Why Artists Should Embrace Galleries

Today’s article is part 1 of a two-part post on whether or not artists should be seeking gallery representation. Part 2 is the counter-argument: Why Artists Should Avoid Gallery Representation posted on The Abundant Artist blog today.

The way we promote, sell, and buy art is rapidly changing, but there are still many good reasons to consider gallery representation.

Here’s a list to remind you of the upside of working with a gallery.

A gallerist acts as your agent.

A good gallery will be your advocate and business partner. They will work to manage your career and help you raise your status and prices.

In a business where most of your time is spent alone in your studio, it is a blessing to have someone else working on your behalf.

Karen Scharer Art

Karen Scharer’s art is represented by Space Gallery in Denver.

Galleries have space.

Galleries have a physical space. With gallery representation, you don’t spend a lot of time looking for new places to show your art because you already have space.

Gallery space is also usually in an area noted for art traffic. As nice as your studio might be, it probably can’t compare to the sleekness and surrounding environment of a commercial gallery.

Galleries have trained salespeople.

If you’re like most artists, you know how hard it is to act as a spokesperson for your art and to “close the sale” when something so personal is involved.

A gallery’s sales staff takes care of this for you.

Galleries have lists.

You have your list of contacts, but galleries can introduce new people to your art.

The longer the gallery has been in business, the bigger and more loyal the list. Presumably. Like artists, galleries cultivate their clients for years.

Galleries have connections.

Galleries have connections to the media and are still more likely to get reviewed by a newspaper, blog, or magazine than an artist-run venue.

Galleries are also associated with art professionals and curators that can elevate an artist’s career.

Galleries deal with the paperwork.

You will always be required to keep your own financial records, but think of all the paperwork related to a sales transaction.

Galleries take care of all that!

Gallery staff members deal with sales invoices and receipts, in addition to the collection and payment of sales taxes. They also act as a collections agent when someone doesn’t pay their bill.

Janice McDonald Collages

Janice McDonald’s art on exhibit.

Galleries add credibility.

Let’s face it, there is just something about adding gallery representation to your résumé!

The stamp of approval from someone else – someone who knows about and appreciates fine art – makes most artists feel more valid and valued.

Galleries feed into museums.

Galleries are a longtime valued aspect of the art ecosystem.

The fastest way to get your art into a museum is to attain top-drawer gallery status. Gallerists often work on behalf of their artists to get worthy art into museum collections.

What Do You Think?

Remember to read the flipside of galleries on The Abundant Artist blog: Why Artists Should Avoid Gallery Representation.

Share your thoughts about Why or Why Not galleries in a comment below.

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54 comments to Why Artists Should Embrace Galleries

  • Thank you, Alyson! I grow so weary of hearing my fellow artists complain about galleries (they take commission! Like, they expect money!) I rarely hear anyone speak of the benefits of galleries anymore. I admire their work – and can’t wait to find the right one for my work.

  • This is a timely post for me. I have been with galleries who have done a great job with promotion of their gallery and of me. However, I am in a situation with one of my galleries now where I don’t feel that I fit in anymore. The owner has become a friend so it has been hard to pull away and let’s face it, a lot of artists are looking for a space to show their work. But, I think there comes a time if the overall theme and quality of the gallery changes, an artist may have to decide to pull out. One indicator is if you feel that the gallery is no longer a draw for the kind of collectors you need to purchase your work and sales are way down. Hopefully, I can pull out in a professional manner with grace and still have a positive relationship with the owner.

  • Love your blog! I wanted to repost this on the FB page of the gallery where I work, but the link keeps coming up with “Donating Your Artwork.”

  • Julie

    If there really *were* a gallery who would sell my work, I have no problem giving them a super high rate of commission.

    Unfortunately so far, I haven’t found anyone who can sell as well as myself (and I don’t even consider myself a very good salesman.)

    That’s the frustration!

