friend who is a former gallery owner and great at sales. She acts as my agent at home or studio events and lets me circulate. She intervened when another friend tried to promote her book ( in fairness I had illustrated it) . She brought the conversation back to the art on display. She watched to see what pieces were getting attention from a visitor and then while chatting made a point of saying “excuse me but someone is asking about that piece (describing it) . She created a buzz by pointing out who else was buying and how fast pieces were selling. She timed the sales so there was a line of customers, not too long of course but enough to make it seem urgent to buy. We took photos of each customer with the art and the artist. This meant I was called over to be in pictures… further buzz. The first time we did this we sold about 1/3 of the art in a couple of hours.

    1. That’s professionalism. You don’t have to be a gallery owner to do this – just bold. I know it can feel challenging to take charge this way, especially as an artist, but imagine yourself an actor playing the part of a great promoter/seller. You may not get it exactly right the first time you try this, but keep trying.

  13. My daughter in law told me she would invite some of her wealthy friends, all with big houses, to my art show. They are all into horses and all have money.
    I was salivating with the idea of some really good prospects showing up and the sales I might make. All of these ladies run in the same circles and all knew each other well. On the day of the show, none of them took any interest in my art, or even entered into my booth, but mainly stood outside and gossiped among themselves, not only that, they effectively blocked any other lookers from easy entry into my booth. That lasted at least thirty minutes. Needless to say, very disappointing to me. What could I do without straining relations in all circles?

    1. That’s a disappointing situation for sure George. I wouldn’t hesitate to say in a friendly way, “Ladies, can I have you step over here to converse,” to move them out of the entry. I would also try to grab their attention. “Welcome, ladies! Step this way, and I’ll tell you a little about my work” and then launch into an introduction to yourself and your art,” as if you had planned to give them a talk all along. Don’t be afraid to be bold – your livelihood depends on it.

  14. An equally important dilemma is one I experience frequently: three potential customers, all in your display area, with one bending your ear, asking lots of questions, while the other two look interested in a particular piece, but finally walk away. Then the one who was the focus of your efforts also walks away. Is there a way to assess which one really should be your focus?

  15. I am always uncomfortable when a friend is talking to me at an art show and doesn’t seem to want to move on. I find it hard to excuse myself. I need to get bolder and simply excuse myself.

    Thanks for posting this. I have a show coming up in March and maybe need to practice before then.

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