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The Productive Artist: Galleries Do Not Lay Golden Eggs

 If Aesop had written a fable about galleries, it would have sounded a lot like this one. As you read, replace the word "gallery" for "goose":

"A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it. Then, they thought, they could obtain the whole store of precious metal at once; however, upon cutting the goose open, they found its innards to be like that of any other goose."

- This passage is from a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

Many artists would love to get a gallery, so they can concentrate on creating art. No more filthy business stuff.

Not going to happen. You are always in charge of managing your side of the business equation, no matter where you show and sell your art. There is no golden goose. Even if there were one, she would have to be popping eggs out at a great rate to support you.

You get more results when you have your eggs in many baskets. You can chose from galleries, art representatives, art consultants, retail outlets and alternative spaces. Many of these have both "store fronts" and on-line presence.

Easter Eggs 2Each of these "baskets" contains eggs of different colors.
Galleries for example, include:

  • traditional "blue-chip" galleries that select, curate and sell original art to the public on commission,
  • private galleries that cater to wealthy patrons,
  • artist run galleries that sell fine art originals and multiples,
  • retail galleries that sell fine art, fine craft and functional art.

Each "color" appeals to different artists, just as each work of art appeals to different viewers. You choose the mix.

"I just had something happen with a gallery application that is new to me.  They want me to rent their gallery and do my own advertising.  Does that mean that art is not selling so the gallery rents their space because the market clientele is not buying now?  

"I am tentatively planning to retire in one year.  I have had several shows and commissions over the years.  I am working on a show for 2010 and another one in 2011. ... Yes, I am one of those practical artists and have to make money. ... I enjoy your messages because they depict artists actually making a living with their art.  Where do I put my money and confidence that there is a market somewhere for my art?"   ~CCH

This artist has already hatched a few eggs through shows and commissions. The next egg is a retail space - sometimes referred to as a "vanity gallery." Anyone who can pay the rent can use the venue to show art for sale. There is no curator or jury. Much of the advertising these galleries do is to artists, so that they can keep the walls full.

ChicksRather than looking at the color of the egg, consider what might hatch. Will showing your art in this venue get you more exposure for your art? If it will attract the kind of audience who likes to buy your art, it's worth considering.

Then do the math. Add up all your art and promotional costs, rental fees, insurance, travel and accommodation, reception, etc. Are you willing to invest up to 40% of the price of your work to put up a show? Now you are standing in a gallery dealer's shoes. How does it feel to hold this egg?

Digital Arts Studio
P.S. Some galleries handle the advertising and do not charge a wall fee, but they also typically ask for a larger commission. Check your contract carefully or you may find "hidden costs" - things you thought were covered by the commission but that you are paying for out of your other pocket.

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