  • I have been going back and forth about art festivals vs. galleries. I think there is a lot to consider, such as your personality, your work, your prices, and your skill set. You’ve pointed out many of the reasons why I want/ need to get into some good galleries!! Thanks, Alyson:)

  • I tend to look at gallery relationships as a partnership. They have many things that I do not have as is mentioned here. They get my work out in the public eye and do lend credibility. I need to have a positive attitude when working with a gallery and realize that they are in the business of selling a product. I do better in galleries where I have a good working relationship with owners and staff.

    • Yep! They are your partners. Too many artists consider galleries to be “above” them – to be in control. Each side has its role to play so that the relationship can flourish.

  • Deb

    So glad to see this post. I have done festivals for about 6 years or so. I am taking off this summer to pursue gallery representation. Working on portfolio, which is very tough I might add. I will be waiting for the next post =)

  • While there is some great advice here, from my experience “on the other side,” (from the gallery-working side, that is) I would caution that you do thorough homework about a gallery before you assume that they will do any or all of these things for you. There are plenty of places out there that claim to be art galleries, but don’t necessarily have the level of support suggested here. It wouldn’t hurt to contact a few of the artists a specific gallery already represents to ask about their experience working with them.

  • Generally I would disagree that galleries have trained their employees on selling.

    My experience working for and with galleries is they employ students, interns, artists and other folks that don’t know the first thing about sales.

    More often than not these galleries employ staff at a meager wage and for the staff it is a privilege to work for a gallery.

    Commissions on sales can be an incentive to improve sales techniques but many galleries do not offer their staff commissions.

    I would be an interesting study to poll galleries and ask if they have trained there staff in sales techniques.

    It might be a good question for artists to ask when seeking representation.

    • Matt: I understand. In my counterpoint article, I mentioned galleries with clueless salespeople.

      Yes, it’s up to us to ask these types of questions. Do you have gallery representation? Or have you preferred to go it on your own?

  • At my last Open Studio Exhibit I sold SEVEN paintings all by myself. I enjoy not only being an Artist but also Social Interaction with people. The only two times my Art was sold through Galleries were when they were bought by MY OWN COLLECTORS who could not take the risk of someone else buying it before it came back to my studio. None of the Galleries have promoted my Art the way I can on my own. Your book has taught me to rely on myself. I follow everything that you put in there and IT WORKS! I know what I am talking about as I have created the Art. I blog regularly about my Art, send out NEWSLETTERS about my Art and the direction it is going, I engage with my Art Lovers on my facebook page as well in person, have lunches/dinners with my Collectors and get to know them personally and really do enjoy their company. The reason I create Art is to communicate with my audience. Imagine the joy I feel when people are eager to listen right in front of me to what I have to say. The exchange of thought with them inspires me to create even more Art. I like being in charge (I honestly thought that ALL Artists did – boy I was so wrong) and I rather have more Collectors who can afford my Art directly from me than a few through high end Art Galleries. Your book totally changed my life as an Artist. I hold you fully responsible for who I have become. Three years ago I would have not even imagined that I could do all this myself. Thank you for an amazing and timely blog post (as usual) for now I know that I rather be “A Ring Leader & Run My Own Show” than just in my studio!

    • Roopa, I can relate to what you are saying about YOU doing the selling of your own art at gallery shows.

      The last gallery exhibit I helped my artist husband with was in Laguna Beach, CA. We had sent out (on our own $ dime) personal invitations to our existing collectors.

      Every single piece that sold that night was to a collector that we invited; collectors that already are a fan and have purchased from us directly in the past.

      Needless to say, the gallery was very pleased. But we felt a little jolted; we could have sold those pieces just through emails and personal contacts, and not have had to share in the revenue 50/50.

      We were hoping the gallery would bring us new collectors, but that didn’t happen.

      On a positive note, the gallery threw a lovely party for us!

