Find a Gallery or Artist Agent
or Representative to Sell Your Art
The artist makes art and once that art is made, the artist makes more; once that art is made, the artist makes more. The artist periodically calls, emails or physically shows that art to art world professionals like dealers, gallery owners, representatives, curators and agents. Some of them like the art so much that they want to represent, show or sell it. The artist lets them sell it, returns to the studio, makes more art, let's them sell that, and so on. The artist says, "I make art; other people sell it."
If you think that's how the art business works and how you sell art, you need to change the way you think. All artists want to sell their art, either through agents or galleries or other forms of representation. However, finding the right person or gallery to sell your art is more complicated than simply contacting people and asking them to show or represent you, or showing your art around until someone offers to manage or take on the marketing and sales aspects your career. That rarely happens.
Your mission as an artist is to survive in a style that allows you to continue to make art-- and that means finding people to buy it. If you can't survive as an artist by selling your art, you have to get another type of job in order to survive, and then either make art in your spare time or stop making art altogether. Art dealers, agents, and representatives have the exact same challenge that you do. If they can't survive by selling art, they have to get other types of jobs in order to survive, and either stop selling art altogether or sell it in their spare time.
Art business professionals sell art by convincing people that it has value-- tangible as well as intangible-- and that it's worth paying money for in order to own. Rarely in the art business do people spontaneously buy art because they fall in love with it the moment they see it. They ask questions first, and whomever answers those questions has to answer them in ways that convince them the art is worth owning. Anyone in the art business will tell you that no art sells itself; someone has to sell it.
The same holds true for you as an artist. Your art does not sell itself; you have to sell it. And selling your art involves much more than casually or occasionally sending out random emails, calling people on the phone, inviting them to your studio or your website, or physically going out and showing dealers or gallery owners a portfolio of your work. Even if you get lucky and someone sees your art and likes it, they now have to figure out whether they can make money selling it, and you have to address that concern.
If you want anyone to represent you or show your art, you have to somehow convince them that your art is worth owning, that you can help make that happen, and that you can give them some idea of how much of your art they might be able to sell. This doesn't mean that you abandon your artistic principles or integrity and go commercial; there are infinite ways to convey that your art has "value" and deserves serious consideration by galleries and collectors alike. But at the same time, you have to somehow address the financial implications of what can potentially happen with your art once it leaves your studio and goes public. You can't simply sit there silently and hope they like it enough to sign you up; you have to demonstrate that you've got what it takes art-wise to make a business relationship work.
Demonstrating your "marketability" is essential, but especially so if the people you're contacting have little or no idea who you are. To begin with, most artists get shows or representations by word of mouth. They're introduced to the people who eventually sell their art. If at all possible, get a personal introduction to any art business professional who you think should see your art.
With or without introductions, target only those galleries or individuals who sell your type of art or who represent artists with comparable resumes and career accomplishments to yours. Know enough about the art they sell and where or how they sell it so that you can customize your presentation and explain why you believe your art is right for them. You picked this representative, agent or gallery owner for what reasons? Start with that; finish with you. If you don't personalize each and every email you send or presentation you make, chances are excellent that you'll get absolutely nowhere. You have to establish a connection in order for anyone to take notice. And that connection is way way more than "Hi, I'm an artist, want to see my art?" or "You're a gallery, I'm an artist, you have walls, I have art... match!"
Talk about why you believe people will want to own your art. Talk about how your work meshes with the agenda or exhibition schedule of the gallery or individual you're presenting to. This doesn't mean you do a high-pressure sales pitch, but rather that you treat the meeting as though you're applying for a job or entering into a partnership or business relationship (which you essentially are). If the only reason you're showing your art is that the person you're showing it to sells it, and you make it, think twice before contacting them at all. That's nowhere near enough of a bridge to get you where you want to go.
