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Should Gallery Dealers Critique Our Art Work?

by Lori Woodward Simons on 8/12/2009 8:16:54 AM

This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I've had the pleasure of working with a handful of commercial galleries since the mid 90's, and while the majority of my experiences with them were positive, a couple of gallery situations were less than desirable. Before I begin talking about what disturbed me about these working relationships, I'd like to commend the gallerists who "do it right" by promoting their artists while paying monies due in a timely manner, holding shows and paying for the wine and cheese (sometimes even caviar), and treating artists like partners instead of inferior employees.


Are Gallerist's Critiques Helpful or Do They Irritate You?

For this particular blog post, I want to focus on a questions for artists out there who've worked with commercial galleries... how do you feel about having the gallerist critique the work you deliver? Is it helpful or does it irritate you? What about the gallery dealer who gives you a list of things to include in your painting - so that it will sell? And finally, how do you feel about "themed shows"... you know, where the gallery says, we're having a show that features "Summer" or "Food"?

While I don't mind a fair critique every once in a while, I've worked with one galleriest who critiques every work I hand him - to the Nth degree, requiring that I change these things before handing the work over for display. Sometimes he points out all the things wrong with the painting and then rejects it. Honestly, I would prefer that he just say no to the ones he doesn't like without explanation. I do regularly get critiques from artists and colleagues whose opinions I respect, so I'm not saying I don't like critiques in general.

For the most part, the gallerists I've worked with simply take what they like or think will sell and reject the ones they don't want - without explanation as to why. I'm not insulted when they reject paintings because they know what their clients want. Many times, I can take those "rejected" paintings to another gallery where they are received and consequently sold. Just because one dealer says no to taking a painting, doesn't mean it's a bad painting.


This is Not a Complaint Session

So let me get back to the main question:  How do you feel about having the gallery owner tell you what to paint and how to paint it? Yes, this is a slightly controversial question, and I'm not looking for a complaint session. Please don't mention any gallery names - I don't want to be sued or hurt the business of any  gallery.  It's hard enough for them these days to keep their doors open.  This post isn't about ditching gallery dealers - it's about how you feel when they advise you as to how and what to paint.

Some of you may actually find a critique from the gallerist helpful - or perhaps you like themed shows because they help you to know what to paint. I'm not suggesting that these things are always a negative. That's why I'm wanting to hear your thoughts. I had one gallery dealer in Tucson who did give me helpful feedback, but it was about tweeking a thing or two in my paintings. So, there are no hard and fast rules or experiences.


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Related Posts:

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Negotiating with Art Galleries

Do artists need galleries anymore?

Gallery Representation

Negotiating With Galleries - Part 3

Why Galleries Rock

Framing the Problem

A New Kind of Gallery Relationship

Art Galleries

Negotiating with Art Galleries - Part 2


Topics: Best | Gallery/Artist Relationship 

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 22 Comments

K. Henderson
via clintwatson.net
Good Questions. First, I only have one gallery that ever has Themed shows. The artists can opt in or out. If the theme fits my style , I'm in.

Second, NO! I hate having my work critiqued by the gallery. To that end, since almost all of my work is shipped to my galleries, I provide them with am image first. They have the option of taking the painting or giving it a pass. As you say, the gallery folks know what their clients like and no offense taken if they choose not to take a painting.
I used to have a gallery that would call me and say "Client Smith thinks the eyes are too close together" My thought was always "So? Sell it to Client Jones". Telling me that ONE person didn't like the piece didn't help me one bit and I always wondered why the gallery felt they needed to give me the negative feed back.
I DO think it's helpful when the gallery tells you that they get lots of postitive feedback from a particular painting, color, subject matter or that someone loves a painting that has already sold. Gives me an idea of what the clients in that gallery are interested in.
But, no, if 'Gallery A' asked me to repaint something or change something, I would take that painting to another 'Gallery B' and offer 'Gallery A' a different painting.

Daniel Sroka
via clintwatson.net
I enjoy and expect gallery critiques - as long as they come from their place of expertise. I expext to hear from a gallery comments about what subjects/styles resonate with their customers, feedback they've heard, and in general, their opinion on what might or might not sell. Just don't tell me how to do my art!

I also enjoy themed shows. Some of them are flops, but if done well (well planned and curated) they can provide a great hook for a show, and draw in a good audience.

Lori Woodward Simons
via clintwatson.net
K, that's interesting that you would hear a comment like, "Smith thinks the eyes are too close".

No matter how much we chase collector's interests, I think it's worth noting that we can't please all of the people all of time.

You're a great role model as a successful artist. Keep up the great and outstanding work.


