Do Artists Need Galleries?
Or do galleries need artists?
I recently listened to a podcast called "Do Artists Need Galleries?" by Artists Helping Artists. In this episode, hosts Leslie Saeta and Margaret Sheldon discuss the pros and cons of gallery representation. Margaret speaks with galleries to gain their perspective while Leslie responds with an artist's perspective. They raise some interesting questions; I'm going to focus on three. I'll sum up their points, then offer some of my own thoughts.
Why should you sell your art in galleries?
Margaret argued that representation by a good gallery can improve your own reputation. Throughout the episode they explain that the gallery must be a good fit for you and you must maintain a strong healthy relationship. Otherwise you'll just have another gallery horror story.
I was pleased that the hosts recognized that buying and selling art has changed. The business of art is in a new era. You can buy a piece without ever seeing it in person. You can sell your art without gallery representation. Which begs the question: Are galleries the best option for selling your work? While it's true that a gallery can boost your reputation, you're not guaranteed to immediately start selling your work. Whether you're selling art yourself or through a gallery, it's a process and it takes time.
GEAC's advice: If you find success selling on your own, great! Keep it up. Don't feel like gallery representation is your only option or the main goal. Not everyone wants to find and purchase original art from a gallery. Explore your options before putting all your energy toward gallery representation.
If you feel a gallery is a good match and can help increase your revenue stream, great! But if you're struggling to sell on your own, there may be options to consider before hitching your wagon to a gallery. Keep in mind a gallery is not going to be the "silver bullet," you still have to put in a lot of time, work, and effort.
Is it worth paying a gallery up to 50% to sell your work?
Margaret says, "After talking to galleries, I'm going to say yes." Margaret took a look into what it takes to run a business which includes paying rent for the storefront or gallery space, storage of excess art, staff for planning, setting up and general administration. Plus, the cost of marketing shows, specific artists and courting potential buyers.
Later in the episode, Margaret mentions one gallery that took a more proactive approach to supporting artists. They helped them write grants, and other professional development support. Their reason was: "We don't want those artists to struggle, we want them to paint!"
My hope is that galleries begin to take this approach seriously.
Galleries could not and would not exsist without artists and should behave as such.
Artists need support if we're going to build entire systems like galleries on their art. This is why I started Glass Elevator Arts. I want artists to succeed and thrive, not struggle through life.
GEAC's Advice: Paying a gallery half of what a piece is worth is a double edged sword. It's true, they have a business to run and might need funds as much as the artist. But galleries should be supporting artists, not the other way around. Finding ways to sell art with less overhead can be a better solution.
How do you deal with non-competition clauses? Especially when the gallery requires a commission on ALL sales with or without them.
Margaret's best answer comes back to relationships. After speaking with galleries, she felt if you have a good relationship, and they're working hard on your behalf, then they are entitled to their cut.
GEAC's advice: If you sell your artwork, not the gallery, I beleive you are entitlted to that revenue. Again, the gallery should be supporting the artist, not the other way around.
You can nip this in the bud by thoroughly reading your contract and negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement.
One Final note
If you are dead set on getting gallery representation, this podcast had the best advice I've heard to date: The best way to get into a gallery is to be recommended by another artist who's represented in the gallery.
If you need help deciding whether a gallery is a good fit for you, or if you need help negotiating a contract, let Glass Elevator help! We're here for you!