Why Gallery Representation
Is Good For Artists
Q: I see many artists selling their art directly to collectors and buyers online right now. I've always worked with galleries, but sales have been kind of slow lately and I wonder whether selling direct online would be a better idea than what I've been doing. The idea of getting to keep all the profits from sales rather than giving away half also sounds really good. What do you think?
A: The short answer to the question of whether artists still need galleries all depends on their goals and aspirations, how they envision their futures playing out, and what they ultimately want for themselves, their art, and their careers. For instance, if you want to go the museum or institutional route, gallery representation will likely be necessary at some point. Not immediately perhaps, but sooner or later for sure. The facts are that being represented by galleries has advantages that self-representation does not. What kinds of advantages? Ones like these...
* Having galleries represent or exhibit your art gives you more credibility than you representing yourself. Gallery representation is like a seal of approval or a branding of sorts, and an indication that they consider your art good enough to publicize, exhibit, and present to the world.
* Established galleries have followings, profiles, standings, reputations, and influence that most artists don't.
* Respected galleries typically have trusted longstanding relationships with buyers, fellow dealers, museums, institutions, collectors, curators, critics, and other art world professionals that most artists don't.
* Having a gallery speak on your behalf is better than you having to speak for yourself. There's plenty to be said for third-party endorsements, especially if the party doing the endorsing is a gallery with an established art world profile. You can say whatever you want to about your art, but having a good gallery say it for you carries more weight than you saying it yourself.
* Better galleries invest more time, space, publicity, and money in their artists than most artists are able to invest in themselves.
* Gallery interiors are specially designed and constructed to make your art look as good as it can possibly look. If you want people to see your art at its absolute best, gallery representation is definitely a recommended way to go.
* Gallery environments are specifically designed for selling art. Experienced gallery owners and personnel are skilled at selling art. They know how to turn lookers into buyers.
* Because of their positions in the art world, good galleries are able to introduce and arrange to have your art shown at galleries that you wouldn't be able to approach or show at on your own.
* Better galleries can show your art at locations that you can't show at yourself, like higher profile art fairs and similar events where only established galleries can participate.
* Galleries know how to send professional emails, announcements, newsletters, press releases, and other communications to their clients about your art. Having your name and updates on a gallery's letterhead carries more weight than you sending the same communications on your own. Gallery correspondences to recipients make clear their commitment that your art is worth the time, effort, and expense for them to represent.
* In addition to selling art, many galleries serve as conduits for individuals in the art community to meet and get to know each other, including collectors, artists, curators, and other fine art professionals in both for-profit and non-profit sectors. They often do this by holding private and public events like dinners, receptions, panel discussions, meet-the-artist opportunities, individual talks, events featuring arts organizations they support, and more.
* Art buyers and collectors rely on and respect the abilities of experienced gallery owners to separate out the best art from the rest. If your art is good enough for the gallery to show, it's good enough for them to add to their collections.
* Galleries speak the language of the art world and of people, businesses, and institutions who collect, exhibit or buy art. Established galleries know what collectors, curators, consultants, and other fine art professionals want and need to hear regardless of the situation.
* Galleries are comfortable talking about art and money. They're also skilled at explaining prices and values to potential buyers in language and terms they can understand and appreciate. In other words, they are able to convincingly demonstrate to prospective buyers that the art they sell is worth the asking price.
* Better galleries know how to price, monitor, and protect the market for your art.
* Experienced gallery owners are highly informed about the types of art and artists they exhibit and represent. They can speak specifically about why they chose to represent their artists and what makes their art worth owning. Of course, artists can do the exact same thing, but they can never escape the obvious self-interest in speaking only on behalf of themselves and their art.
* Galleries have broader art-world perspectives than artists. Artists, on the other hand, have only one focus... themselves and their art. Galleries understand their artists and the art world in larger ways, especially in terms of how they fit into the bigger picture and why their work is worth paying attention to, not only now but also in the contexts of art history as well as the future of art.
* Experienced galleries are really good at recognizing your best work. That includes spotting quality pieces that you may have overlooked. Happens all the time.
* Gallery representation gives your art credibility, third-party approval that you cannot provide for yourself.
* The fact that artists are limited to focusing only on themselves and their art is perhaps the most significant drawback of self-representation as opposed to gallery representation.
* Established experienced galleries provide a structure to the art world. They critically and continually survey all the available art out there and select those artists who they believe to be the most talented, promising, and deserving of greater public attention. Without their assessments and evaluative skills, we'd have to sift through the creative chaos on our own, a task that's beyond the abilities of those who don't know that much about art, and who appreciate all the help they can get.
(art by Jerry Kearns)
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