Smart art galleries know it’s not the words on paper but the emotion in the piece that makes clients pull out the credit card or check book. The gallery’s number one concern is will this stuff sell? What your bio, artist’s statement or resume articulates will be of no help if you don’t make art that connects with buyers.– Jack White
You can find countless blog posts, articles, books, and courses specifically created to help artists learn how to get into art galleries. Most offer a mix of insights, experience, and common sense.
It’s reasonable for some artists to assume getting gallery representation will solve all their marketing problems. Unfortunately, that’s not a realistic notion. It’s more complicated on many levels.
Pros of Gallery Representation.
Ostensibly, every artist craves the prestige being in a gallery offers and the relief of having someone else handle marketing and sell their artwork. That’s because contracting with a third party to promote and sell their work is the ideal situation for artists who don’t like dealing with the public or working on marketing. Outsourcing things you don’t like or lack skills to do makes sense on some levels for some artists.
Cons of Gallery Representation.
So far, getting into a gallery sounds good on paper, as hypotheticals always do. The reality is getting into galleries is challenging work, comes with painful rejection, and is not a panacea for art business success. A gallery may do little or nothing to burnish your reputation. It can take long months for new artists before a gallery makes a first sale, plus another month or longer before you get paid.
A single gallery seldom generates enough sales to sell all your work. Getting into several galleries multiplies everything for the artist, starting with preparing and pitching your work to more galleries. And each new gallery contract requires an initial supply of artworks to with the routine need to provide more pieces of a similar nature.
Inventory Management Requirements.
Multiple galleries ramp up your need to implement an organized system for managing your inventory. You can’t set it and forget it either. It’s incumbent on you to stay in touch with your gallery to stay informed about sales and get feedback.
Most gallery owners got in the business because they love art and artists. But they don’t all come with similar business and marketing skills. Give enough of them a chance, and some will break your heart. The number of galleries that shutter annually is significant. It’s not an easy business model, and most gallery owners have no support to lean on when things go south.
Rolling the Dice.
Nightmare stories of galleries suddenly closing with the inventory disappearing with them are real. It’s a high-risk business for established gallerists and often worse for novices who have the passion and money to start a gallery but lack the business acumen and industry knowledge to build a successful retail art gallery.
When you work with galleries, you must be aware there is a chance you will not get paid, and you may never get your artwork back. Working with galleries is not advisable if you can’t live with that slim but potentially disastrous outcome.
Understanding and Respecting Gallery Operation Economics
Operating a gallery is an expensive proposition with ongoing fixed monthly expenses. If you think 50% is too much for a gallery, you don’t understand the economics. I worked in two well-known galleries in Scottsdale, AZ, and it was eye-opening.
In gallery one, on my first day, the owner gave me this lesson. His monthly rent was $5,000. On average, there were fifty artworks on display in the gallery. That means each work costs the gallery $100 per month to have it on display. The $100 does not include other expenses for payroll, taxes, utilities, insurance, marketing, and more. Those costs can easily double to $200 in monthly costs per item on display.
At that rate, if your work is still on display in five months, the gallery has sunk costs of $1,000. Are you willing to spend $200 per month per piece to market your work yourself? That’s the bet a gallerist makes on you and your work when they consign it. And that is why you should respect the financial and marketing investment a gallery makes for its artists, including you.
Does Your Desire for Gallery Representation Hide Underlying Factors?
The reason to question your motivation for getting into galleries is to help you get the most from your art business activities. The desire to dump marketing and sales of your artwork onto galleries is understandable. You gain an income and have more time in the studio.
It seems like success with galleries solves many problems, and they do. And as with all actions, there are reactions, including negative ones as mentioned above. Your desire to work with galleries may be genuine and still mask other issues that your conscious mind doesn’t see.
For example, your authentic self is not into doing the business and marketing, but you’re trying because influential others think you’re too good not to go for it. Your private, candid answer to the following question will let you know.
What Do You Want?
