Gallery or Go It Alone

Is Gallery Representation Good for Visual Artists?


gallery or Go it Alone

Think before you sign on the dotted line…


After more than thirty years of creating art I have seen so many changes in the art world. Even over the past decade things have changed, often to an almost unrecognisable point. The internet really changed the game for visual artists so is there still a place for traditional art outlets such as galleries?


The answer to that is simple, of course galleries are important and they will continue to be so in the next decade at least, even in the next couple of decades but they will change significantly. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that an artist gets when they’re accepted by a prestigious high end gallery or any gallery come to that. For clients, seeing the work up close is very different to seeing the work on screen. Galleries remain relevant but there are other ways to get your work noticed too.  


Many galleries will also have an online presence which combines multiple sales channels but the real beauty of galleries is that they have knowledgeable staff on hand who know about the art and the artists that they are selling and promoting. There’s something that sounds attractive, they have staff selling your art. Wow. 


In the collector world there are also purists who would never consider buying an expensive artwork online at all, instead they will forge relationships with their preferred gallery. For those purists a gallery is more than a place selling art, it can also be a social experience. Attending gallery events and meeting artists is all part of an experience that clients find much more difficult to replicate online. 


Last year I was approached by two galleries who wanted to take on my art and both promised to promote my work on my behalf. It all sounded positive and I’m sure it would have been if I had signed up, but only to an extent. I had to make a difficult decision and in the end decided that neither had a fit with me but more critically I wasn’t convinced I had a fit with them and that wouldn’t be good for either of us. Both were small and brilliantly run, just the type of gallery I love so why say no? We’ll get to the detail soon. 


I did the gallery thing many years ago until the owner of the gallery retired and decided to close the place down rather than passing it on. It was a real shame because it was an amazing space and no matter if you wanted an original Matisse or a giclee print or you wanted to just pop in to look around, everyone was welcomed and the gallery owner was connected enough to secure almost any artwork. After that I never gave galleries another thought until a few years ago. 


There were never really any physical differences between the gallery I exhibited my work in back then and many of the new galleries around today other than the cash register, but there is something within the galleries of today that make them an entirely different proposition for visual artists. 


Today there are more galleries than ever but many of them have very strict conditions around representing you and your art. Whilst conditions have always come with gallery representation, todays terms and conditions are at their most rigid. Today there are great galleries, good galleries, bad galleries, and those vanity galleries, each will have very different ways of representing you and in the case of vanity galleries, if they represent you at all. 


So this week we will take a deep-dive into gallery representation and hopefully you will be better able to work out if this type of representation is for you at all. As with everything in life, what sounds like a great move forward might not be the best way forward for you at all. 


Unless someone knows your work and knows the industry it would be really difficult to say whether you or your work would have a good fit with the way galleries operate. Much of it will come down to exactly how the gallery operates as well. Over the years I have known artists who have tried for years to get their work represented by galleries and then within a few months of appearing in a gallery have come to the conclusion that it might not have been their wisest decision. Others I know have worked with the same gallery for years, and others frequently change galleries. 


For those artists who change their galleries it is a lot like changing jobs. They might start out with small local galleries whilst they continue to work on their portfolio and then move on to a slightly more prestigious gallery each time they make a change. It makes sense to do this on many levels because over the years you will collect a wealth of gallery experience and more often than not it stops your work and often your skills from becoming stale. Other artists prefer to stick with a particular gallery and that’s fine too but only so long as it continues to be a good fit for both you and the gallery. 



art gallery or going it alone


Raising Expectations… 


Many new artists reach out to me through this site and personally and over the past couple of years the recurring conversation has mostly always been around how they would love to be chosen by a gallery. Through a combination of a little nativity, sometimes inexperience, and often listening to too many myths, expectations of what galleries are and what galleries do are often very wide of the mark.  


The reality is that very rarely do galleries seek you out unless you are up there with the hottest artists and well known, and another myth to be busted is that galleries are the answer to everything. 


Galleries or rather good galleries can certainly help to spring your career forward but the assumption is often that every gallery will be able to do this and that having any sort of gallery representation makes life much easier. Even great or good galleries involve you working with them and just because your art is on their wall doesn’t always mean that it will sell. Also your art might not always be hanging on their wall. 


