Recently I read a blog where someone was trying to compare the pros and cons of having an art gallery represent your work or not, and asking the question “Was 50% too much to pay for the honor – in short was it usury? I tried to post my comment there and could not do so successfully – Captcha kept kicking me out, even though I responded correctly several times. I am not sure why this is happening, Apple, but it is really annoying!
So, I thought I would write my own blog on that same topic myself. In my opinion, it comes down to this: If the art gallery is actively promoting and selling your work and it is working, then 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Yes 50% is an outrageous amount to have to pay. But if the gallery is well-located so that it has great foot traffic in an area with enough of your target audience who are likely to want to buy your art; if it actively promotes its artists both in the gallery and online and is staffed with knowledgeable, customer-friendly, people who actually do try to sell your art; if it understands and represents you and your art, and other artists and their art, honestly and knowledgeably, then I believe it is definitely worth it. Expensive but worth it. And you must keep in mind that the gallery has fixed overhead and up-front costs associated with promoting your work that it pays out-of-pocket regardless of whether or not your work sells. So while 50% may seem high (and is high), the gallery assumes 100% of the up-front costs – costs that you would otherwise have to cover yourself.
I would suggest; however, that you check up on your chosen art gallery from time to time to make sure that once the honeymoon is over, it really is doing a good job of trying to promote and sell your art.
Case in point: I visited an art gallery recently where I walked into the gallery, looked at every painting there, re-visited two or three paintings three or four times, stared at each for a really long time, looked over at the person behind the desk several times, and that person did not get up to greet me, or say one word to me the entire time. The person behind the desk did not give me any information about any of the paintings that I was obviously intrigued with, or ask me if I had any questions, or if I needed help, or if I was casing the place for a later art heist. In short, I (and everyone else who came in the door over the ½ hour time period that I was there) was invisible. I thought to myself “I would not want my paintings hanging in this gallery. No one is trying to sell the art. No one is trying to engage the customers. No one is home. Period.”
I found out later that the “bread and butter” for the gallery was selling famous signed prints. The owner was “in the back” on the telephone working hard to sell those prints. But no one was working hard “in the front” to sell the local artists’ works that were hanging on the gallery walls. The “in the front” person might as well have been “in the back” too.
I walked next door into another gallery. I looked at three paintings briefly, and turned my attention to some sculpture. Immediately a friendly, smiling gallery representative approached me to give me some information about the artist. There was no high pressure sales pitch. Just some exciting news about national recognition for the artist. She was obviously thrilled with the prospect for the artist that she represented. Her willingness to “break the ice”, gave me the courage to ask her some questions about some of the other paintings and artists. And a conversation ensued. I learned a lot about the artists who were represented there. I was not, ultimately, a buyer. But if I had been, and I had liked the art on the walls, and maybe even if I was unsure about it, I would have bought a painting there. Because the person that approached me was sincere, knowledgeable, not pushy, attentive, honest, understood the artists that she represented, and clearly knew a thing or two about art. You get the picture. Which gallery would you rather have representing you?
I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your gallery homework before you decide to approach one to represent your work, or how important it is to have a local gallery that you know and can visit frequently. While I totally understand a gallery’s need to focus its efforts in selling what it needs to sell to cover its fixed costs and make a decent profit, I really felt like Gallery #1 was doing a disservice to the local artists whose works were hanging on its walls. Walls do not sell paintings. People sell paintings. So make sure that your gallery has someone “in the front” who is knowledgeable, courteous and likes people. Someone who actually will greet potential customers and try to get a conversation going around your work. Someone who is motivated to do so in order to get paid. If not, then you really would be better off selling your art any other way, like holding it out on the side of the I-5 freeway with a “For Sale” sign on it, because at least someone would be trying to sell it.
For those of you who would like to augment your gallery representation by learning how to market and promote your art and yourself online, I recommend that you consider the “Marketing Your Art” Workshops developed by Lake Oswego Consulting Group. A series of three workshops will be starting in Portland, OR on September 27, 2012 at the Oregon Society of Artists. For more information, please refer to the poster below and this blog entry.