Assuming a conversation gets this far, talk about what you're currently working on, how much you produce, and if your work sells, how much you've sold. Talk about who buys it, why they like it, and how much it generally sells for. Do particular types of people like your art? Does it sell best at certain venues or under certain circumstances? What about your researches leads you to believe that the particular client base or circumstances of the person you're presenting to are a good match for your art. The more such information you provide, the more you'll impress a prospective dealer, agent, gallery owner or representative with your "dedication to the cause" and the better able they'll be to evaluate whether they'll stand a reasonable chance of selling your work.
Provide references, names of people who can speak to your capabilities, hopefully names that the person who's looking at your art is familiar with. Talk about what you can do besides make art. For example, can you speak about your art in a public forum like at a gallery opening? Can you give a talk? Can you do a demonstration? Are certain aspects of your process unique or notable in any way? Do people find those aspects interesting or engaging, or that they somehow enhance the desirability of your art? Do you have good social skills? Can you talk to people who are thinking about buying your art without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed?
Other points to keep in mind:
* If you've had past show experience, particularly ones that went well, talk about that. Describe what or how much work sold. Hopefully, you can use some of the people who've shown or sold your art as references.
* Talk about what's unique, special or notable about your art, what distinguishes it from art by other artists. Without getting long-winded or overly detailed, point out aspects of your work that might not be visible or apparent from a simple viewing.
* If you're just starting out, tell why you believe that people should consider your art, what your larger mission or ideas about it are, and why you're dedicated to having a long and productive career as an artist.
* Give information about how much art you currently have available for sale, and how much you can produce in what amount of time. Make sure you have enough completed work on hand to even approach someone in the first place. People who sell art need certain minimum amounts in order to represent you properly. By the way, if you can't produce the amount of art that someone tells you they need in or to make a go of it, say so. Never make promises you can't keep.
* Make sure whoever you're speaking with typically sells art in your price range-- not at prices you one day want to sell your art for, but at prices you sell it for now. If your average work of art sells for $500, for example, and the their average work of art sells for $5000, then your chances of getting representation are probably minimal.
* Address loyalty concerns. Someone who puts time, money, and exhibition space into representing you and building your reputation wants to know that you'll stick with them long enough for their investments to pay off.
* Talk about why you're easy to work with. If you're not easy to work with, get easy to work with.
Remember throughout your presentation that one of the main reasons someone decides to represent, show or sell your art is that they think they can sell enough to make enough to help keep them in business. Either they think they can sell that art now or they think that by working with you, they'll be able to sell it at some point in the future, most likely the near future. The only way to get and maintain gallery representation that lasts for more than one show, or to have an agent or representative actively market your art for more than a couple of months is for them to sell enough to make their efforts worthwhile.
Having trouble convincing people to take your art on? The problem could be that you haven't found the right person or gallery to sell it. Then again, people might think your art is hard to sell. Then again, maybe the way you present yourself or your art turns people off. Maybe you inadvertently say things that people don't want to hear. Maybe if you change your strategy or the way you present yourself, you'll be able to get representation and sell art. In other words, you have to continually reflect on matters, especially if you're getting nowhere fast.
Don't think that getting representation is simply a function of randomly or repeatedly sending out images of your work, suggesting that people visit your website, or doing the same exact thing over and over again until sooner or later someone says yes. You may unknowingly be sabotaging your chances for success and need to change something about your presentation. If you're making no headway, try to find out from people in the know why they think you're having problems. Ask for feedback whenever possible, professional or otherwise. You might even think about paying an art consultant or other art world professional to review or critique your art and the way you present it, and perhaps suggest changes or strategies to make your presentations more effective.
To refuse to ask for informed advice, recommendations or feedback, or to refuse to change or acknowledge that there may be a better way to take your work public condemns you to a future of using the same unproductive presentation techniques over and over again. If you expect to sell art, know that succeeding as an artist is essentially a collaborative cooperative venture. You have to somehow bridge the gap between the art that you create as your unique form of personal expression, and the desire of people to want to show, represent or own it.
Is a gallery offering you a show? Does someone want to rep your art? Entering into a business relationship? Signing a contract? If you answered yes to any of those questions, read Common Artist Legal Problems and How to Avoid Them.
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