It is often this nativity that makes a new or inexperienced artist sign up to the first gallery who makes an offer and often without fully understanding the terms and conditions associated with that offer. A gallery saying yes they will represent you can be a convincer for many to just sign on the dotted line not knowing or realising that those terms and conditions have then been accepted in the absolute. 


The shock for many comes with the commission fees taken by galleries and 50% of the total sale price are not uncommon and recently I heard that one had been taking 85% and others as low as 25%. Galleries cost a lot of money to operate successfully and there are way easier ways to earn a living than running one. They often have premises in high worth areas so rent and building costs are more expensive and they also need knowledgeable staff along with the essentials such as electricity and specialist lighting and none of this comes cheap. 


As I intimated earlier it also doesn’t mean that your work will sell just because it is in a gallery. Whilst most galleries will have an established client base that doesn’t at all mean that those clients will buy your art. They have to be convinced that you and your art are a good investment and they are often a very different market to the buyers who might casually buy a piece of art or a print online. 


Whilst they might have a queue of clients at the doors, those waiting in line will have their eyes on particular artists and works which have a fit with their current collections so convincing them to go down another route is a real challenge. Mostly the gallery will see your work as a mechanism to bring in new collectors of your work and will then focus on building a following and a customer base from there. 


Another assumption is that galleries have deep pockets and can afford to take on any artists work but this too is a myth. Most will have budgets for marketing and operating the business but the art on their walls costs them money to hang. If one of their regular artists work is displayed in the knowledge that collectors will come in and buy the piece then that is a safer proposition than betting your art will sell more. Not every piece of art a gallery holds will get displayed all the time, some of it will be held in the back or offsite until the market determines that there is a higher likelihood of a piece of work selling or until you get a show. 


Another misconception is that many galleries only have a few artists on their books and this is not always the case. The gallery I exhibited in all those years ago had more than two-hundred artists on the books but space to only display up to thirty pieces of art. That often meant that work was switched out or one artist was favoured more than another because the market for that artist was slightly stronger than for others at the time. Those artists who sold more were essentially keeping everyone else afloat. If you are in a gallery you need them to be successful. It also means that galleries can introduce something entirely new occasionally and many galleries will work in the same way. 


Is it going to be the route for me?


I touched on this earlier when I mentioned that galleries might not be a good fit for everyone and that is because one of the biggest myths in the art world is that getting the gallery gig will bring you immediate fame and fortune. If that was the case for every artist then no artist would ever think twice about signing up. 


Getting the gallery gig is just one tiny step on the route to fame and fortune, and with my usual and often brutal honesty I will share a secret with you, fame and fortune are incredibly rare for visual artists and the most famous ones have long since passed from this earthly coil.


Exhibiting with a good gallery is more akin to a formal business partnership and as with any business partnership it is a two-way street with you both working together in a trusting relationship.


Working together is the key indicator of a good gallery. Those who ask you to pay them to display your work and sometimes taking a small cut in the final sale price too are often vanity galleries. Vanity galleries have no incentive to sell your art and particularly if they are charging by the month because the money will be coming in from you anyway. The longer your work remains in place then the more they get paid. Plenty of one sided stick here and not a carrot in sight.

 

Good galleries will look towards the future and will want the arrangement to be mutually beneficial to both you and them. It comes as a given that they have to like your work in the first place before they sell it, but they will also be looking at how you might develop as an artist in the future. 


I have known galleries to take a risk on unknown artists in part because they believe that the artist will develop over time and become recognised, others will want to know about everything you have ever done and every one of your achievements and sales to date. Most importantly they will all want to know that you are in it for the long haul because the last thing they want is to find out that you have given up on creating art somewhere down the line. 


You also need to be good at meeting deadlines and keeping promises. If you say that three new works will be produced in a specific amount of time, they will expect three new works to be produced in a specific amount of time. 


When they view your art they will be looking at whether you have progressed at all from your early pieces. They will also want to see that you are seriously committed to your work and that you at least have a vision for where you want your work to go in the future, and to an extent that vision has to match their vision and sometimes it just doesn’t.