Stacey Peterson
via clintwatson.net
I don't mind a gallery critique now and then - after all, most gallery owners see good work on a daily basis, and can develop a good eye for what make a good painting. I just had a gallery send me a painting to make some modifications to and I had to swallow my pride, but in this case they were right - the changes will make it a stronger painting and on par with my other work that they have. But I'd have a hard time working with a gallery that critiques my work on a regular basis - I feel that the galleries who love my work sell it the best, and if they're nitpicking from the start I don't see how they're going to sell it well.

Most galleries I work with know what will sell and what won't, and will occasionally pick one painting over another because they feel it will sell better. I understand this, but I also don't cater to it - otherwise I'd be limiting my subject matter and my own growth as an artist.

Debbie Turner Chavers
via fineartviews.com
Recently, I offered one of my paintings for a silent auction to help support the musical arts.
I was asked if I wanted to place a reserve on the painting. I felt that those running the event had better understanding of what the crowd was normally willing to bid on art after already having paid for the event. My knowledge of the group attending and the expected norm was limited.
So I allowed them to place the reserve with that understanding.
I do not particularily want someone to tell me what to paint...that is part of my creative thought, yet the business side of thought wants the gallery as well as myself to make money from the sale. Sooooo..if it benefits us both, in some cases it is alright. My thought on this is that they know their customer base at the gallery better than I do. They are usually the one who hears feedback on the paintings.


Robert Albrecht
via fineartviews.com
Constructive criticism is or should be welcome depending on who and why they are offering it. I am a painter (digital) and receive more than my share of comments. Filtering through the ones that are made because of pure ignorance of the process, I do find that I receive the best comments from those in the industry. Gallery Directors if they even look at a piece will usually comment on it. Never a lack of input here. Though most of their comments are either based on what has sold in the past or currently selling, you do find a small percentage of Directors that want to offer their patrons something new. If several suggestions are made as to how to strengthen a piece or refine a piece for their audience..great, so be it. If they want you to move trees and add houses; politely thank them and go down the street to another gallery.

"Traditional" artists have been a wealth of information for me. Discussing strokes, intensity of color, perspective etc. are wonderful bits of information and very much appreciated.

In conclusion, constructive advice should always be welcome but know where to draw the line. Many like to take "pot-shots" at anything and have valid knowledge of little. Weed those out of your system and move forward.

Pattie
via clintwatson.net
Yes, it irritates me when a gallery manager tells me that portraits of other people don't sell and then hangs one of my "changing time for new works" portrait painting around a corner, where viewers would never see it. Interestingly enough, I have sold a portrait (although it a young child) in the same gallery. I know galleries operate on "trends" and past experience, but who is to say if someone might like the way you painted it, or the mood it creates.

Diane Spears
via clintwatson.net
Critiques of paintings IN PROGRESS can be helpful or can steer your artwork in a totally different direction. I've needed to keep my original idea in tact while considering suggestions of paintings in progress. Critiques of finished paintings can also be helpful if I know the painting could be better, and I can paint another, but can be disastrous if I attempt to add to, delete, or change something that leads away from my original idea or does damage to the design. Suggestions to change something in a finished painting has not worked for me; I've ended up "ruining" a couple of paintings trying to please someone else. The result was I did not please myself or the other person. I've learned to wait for the "right" person to like it as it was finished, which has happened with more than one painting that had received suggestions. I definitely prefer a gallerist to simply choose the artworks that they can sell and let me take the others somewhere else without comment.

GARNET CORNELL
via fineartviews.com
In defence of the gallery, one must be able to pass comment designed to be costructive, and ecourage your artists to be innovative and not imitative.
If this upsets the artist, then the future relationship is dodgey and likely to fail, especially if one has to maintain standards that makes your better artists to want to supply your gallery.

Marie Kazalia
via fineartviews.com
It does seem presumptutious for someone who just runs a gallery and doesn't paint, to says things about the artists work as to critique (without request.). But if looked at another way, but it may also show that they care and are supportive. I think the artists should listen with an open mind, but do their work according to who they really are. No need to reject any advice, because it makes one stiffen, Just listen and keep your own values and inner strengths. WHy not just try some of what the gallery owner suggests, perhaps in a quick sketch or thumbnail, just to see what you think? You can always throw it away if you hate it. Artists need to paint and draw more....relax---the dealer may be wrong or may be pointing out something you cannot see. So just take a look at the suggestion and then use it or reject it.

Lori Woodward Simons
via clintwatson.net
This past week, I was on location in Maine writing about a workshop given by Donald Demers. Don made an interesting comment, "I never paint anything if it doesn't have some emotional connection for me".

I have often heard Richard Schmid say that he paints only what he wants to and how he wants. When he used to work with more than one gallery, he then made choices about which gallery any of his resulting paintings would sell best in.