      • My collectors and friends all brought food (a surprise for me) as I did a show that happened to fall on my Birthday. It was the best Party ever! LOL. If you can make a list and keep it simple, it all works out for less than $100 for a very lovely party. I went to COSTCO and bought a 7lbs. Chocolate cake, three trays of Turkey Roll Sandwiches, two Bottles of Sweet Wine, Peach Iced-Tea packet for 2G Iced-Tea, Fresh Salad and Fresh Fruit Salad. I had total of 25 people show up out of the 50 that I invited. Three of those who did not show up called in still that they “forgot” and they genuinely showed remorse as all have been here on all my other parties. Life happens and sometimes we do forget. It has happened to me a few times. No problem. My job is not to take that personally and keep them updated with my Newsletters because I am a Professional. It takes time to cultivate relationships and they are more that just Dollar Signs to me.
        What I am trying to say is we need to get creative and can do a much better job ourselves if we really plan it out for three months and keep sending our friends, family and Collectors reminder invites. It is my job as an Artist to make them feel like VIPs because they are. It is my job to speak about my art and educate them. Two of my NEW Collectors have NEVER ventured into an Art Gallery or an Art Party. They are both in their Forties. Imagine that. They felt so special being invited to one and were blown away to discover a “Whole New World of Art Out There”. Another thing is that I can keep my prices reasonable so they won’t think twice buying my Art. For me happiness is a two way street. My creations get to be in their beautiful homes hung on their walls instead of staying with me in my studio collecting dust. I get to add them into my VIP Collector’s List.

    • Thank you, Roopa. I’m so happy that you are enjoying your marketing and connection to collectors.

  • I have read this post and the counterpoint. As much as I love to sell directly to my consumer (they are so pumped to talk to me, about my work, how many of my pieces the have etc…) I like the support for the gallery the best. I have had 2 galleries approach me in the past year, the more local ones let me swap out fresh work quickly, they know and promote me very well and their interns recognize me/my work before I’ve ever met them!
    I do limited shows where I lug my work around, and only 1-dayers due to how exhausting it can be and I can’t afford to pay someone to help me out with them. People I know like that I’m shown downtown so they can pop in and buy something quickly on their lunch break if need be.
    This long post has inspired me to do a blog post of my own talking about why I support each gallery that carries my work.

  • Alyson, great post and it’s nice to hear about the positive aspects of being represented by a gallery.

    I have worked with dozens of galleries over the years, and I have learned this:

    There are GOOD ones (like what you describe here), and then there are average or below average, which unfortunately make up over 70% of the galleries I have encountered.

    I agree, a GOOD gallery will employ salespeople who understand the art, will market their artists and will provide a positive career boost for artists.

    For artists looking to get into a good gallery, I recommend contacting the artists they have represented in the past for a reference.

  • Alyson, you made some great points for both sides. I have decided that once I have created enough pieces I am going to be seeking gallery representation because of the nature of my art. My medium is graphite pencil and honestly it does not photograph well. Altho I do sell smaller pieces on Etsy, all my large/more expensive pieces have sold in gallery shows…in person where potential clients can all the beautiful details I put into my work. I so appreciate the negatives you pointed out, so when I am finally ready to seek representation I will be more knowledgeable in choosing the right gallery. I totally understand not to rely solely on a gallery alone for sales, I will still be very active in promoting my own art!

  • Good post with many great points. However, I would probably title this post “Why artists should embrace GOOD galleries.” Not all galleries are worth working with. I agree with Matt that there are too many galleries where the staff is not trained in selling. There are also too many galleries where the staff doesn’t even know that much about art. Sometimes the owners don’t have experience with selling or knowledge about art. Baffling, I know. I have worked with many galleries, and what I have found is that a good gallery not only sells my art, but also promotes my art. (Getting press, putting my name out there, etc.) A gallery like that is hard to find and worth embracing. Too many others seem to think that if they hang art on the wall, people will come in and hand over money without any further ado.

    Yes, I am still the best salesperson of my art, but I am constantly looking to add another GOOD gallery to my resume. (I have one good one.)My advice? Be picky. It’s like dating, finding a gallery to work with. Establish trust, communicate, be honest, and don’t settle for less than the best.