All the better if you are also breaking new ground and being original and they will want to identify what the drivers are for your creative process. They will decide if you are stagnant or covering the past, or rehashing what has been popular in the past, and more importantly if they feel that you are backing yourself into a corner with your current creative direction they won’t take the risk. These are all important considerations when a gallery see’s your art so before you ask the question of whether or not a gallery is the right fit for you, you have to ask the question of whether or not you are the right fit for a gallery. 


Something that many new to the gallery scene also forget is that it is not just the finished work in the portfolio that counts. They will want to know if you have work that has never been seen anywhere, be that online, in an exhibition, or in another gallery. One of the things I learned early on in my art career was to not show everything I did. Right now I have a larger portfolio of work that hasn’t been seen than I do work that has been seen, and I mean that quite literally, no one has seen it. 


Having everything I’ve mentioned above in place though is still only a small part of the jigsaw. Good galleries will want to know that you have a real understanding of how the art business works, and this makes sense because if you were partnering with any other business selling any other product that business would want to make sure you know the business too.


That is what differentiates good galleries from bad and those vanity galleries. Working with a good gallery is more about working together and if you are not sure about an aspect of the art business they would expect you to be at least willing to learn. 


This is often another reason why artists who cold call on galleries rarely get their work seen, that’s not how the art world works and it tells galleries that you have little understanding of etiquette but most importantly that you have little understanding of the business and you certainly didn’t read the rules around submitting your portfolio. Galleries are not Facebook groups, the rules of entry/posting have to be read.


As with any business partnership it also means sticking around when things get bad. The art market is sometimes up and sometimes down. Some artists are more favourable at times than others and sometimes if a gallery is so niche, the market could dwindle away if a particular genre or style goes out of vogue. 


We have all heard about some artists who are said to be divas, and in my experience galleries prefer to work with artists who aren’t divas and who accept their role within the galleries structure. 


In short they like artists who are easy to work with because artists who are easy to work with generally have more experience and know how things work or are willing to learn. Over the years I have met some of the divas who will complain as soon as their work stops selling. It’s usually of course pinned down to the gallery and that whole two-way partnership gets thrown out of the window. My mistake, your fault. Just last week I heard that one artist asked a gallerist if they had an appeals process after they said they wouldn’t be taking more artists on for at least a couple of years. 


Once you get the first gallery gig things still might not go swimmingly well for you. You might only have modest sales but may have had a positive response to your work overall giving the gallery the indicator that they should continue to work with you. I have often come across artists who get upset because work didn’t sell out at their first show, forgetting that it’s about the long-haul.


If a gallery says that they won’t display your work until October and it’s only January, that’s fine just go with it. Galleries know their markets and the good ones will want you to succeed. If you have more potential in October so be it, use the time in between to build on the relationship and build on your portfolio. 


Getting the gallery gig is not a career move. It is only a step in a long term career. I have met artists who have promised everything to galleries just to get a foot in the door and get their first show so that the artists CV can be updated, and this is why I mentioned earlier that you need to be very good at keeping promises. Telling a gallery what they want to hear just to get a show is absolutely no good for you longer term and could jeopardise your chances of getting a show anywhere else in the future too.


Galleries talk to each other and they meet up at art events, the art world can be quite insular in that respect so again make sure that you are chasing representation not for immediate fame and gain, but because you believe in working with the gallery and you are in it for the long-term oh, and it goes without saying that you absolutely must have passion. 


I am thirty plus years in with the art game and even now I recognise that I still haven’t learned everything. If I were to have my art represented by a particular gallery the number one priority would be to find out how things operate. Taking the advice of galleries is critical but a gallerist who I spoke to recently had mentioned to me that many seem to think they know better than the gallery director with 40-years of success and experience. 


The other problem that many inexperienced artists fail to recognise is that galleries put their trust in you and expect that trust will be mutual. Today it is so easy to market your own work or perhaps I should say it is at least possible to market your own work, and as such this provides a temptation for artists to do something on the side and way outside the galleries terms and conditions. 


I have seen this more and more over the past decade. An artist gets the opportunity to work with a gallery but the market is depressed and very few sales are taking place. Instead of working with the gallery and trying to figure out the reasons why, the artist will turn to the internet and start doing a little marketing often undercutting the gallery. I’ve even seen an artist do this on TV!


