Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She also writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Find out how you can be a guest author.
Several years ago, an artist friend entered a business relationship with a new gallery. He had been working with a few other galleries at the time, but this location was closer to the artist's home, so he was eager to begin showing there. However, the owner required that their artists not show with any other venues within a 50 miles radius of the new gallery. Although that may have worked fine for their others artists, it did not for this particular one since he had a long-standing relationship with a gallery that presided just within that 50 mile radius.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea for him to leave this other gallery (even though he had been selling fairly well there) in order to show his work closer to home, but unfortunately, the newer gallery sold very few of his pieces and went out of business in less than 2 years.
Last year, I reviewed an artist/gallery agreement for a client and was taken back by the fact that the gallery (which is a well-known one) required that their artists not show work in several other nationally known galleries. Now... these "competing" galleries were in other parts of the country. Secondly, this particular gallery required that their artists never sell on their own but only through galleries. Needless to say, I advised this artist to revise the contract because I felt that she should be able to sell her workshop demos and work at plein air events.
Several artists whom I spoke with recently while out west this winter, said that plein air events were their best source of income this year - these artists also show at major galleries. A few other artists who sell primarily through galleries are seeking non-art second jobs or re-thinking their career/sales strategy. I like the saying, "Cast your bread on many waters and it will come back to you." In the current economy, artists who are diversifying their sales venues seem to doing better than those who are not.
Here's my question: Is it a fair business practice for a gallery to limit the ways and places an artist can sell his or her work?
While I certainly understand why a gallery in Camden, Maine would not want an artist to show in Ogunquit, Maine, I can't see why a gallery in the southeast would require that their artists stay away from a certain gallery in Arizona.
Well, now that I think about it, who says that the same people who visit a gallery in Ogunquit are also going to look at art in Camden? Furthermore, wouldn't it be to the artists' advantage to show in both locations? That artist will display different original paintings in each of those galleries and these towns are more than 70 miles apart. With the internet, many collectors are not traveling to the show location anyway, and are doing their browsing and buying online - especially if they're already familiar with an artist's work.
Back to the subject at hand. Is it ethical for a gallery to insist that an artist not sell on their own under any circumstances? Do you think it's ethical for one gallery to make rules about which other galleries around the country their artists can or cannot show in? Is it ethical for an artist to sell work at galleries and directly to collectors if the retail price is the same?
I bet you know which side of the fence I fall on with this one. As I've previously mentioned in blogs, I see myself at the CEO of my art business - sometimes I sell my work through an agent, where they get an agreed-upon sales commission; other times I sell on my own (at the same retrail price) where I get the sales commission. Don't subsidize the collector by leaving out the sales commission. In that case, they're buying wholesale. Someone always gets the sale commission - either your gallerist, agent, or you.
Right now, it seems like the only way the majority of artists can make a living is to sell in several venues - galleries, invitational events, and yes - even from their website. Some artists, avoid competing with their own galleries, by selling more finished/framed works at the gallery, and smaller unframed "studies" from their website. The smaller paintings appeal to those who love the artist's work but can't afford their larger works.
It seems that artists who are selling well during this recession are those who "think out of the box"... Those who aren't depending solely on their galleries. HOWEVER, if you're currently working with a galleries and they're selling well for you, then perhaps you don't need to do anything different. As my tennis teacher used to say, "If you're winning, don't change a thing; if you're losing, keep trying something different until you turn the game around."
Above all, carefully consider how your gallery's requests or requirements may limit your ability to make a living by your art sales. After all, they hedge their bets by selling works by many artists and you only have one person's paintings to sell - your own. Shouldn't you have many ways to get your work to market?