What Good Are Art Dealers and Gallery Owners?
Nobody likes art dealers or galleries. Artists don't like them because they keep half the price of every piece of art they sell. People who buy art don't like them because they charge top dollar. Even dealers don't like dealers, but that's another article. So do art gallery owners and dealers do anything other than inject themselves into art business transactions, jack prices, take cuts, and extract cash? 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 surrounded by the products of my inspirations and ready to make money. But no. Something stands in my way and its name is art dealer. I don't need you and your gallery to take half of every dollar my life's calling entitles me to. I'm going to sell my own art, thank you. I'll sell it on Instagram, from my website, and out of my studio, and I'll keep 100% of every sale I make."
Of course you don't need them. Just like galleries, you've got the perfect space to show your art, position and display it for maximum impact, and make it look its absolute best, right? It's a great location, convenient, with plenty of foot traffic and 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 austere, 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.
Just like galleries, you have an established reputation among gallery owners, collectors, curators, critics, and other art world professionals. People respect your experience, judgment, knowledge, and ability to recognize quality in art. You receive regular invitations to art-related functions and social events where you come into contact with collectors, professionals, and others with standing and influence in the art community.
Just like galleries, you have a significant online following, not just lookers but buyers, and not just buyers but repeat regular buyers. You know how to engage with anyone who contacts you, and can organize, speak about, write about, and present your art in ways collectors and other buyers can appreciate. You have no problem posting about your art and creating compelling narratives around it that people will appreciate. You can speak about your art in the context of the bigger picture, and about what makes it significant and worth owning.
Just like galleries, 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 collectors 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 understand and identify with. You are an interpreter capable of taking art that may involve complex cognitive concepts, raw emotion or sensitive subject matters, and presenting it in ways that make it accessible to those who might otherwise shy away. You can also make it appealing to people in terms of the benefits of ownership.
Just like galleries, you're at ease talking about art and money; you know how to price your art sensibly and within the context of its market, and can explain your prices to anyone who asks in ways they can understand and appreciate. You can convince them that they're spending their money wisely. You can 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 close the deal and complete the sale. As for the plethora of parasites, blabbermouths, energy drains, poseurs, time wasters, know it alls, and deadbeats who endlessly hover around the art scene-- you can see them coming and blow them off with ease.
Just like gallery owners, 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 effectively arrange and display them. You carefully examine, analyze and assess every detail of every piece of your art before it leaves your studio just like gallery owners do with every piece of art they show at their galleries. You make continual art-to-art and artist-to-artist comparisons in your interactions with potential buyers, and use your extensive knowledge and overview of the local, regional, national, international or whatever art realms or markets you travel in to assure them that your art not only satisfies your high personal standards, but is also worth their attention. Not only can you defend your art to critics and detractors, but you can also discuss its merits ways that win them over and advance your career.
Just like galleries, 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, advertising, hosting events, art fair participation, and appearing at other public functions to show that your vision is a valid one. That vision attracts a range of contacts and fans 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, museum and institutional curators, influential collectors, and others in positions of power in the art world talk, write, gossip, and otherwise opine on your art in every way imaginable because you know how to keep it in the ongoing conversation. People who trash talk, hate, sabotage, or otherwise badmouth your work don't bother you because you know how to counter them and how to to prevail against anyone who tries to take you down.
Art galleries and dealers have nothing on you, do they now?
"So OK," you concede. "Maybe they do perform a service and deserve commissions for what they sell... like say fifteen percent."
The collector's point of view:
"I buy art all the time and none of it comes 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 can find all the art I want online anyway. 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. Just like galleries, you live and breathe art. You spend eight, ten, twelve hours a day involved in art-related activities. You constantly monitor relevant art websites and subscribe to every trade publication that has anything to do with the art you buy, sell, or collect. In order to stay on top of the market, you continually see museum shows, stay on top of the latest news, read books and catalogues and trade publications, and regularly speak with dealers, collectors and other trade professionals about the art and artists you specialize in.
Just like galleries, you've looked at all kinds of art by all kinds of artists 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 the point where you can spot quality, but also potential shortcomings or problems. You can make fine-line distinctions about art as well as any art business professional out there. You've discussed, inspected, dissected, critiqued, and evaluated at least thousands of works of art with people in the know and can accurately assess the significance of whatever it is you're looking at.
Just like galleries, you understand the art business from retail, wholesale, and secondary market perspectives; you follow plenty of galleries and auction houses, not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well. You know who's showing what, and why, and how much they're selling it for. You can spot quality art at fair prices, and know the difference between a genuine bargain and third-rate crap, not to mention fakes, forgeries, scams and cons. When you see art you like, you know what questions to ask, what to look for, and how to inspect and evaluate its every detail. You know how to research and evaluate prices, and know what makes art worthy of the attention it gets, the prices it sells for, and publicity it gets.
Just like galleries, 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." Your knowledge goes well beyond what the art looks like or who signed it. You know how to evaluate its materials and structural integrity, and are able to tell 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, separate the best from the rest, and focus only on those that represent the true range of the artist's skills and abilities.
"Exactly," you say. "Gallery junkies are a bunch of suckers, shelling out fat cash on art I can buy for a song on eBay. Just last week, I nailed a Jackson Pollock splatter painting that the seller recently discovered in the back room of a pawnshop, stored there since the sixties. I stole it for a measly seventeen grand right out from under the noses of eBay's 200 million users. As soon as I get it authenticated, it'll be worth a fortune."
(art by Laurel Roth Hope)
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