The gallery might have the work for sale at $5,000, take a 50% commission, and the artist would normally receive $2500 less any other incidentals. However if you buy directly from the artist the cost is only $2500 so where do people buy from? They buy from the artist. That is a really short-sighted move because at this point you have managed to not only devalue your work singlehandedly, you have also just devalued every work that collectors have purchased previously at $5,000. In short, you wiped out 50% of their investment. Will those collectors wait around until your next y’all hold my beer moment? Probably not and this is the quickest way to lose an existing collector base and upset a gallery all in one fell swoop. 


So you need to decide on whether or not you are going to be disciplined and resilient enough to wait out the tough times because over a length of an artistic career there will be many of those. 


I have already mentioned that you need to be easy to work with and if galleries know that you understand the market they are more likely to work with you. Of course knowing the market comes with experience and a continuing willingness to carry on learning, so it should be of little surprise that many new artists find it difficult to get their first gallery show. 


There have been times throughout the past thirty years where I have seen some extremely talented artists come forward to galleries and get turned down. Not because their art wouldn’t sell, but because the gallery would prefer to work with someone who understands the business and maybe already has a following. Galleries take risks with anyone they take on established or not but the highest risks are the new artists who casually wonder into the scene and want to be represented immediately. 


That is exactly the kind of attitude that will put a gallery off representing you at all. If you plan on turning up expecting the gallery owner to fall in love with your work then that is another false hope and going in thinking that you need to impress owners with your impeccable knowledge of artsy words is more off-putting than describing your work in your own words. Galleries have this uncanny knack of sniffing out the BS.



art gallery contract locked in


 

So it is the right fit…


All the ducks even if not lined up perfectly are at least in the same pond and you decide that being represented by a gallery is for you, but this is only the beginning because now you need to know about the fine print.


The fine print is exactly why I turned down those two galleries last year. Signing up with either would have meant that I would be committing my art exclusively with either one of them for at least 3-5 years. That would have meant no more print on demand, no more direct sales, and I would have been committing to producing a high number of works. None of those were deal breakers per se, but any future sales to customers introduced to me by them beyond the period of representation would have meant that commission had to be paid indefinitely. No specificity on time frames, just the word indefinitely. That one word was the most significant deal breaker. 


Another off-putting word was the one around exclusivity. Whilst it is great to say that you have an exclusive deal with a gallery for 3-5 years, in reality it is a major gamble on your part. If the work doesn’t sell then you have nowhere else to go to try to sell it. In addition the commission rate didn’t change significantly with me offering exclusivity and if the gallery ceased to trade, they would still continue to hold the exclusivity arrangement which was the second significant deal breaker. 


Had the company ceased trading a few months down the line then that would have meant that I would not have been able to sell my work to anyone else and no commission would have been coming my way at all, and importantly no sales to anyone else. 


In plain speak, exclusivity is giving away complete control and as an artist there is a huge difference between working collaboratively and equally with a gallery and signing away all of your control. Some galleries however see exclusivity as a must but the reality is that exclusivity can end up hurting them just as much as it hurts you. 


If you are unable to promote yourself and exhibit or sell your work anywhere other than within the gallery offering the deal then everyone loses out because it has the effect of shrinking an artist’s audience. The only smart play for a gallery and the artist is to keep on increasing the size of the audience. Art no matter how good will not sell until you have enough eyeballs looking at it and the number of eyeballs needed can change at any time. If you are only known in a 35-mile radius that’s way fewer eyeballs than a global market.


But there are times when an exclusive can be good…


It is rare that an exclusive deal works well but if there is a particular high-end gallery with a fantastic reputation and a great sales record it could make sense. Currently there are only three galleries around the world that I have come across that without hesitation I would sign up with for an exclusivity deal and I know that even then it would be a risk. 


I won’t name those three galleries here but each of them are known to offer a minimum return irrespective of whether or not anything sells and the amount paid would mean that I could purely focus on my work with the gallery and not have to worry about the day job. There are still huge commitments in terms of what is required of the artist but it is more about working in partnership and becomes a better two-way business strategy. 


Other galleries might offer similar deals or the exclusivity might only be for a limited number of products or even sizes, or is geographically more restricted. Each of those I turned down were for worldwide exclusive deals, but others are for more localised regions. This starts to make much more sense and you still continue to retain enough control and continue to grow your collector base further afield and that has to be good for both you and the gallery. 


