Access to the marketplace for individual artists, is an unprecedented new thing. What is the role of the gallery in this new age of access?
Traditionally, galleries were the only way an artist could get their work seen and purchased by the public. It was the gallery’s job to do all of the marketing and publicity for the artist. To be both representative and clearinghouse for artists and artwork. For that they commanded higher and higher commissions upon the sale of the work. After all, the rental of gallery space and the cost of advertising is astronomical. At some point in history, gallerists got the notion that without them, artists would not exist. So they started being arrogant and stopped supporting new and emerging artists. It encouraged a divide between the haves and the have nots in the art world. Not just with collectors, but with the artists themselves as well. Collectors used knowing that an artist’s work was in galleries to lend legitimacy to their purchases.
At the same time as this was coming to a head, the gap was getting larger and the downturn in the economy was forcing galleries to close, the accessibility of the internet was gaining ground. It was not so many years ago that the first self marketing artists started to use the medium to reach an audience. I myself have praised the benefit of the democratization of the industry. The placing of the means to market directly in the artists hands. And I have completely benefited from it with sales of my own work. Hard to classify, it was hard for me to find galleries that would represent my work. I discovered that with a website and FB, I could reach collectors myself. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me. So we have developed a world of artists who are working 24/7 to market their work themselves. And many have found initial success, as I have. More power to us.
But, now that the economy is creeping up and art sales are picking up, we are finding that the marketing of our own artwork is exhausting. That it strains the time for creating and can prevent us from getting the immersion in our work that it takes for the work to continue to evolve. Some of us early marketing pros are resenting those hours spend posting on websites and social networking. Frustrated with having to deal directly with collectors, the money end of their purchasing and the tedium of packing and shipping the work after the sale. We have started to ask ourselves, if there is not someone we can turn to, to do that for us?
So we are back to the question – what is the value of selling art through a gallery in this day and age? For the savvy artist with the kind of energy that it takes to do self marketing, it may not seem to make sense on the surface. You have found your collector base. They are supporting your current work. And, let’s face it, you can do much more without having to share that commission with someone else. For the new gallery without a strong established collector base, it is hard to entice an artist like that to forego the efforts of self-marketing and the enticement of keeping all of the money yourself.
Galleries too, have to be proficient internet marketers now. They can’t rely solely on foot traffic sales. They have to expand their reach globally, through websites and social networking, along with traditional advertising and marketing methods. It is only a the nebulous promise that a gallery can make……that if you stick it out with them…..someday, you will only have to create because they will be doing the time consuming marketing for you. But it is a catch-22 for the gallery and the artist. The gallery has to convince the artist to give them a chance, the artist has to support the gallery with their best work and access to their collectors and everyone has to be patient while the gallery works hard to gain a consistent following.
For the newly re-established gallery model to work there must be mutual trust and respect between the gallery and the artist. Galleries need to recognize that the artist no longer “needs” them in the same way for access to making sales of their work. At the same time, the artist can benefit immensely from the connection to the right gallery.
Here is a list of the benefits of having a gallery represent your best work –
1. Because they have numerous artists that they represent, they not only have access to your collector base, but they should have access to the collectors of every other artist in their gallery, thus broadening the global awareness of your work. Not to mention the expansion of collectors that the gallery itself builds from marketing and advertising.
2. Their whole job is the marketing of the work in their gallery, saving your time and energy solely for creating.
3. They have to deal with the difficult collectors and the finances of payments, including time consuming communications, lay-a-ways and payment fees.
4. They will have to deal with the packing and shipping of the work once sold. (a big time consumer as well)
5. Your work will be visible in a brick and mortar space and not hidden in your studio or attic.
6. They should pay for advertising, promotional material and receptions
7. They will write press releases and broaden your visibility in the media
8. In the right situation, gallery representation can in time bring in a steady income to the artist.
And the BIG one….having someone else do all of this for you, frees you up to focus all of your time and energy on being an artist, not a business person.
So, don’t short change yourself or your gallery. New gallery representation takes time. Be sure to keep the work that you offer to the gallery, fresh and offer them new work to carry from time to time. If you are self marketing, trust them with work that you have not already marketed to death. Keep the communication lines open. Check in with your gallery from time to time. Ask if they need anything from you. It will remind them to keep talking your work up to visitors. Send them any press or media coverage that you have gotten, so that they can use that in their efforts on your behalf. And with hard work and luck….galleries will make a comeback and there will be a better balance of art making and marketing in all our lives.