Common Misconceptions Galleries Have About Artists

I asked artists and gallery owners one simple question: "What kinds of misconceptions do galleries have about artists?" Their answers were surprisingly frank, direct and revealing, and offer plenty of insight into the ongoing love-hate relationship between the two. We're certainly not talking about all galleries here, or all artists either, but in any situation where misunderstandings and lack of communication are apparent, we can do better.

Pretty much all artists aspire to show their art at galleries, but at the same time, they often have worries or concerns about how things will go. And while galleries strive to do their absolute best when showing and selling art, they can sometimes see artists as more of an obstacle than anything else. In other words, there's plenty of room for increased dialogue and greater understanding on both sides. By the way, you art buyers and collectors might read this too; appreciating how artists perceive and approach the business end of things is key to successful collecting. Hopefully the following list of responses to the question will encourage more conversations and improve artist/gallery interactions overall:

* Galleries believe that artists need them and that without galleries, artists can't get famous or advance on their own.

* That artists know nothing about business and can be exploited or taken advantage of.

* That artists have no responsibilities in life other than to the galleries that show their art, that they don't have parents, children, spouses, employers, employees, friends, acquaintances, or face challenges or adversities like other human beings do. They assume everything revolves around the art and that nothing in their personal lives will ever get in the way of or interfere with their relationship or obligations to galleries.

* That artists who get press or publicity, online or otherwise, can also deliver loads of sales.

* That they know what's best for artists regardless of what the artists may think.

* That artists are so desperate for fame and fortune, they can be easily manipulated.

* That a gallery knows more about an artist's art than the artist does.

* That artists having shows should give their email lists to the galleries, but not the other way around.

* That relationships between galleries and artists are always adversarial.

* That it makes no difference when they pay their artists, as long as those artists get paid.

* That they can tell artists what to make and the artists will be OK with it.

* That artists will do everything they can to contribute to the success of their own shows.

* That whatever prices artists give them are what the art is realistically worth in the marketplace.

* That artists will endlessly reproduce the kinds of art that galleries want and can sell well without ever getting bored, changing styles, trying new things or evolving in any other ways.

* That artists with good online followings have long lists of collectors and will do everything they can to get those collectors to see their shows.

* That 100,000 Instagram followers equals $100,000 in art sales.

* That everything artists tell them or that they read on artist resumes or CVs is true, and that researching their backgrounds or histories is not necessary.

* That artists with BFAs and preferably MFAs make better or more desirable art than artists without art school educations or degrees, even though there is no demonstrable data to prove it.

* That artists with MFAs have more and better connections.

* That you can't sell art by self-taught artists.

* That an artist with a rich spouse/partner/family will deliver collectors from their circle of friends. They think that if they give shows to artists connected to money, wealthy people who could have bought the art directly from the artist will suddenly pay double or more for it at their galleries.

* That an artist who has shown with a number of different galleries will be professional when that may really mean the artist is difficult to work with.

* That an artist with multiple shows at only one gallery is a negative when that may really mean the artist is professional, easy to work with, and sells reasonably well.

* That they can mistreat or be difficult with artists, and the artists will never stand up to them, badmouth their galleries, or retaliate in any other ways.

* That an artist who sells well with a gallery and gets good coverage or publicity for their shows will never leave when in fact, the opposite may well be the case, that the artist is preparing to end the relationship and move to a better gallery.

* That if they keep an artist's art long enough, it becomes theirs for free. Note to artists: Galleries are not free storage facilities; it is your responsibility to pick up your art in a timely fashion when a gallery notifies you about it.

* That artists will be loyal and never sell art behind a gallery's back.

* That all artists are crazy, or else they wouldn't be artists, and should be treated accordingly.

* That artists should have minimal online presence, that those who are too active on social media are difficult to work with, that telling artists to keep low profiles online is a good idea.

* They believe what other artists tell them about an artist instead of speaking with that artist directly and finding out for themselves.

* That they can decide whether or not an artist is worth showing or representing in under 10 minutes.

* That avoiding contact with artists or making it difficult for artists to speak or meet with them is a good idea.

* That it's ok to pressure artists to have sex or that it's OK to ask artists to hook them up with their friends.

* That artists who get taken advantage of will never take legal action or take a gallery to court.

* That artists should automatically give galleries the exclusive rights to sell their art, regardless of how new the relationship is.

* That galleries make artists famous and that the artists have nothing to do with it.

* That they can sell the art at reduced prices without asking permission first, tell the artists later, and they'll be OK with it.

* That all artists are easy to work with.

* That artists don't mind being kept in the dark about how galleries conduct their business.

* That it's OK to make promises to artists regardless of whether they can keep them or not.

* That artists should be happy just to show with galleries and that getting their work shown is reward enough, whether anything sells or not.


Thanks to all the artists and gallery owners who contributed to this article. Special thanks to Mat Gleason, Travis Louie and Tm Gratkowski.


If you're an artist who has issues with galleries, I can help. I've worked with many artists on resolving problems and improving their relationships with galleries. Want to make an appointment? Call me at 415.931.7875 or email

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(art by Paul Noble)

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