The good, the bad, and the ugly…


I mentioned that there are great and good galleries and that there are also bad galleries and vanity galleries. Both of the latter fall into the same category but sorting out the great and good ones can be quite a task for the uninitiated. 


Getting an understanding of what the gallery is about is one of the first things you need to do and to get the answers will require that you ask a lot of questions. You will certainly want to make sure that a gallery has a fit with you and your art and whether or not their long-term strategy aligns to your own and that your own long-term strategy aligns to the gallery. 


Understanding how the gallery operates from a customer’s perspective is an early task that you need to understand. Just visiting the gallery before either of you have met each other and figuring out if staff are knowledgeable and approachable is a good way of learning how well they treat potential clients and you can see first hand if the staff have an understanding of the art and artists which they are selling. 


You can also look for reviews online and talk to other artists to get feedback. In this day and age if something goes wrong with after sales, people are more likely to share their poor experiences and even great experiences online. This is all part of researching your options and carrying out due diligence and this should be done before approaching the gallery or as soon as the gallery gets in touch with you. 


You also need to consider where the gallery exhibits or if they exhibit outside of the gallery at all. If they are regulars at the likes of Art Basel or Frieze, or at the ancillary fairs surrounding major exhibitions and shows, they are more likely to be reputable. Even if they are regulars at some of the less prestigious shows that’s okay too, but do check if they hold regular repeat solo shows for their artists and not just group shows.


Turnover of artists is another consideration. If a gallery’s approach is to always to show a stream of fresh art from new artists then that will be a reason why turnover of artists could be high, and you should be able to find out easily how those past artists progressed, but if there is a high turnover of artists where the gallery doesn’t frequently show new artists that could indicate a deeper issue. 


It is not just clients that the gallery should care about, they should also care for their artists too. Galleries have a symbiotic relationship with artists and without them they would cease to exist. So you also need to find out how they treat the artists that they already have or artists that once exhibited in the gallery but have since left. 


Judging the care that galleries give to their artists can be challenging and no artist should expect that a gallery will give everything they have over to only them. Finding out how many artists are on the books is an indication of how much care and attention a gallery can give to individual artists and might tell you how many shows you are likely to get. 


You also need to consider what kind of arrangements are in place if you decide to exhibit at other shows whilst you are represented and for whatever period of time after you have ended your contract, and what percentage of the commission they will expect from any future sales or sales made outside of the gallery. This brings us back to exclusivity so you will need to check how long exclusivity periods last beyond the contract if there are any exclusivity arrangements at all.


That other contractual jargon…


I tend to look for the words global representation in contracts because this is severely limiting unless the gallery have premises or partners across the world, and anything that you do agree to should always be put in writing. I hear stories even today of artists still doing the handshake agreement which is more difficult to prove if the gallery goes out of business. 


You also need to know at what point in your time with the gallery that you are likely to get shown and particularly if this is your first gallery gig. I personally wouldn’t enter into a first contract for more than 12-18 months. You both need to test the waters and build up a level of trust and understanding and if it’s not working out you don’t want to be tied in for three to five years immediately. 


Galleries know their market and are good a gauging what clients will pay for art but this should also be done in consultation with the artist. Artists are never great at pricing their own work and often don’t know what their own market will stand, but galleries have this information and they will be looking at the future potential of the works you have too, all of these factors have to be included in the price. 


Before you sign anywhere it is also good to get an idea of how the gallery is insured and what happens if your work gets damaged whilst in their care or whilst it is being transported to shows and to other galleries or clients. 


And here comes the big one. Unless you are fully engaged and selling lots of work it might be very difficult for you as the artist to find out who has purchased your work. The last thing a gallery want is to lose their client because you have offered your work at half the price, but you should at least get a little information so that you can continue making your work relevant for that demographic. 


There are few galleries who like sharing this with the artist at all although a few do, but with very specific conditions around how the information is used. 


Take a look at payment terms too. Some galleries offer collectors the opportunity to pay by instalments and whether they do this is up to them, I wouldn’t think it would be fair for a gallery to withhold payment to the artist for twelve months because the sale has been made on credit. How the client pays is between them and the gallery and not so much you, so look for reasonable timescales in contracts, usually payment within 30-days. 