At one point, a gallery owner said to him, "You need to finish the corners of your paintings. Our clients like the corners finished."

Well, that comment was the last straw for Richard. He hired Kristen Thies as his gallery director and opened up his own gallery. She has done an excellent job for him and he gets to paint whatever he wants.

Just thought I'd throw that in. I tend to agree with Richard - I prefer to paint from the heart. I get critiques from Richard himself, and sometimes he says my painting hits the mark, and then the gallery owner says it doesn't. Who is right?

If we decide to paint whatever the client wants to buy, then aren't we paintings commissions? There are plenty of collectors who want to buy only honest work - not contrived for a sale.


Marie Kazalia
via clintwatson.net
IMO, since your comments came in moments after I posted mine, I wanted to add that not everyone is going to agree or even have similar opinions. That is the point of discussion and sharing of thoughts--to open up ideas and understanding. A comparison to determine who is right or wrong is beside the point. If you study ethics you will learn that *there is no arguing taste, people like what they like.* There are lots of *Stuckists* out there and they are welcome to remain so and paint as they wish and congregate in workshops. Perhaps they do not wish to and cannot expand, learn or grow beyond a certain point or style. There are plenty of people like that in all areas of life, not just among artists. The way to learn is to read, listen with an open mind and associate with all sorts of artists to see different ways of art-making and open up to different art philosophies.
Artists don't have to do that--they can stay exactly as they are and continue to paint the same thing.
IMO. if an artist is doing work similar to those who have taught them, or their work is too similar to an art historical style, then they may have not yet reached maturity as an artist, and input from other sources could help them grow....

There are many art historical examples of art dealers helping artists.
I've lived in China, Japan and India and studied art there and in Europe-- it was great to leave the USA, get out of my comfort zone and learn amazing things--don't fight growth by repeating what another artist states out of context to validate your own stance. Artists have freedom! Righteous indignation does not help an art career.
LIstening to an art dealers opinion is not equivalent to contrived art for sales purposes. IMO unfinished corners in a painting are corny and something along the lines of what might be expected to be for sale in an inexpensive mass produced furniture store for sale as a *sofa sized* decorative item. That is my opinion. I do not care if an artist wants to paint a painting with unfinished corners. It is up to the artist. If a dealer suggests corners be painted, then so what? Take it or leave it. That hardly constitutes contrived for sales purposes, and I would say quite the reverse, in that art with unfinished corners (usually known as vignettes) are often associated with cutsie to sell to a certain more mass mentality market---and I say this based on my own experiences and education. My experiences and opinions are mine and there is no correct or incorrect, as with yours....


Lori Woodward Simons
via clintwatson.net
Marie,

I do actually agree with you wholeheartedly, and I started this blog as a point of discussion and sharing views. I in no way added my comment as a reply to what you shared earlier. In fact, I had not read the previous comments, but just wanted to share an experience.

I think what you've added here is important and true. In many cases, art dealers have supported and helped artists - that has actually been the case with me at times. Only in one case (for me) has a dealer been obsessive about it, and I admit that I am still reeling from that experience... where I couldn't seem to do anything right.

I have worked amicably with many art dealers over the years. I only added the comment above to offer the opinions of a couple of artists whom I know personally.

Again, my intention was in no way connected or directed at your previous comment. I'm sorry if it sounded that way. I am a person who dislikes conflict, and so I ask your forgiveness if I offended in any way.

Sincerely,
Lori


Yvonne Branchflower
via fineartviews.com
This is a thought-provoking article. I've never had a gallery director tell me how to paint or require that I revise a painting. However, they have made general suggestions about edges, composition, and current sales trends. I can ignore these comments or use them as a challenge to study the weak spots. Trends are not very useful to me because I'm a slow oil painter, and by the time the painting is varnished 4 months have gone by and so has the trend.

Carol McIntyre
via fineartviews.com
Yes I like to hear what a gallery director has to say. In fact, recently I went into a local gallery where I participated in a group show and I showed the director a painting I had just finished. She said, "Now if you had had that one in the show I could have sold it." We then had a very constuctive conversation. I find it most helpful if a gallery can articulate in general terms what their collectors are looking for. If we are selling, is not part of our job to respond to the buyers wants and needs?

In another gallery when I ask for a reaction to my work I get "It's pretty," which I find less than helpful. This director is not able to state what she or her customes like into words.

Shandra B.
via clintwatson.net
I am not interested in a gallery critique or a critique from any one. I am my toughest critic.

