Find a Gallery or Artist Agent
or Representative to Sell Your Art
or Maybe Sell it Yourself
Artists make art and once that art is made, they make more. Once that art is made, they make more. When they have enough art, they call or email or present it to art world professionals like dealers, gallery owners, curators, consultants, representatives, so-called agents and others who sell art for a living. Some of these professionals like the art so much they tell the artists they want to represent, show or sell it. The artists give them the art to sell... and it sells. From that point on, their only obligation is to make more art, give it to their galleries or dealers, let it sell and collect the profits. And that's how artists live happily ever after, working in their studios and creating away while the money rolls in. Their mantra is simple-- "I make art; other people sell it."
If you think that's how the art business works and how art gets sold, you need to change the way you think. All artists want to sell their art, either through galleries or so-called agents or consultants or other forms of representation. These days self-representation, especially selling directly to buyers online has also become an important part of the mix. However, finding the right person or gallery or online platform to sell your art is more complicated than simply contacting people and asking them to show or represent you, or putting your art up for sale on a website and believing it will somehow sell itself, or showing your art around until someone offers to manage or take on the marketing and sales aspects your career. These idealized outcomes rarely happen.
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 it altogether. Art dealers, agents and representatives have the exact same challenge, and so do you if you decide to sell online. If any of you can't survive by selling art, you have to get other types of jobs in order to survive, and either stop selling art altogether or sell it in your spare time.
Art business professionals sell art by convincing people it has value-- tangible as well as intangible-- and that it's worth paying money for in order to own. Rarely in the art world do people spontaneously buy art because they fall in love with it instantly the moment they see it. They ask questions first, and whomever answers those questions has to answer them convincingly enough to demonstrate that the art is worth owning, that they're better off having it be a part of their lives than not. Anyone in the business of selling art will tell you 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 galleries or representatives on the phone, inviting them to your studio, visiting them at their offices or galleries, or making contact in other ways. Even if someone in the business sees your art and likes it, they still have to figure out whether they can make money selling it... and you have to help them. Or if you're representing yourself online, either through or your website or by accumulating followers on social networks, the same principles apply-- you have to organize, present, write and speak about your art in ways that show it has value and intensify how viewers experience it.
For those of you who want others to represent you or display your art, you have to somehow convince them it's worth their getting involved, that you're willing to work with them to increase people's understanding of what it's about, and perhaps even give them some idea of how much of your art you think they might be able to sell... and why. This doesn't mean you abandon your artistic principles or integrity and go commercial; there are infinite ways to convey why you believe your art has "value" and deserves serious consideration by galleries and collectors alike. At the same time, you also have to talk about the potential for positive outcomes, about how you think people will respond to your art once it leaves your studio and goes public. You can't simply sit there silently and hope galleries or consultants or representatives like it enough to sign you up; you have to demonstrate you've got what it takes art-wise to make a business relationship work.
Or if you're representing yourself online, you have to do this by convincing people direct. It's not you're telling them, "Here's why my art is worth owning..." The process is more like you getting across to viewers-- either implicitly or explicitly-- what your art means to you, why you've chosen to dedicate your life to making art, and most importantly, why you feel compelled to put it out there into the world and make it a part of the overall art conversation. Now if you find any of this interactivity distasteful or you're one of those artists who just plain refuses to do it, then stick with the galleries. But for the rest of you, representing yourself online is making more and more sense, and the opportunities for doing so effectively are only getting better.
If you're one of those artists who prefers having other people represent or sell your art, demonstrating your "marketability" or "collectibility" 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 by other people who see or hear about it first. If certain fans of your art happen to know gallery owners or know people who do, and assuming your relationship is on good enough terms, and assuming they believe in your work enough to do this for you, ask if they'll mention you to certain people who either you or they think should have a look at your art. Personal introductions are always good.
With or without introductions, focus only on those galleries or individuals who sell your type of art or who represent artists with comparable resumes and career accomplishments to yours. Learn enough about the art they sell and where or how they sell it so you can customize your presentation and explain why you believe your art is right for them. You've picked this gallery or representative for what reasons? Start with them; finish with you. If you don't personalize each and every email you send or presentation you make and demonstrate your knowledge of who you're speaking with, chances are excellent 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 your art is worth owning, how you believe it adds value to people's lives. 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 interaction as though you're applying for a job or entering into a partnership or business relationship (which you essentially are), or in other words, demonstrating that you have common interests or beliefs or philosophies about art and its place in the world. If on the other hand the only reason you're showing your art is that the person you're showing it to has a place where they can sell it for you, 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 advances to a point where you establish common interests, talk about what you're currently working on, how much you produce, and if your work sells, how much and how often you sell. Be prepared to talk about who buys it, why they like it and how much it generally sells for. Do particular types of people like your art? What do they like most about it? Does it sell best at certain venues or under certain circumstances? What about your experience leads you to believe that the client base of the person you're presenting to is a good match for your art. The more such information you provide-- or at least show you actually spend time thinking about it-- 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.
Whenever possible, provide references, names of people who can speak to your capabilities, hopefully names 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 some way? Do people find those aspects interesting or engaging, or do they somehow enhance the desirability of your art? Do you have good social skills? Are you comfortable talking to people who might be thinking about buying your art?
Other points to keep in mind whether you're presenting to someone you want to sell or represent your art, or are selling yourself direct to buyers online:
* 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 similar looking art by other artists. Without getting too long-winded or overly detailed, point out aspects of your work that might not be obvious or apparent from a simple viewing. If you're selling online, post detail or close-up images of your work to enhance how people experience it.
* If you're just starting out, tell why you believe 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 go public with it 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. Or if you're presenting your art online, make sure you're capable of creating and posting new work with some degree of regularity.
* 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. Or if you're representing yourself online, make sure your selling prices are in line with what your followers can generally afford.
* If you want someone to represent you, address loyalty concerns. Anyone who puts time, money and exhibition space into handling your art and building your reputation wants to know you'll stick with them long enough for their investments to pay off. And this includes a discussion of your online presence and how it may have to be changed if they decide to take you on.
* Make clear that you're flexible and easy to work with. If you're not easy to work with, get easy to work with.
Always keep in mind that one of the main reasons someone decides to represent, show or sell your art is 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, hopefully in 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 three to six months is for them to sell enough to make their efforts worthwhile. That's simply the way the art business is.
If after all your efforts you're still having trouble convincing people to take your art on, the problem could be 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 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 and think about what's lacking or what you might do better, 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 (spamming the universe), asking people visit your website without giving any reasons, 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 your approach or critique your art and the way you present it, and perhaps suggest changes or strategies to make your presentations more effective. The same holds true if you're representing yourself online. You must continually reflect and do whatever you have to do to improve your profile and presentation.
To ignore criticism or refuse to listen to informed opinions, recommendations or feedback, to resist change or acknowledge that there may be better ways 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, no matter what the platform, know that succeeding as an artist is essentially a collaborative cooperative venture. You have to somehow bridge the gap between the art you create as your unique form of personal expression, and the people who you expose it to regardless of who they are.
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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