If the gallery goes bump it is important that you have in the contract somewhere a measure that protects your artwork being taken by creditors. I’m certainly no lawyer but I have been around long enough to know that galleries come and go, you just want to make sure that your work doesn’t go with them. Always get professional legal advice before signing anything and particularly around any mention of transfer of copyright.


self representation for visual artists


A gallery isn’t for me…


Galleries are not suitable for every artist and that is absolutely fine. The art world has extended out of the gallery doors so much over the past decade with the internet that not all artists need a gallery to make a successful living. Whilst they might look good on a CV, not all of them will look good.


There are downsides to not having gallery representation but equally there are plenty of upsides too. For me right now unless one of those three galleries who I have so much respect for decide to throw me a line, self-representation continues to be my calling. But self-representing means that to an extent you have to change who you are a little, you have to become more entrepreneurial and you have to make sure that you are always on your “A” game. 


Having gallery representation doesn’t necessarily make things any easier than going it alone, you still have to work really hard and as I mentioned earlier you are partnering in business with the gallery. That could mean turning up at events, exhibiting at shows, or just being on hand in the gallery, but it could also mean that you have to be available outside of the gallery too. 


Self-representation means that the work you do is all down to you but ultimately the work you do is for you alone and that is a scary prospect when you consider the enormity of it and the sheer number of artists in a similar space.


Self-representation is about being just as creative off canvas as it is about being creative on canvas and spreading your time between marketing and creating with the marketing often requiring a little more effort and time than the creating is difficult to juggle. When marketing art alone you could have a masterpiece worthy of being shown in The Tate, but if you have no one looking at the work then it will just sit around. 


And just like gallery representation, self-representation is a long term strategy for which there are no short cuts. It is a series of setting goals and becoming self-disciplined and constantly planning ahead, in short you are running your own business. Approach it with that in mind and it becomes a little easier to get your head around, but remember that there is no one to fall back on other than you. 


You might want to consider creating multiple revenue streams but you also need to be focussed intently on the right revenue streams and the right number of revenue streams. For me I have a day job, and a blog, and my art, and I can just about manage three things in parallel. For others they might pick a half a dozen different revenue streams and never do any one of them well meaning that everything becomes out of focus and disjointed and each stream in turn starts falling apart. 


You do have to have a clear vision of where you want to go and you have to have a clear sense of yourself. The entrepreneurial you is probably not quite as honed as you would like right now but this entrepreneurism has to be mastered in time. You will need to work out exactly where you can play and where you can win and importantly you need to find where your own market sits within that. 


Art dealers are adept at identifying where work fits and this is going to become a role that you must take on. You have to identify where your market is and develop an instinct that says I must be present at this show or at that event but not this event or that show. If you can organise a solo show at one of the respected art institutions all the better because that will start cementing your reputation and to an extent will start determining what you can charge but you have to know what is and isn’t worth your time and investment. You have to start thinking way beyond the canvas.


If any of this is putting you off going it alone then one has to question why you want to sell your work at all. Hard work comes with the territory of selling art and if you don’t mind putting the hours and often years in it can be a fulfilling and successful endeavour. It’s not necessarily any easier or harder than going via the gallery route. 


You are also master of your own destiny. There are no gallery commitments and what you earn is what you earn. You have control over what and when you do what you do and critically the client base you build is your client base and that’s the most valuable aspect of self representation. 


That is perhaps the number one reason why I like self-representation more than being represented. I love to connect with the people who buy my art and I love building and nurturing those relationships. 


If I were in a major gallery with all of the conditions above I might sell a few pieces or even a half dozen pieces of work in a quarter. But if I have my own pool of collectors then longer term I could potentially do way better than being sat in a gallery.


If you have ten collectors who each buy three or four of your works that is 30-40 pieces of art sold without having to give up 50% or more of whatever you earn. If you have 20, 30, or 50 collectors globally it starts adding up into a significant business. 


If you then add in other revenue streams such as art sold to business and art appearing on other products and licensing, then the model becomes even more significant and as you grow, gain an established following, and your work becomes sought after, then it makes sense to do things a little more directly and cut out the middle-man. 


Of course there is also the fact that gallery representation is often next to impossible to find because galleries are reluctant to take risks on new artists without a proven track record and sales history. At this point self-representation becomes your only option. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it allows you to explore the art business and gain experience that you just cannot get or learn without doing it. 


