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Do artists need galleries anymore?

by Clint Watson on 10/28/2008 8:02:00 AM

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 . . . . . .


Clint Watson
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:


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Related Posts:

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Web Traffic Driver #4: Systematically Nurture Your Prospects

Topics: art marketing | Clint Watson 

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Tina Mammoser
via web
Glad to find your blog! (through Twitter) I'm in that thread too and share many of your sentiments. As a fan of Duane and Hazel I think you've chosen some excellent examples.

I started, oddly, as both an online artist and gallery artist. Small places representing my work while I paid my bills with eBay sales. (many years ago) So I've always been supportive of both methods but simply found galleries worked better for me as I progressed. I do see things changing though and am enjoying building a community online but still wholeheartedly like my galleries too.

I don't need galleries to sell online. But online sales are meager.
I do need galleries because face-to-face I would rather be in the studio. (and I love Alyson's advice too!)
In addition geographically my work sells better in person but not in London, so slightly distant galleries become my best agents. Like you mention, I'm very happy to send customers to my galleries and also to make sure appropriate sales go back to them too.

I couldn't do it on my own nor do I want to, to be honest.

via web
Clint, thank you for this thought provoking article. Personally I think internet marketing circumvents the 'original art' factor. Think about original paintings and reproductions. Most of us with art interests have been hit with that overwhelm that happens in front of a great painting original, while we possibly have just 'moderately enjoyed' viewing reproductions of it. I am thinking of VanGogh's Starry Night, how many times I have seen copies of it, and how I felt when I saw the real one :) Is there a certain type of personality who wants to see their art up close and personal before committing? Yup, I know people who buy art online. But I also know of people who have seen art online and driven to the gallery to see it in person before making the decision. I vote we keep galleries around a little longer!

Later, Cooper

via web
there is a big difference between a tribe [a collective] and an aggregate of individuals - the latter is desired, as that is what we all are, individuals, but the former is not, as that is a forming of serfdom, however euphanistically it may be termed...

Julie Thompson
via web
With the internet becoming an ever-easier place for patrons to browse art, to research artists, and to shop, it is becoming more and more necessary for artists to build a good online presence in order to develop that market as well as the artist-to-patron relationship. These days my direct sales through the internet outpace my gallery sales by at least 4 to 1, at a conservative estimate. It is very possible to survive as an artist without galleries, and that's becoming more so all the time. There is no denying that an online market also greatly reduces geographic difficulties.

At the same time, I would never want to give up my galleries. With the physical gallery, you have that face-to-face contact with patrons, dealers, and collectors, which would be much more difficult without the gallery. Some galleries provide the space for their artists to teach classes or do weekend demos. It's a wonderful opportunity for all to meet one another in person, and that touch of humanity is still very much needed - while the internet is a fantastic marketing tool, it is still very impersonal in comparison to what a good gallery can provide.

Ron Grauer
via web
Clint, Just read your bit on tribes...well thought out because non (very few) of my galleries will give out any info (except for the Carmel Art Assciation who must, because of their bylaws). If you don't mind I'd like to copy the last paragraphy along with credit to you and send it all my galleries and sit back and wait for the responses. I've tried the "what if you went out of biz" line and got a blank stare and a response "then we'd both be out of biz". I'm no longer with that gallery but I'll send them a copy of you theory anyhow...don't hate the guy just want my tribe to be building somewhere. Thanks, Clint...keep it up. RonG

Lori Woodward Simons
via web
Great blog, Clint... so much to think about.
Conclusion: We don't NEED galleries, BUT we may WANT them. Thanks for your excellent advice.

Verna D'Alto
via web
I would like to join your website. Presently I have a website and would like to transfer the information on that site to yours.
What is the next step for me?
Thank you,

Karen Bowden
via web
After picking up a book about the effect of group action (it is called "Here Comes Everybody" by Clay Shirky) I just had to share. His thesis is "Group action just got easier." It is about the social aspect of the use of tools such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Bob Ragland
via web
I say sell your art by any means necessary. Don't depend on
galleries, be willing to be proactive and inventive to get your work sold. Re invent your self, one has to heat and eat. Galleries are not going to save anyone's art life, only the artist can do that.

