Last week, a small group of artist friends were sharing ideas about art marketing over dinner. One full time artist, who has both worked with galleries and sold on his own, asked another artist why he was seeking out gallery representation when artists today can sell just as easily on their own while avoiding paying the 50% commission to a gallery.
The ways that art reaches collectors is changing rapidly. Many artists are successfully selling from their websites, outdoor shows, and even forming small group shows by renting rooms in hotels or public buildings. Some sell via Ebay, and "Painting a Day" sites. With the Internet, power is definitely transferring to the artist. Many artists are abandoning the "middleman" and connecting directly to the buyers.
This new power to sell is a great thing for the artist. Knowing this, then the question becomes: Why would any artist seek gallery representation when commission rates are so high? There's no one right answer. Recently, I've seen several artists who had been previously selling on their own make significantly more income and get national recognition through gallery representation.
Here are the things that a high-visibility gallery can do for an emerging artist:
1. Connect the artists with their loyal clientele
. Galleries have worked long and hard to gain a list of serious collectors. These gallerists convince these same collectors to invest in the careers of their emerging artists.
Representation by a major gallery that advertises nationally amounts to an endorsement. Those artists who think the art world is a non competitive place are fooling themselves. In order to get into a high visibility gallery where avid art collectors shop, ones artwork has to be of the highest quality, on quality materials and with quality framing. (Keep in mind, that I'm coming from a traditional, representational artwork background.)
Some galleries habitually advertise in major art collector magazines.They budget and plan to spend a certain amount of money each year on advertising. Lone artists can rarely afford to advertise as often as galleries do - on a consistent basis. When artists pay for their own ads, it's tooting their own horns - which does work if the art gets noticed by the right people, but when a gallery pays big bucks to advertise the work of an artist, the artist gets credibility from someone else - which sometimes has more sway with the public than self-promotion.
4. Higher Prices:
Since galleries are frequented by people with large budgets for collecting, they expect to pay a substantial sum for high quality works of art. I'm seeing artists right now who are making nearly ten times the income they did when they sold on their own.. Showing work in a gallery setting can increase the value of the work almost instantly. Not that the work was worth any less before gallery representation, but the perceived value
of the work increases.
5. Building excitement:
I've seen that when collectors attend big art events, they like to brag about their collection. They even compete with each other in buying paintings. There's a whole cultural significance built around the "art event". The auction or show where works are sold by draw increases the likelihood that there will be more than one buyer for each work. Competition can be fun, and it gives the collector whose name is chosen bragging rights. When these same people buy on the Internet, it's not as exciting. Each February, I attend Settler's West Miniature show in Tucson. Folks fly in from all over the country for this one evening where more than 300 works will be sold in a matter of a couple of hours. Attendees put their names into the corresponding box for each painting. Some boxes contain so many names that the gallery personnel have to transfer them into a large salad bowl. When the single name is selected from the bowl, it is often accompanied by a squeal of delight from the person who won the ability to purchase the painting. The others, who missed out groan with disappointment.
6. Art Buying combined with travel:
Gallery districts are often located in or near resort areas. People who love to collect artwork combine their gallery shopping with eating at fine restaurants and vacations. Some have second homes in the area. My husband and I are much more likely to buy a painting while we're vacationing. There's something about the "out of town" mindset that lends itself to buying things you normally wouldn't consider on a day to day basis at home.
To sum up this blog, it is my opinion that while many artists will choose to successfully sell on their own, we will see galleries continue to represent artists. I believe that many of the dishonest dealers will soon go out of business. Some successful galleries are now moving their businesses to their home and rent hotel rooms for events while selling works from their website. However, it doesn't look like galleries that do what Settler's West does, will lose attendance any time soon.