  • I agree with Karine, Maria and Matt too. Having worked in a top tier gallery and having shown in galleries and have many friends who show, GOOD is the operative term. Many directors and sales staff really don’t know much about the work they are selling or are that great at interacting with clients. I went to an opening recently at the top tier gallery and asked the director what materials the paintings on the wall were made of as it wasn’t obvious to me, and he did not know! The artist is someone who he has shown quite a bit. So crazy! And galleries do expect you to bring your collectors to their galleries. I think the relationship can often be lopsided. Artists take on more of the risk since they pay for everything upfront and then if work isn’t sold they are left holding it, storing it, with a lot of $$invested, etc. The art has a shelf life of about three years so you have to hustle to find another way to market it. Meanwhile the gallery does have to cover their operating costs but they have a wide range of inventory and exhibitions to draw on to make that $$$. It helps to be picky but since there is so much competition it can be daunting to find a good fit.

  • Thank you for the article and lively conversation. I have Tweeted/FB’d to Mosaic Art NOW folks.

  • There are still good galleries out there, and working with one can raise the value of one’s work. It doesn’t need to be an either/or situation. Many of my colleagues sell larger works through galleries, while they sell unframed mini works from their websites, at Plein air events and during their workshops.

    I worked with galleries for several years from the late 1990s to 2002. Then I began selling on my own at lower prices and pulled out of galleries. I’ve worked with great, honest galleries, and others that never paid me for sold paintings. I agree with comments here… Check with other artists and ask what the gallery will do for your sales. I’ve always insisted on a contract, and if the gallery dent have one, I get the gallerist to sign my contract.

    I’m considering working wit ph galleries again to gain credibility and a higher value for my work. I’ve found it’s difficult to sell over $1000 on my own, whereas I sold works for up to $2000 while I was in galleries. So if I can get back to those prices, I’ll make more even with a commission. Some of my close friends are selling quite well through galleries at the current time. They took a hit during the recession, but their sales are stronger now. In some cases their prices have increased by about 20% above what they were before 2008.

    I can’t say that my work will be welcomed by some of the gallerists I know, but I’m beginning to think it’s worth trying out. I plan to paint small, easy to buy, works for lower prices (below $300), and later, I’ll sell giclees fornthose who want the image but can’t afford original work.

    So again, artists can have two streams of income, one on their own and one with galleries. There are some galleries who do all the work still because they are good at finding collectors and reside near wealthy communities.

  • Clarification: those small works will be sold on my own unframed.

  • Thanks Alyson, it’ll be a while. I’m developing a new body of work in oils, and that will take some months to accomplish. I count several good gallery owners as my friends, but I want to get into their galleries because they are impressed with my work, not because they know me. So, I won’t be able to get back to you about the gallery end until early 2014.

    In the meantime, I’m working on LEOs. Small, limited edition originals on paper. Where I paint the same work 10 or 20 times and offer them unframed for $125 to $150. That another blog post tho. The giclee prints will cost far less.

    The biggest problem with selling some works on my own while Building a body of work for a gallery is making the time to wear both those hats. If the gallery gigs go well, then I’ll switch over to just galleries and reproductions only since I want a life outside of work too ;-). NNTR I’ll let you know how it goes. My life is an experiment, but I have mo complaints!

  • Alyson, what a great post with a lot of excellent points. One other benefit of selling through galleries, as opposed to festivals, etc. would be it is physically easier on the artist.

    I would love to be able to do the art fair circuit or some of the more prestigious shows like Rittenhouse Square around here, but some artists are not physically able to lug walls, tents, cinderblocks to weigh down the tent, the list goes on.

    I’ve been in very bad galleries and one very good gallery. There is a world of difference in how they run their businesses! The old saying “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you get a prince” definitely applies in this instance. I have an appointment for a new gallery this weekend, and have a business plan to add two by the end of the year (thanks to many of your posts on planning!) Three good galleries can more than keep me busy for the year.

