Common Misconceptions Artists Have About Galleries
In an ongoing effort to separate art world facts from fantasy, I contacted a number of gallery owners and asked whether they could relate some beliefs artists have about galleries and gallery owners that simply aren't true. Successful artist/gallery relationships are built on trust, knowledge, cooperation and understanding, and the better and more informed artists are about how art galleries really work, the greater the chances that their gallery relationships will succeed and prosper. So are you ready to exorcise those erroneous notions? Excellent...
Misconception: Art galleries have people ready to buy any art they have to offer.
Reality: This isn't even close to being true. The opposite is true; a gallery has to convince their client base that work by new gallery artists is worth considering for their collections.
Misconception: Galleries are responsible for doing all the work and all the publicity for their shows. The only thing the artists have to do is bring in the art.
Reality: Active and continued participation and involvement by the artist is an essential part of any successful artist/gallery relationship.
Misconception: Galleries are loaded with money.
Reality: No way. The opposite is far more often the case.
Misconception: Artists pay to show their art at galleries.
Reality: Not true. Some galleries might like you to believe that, but the artist/gallery relationship is like a partnership of sorts. The gallery provides the artist with a space to exhibit their art and the artist provides the gallery with art. No money changes hands up front. Those few galleries that do charge artists for exhibition space have less incentive to sell the art because they've already been paid.
Misconception: Galleries don't represent enough artists; they need more.
Reality: Sorry, wrong again. Most galleries already have more art and artists than they can handle. What they really need is more buyers.
Misconception: Getting gallery representation will automatically make an artist's career because galleries are the key to fame and the fast track to fortune.
Reality: There is no instant fix in artland, like one day you're nobody and the next day you're huge. Becoming successful and established as an artist happens gradually over a period of time, and is based on a consistent and successful track record of shows, accomplishments and sales. Getting gallery representation is nothing more than step one in a long and arduous process.
Misconception: All artists who show at galleries are successful and make lots of money.
Reality: Many artists who show at good galleries not only struggle to remain relevant and continue getting shows, but also worry about making enough money to survive.
Misconception: Art galleries are the enemy. The relationship between artist and gallery is adversarial, not collaborative.
Reality: You're kidding, right? No gallery works against its own artists; they'd only be hurting themselves if they did. Galleries do everything they can to maximize the success of every artist they represent. Artists should return the favor by doing everything they can to maximize the success of the galleries that represent them.
Misconception: Collectors always pay full gallery retail prices for art.
Reality: Many collectors want to pay less than retail. Artists should understand this, be flexible about it, and be willing to split any discounts that galleries are forced to offer buyers in order to make sales. Here's something you probably don't know-- it's not uncommon for a gallery to take a hit by offering a discount to a buyer, eating the lost revenue themselves and never telling the artist.
Misconception: Galleries make huge profits.
Misconception: Galleries have hardly any expenses.
Reality: Rent, insurance, alarm system, utilities, phone bills, equipment, supplies, packing, shipping, transportation, furnishings, computers, publicity, art fairs, announcements, memberships, dues, advertising, employees, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.
Misconception: Galleries should pay for all incidentals including shipping, framing, hanging, travel expenses, and so on.
Reality: Be willing to split some of these expenses with the gallery, especially if the relationship is new and untested. The gallery is already investing plenty of time and money in you and your art... and hoping to sell enough of it to at least break even. If an artist is blue chip or the artist/gallery relationship is longstanding and successful, handling of expenses may be different, but in situations where the artist is unproven, the gallery needs all the help and cooperation they can get.
Misconception: If a gallery can't sell an artist's art, they're entirely to blame because they're not working hard enough to sell it.
Reality: Uh-uh. Outside factors like personal tastes, trends and fashions, reviews by critics, word of mouth, publicity, the health of the economy, and much more come into play all the time.
Misconception: If a gallery isn't interested in an artist's art, it's because they don't understand it.
Reality: According to whom? The artist or the gallery? It is incumbent upon artists to learn how to present their art effectively in relatively short periods of time. Established gallery owners see lots of art all the time and have acquired the skills necessary to make decisions reasonably fast. They simply do not have the time to sit and listen to artists' lengthy explanations about their art, and then be quizzed and judged as to whether they understand the art well enough yet.
Misconception: Selling art is easy.
Reality: So is climbing Mount Everest in your underwear. Selling a commodity that's generally expensive and serves no practical purpose is anything but easy. If you think otherwise, you have no idea of the verbal acrobatics gallery owners go through in order to make sales.
Misconception: Art sells itself and galleries have nothing to do with selling it. All gallery owners do is sit around while people come in and buy.
Reality: You can't be serious. No art sells itself. There's a huge difference between someone liking a work of art and buying it. That difference is called selling.
