Why use a gallery to promote and sell my work?

Why use a gallery to promote and sell my work? (from our article in January’s The Artist magazine)

A subject that arose during my Facebook live podcast for Painters Online in April 2017 was: why use a gallery to promote and sell my work? A valid question in this digitally interconnected, social media age, so let me try and shed some light on that quandary.

A gallery should be promoting an artist’s work, creating and holding exhibitions, stocking an artist’s work year-round, giving advice to both their customers and artists, paying them promptly, relaying customer feedback (both positive and challenging) and be their ‘store-front’… oh and did I mention paying them promptly?

That said, because of the interconnectedness of the internet and especially social media, many of these things can be done by an artist themselves from the comfort of their studio, so the question is: to gallery, or not to gallery?

The answer isn’t universal, but personal, so an artist struggling with that quandary might like to consider the following:

  1. Am I good with people and do I enjoy talking about my art with them?
  2. Can I be enthusiastic about my craft and transfer that to a customer?
  3. Am I prepared to spend at least 40% of my time promoting myself?
  4. Do I enjoy, or could I endure working social media platforms and updating websites?
  5. Do I have the technological skills to do that, or am I willing to learn them?
  6. Am I consistent in my work patterns to allow for self-promotion?
  7. Am I prepared to find partners to stage exhibitions, or do them myself at my own cost and time?

If yes to most of these, congratulations! I don’t think you need a traditional gallery at all.

If you can’t answer positively to most of those questions though (especially 3, 4 & 5) then I suggest you are in need of someone to do those things for you. It may not be a gallery per sae, but you’ll certainly need to pay to someone to do it.

I believe any good gallery should be using all the (mainly free) tools efficiently and consistently to promote their gallery and artists, even if they’re not selling from them, whilst also dealing with their day-to-day walk-ins. We’re living in a modern age and I think we need to do more and more to earn our buck. But the main question is: are my galleries selling my work consistently?

Running a gallery is a full-time job. I know artists who thought they could do this whilst also painting and I can assure you, either their painting has taken a back seat, or their galleries aren’t productive enough. Something’s gotta give.

Conversely, I know several artists who are superb at promoting themselves. They produce regular podcasts, use social media and have very interactive websites that are always up to date with their latest work including PayPal buttons. They’re enthusiastic about what they do and they’re excellent at transmitting that through their ‘digital voice’.

But ask any one of these and they’ll tell you it takes time, consistency, hard work and good separation (between their artistic and logical brainwork) to achieve these goals. They deserve their 100% commission because they do both the artist’s 60% and the gallery’s 40% of work. They are an inspiration to me, but I think they’re the exception rather than the rule.

For those of us who don’t want the trudge of promoting our own art (and believe me, as an author and former songwriter, I count myself as one) we need agents and galleries… but not just any gallery.

If you’re with a gallery that doesn’t do these things, or if you feel yours isn’t earning their generous commission, my only question is: why are you still with them? A bad gallery isn’t better than no gallery. There are free promotional tools out there. If you think you can do better yourself (or can find someone to do it better for you for that same gallery percentage) my advice is: do it.

If I want a beautiful painting on my wall, I wouldn’t pay an artist, then allow them sit around whilst I painted it. So why invest in an inert gallery that does that? We all have a responsibility to support hard-working galleries and weed out those that aren’t. Work with partners who do the things you don’t want to do. And if they don’t, or you can’t find one, my advice is: skill up and knuckle down… the world (wide web) is your oyster.

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