This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Find out how you can be a guest author
Clint and Lori have written a lot lately about selling your own work. Their advise has been great. But there are some of you who would like to have gallery representation or may already have it. There are pros and cons to working with galleries just as there are pros and cons to selling your own work. For me, a balanced approach utilizing both is the most practical. I cannot address all issues relating to galleries in one article, so I have chosen a few.
Prestigious National Gallery vs. Local Gallery
Both have pros and cons.
With the reputable, well known national gallery, being added among the roster of artists looks great on your resume. It may help get you invited to certain shows. These galleries have a large mailing list with collectors from all over the country. Many (but not all) of these galleries also have a good deal of foot traffic. Your work could potentially be seen by many art collectors. However, these galleries also represent scores of other talented artists who have been around the block a few times. Many of these other artists are well established and sought after. The rest of the other artists in the gallery will be just as good as you are. You will be the new kid on the block competing for wall space. The competition already has an established collector base at the gallery. You will likely be lower on the gallery's totem pole.
With the local gallery, however, you may be the top man or woman. You will likely be the star. Your work will be well displayed and well received by the local or regional community. Sales will come. You will get to know your collectors (if you have a good gallery that encourages communication and interaction). Unfortunately, the number of potential collectors who will see your work will be limited to those who live in or visit the community. Another disadvantage is the fact that most of these galleries cannot sell at as high of a price point as the nationally recognized galleries. This may or may not be an issue for you.
So, do you want to be last place in a top gallery or first place in a lesser known gallery? I feel that a balanced approach works nicely. Try to be in both types of galleries. Yes, there are also galleries that fall somewhere in the middle. Try to be in one or two of these as well. This will broaden your exposure and you will profit from the pros of each type of gallery and minimize the cons.
Gallery / Artist Contract
If you do sign on with a gallery, have all the terms in writing. Most business relationships in most other industries are bound by a contract signed by all parties. Why then would an artist / gallery relationship be any different. It is a business relationship and should be treated as such. The first gallery I was in turned out to be a learning experience. I was so eager to have representation that I didn't take the time to find out about the gallery's business practices. We had a dispute and my attorney spent considerable time settling the issue. Within 4 or 5 months of settling the dispute, the gallery filed for bankruptcy. I was lucky that I had settled. I know of other artists in that gallery who lost a lot. That experience prompted my attorney to draft a fair and comprehensive artist / gallery contract.
You will find that some galleries balk at signing a contract (be leery of these galleries). Others understand the value, and some already require a contract. Realize that you will need to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Don't just sign anything they put in front of you. Look it over carefully. Better yet, have your attorney read through it. If you present an agreement to them, don't expect them to sign it right away. They will want to read it or have their attorney read it. There will be some give and take as you work through what you each want or need.
Having a contract will prevent a lot of misunderstandings. Live by the agreement. Be honest and ethical, and expect them to be as well. Artists and galleries work best together when there is mutual trust and respect. The contract establishes the ground rules upon which that trust is built.
Also realize that the greater your reputation, the more leverage you have to get what you want. The greater the gallery's reputation, the more leverage they will have. Do you really want to give up certain things to be in that prestigious gallery? It may be worth it, but it may not. You must decide.
One Size Does Not Fit All
I have dealt with galleries that turned out to be great. I have dealt with galleries that turned out to the contrary. But just because a gallery works well for me, does not mean it will work for you. I recently talked with an artist who had a terrible experience with a gallery that I have a relationship with. I have had only great experiences with the gallery. Likewise, I have pulled out of galleries that I was displeased with, but other artists are happy with those galleries. Each artist / gallery relationship is unique. To find a great fit is truly a great blessing.
Being an artist is being in business. You must make decisions that will help grow your business. Keep this in mind as you decide which galleries you would like to be in (again, I think a great approach is to balance gallery representation with nurturing your own clients). Choose galleries that will help you achieve your goals. Establish a relationship of trust from the beginning with your galleries. And if the shoe doesn't fit, try on a new pair of shoes. Somewhere out there is a gallery that will be a great fit for you.