When some one suggests a change to the art is the artist supposed to immediately make the change?
One time a visitor to one of my exhibitions said I should stop using red, but use blue. So should I stop using red?
Better suggestion - just let the comments either good or bad float away, thank the person for their interest in your art and move on.

Clint Watson
via clintwatson.net
I think cartoonist, Hugh MacLeod, probably has the best advice on this subject:

"Ignore Everybody"

http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/000876.html

Clint Watson
via clintwatson.net
It's OK to consider advice, but for the most part - it's all up to you, the artist, so, by all means Shandra is correct - keep using red.

Floyd Smith
via fineartviews.com
I'm never the one that wants to be told by
anyone. "I told you so." But now I wish someone
had, but in a big way. As a new member/artist I'm just learning the ropes, as if like a little
pup, lost,cold just not sure which way to turn.
But as I read more on what other artist, and people most important like Clint and Keith(my opinion) have to say. I now wish down to my very soul, that I had joined up, sooner then later. I think I have common-sense, more then most, but I got taken in by a nice warm hug, and a
beautiful smile. I was still walking on air, when I ask the gallery/owner. Can you write up a contract? "Her first words." I've never been ask that question by any of my artist. You can trust me.
To be represented by a gallery, first time. I didn't think I had the right to ask of such a thing. Little old me, a nobody in the art world,
asking this of a very well known artist from
New York. I caved in and said. "Ok." My mind still spinning from the perfume.
That was last year. Today, the doors are locked, and just about everthing is gone. But I can still make out some paintings, way in the back. Made some calls to other people, the owner will not return calls or emails. May be able to get my paintings back by this weekend. I hope. The
lesson here. I should have been part of this
fineartswebsite, many moons ago - and I would not be in all this mess. "Now I see the light."


Erlene
via clintwatson.net
To get back to your question- I have been told that certain subject matter is not selling and to replace it. I can accept that. As to a critique that is not requested, I had that happen as well. I let it roll off and took the unsolicited critique; however, as far as re-painting something, I offered to replace the piece rather than have him "unhappy". He got the message.

Some gallery owners are real bullies. I don't have to display in that gallery, and I will not re-paint or paint out for a buyer either. I paint what I feel and am inspired to do. When I painted commercially and was being paid to over paint, re-paint, re draw, re design etc... I did it for a salary. In a gallery the relationship is different.

However, if the gallery owner has a real suggestion- and I have had some that are really helpful- like asking you to consider painting larger or smaller or suggests that a certain piece has had more reviews then other- maybe the critique should be considered. Themed shows- I am not really turned on by because if the work does not sell- you are stuck with a work that probably does not fit the rest of your body of work.
Erlene

Garnet Cornell
via clintwatson.net
As a gallery owner, I feel that you have a right to pass constructive comment to the artist who has brought a piece that does not measure up to the standard produced previously, or to help the artist find a gallery that will suit their work.
It is extremely difficult to explain to an artist who has brought in work that does not meet your standards, that you are unable to hang their creation, and we as owners attempt to offer as much help and "guidance"as we can. This is not done maliciously, but we are bound to "protect" the works of our better artists by only accepting work of a certain calibre, and to do it as supportively as possible.
Unless the artist has made a glaring mistake with his perspective or composition, one should never request that a piece be reworked, and this must be done very tactfully.
We hope that by being constructive at all times(very difficult sometimes)we gain the trust of our artists and that we will continue to work closely together for years to come.

Lou Marek
via faso.com
As an artist who has worked in many genres, and been represented by many galleries and have had and still get commissions from so many different people and companies I can say something to this bloggers question that rings true for all artists, the point of view from someone who can make you money telling you what they think you should paint is a good thing because it means they will make you money!!!! They will work hard to sell what you do. And BECAUSE they have had a say, a part in the final piece, they are more invested. REALLY this is selling 101!!!

I ran a mural business in LA for thirteen years. I had people looking over my shoulder for every one of those years telling me what they think!!! Albeit Mural Mural On The Wall was a commercial business it was still my artwork on the wall and I struggled to maintain some control! But I understood from my many years in the big leagues of advertising you do what the customer wants, period. But if you want to have complete control, complete say over your work product then don't put it out for review or critique!

I had a client who will remain unnamed for obvious reasons (she was a very famous TV actress).

She wanted certain murals, faux finishes and painted furniture throughout her home in Westwood, California and I did exactly what she wanted and was well paid. I received great referrals and was on two TV shows because of the work I did for her. The work was as good as anything I painted as a fine artist because she, like most of my mural clients had strong opinions but the painting was executed by me. To my standards, to allow me to get more work and more press.

Michelangelo painted what Pope Julius II told him to,(The Sistine Chapel) sculpted what Lorenzo De Medici told him to,( a lot). And look where that got him!










 

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