I came across a thread in a forum titled, "Do we need art galleries anymore?"
I fired off a quick response at the time, and have now expanded on those ideas for this post.
The Key to Selling Artwork
To sell artwork, you have to build a group of followers or a "tribe" as Seth Godin calls them.
I used to own an art gallery. During my gallery years, I built my own "tribe" of art-collector followers and, consequently, was able to sell the artworks of the wonderful artists we represented . . . a lot of artworks.
The key point to remember is that the person who has built-up the tribe is the one who gets to sell the artwork.
So, Do artists need galleries?
My answer is characteristically maddening . . . . . a a definite maybe. In short, some artists do . . . . and some artists don't.
Why some artists do need galleries
So, what do artists get out of working with a gallery? Some artists are shy, introverted or as Alyson Stanfield says, would rather be in the studio. That's OK. Those artists need a "tribe-builder" on their team, and, in the art world, hiring a tribe-builder generally means getting into an art gallery. Good galleries already have a following, so it's a good way to be "inducted" into an existing tribe.
Why some artists don't need galleries
While some artists definitely do need a gallery (or a tribe-builder), there's no doubt that the Internet has changed the equation. Artists now have the option to build their own tribes. And that means, not all artists need a gallery. Thinking back to pre-Internet times, I think that, in those days, very few artists could have built a big-enough following without gallery representation. However, now it definitely is possible.
Think about Duane Keiser . . . he has a huge following due to his pioneering of the "painting a day" movement. I think he actually does have a gallery, but I'm not sure he needs one any longer.
Or, even more poignantly, the sometimes-controversial Hazel Dooney wrote:
" . . .the ubiquity, speed and complex, no-cost networking capabilities of Web 2.0 is going to radically rupture the traditional relationship between artist and gallery. Unless the gallery can redefine its value as an intermediary – not just between the artist and private, corporate and institutional collectors but also the broader 'cloud' of individualised awareness of the artist's work that constitutes a new form of culture – it's likely to end up a bankrupt and irrelevant concept. Just like a record company. . . artists have an opportunity to be truly independent and self-reliant. However, they have to find the resolve – and the nerve – to seize it, to make the most of it." (emphasis added)
Duane and Hazel are just the tip of the iceberg. Whether by choice or necessity, some artists have chosen the "no gallery" path, while others have shown that they don't necessarily need a gallery to be successful. However, I think that good galleries do indeed still have a place, and I think that place is being the "tribe-builders" for those artists who can't or don't want to do it for themselves. But it's a good feeling to know that artists who are able to be tribe-builders can now control their own destiny, if they so choose.
So what should you do?
You could (and should) build a "tribe" for yourself. If you don't sell through galleries (and don't plan to) you better have started building your tribe like, um. . . . . yesterday.
But, even if you sell through galleries exclusively, and even if you're shy and introverted, you still need your own tribe. Some galleries want artists who don't pursue building their own tribe, don't work with galleries like that. Think about it. What if your gallery goes out of business? Do you want to have to start over? So, if you're in a gallery, perhaps your form of "tribe building" is simply to make a deal with your gallery that you want the name, address, phone and email address of everyone who purchases or is highly-interested in your artwork. Most galleries will hate this idea, so here's what I suggest you do: Sign an agreement with the gallery that you will not sell directly to any customer they provide. Tell them that you plan to send each person who buys your artwork a personal thank you note. You will also send those people newsletters that promote your art and that those newsletters will direct all sales inquiries back to the gallery. However, be sure to include a clause stating that you or another gallery are free to sell to those people in the event that your gallery closes it's doors. Then be sure that every time your artwork sells that you remind the gallery that you need the name so that you can send the thank you note. And be sure not to ever break the agreement.
So, do we need galleries anymore? Depends upon who "we" are . . . . . .
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic
PS - Thanks for being a member of my tribe.
Editors Note: We didn't plan to utlize the word "tribes" so much when we started this post; however, it seemed to capture the flavor of the idea we were trying to share. Although we're quite familiar with Seth Godin's ideas through his blog and his previous books, we have not yet had a chance to sit down and read his new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. If you would like to read it for yourself, click the link below to get your own copy for 32% off the cover price. Better yet, get your copy and submit an article reviewing the book back to us and we'll share it with FineArtViews readers and possibily send some good traffic your way:
Get your copy of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin: