Art Galleries and Artists

Artists and galleries seem to be further apart than I thought. The recent art galleries and Internet post created comments that were anti artist or art gallery. A comment by “anonymous” on Starting an Art Gallery (who usually has something controversial to say) said this..

“ is the KEY.. own your building… this proves your loyalty to art and separates yourself from the others.. so wonderful! then don’t listen to what artists have to say about them having to bear the burden of the costs.. 2 reasons… first. artists (especially abstract painters) are a dime a dozen. second.. it is an artists job to spend money on their lifestyle… so if you were a full time snowboarder, it would cost you equipment, lift tickets, gas to get there, lifestyle clothing,, being an artist costs, frames, paint, entry fees and The Burden of dealing with art gallery divas like myself.”

Ouch.. No wonder artists and art galleries don’t get along. I would hate to be an abstract artist exhibiting with this guy! I would quickly start painting cow turds and tell him it was important to you and that you’re confident the public will buy, buy, buy.. lol.

Also, the Australian artist Hazel Dooney replied to the recent Art Gallery and Internet post with the following to say..

“But the power of new media, combined with the accelerating decline of traditional galleries, especially in a drastically deteriorating global economy, is such that even the most persistent and grasping middlemen will lose their grip in the near future. While artists will flourish on the net, only a very few galleries are likely to adapt to it, let alone be able transfer offline success online.
As any geek – or record company – can tell you, the web works against any effort to exert control within it. ” Read her full post here.

It seems that artists and art galleries live on different planets. Personally, my dealings with art galleries have left a very bad taste in my mouth, so I decided to take a route that allowed me to forgo selling art, but still allow me to comfortably pay the bills. I now hate parting with paintings and I paint what I want, but I guess my storage will run out eventually ;-)

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I think we’re just figuring out balance in the system… some sort of connection between these two “planets”.

    Everyone is basically wrapped up in their own self-interest, the artists for themselves, galleries for themselves.

    I’ve seen artists say that gallerists and are just shop-keepers with delusions of grandeur. Well, then I suppose that means the art hanging there is nothing but wall decorations done by people who suffer their own delusions.

    I think if an artist approaches a gallery with anger, suspicion they will be met with anger and suspicion. Some people thrive on this I suppose, it’s the energy that fuels their lives.

    In order for their to be artists screaming and shouting about their independence, there has to be some the the opposite experience.

    I’m sure for every collector who who praises the independent artist who’s fighting the fight and flipping every gallery the bird (screaming and clawing), there’s a collector who’s repulsed by that behavior and heads straight to the gallery. We’ll never know… because those people aren’t on-line to let us know they’re not here!!

    I’m sure in a decade or so we’ll be able to look back understand this transition we’re in. I’m sure there’ll be all three remaining… artists, galleries and most importantly collectors.

    Sure enough, galleries are closing up left and right. But stop and think about the multitude of artists who have abandoned the dream?

  2. Some galleries seem to be getting the balance between the web/ artist and the the gallery right. Here’s one that’s pretty successful:

    They started up about 8 years ago when I was at Uni. I along with all the art students got a post card in their in-tray about exhibiting with them and some people did.

    Commission is usually the thing that annoys artists the most. Although you can do so much more online than you used to be able to do I do think there is real value in people being able to see your work in the flesh.

    Of course you can exhibit your work in a hired space or in any number of obscure places, but I think it can really help to exhibit it in a place that people recognise as a place to visit for art. Galleries are a type of brand that people remember.

  3. As a serious collector of fine art in the UK I think the balance will continue to move in favour of artists dealing direct. There are many new and growing Open Studio events and quality Art Fairs with artists able to discuss their work articulately with the public and sell direct. They make the role of collecting much more fun than it ever could be dealing with stuck up gallery twits pretending they know something when you can find out more from google.

    There are two great events coming up soon in Norfolk. There is the Norfolk Open Studios for two weeks from 16th May and then the Harleston & Waveney Art Trail in June and July. And if that aint taken all your cash then visit the Brighton Art Fair 2nd, 3rd, 4th October where excellent quality art is on show along with artists keen and eager to discuss their work in person. Beats a gallery visit every time – unless of course you actually enjoy being patronised and paying over the odds to cover their commission ( usullay 50% plus Tax).

  4. Anonymous says:

    After years of online independence, selling my art, here is what I’ve learned:

    An artist online can expect to sell their work online for about 50% of the price of a gallery. That’s the general rule.

    Any artist can appear online and turn themselves in to a shameless self-promoter using all these wonderful free tools, social networking, auctions sites, etc. But…..

    If you have terrible art, you can expect to do terribly. The most important thing you can have is art people will be interested in. It’s paramount. Yucky paintings poorly represented on the internet look even worse than they do in real life.

    You have to put down your brush and become an entrepreneur when it comes time to being online. The best ones out there are so slick that you don’t even know they’re wearing two hats. These people would make excellent gallerists… ;-)

    After several years of success, artists come to me and ask what the secret is (duh, good paintings), and in fact, if I’ll do all the work for them and they’ll just give me a percentage of their sales. I say okay, but it’ll be 50% because that’s how much of an effort it is. Obviously they don’t like that and I’d never actually do any work for an artist because the key is independence. People like to think the internet is a magic fantasy world where all you need is a blog and ‘POOF!’, you’re rich and successful! No, it takes time and skill. A long, long time and plenty of skill.

    Soon, these online ventures that exhibit and help artists online will find out they’re simply acting parallel to galleries, like the old fashioned way and the relationship will break down quickly. It’s not the nature of the forum, it’s the nature of the human. Soon there will be exclusive online galleries that carefully select artists and become the enemy to the artist… thus the theme continues.

    Then collectors will say “oh, that online gallery is so snobby and their prices are so inflated…”

    But like I said in my first comment, it’ll take years and years to figure out the balance.

    An artist should really just shut up and paint. Be diverse and open minded about the marketing of their work. Be neutral and try several venues. Some will succeed, some will fail.

  5. It’s about communication, always. Relationships will work if everything is laid out initially. I think the problem now is that what needs to be addressed initially isn’t standardized yet, so both parties are insecure. Kinda like the music biz too.


  6. I want to see Mr. Anonymous’s art – you know “the years of online independance” – so I can judge for myself.

  7. I have been lucky that the galleries I have been in were wonderful, and worked with me when it came to online promotion etc. so far I haven’t had any negative experiences with galleries.

    However I do think the web has been fantastic for artists and I am happy artists are no longer dependent or at the mercy of galleries. I agree with Helly, some galleries are getting it right and finding that balance.

  8. sandy nelson says:

    Wow! I had no idea this much dissention was out there! After being in galleries for a couple of decades with all positive relationships and the only negative one wasn’t really run by people who appreciated artists, this is an eye-opener. I don’t know who owned the galleries some of these artists are reporting, but I’m glad I never made their acquaintance. I’ve not only been an exhibiting artist for a long time, but have run a non-profit gallery and presently do the marketing for one a couple of days a week. I’ve seen the ups and downs from all sides of the fence, which I think gives me a perspective many don’t have. First, from the artist side…some of my galleries have advanced me money for a move, a divorce, supplies and in general, been great friends in the past; without their support, I could not have continued creating. All of my galleries have worked tirelessly (and on their own dime) to promote, market and advertise my work. They have hung, shipped and installed on my behalf, paintings in faraway places that I could never have done. They have dealt with difficult people, made phone calls to designers, negotiated with commercial clients and numerous other things I’ll probably never know about in order to sell my work. For that, I am eternally grateful! Believe me, I will never question their requests.

    Some of the galleries I’ve exhibited with have gone under, mainly because you have to be in the gallery business with deep pockets and a commitment to your art “family” in a big way. If you are looking for a quick buck..go somewhere else. Secondly, I’ve run a gallery, dealt with difficult narcissistic artists who blame you for their lack of sales (mostly because the work lacks quality), difficult clients and the public in general on their behalf, paid for advertising, phone lines, employees, utilities, rent, internet access, website maintenance, shopping center fees, tourist board fees as well as those for the chamber of commerce and better business bureau, office supplies, framing, shipping and another host of contengencies. There were long days of hauling work to open houses, commercial installations, clients of designers & architects, clients homes (just to try out the pieces)and hours spent wrapping, boxing and shipping works and bragging about the qualities of various artists to the media and the public. Not one year in 7 did I show a profit, nor pay myself…how’s that for commitment? At the end of many overtime days when I thought it couldn’t get much more tiresome, I took a phone call from an artist who didn’t think I was doing enough….go figure. Some of those same artists allowed me to market and promote them, pay rent on those expensive walls housing their work, then sold from their studio, undercutting any payback I might have had for my effort. In spite of this, all in all, I loved the people I represented and saw them as extended members of my family, worried about them in their personal life and even extended loans against sales in hard times. Find that on the internet.

    Many people might think I’m against online marketing…hardly. I use it everyday in getting my website maintained, sending out targeted email campaigns, a gallery newsletter of over 1400 clients, do guerilla marketing on every available calendar, press releases, blog, twitter, linkedin…name it. Why do we do this and devote employee time to manage it?…for our artists. We absolutely applaud our artists who maintain their own websites and advertise/promote themselves & link back to us! We coop advertise with our artists who wish to try venues we don’t normally use; sometimes it works, sometimes not, but we have faith in them and their work. I suspect that many of the artists complaining about representation with brick & mortar galleries have not had a relationship with a credible one or that they are not truly ready, quality & maturity wise, to be marketable. I know many high profile gallery owners and believe me, they aren’t in it to get rich. They’ll be lucky to break even.

    I now work a couple of days a week for a gallery that has represented me for several years. I had no idea how hard they worked on my behalf, nor how high their overhead was, until now. Part of my job now is to deal with the rest of the artists we represent. Coming from my vantage point, I can explain our decisions and efforts; on the other side of that, I can tell the gallery owners what the artists need. It’s truly gratifying…I know where the artists are coming from and love them dearly…I’m one of them. I also know the reality of what a gallery can do to help them make a living and in that respect, can advise them on a business level. It appears to me on the surface that the great divide between artist and gallery is one of communication and understanding of the hurdles and needs of both to continue in the business world. Perhaps the best thing galleries could do is to have an artist on staff to be the liason…that would be the best of both worlds.

  9. You sound like a translator Sandy. Artists are a weird bunch and a lot of our words probably don’t sound very english. Having a translator sounds like a good idea.

    As with all kinds of relationships, communication is the key to making it a richer experience for all, so I agree with you.

    It couldnt hurt to give artists a few lessons on running a business and gallery owners need to at least appreciate the creative process (I would hope most do already).

    Some of the best advice I got at art school was to do a small business course. I didnt do the course but I read everything I could about business, investing and finance and it proved to be worth its weight in gold, I was anti-money at art school but I quickly grew and realized which planet I live on.

  10. That’s a wonderful and insightful post Sandy.

  11. We are Stuck in the Consensus of the Status Quo. I read a recent article by Jeremy Nowak, Economic Crisis, Civil Society and Creativity.

    “This is a society in need of breaking out of the consensus logic that all too often drives us over the cliff”

    is a quote that defines the current state of where we artists are in relation to position with the art market and the gallery for me. The system grinds away day by day and as we try to break in or out, we meet the wall head on. Yes; there are many abuses in the art world that the artist, gallery owner and the collector must face as a matter of reality. The balance of costs is a necessity for everyone. The State of the art market today, the relationship of the artist and gallery business model, the art market is the consensus of Status Quo. That debate is and will continue to be on going until change happens, then a new debate will emerge, we are Master-Debaters now are we not?

    Speaking from the arts point of view, We have to change the model if we want more control and a better deal. The individual artist standing alone in the studio will find it impossible to accomplish any real change in the status quo. Collectively in creative clusters is one way forward. Artists unions, cooperatives, groups will increase power and presence. We need to create new dynamic relationships that foster our goals and by doing so will re-create the market model. Those creative folks in the gallery business can also become part of the creative collectives and build a new status quo of consensus that fosters the joint goals of the group. It will take innovative ideas and action to create winning models for success. Artists and galleries will have to make investments in not only costs but in balance of fair and equitable relationships.

    The artist can no longer remain in the wilderness and expect the market to embrace them or their products. We need to find those creative cluster like this blog and create new one’s that will benefit our desired goals. Imagine if large groups of working artists agreed to no longer pay the gallery to look at our slides, our work, what if we never again paid to show our work? What if we through a collective presence created new kind of gallery through innovative partnerships?

    We need to begin thinking in ways that change the consensus of what has become the status quo. We need to create a new way forward for our survival.

  12. i agree with that. Artists need to lose their individual dreams of greatness, and team with others, thats how it was always done in early modernism, Few ever got individual shows, until they were older and had a client base or impact in the “art world”. The Impressionists, fauvism, blue four, die brucke. Artists showed in large groups, that would eventually willow away the weaker artists, and either have a smaller group, or replace with better painters.

    What i am showing with this weekend is doing this, and learning it had better market better. It was thrown together quick, and is great at getting huge crowds, but not those who actually got a few thousand bucks lying around to buy art. It needs both. Gallery art only gets crowds at openings, when free wine and cheese is served. starving art students in search of cheap eats. And those out to be seen, or brown nosing.

    But does not reach out to, or get, a wider public. Its for a tiny inbred sect of artistes, and the rich patrons who control this art world for their own amusement and self glorifcation. Like in pop music, its about the producers, the artists are just canon fodder, there is always more. One can cut the too big headed and always replace them from a swilling horde of wannabes. Its all about the presentation, not the substance.

    Find common purpose, even if with different goals. Variety is the spice of life, Eat hardy, and all can find a role in life. As my boy Clint Eatwood said, A mans gotta know his limitations. And his skills too, find others that complement you, and you them. It can be done, but outside the art world. Even the art reps admit that art schools are crap, that the limited mentality is killing art,

    There is a shift in attitude going on now, but looking for just new answers, not better ones, We must put those better works and purpose out there, or it will be lost and covered in dung again. I think we have enough layers of that for true healthy growth now. Fifty years of composting garbage should be enough to bloom some flowers.

    No sales so far, but got a legit promoter who is from out of town, and connections in Mexico City, Frisco, and Boston. Much better venues for me, love LA, but its people are rather, shall we say, vacuous? Its an entertainment town, not art. But will continue with the guy running the show, he hangs form the ceiling with black draped walls, or using the existing space, and presents it three dimentionsally, that was his previous job. Looks great and mingles with the viewers.

    We are working on the marketing angle for future shows, and replace some artists, but there is not theorem to it, just lots of different styles for people to find what works for them, on whatever level they want. I like it. A much better life force and energy than sterile hoity toity galleries.

    And most agree that art schools are where you learn how NOT to make art, as it is careerism there, not about what creative art is at all. You cant teach that, you must live it first, and then find ways to visually commuicate the emotions that unite us as humanity, and our reaching for more, for passion, for god.

    Times are changing, we must do better. Civilization must do better. It is about US, not I. lets get to work.

    art collegia delenda est

  13. Anonymous says:

    Sandy,very informative comments. I feel the gallery I am in gives me the live exposure that is needed. A place for collectors to see the real thing. Sometimes I feel like the operators are not doing things that would be easy and simple promotions, to get people to come to the gallery. A couple times I have offered some good ideas that were not costly at all or even free. But they were not received well and it left me with the impression I was stepping on toes. So now I just keep it to myself! I am thankful for the effort the people in the gallery make and thankful I have a place to display my work, along with my fineartstudioonline website!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Please give me some input…let’s say I have access to an open, empty gallery with no overhead. I’m an artist, but do not want to show my work. Ever. What I would like to do is get a motley bunch of art in one space, and see what happens. I would take 15 percent of any sales. This is in Santa Fe. Any ideas? Or am I nuts.

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