Misconception: Giving a 50% commission to galleries is too much. The artists are the ones who do all the work. Galleries only work for a few days setting up shows.
Reality: First of all, galleries typically have far more expenses than artists. Secondly, selling art is a full-time job-- at the gallery, over the phone, online, personally visiting collectors, exhibiting at art fairs, and more. Gallery owners spend all day every day trying their absolute best to make sales.
Misconception: Galleries get rich while artists stay poor.
Reality: The large majority of galleries have just as much trouble surviving financially as artists do. A gallery owner getting wealthy by selling art is very rare indeed.
Misconception: All artists contribute to the success of their galleries.
Reality: In the large majority of cases, only a few artists keep galleries solvent and afloat. Sales of art by the artists who do really well with a gallery often pay for the artists who tend not to sell well.
Misconception: Galleries are wealthy because they're the link between artists and rich people.
Reality: You still think that after reading all this?
Misconception: Just because a gallery has an artist's art, they have to display it and give the artist shows.
Reality: Far more often than not, galleries start slowly with artists, perhaps taking several works on consignment and showing them selectively to see how their clienteles respond. They also want to make sure the artists are responsible and easy to work with before getting in too deep. Assuming all goes well, a show is typically in the offing.
Misconception: Galleries have power and influence in the art world; they control markets and determine tastes.
Reality: The exact opposite is way far more often the case.
Misconception: When an artist leaves one gallery and goes to another, their collectors automatically go with them.
Reality: Unless an artist is already successful or hotter than hot, collectors' typically remain loyal to the galleries, not to the artists those galleries represent.
Misconception: If an artist gets a gallery show, they're automatically going to sell lots of art and make lots of money.
Reality: No guarantees whatsoever on this. Work hard, keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best... just like the gallery owner is doing.
Misconception: If a show doesn't sell well, the gallery didn't want it to.
Reality: Are you saying that galleries sometimes deliberately sabotage their own shows in order to make as few sales and as little money as possible? This makes absolutely zero sense.
Misconception: Galleries only show art that's salable.
Reality: No way! Galleries bring new art and new artists to the attention of the public all the time. They deeply believe in the artists they show, in the validity of their art, and that the public at least deserves to see it-- whether they ultimately end up buying or not.
Misconception: Good publicity or good reviews by critics automatically translate into sales.
Reality: You hope.
Misconception: Galleries have the capacity to make museums either show or buy their artists' art.
Reality: Not even close.
Misconception: Gallery owners don't like art; they're only in it for the money.
Reality: Nobody who's "in it for the money" would ever be stupid enough to open an art gallery.
Misconception: Any gallery is right for an artist, no matter what kind of art that artist makes.
Reality: Galleries are extremely particular about the types of art and artists they show, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, only show very narrow and highly defined types, styles or genres of art.
Misconception: Regular communication between an artist and their gallery is not necessary; everybody understands everything and nothing really needs to be said.
Reality: Clear, open and ongoing communications are essential to any successful artist/gallery relationship.
Misconception: Galleries never need to be thanked or acknowledged for what they do. It's all about the art and the gallery really has nothing to do with anything other than exhibit it.
Reality: A little appreciation goes a long way. Galleries invest incredible amounts of time and effort in publicizing and presenting their artists. To repeat, no art sells itself.
Misconception: A gallery should show whatever works of art the artists wants them to.
Reality: Not true. Give the gallery flexibility in deciding what to show; let them curate the art. Galleries know what works best for them, what their collectors tend to prefer, and how to organize and present art in compelling and effective ways. The works of art that a gallery decides to show can certainly be open to discussion, but know that they have your best interests in mind when making their final selections.
Misconception: Galleries have a duty to look at and consider all artist submissions regardless of who the artists are, what their art looks like, or how well it fits in with the types of art that the galleries typically show.
Reality: Galleries are continually bombarded and overwhelmed with submissions, most have more than enough artists on their rosters, most have their exhibition calendars booked up at least a year in advance, most don't even have enough time to attend to the artists they already represent.
Misconception: Galleries should respond to an artist's every need, personal or otherwise.
Reality: This is a business relationship, not a personal one; always remember that. Save personal matters for friends and family.
Misconception: The relationship between an artist and a gallery should always be the same no matter what happens over time.
Reality: Things change; nothing ever remains the same. Artist/gallery relationships are always evolving, so be prepared.
Misconception: All galleries and gallery owners are the same.
Reality: Galleries are as unique and idiosyncratic as collectors (if not more so).
Misconception: No matter when you appear at a gallery that represents you, the gallery owner should show you immediate attention.
Reality: That's just plain rude and self-centered. At least give the gallery owner advance notice that you're coming, or better yet, make an appointment.
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