Bob Ragland

Verna D'Alto
via web
I have my paintings in two galleries. So far the work I send to them doesn't sell.
I am not sure I should leave them in the galleries.

christi pemberton
via web
Hello. I have been an art curator for 5 years, and I can tell you.....the artist needs to have more control over his/her own career. Having a gallery is great for face to face, but we don't necessarily need them. Besides the limitless opportunities for artists to build their fan base and network (tribe) and establishing their online galleries; artists can use their online networking to establish friendships with other artists...and actually organize exhibitions in spaces that they can chip in and rent themselves for a period of time. Galleries do have a built in base of loyal visitors, but the playing field is now leveled. Artists first must get an understanding of the tools they need to build their support base online and get in touch with other artists (even local or in-state artists), and start joining up to do their own show/events and establish both an online and offline friendship. the old way of doing business is just another "way"...and the new of doing business in this 21st century is becoming dominate. The artist who is savvy in both creating their art work and doing business in this information and social network-driven world will have a better time.

Clint Watson
via web
Christi - Thanks for your thoughts about the artist/gallery relationship. You have provided some really good insights.

Rahul Parekh
via web
Thank you Clint, Your articles are great knowledge for artists :) I read your articles, and it found so much useful to understand the art market and the people involve in this world. I'm wildlife artist from India, and here NO galleries represents Wildlife Art

Rahul Parekh
via web
Thank you Clint, Your articles are great knowledge for artists :) I read your articles, and it found so much useful to understand the art market and the people involve in this world. I'm wildlife artist from India, and here NO galleries represents Wildlife Art

JT Harding
Today, I spotted a car online. But I had to go down to the dealer and take it for a test drive before I decided to buy it. In fact, I did buy it.

If/when I get into a gallery, you can be sure it will have a good reputation, invests in its online presence, and has a sophisticated inventory system. Until then, you can be sure that I'm building my tribe.

Kristen Thies
Good Fine art dealers are sometimes hard to come by, that is why we began our own gallery 10 years ago, so I agree with your post. However, here is what I've learned. Most collectors enjoy building relationships with the dealer. They love to be informed of new works and building trust is one of the keys to building a following. Nothing compares to viewing an original painting in person and sharing the excitement of being a part of an Art Opening! Once a great relationship has been established it becomes easier to sell works on line. But most of our collectors still want to see the works on approval before they buy them.
Marketing is an Art as you well know. The artists we represent would rather spend time in their studios. So honesty and developing trust are also key ingredients to building what you term "your tribe." All the best, K

I think about this regularly. We spend a lot of time helping artists develop online marketing strategies but at the end of the day that is mostly leading to an in-person face to face sale if its an original work.

I very much agree with Kristin's comment, "Nothing compares to viewing an original painting in person and sharing the excitement of being a part of an Art Opening". But then it doesn't have to be a gallery. It could be an open studio or a show that the artist has organized in a community location. I think the key is to find a way to develop a following and make the selling process an event.

For me, being physically close to an original work of art by a true artist is very much a spiritual experience that could never be replaced.


Steve Worthington
Here's how I do it.
Galleries sell most of my work.
Nearly all of my larger pieces (over $1,000 retail) are sold through galleries.
My smaller pieces I sell five times more of through galleries than online, but there's one of me and about ten galleries.

It works out that I sell about double any one average gallery's sales of small pieces.
But one or two galleries significantly out perform the average.

I've only been making and selling sculpture for about 3.5 yrs to date, and I'm hoping to increase my online presence and also sell through more galleries.

I embrace both approaches.
What I like best about selling online is direct contact and feedback with collectors. Maybe it's just egotistical, but I get such a kick out of their reactions to my work.

What I like best about selling through galleries is that they can present a comfortable hands on experience for potential collectors of my larger pieces.

Karen Blackwood
Clint, I love reading your articles and am finding them both honest and informative. I have been an artist making a living without a gallery through great deal of commissioned work and am now looking forward to finding a few galleries with a love for artists who will be a fit for my work. I want to see how far I can get with both my efforts and a galleries and the amount taken by the galleries will be well worth it if my prices go up with representation.

Shelly Hearne
Hi Clint,
I have my work in 3 galleries and rotate the art on a regular basis. I have a very large inventory that has been in and out of all three galleries and I would love to sell them myself. I am curious as to how to price them on my website, my price or retail? I just added paypal to my website, but I'm not sure of the pricing step.

