As an artist who has been blessed enough to actually make a living from my art, the questions that I get the most
from other artists relate to how they can also make a living from their art. So although I am a greedy, war mongering, American capitalist—on occasion I share information to help others in an attempt to avoid burning in hell after my eventual demise.
One of the most frustrating situations for emerging artists is dealing with galleries. Frankly, most galleries do not make
a living selling art—they make a living selling framing as acting as “art hotels.” Before I explain the “art hotel” concept, let us talk about the perfect gallery situation for an artist. Galleries that actually feel that they can sell your work will display your work—at no rental charge for space. They will set up shows and pay for the advertising. And they will pay for the refreshments. In addition, they will usually BUY several pieces of your work for their permanent collection in anticipation of future increase in value. The only thing that you should pay is a commission. The hotter your work, the smaller the commissions. If your work is really hot, they will compete to buy your work. After all, a gallery that is really making a living selling art wants art that it can sell and sell fast. Let me repeat that—art galleries are not museums—! they are businesses.
Unfortunately, what most emerging artists have to deal with are galleries which act as “hotels” for their art. The artist must pay for room and board. The gallery even asks the artists to pay for advertising. And if the gallery should sell something, the artist must pay a commission on top of all that. Some galleries even have the nerve to require that the artist GIVE them a work or two for free.
So what do you do?
Like most situations in life–the best you can. Any one who has grown up on the streets knows that you do not get respect unless you both earn it and demand it. Be honest with yourself. If your work is crap, yet you want it in a gallery—be prepared to pay. If your work is good and in demand—find a gallery that recognizes the sell ability of your work. On a practical level, try to match your work to a gallery that has clients for your type of work. In other words, do not try to interest a gallery that specializes in cowboy art in your welded together abstracts of “chaos.” Again be honest with yourself. If you have a vain need to show your work—no matter how bad—go ahead and pay. In some, cases you may have really good work, but little choice of galleries in your area—they may all be the type that misuse artists. Sometimes, you just have to make a deal with the Devil so to speak.
What ever galleries that you end up dealing with, get written agreements specifying things like when they pay after selling your work, who pays if something is damaged, who pays to ship the work back to you, etc. There are several good books with standard forms for artists. It is worth having a lawyer prepare a form for you that fits your particular area and circumstance. Conduct yourself with as much confidence and demand as much respect as possible. If things do not feel right, walk away.
A good gallery that believes in your work is a God send.
A rip off gallery can be a nightmare. A gallery that is just another space with no real collector customers will be a waste of time. Research a gallery before approaching them and before turning over your work to them.