Is getting your art into a gallery the RIGHT choice for you?
These days, many artists aren’t represented by galleries. Of course, many other artists are, and for a long time, galleries were pretty much the only way for artists to sell art. So you may have already wondered, “Is gallery representation something I should have?”
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but I’ve come up with a few qualifying questions below that should help. If you answer them honestly, I think it’ll help you decide whether or not to add gallery representation as part of your marketing mix.
Let’s start with a question that gets right to the heart of the matter. . .
1. Why am I making art?
Understanding why you make art is crucial in figuring out how much you need a gallery to help market your work. You’re likely to fall into one of the these categories:
• You love to create and really aren’t interested in sales
• You love to create and sales are nice, but not a priority
• You love to create and sell. You hope to someday make a living from your art.
Just by answering this first question, you may realize whether or not you truly need gallery representation.
For example, if you fall into the first category, you would do fine without a gallery. Why? Because sales aren’t important. Chances are you’re a hobby artist or a weekend painter who creates primarily for pleasure. The time and effort necessary for working with a gallery will detract from your enjoyment.
If you fall into the third category, you’re interested in making a living as well as making art. You want your art to be your livelihood, and galleries can definitely help make that happen, so. . . you might start leaning that direction.
For those who fall into the middle category, who primarily paint for enjoyment, but also enjoy sales, the decision probably isn’t made yet.
Still, all you need to decide now is which of these three categories you fit into. Then, proceed to the next question:
2. How do I feel about marketing my art?
This is a tough question, so take a minute to answer. If it helps, here are some of the most common responses:
• I hate marketing my art and will never do it
• I don’t like marketing in general, but I enjoy selling my art
• I love marketing my art and creating it
If you identify with the first or second answer above, then gallery representation is likely to be your best option. Yes, you can also set up an art website, and that’s highly recommended. But a gallery not only displays your work; they deal with customers, handle order fulfillment, and do a hundred other things you might have to do if you sell something off your website.
If you’re an artist who enjoy marketing, and you’re equally at home selling your artwork as you are creating it, then a gallery would be nice (perhaps in some area that you are not likely to reach) but it wouldn’t be required. You can do everything a gallery can do and you’d probably enjoy doing it!
Here’s a final question to consider:
3. Can I fulfill the obligations required by a gallery?
When you sign a contract with a gallery, you may think they’ll be doing all the work. And in a sense, they will be (especially from a marketing/sales standpoint).
But you will need to produce new art. Regularly.
Many galleries keep artwork on a limited term basis. The length of time a gallery will exhibit the same artwork varies and may be as little as six weeks to as much as six months.
Your job is to create enough art to keep them supplied even in a best case scenario—the best case being that almost everything sells the first night of your exhibit.
That may not seem like a big task when the contract is new and you’re filled with enthusiasm. But what about two years into it, when painting is more like work rather than pleasure? You still have an obligation to the gallery to produce new work.
I know from personal experience that many of us underestimate the amount of energy we have available to put into new work. Everyone is different, but it’s definitely something to ask yourself.
You need to want this badly enough to accept the challenge in the first place. That’s why I include this question last; hopefully it will bring a moment of clear-eyed realism to balance the enthusiasm that might result from my previous questions.
If it helps, I spent nearly five years as gallery director for a small, member-owned, nonprofit gallery. While nonprofit and member-owned galleries differ from commercial galleries in a few key points, the overall goal is the same—and the tips I’ve shared in this article arise from that experience, as well as from my own efforts to determine whether or not I needed gallery representation.
I hope they’ll help you too, as you’re considering whether working with a gallery is the right choice for you.