What Good Are Art Dealers and Gallery Owners?
Nobody likes art dealers or galleries. Artists don't like dealers because they keep half the price of every piece of art they sell. People who buy art don't like dealers because they charge top dollar. Even dealers don't like dealers, but that's another article. So do art dealers do anything other than inject themselves into art business transactions, jack prices, and extract money? Let's explore.
The artist's point of view:
"I'm an artist," you say. "I spend my life making art, slaving away, compelled to express myself for all the world to see and experience. The results of my creative endeavors zap practically every last ounce of my strength; so here I am, a spent amoebic blob surrounded by product, and ready to make money. But no. Something stands in my way, and its name is art dealer. I can sell my own art, thank you. I don't need you and your gallery to take half of every dollar that my life's calling entitles me to."
Of course you don't. You've got the perfect space to show your art, right? It's a great location, convenient, with plenty of parking, and it's near other retail establishments where people who to buy art tend to congregate, dine out, entertain themselves, or shop for goods and services. Your space is sparse, expansive, well appointed, professionally designed and lit, and when you show your art there, it looks about as good as it's ever going to look, outside of maybe The Louvre.
You're comfortable around people who buy art; you're well connected, you socialize with collectors, and participate in activities and belong to groups and organizations that they belong to. You understand how art buyers think, how much they know about art, and how to talk to them about art in language they can identify with. You are an interpreter capable of taking art that involves complex cognitive concepts, raw emotion, or sensitive subject matters, and not only making them palatable to those who might otherwise shy away, but also appealing in terms of the tangible as well as intangible benefits of ownership.
You're at ease talking about art and money; you know how to price your art within the context of its market, and can explain your prices to anyone who asks without unnerving them. You sense when someone is on the verge of purchase, ready to buy, and you know exactly what to say and when to say it in order to turn the deal, reveal the checkbook, and accept the remuneration that your art so justly deserves. As for the plethora of parasites, blabbermouths, energy drains, poseurs, time wasters, know it alls, and deadbeats who hover about the art scene-- you see them coming and blow them off with ease.
Just like art dealers, you are capable of evaluating all kinds of art by all kinds of artists all the time. You continually talk about art, interact with artists, study and learn about art, read about art, assess what qualities make particular works of art good or better or best, figure out what pieces to show, and how to most effectively arrange and display them. You carefully examine, analyze and assess every detail of every piece of art before it leaves your studio just like gallery owners do with every piece of art they exhibit at their galleries. You make continual art-to-art and artist-to-artist comparisons, and use your extensive knowledge and overview of the local, regional, national, international or whatever art realm you travel in to assure that your art not only satisfies your high personal standards, but can also withstand public scrutiny. Not only can you defend your art to critics and detractors, but you can present its merits ways that win them over to your side.
You believe in your art to such an extent that you spend thousands or tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in rent, overhead and expenses to be public about your convictions, and by maintaining a quality exhibition space conducive to persuading others that your vision is a valid one. That vision attracts a wide range of contacts from throughout the art community, and energizes them to such an extent that they reward you financially-- with profit-- allowing you to continue to put forth what you believe to be among the most worthwhile works of art being produced today. Art critics, curators, influential collectors, and others in positions of power in the art world talk, write, gossip, trash talk, hate, sabotage, and otherwise opine on your art nonstop and in every way imaginable. These people don't bother you because at some level, you know they respect what you stand for and that you fully intend to prevail against anyone who tries to take you down.
Art dealers have nothing on you, do they now?
"So OK," you concede. "Maybe they perform a necessary service and deserve commissions when they sell art... like say fifteen percent."
The collector's point of view:
"I buy art, none of it from dealers," you say. "I don't waste my hard-earned cash contributing to some gallery's extravagances. Screw those oversized, high-ceilinged, space-wasting progressions of near empty rooms in expensive parts of town. I know what I like, where to find it, what to pay, and I don't need any art dealer to tell me any different."
Of course you don't. You live and breathe art. You spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day involved in art-related activities. You subscribe to every trade publication that has anything to do with the art you buy or collect. You continually see museum shows, read books and exhibit catalogues, and talk with dealers, collectors, and others who know the art and artists you specialize in in order to stay on top of the market.
You've looked at art for years and years-- decades, in fact-- and have seen tens of thousands of pieces, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. As a result, you've cultivated and refined your eye not only to spot quality, but also to make fine line distinctions about as well as any art business professional out there. You've discussed, dissected, and evaluated thousands of works of art with people in the know, and can accurately assess the significance of whatever it is you're looking at.
You understand the art market from both retail and wholesale perspectives; you follow plenty of galleries and auction houses, not only locally, but nationally and internationally. You know who's showing what, and why, and how much they're selling it for. You can spot good quality art at fair prices, and know the difference between a bargain and a third-rate piece of crap, not to mention fakes, scams, and cons. When you see art you like, you know what questions to ask, what subtleties to look for, and why buying that art represents a constructive use of your money ("Because it's cheaper than galleries sell it for" is not a good reason).
You can spot an artist with talent and potential before just about anyone else; you know when art breaks new ground. You know the difference between a leader and a follower, between "here today; gone tomorrow" and "here to stay." You go beyond what the art looks like, inspect its structural integrity, and evaluate, from a variety of standpoints, how it'll hold up over time. You can look at dozens or even hundreds of works of art by any given artist and separate out those that best represent the true range of that artist's skills and abilities.
"Exactly," you say. "Gallery junkies are a bunch of suckers, shelling out the fat cash on art I can buy for a buck three ninety-eight on eBay. Just last week, I nailed a Jackson Pollock splatter painting that the seller recently discovered in the back room of an important Palm Beach pawnshop, stored there since the sixties. I stole it for a measly seventeen grand right out from under the noses of eBay's 150 million users. As soon as I get it authenticated, it'll be worth a fortune."
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