“If you don’t work with a gallery, you can’t sell your art”
Now the comedic author of this tall tale is a gallery owner. And to be fair, while I’ve worked with galleries and been represented by galleries in the past, I am an advocate for avoiding them.
And here’s why: no artist needs a gallery to be successful.
I know, that’s a shocker. Here’s another one: you don’t need to do art fairs and other shows either.
Sure, those can be good money makers in the short term but the reality is, if you know how to write about your work, know who your target market is (hint, it’s not everyone), know how to take decent photos of your work, you have access to a global audience with no middle man.
Galleries have been the mainstay of the art world for a very long time. I am not saying that they have no place in the world, because they do. But they are not the gatekeepers to success that artists are led to believe.
Here are my issues with galleries:
If you’re in one and your art sells, you don’t get any info about the buyer. That’s the gallery’s property. You can’t do follow up. You don’t even know how they feel about the work.
You pay a commission. Now, with a good gallery it can end up being worth it. They market you like mad. They run shows. They get your work in front of the right buyers and you sell. Not only that, they network you so that your work is in front of new people and new opportunities. And the price of this is between 35 and 50% of the price of you art.
So worth it if you’re in the right gallery. Otherwise, completely not worth it. Remember that you have to factor in your material costs as well as any marketing materials. Your part of the sale may not actually be profit.
You may be limited to only working with the gallery. Another one that removes the agency from the artist. You can’t sell your art anywhere else. For this I say, read your contract well and question everything. Get expert help.
Your work must be ready to hang and show. Now, this may be nothing different than what you do to sell work elsewhere, but often times it means framing your art and that adds up fast. I sell almost all my art unframed and let the buyer choose a frame at their end. Something I don’t have to worry about or add into my costs.
You incur other costs like shipping your art, and insuring it. You may or may not be asked to contribute to paying for wall space, show opening costs or other thing. Make sure, again, that your contract outlines everything.
You don’t know how your art is received. Meaning, unless you are in the gallery regularly, you don’t know how people are reacting to it or interacting with it. Being an artist is hard, knowing your work elicited a reaction, and knowing what that it, helps.
You have no control over how you and your work is marketed. A lot of artists gladly give up the reins in this one because they don’t know a thing about marketing but that’s a mistake. YOU are your brand. Not your art. And you’re allowing someone else to decide what the public experiences about you.
You’re stuck with the local market. A gallery sells things to people who come through the doors. Not exclusively, but definitely more often. After all, they have their focus too. Unless you live in a big city, your local market is too small to sustain your business.
You end up splitting your time trying to get into galleries and trying to sell your work. Both are full time jobs. There are millions more good and great and exceptional artists, than there are galleries. And galleries, the good ones, have specific audiences they market to. Not only do you have to sort through which galleries are right for your work, but you have to compete against other artists.
I despise competition between artists. We are colleagues. Being pitted against each other, hoarding our secrets and work because other artists are out to get us, just creates a world of negativity. A spy and an enemy behind every corner.
I don’t worry about other portrait artists. Or even other portrait artists in my genre. Don’t care at all. We all offer great work. We all have our audiences. If someone chooses my art over yours, great. If it’s vice versa, I don’t worry about it.
All that changes when there are ten spots for artists and a thousand artists vying for them.
Look, I know schools teach the gallery route. The instructors are part of the system, and the problem. My oldest kid just finished art school and is hell bent on galleries. But they are not the be all and end all of your career. And in fact, they may even slow you down.
Whatever you choose, do so with your eyes wide open. Decide who is in charge of your future as a creative professional and make choices that serve you first.