Thanks, Shelly

Christi Pemberton
Hello. I would like to add that I organize online art exhibitions and events through my website and entertainment network. I do believe that having an online presence is crucial and should be explored. If any artist would like to be considered for a future show, please let me know. My website is


Steve Worthington
I agree wholeheartedly about your comment that a web presence is essential. I checked out your website but it doesn't seem to work.
All the links along the top where I can learn about your site and what you do, membership levels etc link to a sign up form, which I'm not going to do without learning about it first.
It might be a super fantastic site, I guess I'll never know.
And you might want to put a great big easy to find button right at the top of the home page that you click that says 'STOP music'.
My first experience was hunting around for one that I couldn't find.
Maybe post here how your site works and what the membership levels include/don't include?

Christi Pemberton
Hello. Thank you for your comments. Yes you are right. To operate the functions of the site, you have to become join social network. You can just see the main page without joining. Joining is free, which will put you as a basic member. That is described on the left side in the "short description" space. My site is a website and social network rolled up into one using the platform/social network creation tool. I use it for events and shows, so having a large membership is not necessary. There will be a general use network available soon that will be like an online magazine and social network.

In fact, in my website URL, you will see "". The function of stopping the music box may be something that you can do after you join. The stop button is in the center and has two parallel lines that will turn into an arrow button when you push it.

If you look at the menu at the top and the short description on the left side, they will give you the general "make up" of the site. If you scroll down, then you will find the shows that I have online which includes a gallery of art and also of video productions. Think of it as a video and an art gallery network for entertainment.

The site is a social network site; and sites normally require a person to become a social network member to see all of the site. It is like Facebook, where you can't see facebook sites or the facebook groups without first joining facebook in general. When you join, then you will be able to build your profile (like Facebook), and then just use your username and password to join other groups without having to go through building a profile again. is a very popular and common social network creation tool where people can develop their own network and create a community of people who like the same topic/subject.We have the option as creators to set the site on public or private. Public gives us the option to show just the main page, and require members to sign in...or just operate the site as almost like a basic website where you can see everything without signing in. Signing up is basically creating your own profile, like what you find in Facebook..(you can't see the facebook pages and facebook groups without signing up for facebook, which is is like that as well.

Social networks are common to build a community of people who love the same, signing in as a member will give the network creator and the member a sense of that community and who else is there to create dialogue about the area of interest. That is a very common thing with social networks...sign up and sign in to participate and become part of the community.

Thank you for contacting me back.


Christi Pemberton
Hi Clint, I just opened my entertainment social network site, so you can see all of it without having to create a profile. I have another post here that further explains the social network tool that I used and the privacy levels that all Ning.con site creators can use for their social network. Let me know if you still can't find the play/stop button (center of the music box below the box window.

marie costa
Hi christi, Im new to all this and least of all a computer wiz. Im very bad with the comp, but Im slowly learning. I certainly agree with you on your feedback. good job.

My thoughts on the end of the bricks and mortar art gallery

Brian Sherwin
I do think the Internet is changing the landscape of art buying slowly-- and will, in time, potentially shape it in one swift direction in the near future. A new generation of art collectors happens to be just on the horizon-- individuals who will have been raised buying items and services online, will no doubt expect artists to have a personal website, and will most likely want to purchase directly from artists online. I”ôve been writing about this possibility for years.

It will be interesting to see if a direction of the art market that traditionalists tend to scoff at will become the status quo of art marketing in the near future. This might be why you see notable art critics like Jerry Saltz-- as well as notable gallery owners, like Larry Gagosian-- embracing social networking. Perhaps they realize and accept that change is coming-- and strive to have some ground to stand on when those changes come.

M A Bhatti
I am a portrait artist and an art professor..painting commissioned portraits all over the world. Recently I have moved to Houston Texas. I am trying myself to get introduced in art circles here and would like to join a "tribe" of my interest soon. I agree most of the stuff you have mentioned...

mark lobman

I am a learning so much about art from your website. My name is Mark and I am into business development at RT Artgallery ( Suriname , South America). We represent about 14 artists.

Is there a possibility for us as a Gallery to Sell art on FASO ? Make a Gallery website and do business on behalf of our artist( because they want us to)

Sincerly yours

Mark Lobman
business Development.

Lee Prevost
I am just getting into the marketing aspect of my work (figurative sculpture and high reliefs) and am setting up my website but there is still so much to do! My question today is how does one approach a gallery for potentially representing you? My big problem is geography as I live in northern Ontario and the art world is in the Toronto or Montreal area. Much of my work is female nudes and having sculpted in Montreal the feedback there seemed more favorable.


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