The challenges are significant and should never be underestimated. You can go for months without selling a piece of work and even during those slow periods you can’t sit back and wait around for things to pick up. The internet means that exposure is only temporary at best and unless you are continuously moving forward you can just as easily find yourself back at the beginning and having to work twice as hard to catch up. 


There are many factors that contribute to art sales but the three most important are having the right buyer see the right art at the right time. Yet none of us would ever be able to predict what that right piece of art is or when and where the right buyer will see it. So you have to be constantly out there and that in itself is difficult for artists especially when they are a little less known and doing everything on their own. 


Even in those slower times you have to have the resilience to carry on and sustain your visibility because sustained exposure is the only way to ensure that those three critical elements might come together. Ultimately as I said earlier, you have to be in it for the long-haul and you have to be persistent and remain visible. If you can do that then self-representation might just be a way better fit than wasting time chasing the gallery gig. 


It’s not just the art but the who that people are looking for and self-representation lets you control those optics more directly. You are master of your own destiny and so long as there is something that sets you apart from everyone else, success is reachable with hard work. 


Before you decide though take a deep look within and ask yourself what you really want for you and your art. If it is to make a quick buck because you have a talent for painting then move on. If you want global recognition and fame and fortune, well there are way easier ways to accomplish those, but if you want to be known as an artist who is passionate about their craft and you don’t mind the hard work from any of the routes outlined today, that is when you will know where you best have a fit. 


Forget what the books tell you because art and representation doesn’t come in a handy one size fits all package. It is about finding out about yourself and expressing your passion within the art that matters today because the world of art has changed. For the purists the galleries will win over the day, but they really aren’t for everyone.


your own destiny art gallery


The original question: So are galleries the right way to go?


I think we have established that they are not right for everyone no matter at what point in your art career you are at. If you have the discipline and often patience then they could be a good fit but if you think that galleries are the answer to rapid fame and fortune and an easy method of getting lots of sales, they’re not. 


If you are already well known as an artist and already have an established collector base, gallery representation could hamper selling directly depending on the terms of the contract you negotiate with them. If you are still relatively unknown and you are offered a show at a gallery it could help to spring your career forward but that really depends on the gallery and the contract and how commissions are handled in the future. 


If you are still insistent on this type of representation then take your time to consider if it is the right option and get someone who is familiar with the legalities of contracts to look over the offer. 


All too often I’ve heard of artists who have been tied down a little too much and have to wait it out or renegotiate the contract. Not every contract will have break points for renegotiation but good practice is to have something on the contract that allows to break off from the contract if a period of notice is given. Although many that do offer this as an option will still have something that ensures future commissions continue to get paid. My advice to anyone though is to make sure that you get a legal expert to look through the contract. 


The beauty of going it alone is that you’re not tied down to anyone other than yourself and you are free to create what you want to create and it also doesn’t matter if you decide to change mediums or genres, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend it,  you could change the way you do things daily or whenever you fancy moving in a different direction. 


Your clients are your clients, your mailing list is your mailing list, but perhaps the biggest thing is that going it alone means you can express yourself and your art in whatever way you want. 


Galleries make sense for some but not for others and when you start diving into the reality of what gallery representation really means only then will you be able to say whether or not it’s a good move. 


One thought that some artists have is that they are selling out if they enter into a gallery contract, don’t let that thought burden you because if you know that it is the right move for you and your art then you’re definitely not selling out. 


And one final note, remember the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are plenty of gallery scams out there too and lots of artists fall for them. You will be able to read all about those in one of my upcoming articles which will also give you the lowdown on the most current art buying scams too. You’ll want to keep an eye out for that one!


About Mark…


Mark is a professional artist and blogger who has a passion for creating land and seascapes and abstract art. His work is available from https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com and from more than 150+ retail locations across the USA and Canada. 


You can also follow Mark on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where he posts regular content and provides additional insights into the world of art and technology. 


Mark takes on a limited number of commissions each year and also sells selected works as signed limited editions through Beechhouse Media directly. If you would like to own one of these works or enquire about commissions, please use the contact form on this site. Any sales made through Pixels and Fine Art America go towards maintaining this site in order to support other independent visual artists. 

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