    Thanks for the wonderful, inspiring posts!

  • Artists should endorse galleries but let’s get real here for a minute.
    Most galleries have no interest in new artists, they are hit on constantly by artists from impressionism copiers to elk horn painters and chain saw blade artists. Getting into a gallery of any professional
    significance is extremely difficult because there are so many artists competing for their attention. Go to Park City, Utah, believe me the galleries are not hoping a new original artist will walk in, they are searching for the remote, few, exclusive, knowledgeable, tasteful, and value oriented buyers. A rare breed. As artists we have to keep working and trying but today the gallery owners have a world to pick from and only a dribble of real buyers. Paint to paint and express yourself not to sell.

  • As Norman put it…” galleries are NOT hoping a new original artist will walk in. They are searching for the remote, FEW, exclusive, knowledgeable, tasteful, and value oriented BUYERS. A rare breed.

    As artists we have to keep working and trying but today the gallery owners have a world to pick from and only a dribble of real buyers. Paint to paint and express yourself not to sell.”

    I totally agree. Paint to express yourself. Paint for your own pleasure. Stop chasing the elusive sale, be an artist.

    • Phil (and Norm): I do agree that you shouldn’t make art to fit the market (whatever that looks like). If you are true to your vision and chase the vision, the rest will come. But, eventually, you have to make a living.

  • I’ve been selling through a couple of galleries since I started promoting my work but what I have noticed is that most of the buyers know me already and they go into the gallery and look for my work and buy. I would say that is true for half of my sales. A small percentage of sales are directly through my studio. My last exhibition I can say that most of my sales came from people who I invited. The gallery is a good gallery! I’ve suddenly decided to look at what other artist’s are doing locally and discovered a handful of artists selling entirely out of their studios and doing well. I’ve just taken the leap into representing my own work, it is scary but very exciting and I’m finding that the work is more satisfying. It’s also GREAT to be in control, if I make no sales I’ll have no-one to blame but myself. I also get to meet my buyers! Wish me luck ♥

  • Phil & Norm have a point about galleries not looking for an original artist to come along. I think they are more interested in an artist that fits a style that they think will sell or that their customers are looking for. I just was turned away from a prominent Realist gallery who responded “While your work is intriguing, we currently have to limit our selection to work that fills a succinct void in our inventory.” Typically the galleries that I would consider a great fit for my work are full up with a stable of artist. I have one great gallery representing me presently and they have produced sales in the last year the other gallery produced nothing and insisted on 90 mile radius exclusive representation. the great gallery has no contract just consignment sheets and a handshake. I have thought that there must be a better way of marketing art outside of the two boxes we are discussing here. I will let you know if I happen to stumble upon it. Meanwhile the only choice is to keep painting and keep submitting to galleries. (I wish the galleries would come up with a better word than submission)

  • [...] 2006, I went on vacation, accidentally got into a new gallery while there, and wound up quadrupling my art [...]

  • Hi,
    I have had several problems with galleries. First of all they do not help the artist develop his/here carrier. They have too many in the stable to care about and not time is given for that. They deal with sales and that only. The Bottom line. My experience has been if the work isn’t selling they will focus on what is and ask you to come pick up your work. The only excuse I ever hear is no room in the inn.

    I have sold many works for several years on my own and debated whether search for a gallery or I should do this my self. Since I’ve been with galleries and sales reps, I’ve sold maybe one painting in two years. Now don’t get me wrong, galleries are very important for the art world but maybe not beneficial for ALL artists.

    I’ve mentioned opening a studio and sales gallery and asked for advice and was told “don’t do it” it isn’t worth the headache. Well neither is dragging around art work to galleries back and forth for nothing.

    I’ve been at this for a long time with hundreds of quality works several museum shows and I am at my wit’s end with galleries. I’m lucky I have a professional to take care of my needs. I believe artist s should take more control now with so many artists out there every year and more galleries closing it time for a shift in the market. I think that;s the answer.

    A Revolution for a resolution.

    Duke