markAn artist recently told me they had been dropped by a gallery because they had ‘liked’ a post of their own work on that gallery’s Facebook page: in the gallery’s eyes, self promoting their own profile and trying to ‘steal’ the gallery’s business. This moved me to consider the exceptionally difficult area of artist/gallery etiquette in the modern Internet age.

More and more these days, we’re being asked to rely on honesty and integrity to retain a healthy working relationship between gallery and artist. Whereas in the past a gallery who was in fear of an artist ‘stealing’ their hard earned customers could simply tear off the artist’s contact label from the back of their art, these days it’s not that easy… nor should it be.

Google most artists and you’ll find not only other galleries that stock their work, but also an artist’s own website, social media feeds and probably direct contact details.

It may be true that many artists aren’t good at promoting themselves, nor want to be contacted by customers and fans on these platforms, but those that do (and there are more and more these days) certainly shouldn’t be chastised for doing so. In fact, as long as a good level of trust is in place between a gallery and artist, it should be encouraged.

So how should that trust manifest itself? And what rules and etiquettes should be adhered to in these arenas?

Every time I post anything from one of my artist, I tag that artist in the post. Far from feeling they’re going to steal my customers, when they retweet/cross-post, etc. my post, they’re actually promoting my gallery as much as I’m promoting them. It’s a partnership, after all! There’s a wonderful saying that encapsulates these partnerships: A rising tide lifts all boats.

As galleries, we must re-address the way we do business in this digital age. We must rely on an artist’s trust and give them the benefit of the doubt to ‘do the right thing’ if they’re approached by one of our customers. Why? Well, what other option do we have? The fear-led scenario in the opening paragraph only serves to decrease the power of the proverbial tidal partnerships?

Here’s how I see a modern artist/gallery contract:

Personally I’d expect an artist who is approached by a customer to ask where they heard about their work. If it was through their Facebook page, their website or from their own hard work: fair game. The sale should be theirs and theirs alone… they worked for it.

If, however, the customer says they heard about them through a particular gallery, a gallery’s Facebook page, or a gallery’s website, I would hope that any artist would recognise that and either give a portion of that sale to the gallery in question or, better still, divert that customer back to that gallery so they can negotiate any transaction on their behalf.

This is not only a professional way to conduct business, but one a good customer would appreciate. Honesty, after all, only sets an artist in a good light with the customer. And if the customer’s simply trying to get a ‘bargain’ by going direct, does an artist really want the reputation that they’re open to price-dumping their own work? Not really a good affirmation is it?

So protecting a gallery shows both gallery and customer that an artist conducts their business professionally and fairly, which makes everyone look and feel good.

But how about the gallery’s part?

In my mind in this digital age, galleries should be doing much more for their buck; promoting an artist through their social media feeds, tagging their artists to show their customers that other work may be available and creating a desire for their artists’ work. Having an up-to-date and accessible website should be a basic best-practice (even if the gallery decides not to sell from them). These are simple, effective and (in many cases) free platforms for finding new customers for our artists and expanding our reach and our customer base; in short, doing our job!

Any gallery that is not using these platforms, in my humble opinion, is not only wasting valuable opportunities, but also not doing all they can to support their artists. The world is revolving and we need to get on. We need to first extend trust to our artists to enjoy that same trust in return and, more than anything, we need to see artist/gallery relationships as a partnership. I believe it’s the only true way forward.

Mark David Hatwood FRSA – Founder of ArtRehome – Owner of The Harbour Gallery, Portscatho