What is your intention for the art you make? Do you want to sell everything you make with increasing prices, or are you content with occasionally selling a few pieces? There is no wrong answer; it’s a personal decision you make about your art business. However, your well-thought answer will steer your actions and results.
It would take a string of successful galleries to sell the bulk of your work. Even then, you would need other channels or direct sales to move all your inventory. So, no matter how beneficial the best gallery relationships might be, you will need diverse ways to sell all your work. That’s not bad because it is never advisable to rely on a sole source or method to market your art.
What Do You Really Want?
I believe the most satisfied artists in the business are confident with their intentions and actions. They enjoy their craft and understand how making art interplays in their lives. The measure of satisfaction for them rarely is how much they sell but more what they accomplish against their goals for making art.
Some are all-in on business and have set up marketing systems and distribution channels that generate steady sales. And others who only wish to sell enough to pay for the cost of their art-making endeavors. Consigning with galleries helps both scenarios potentially.
The more uncertain and confused an artist is about what they want, the more likely they are unhappy with how their art business is working for them.
Confidence and Clarity.
If your vision for what you want from your art business is clouded, then making crucial decisions on deploying your limited time and budget for marketing is much more complicated. Frankly, seasoned gallery owners will sense your lack of confidence and commitment in your plans for your art business, which you never want to happen.
When you don’t know where you are going, you end up where you are.– Barney Davey
Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should.
Due to their sensitive nature, artists are susceptible to outside influences where good intentions create poor results. It’s normal to surrender to encouragement to turn your artistic skills into a business. You listen, and before you know it, you’re chasing rabbits down all manner of art marketing opportunities.
Before you begin to implement strategies to get your artwork into galleries or other complex marketing efforts, it is critical to be clear on your expectations from your art business. Likewise, it would help if you had the belief, you have the resources and ambition to reach your goals.
Gallery Representation Is Not the Be All to End All.
At best, getting your artwork into galleries is most often only a partial answer to your overall plans for marketing and selling your work. Pitching your work to galleries must fit into a larger plan for marketing your art into how you live your artist’s life.
While unleashing your creativity to make art is delightful, having clarity on what you want to happen with your art when it is complete is more gratifying because it guides your decisions on using your artist’s skills.
What’s Coming in How to Get into Art Galleries. Part Three.
The third installment in this series provides more insights, tips, and techniques for you to use in getting your work into galleries of your choice. If you missed Part One, click the link to read How to Get into Art Galleries. Part One. It provides unique, insider knowledge and perspective you won’t find anywhere else. Look for How to Get into Art Galleries, Part Three, in next week’s post.
Market Your Art Your Way. Live Your Best Artist’s Life.
I believe you can and should decide what living your best artist’s life means to you. In the Art Marketing Toolkit Project (AMTP), members get encouragement, ideas, and insights to work on what they want from their life as artists. And we work on how to make believable, achievable plans and turn them into action with happy results.
Although members indeed have access to a world-class library of art marketing information in the AMTP archives, the more significant benefit is the guidance and encouragement to live one’s best artist’s life. It’s through that prism that learning the best ways how to use art marketing effectively makes sense.
Do You Need Help Marketing Your Art?
Your decisions and self-awareness will guide how you market your work, including whether to include galleries in your plans. Your art marketing success begins by knowing what you want to happen through making your art. Your clarity avoids you wasting money and squandering time on strategies that don’t support your vision for your best artist’s life. Knowledge is power and is what we strive to provide AMTP members.
If you like the concept of gaining knowledge, insights, and inspiration from working with me and within a worldwide community of artists to start selling your art your way while living your best artist’s life, please accept my invitation to become an Art Marketing Toolkit Project (AMTP) member. It would be great to enjoy the pleasure of your company in the group.
How to Get into Art Galleries Four Part Series.
- How to Get into Art Galleries. Part One.
- How to Get into Art Galleries. Part Two.
- How to Get into Art Galleries. Part Three.
- How to Get into Art Galleries. Part Four.