This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
side of the art world while you are still developing as an artist in Art School is not considered good practice. But in truth some guidance in this area of professional practice would benefit most students. It is true that a high profile gallery might pick up an artist, or that an artist might fit a niche showing in museum or funded spaces and be successful in getting grant funding. A small group of artists may be able to support themselves through their work early on. This is what we all hope for when we leave Art School and are not prepared for the harsh realities of what happens if we are not ‘discovered’ at their degree show. We may have an unrealistic perception of the art world based is on a construct of limited personal experience and informed by stereotypical depictions in film and television. The cool loft space teaming with hip young radicals or the minimal white cube does exist, but galleries are generally not high profit businesses. Even those that operate at the highest end of the market and have high turnovers, often have incredibly high overheads to match. The vast majority of galleries live subsistent existences in less than perfect venues. And, for most artists, it is a struggle to earn a living from their art practice alone and they often have to take on other jobs to support their work. It takes discipline, commitment and professionalism to succeed as an artist.
Working with a gallery is a partnership. Before you entre into any partnership you need to have a clear sense of your own identity, know something about your possible collaborator and understand your individual and shared aims. There are many kinds of galleries with differing approaches, remits, organizational structure, and to some degree, different audiences. One kind is no more important than another, as each has their place in creating a strong cultural environment. It is important to recognize which best suites both your work and way of working. Publicly funded spaces and art museums are not-for-profit venues, usually with a clear cultural and educational remit. They can host work that might not otherwise be made available to the community in which they are situated, exposing their audience to the broadest experience their budget will allow. This kind of funding structure allows them to show exhibitions based on thematic or cultural concerns that will create dialogue, rather than having to focus on generating sales. They are financially dependent on the community they serve, whether funded through grants or membership fees and contributions. Exhibiting at this kind of Museum Art Gallery is a sign of recognition. The work is not going to be for sale, however the artist might benefit from the museum buying a piece for its collection, or get an exhibiting or commissioning fee. Museum Gallery curators are going to want show the work of artists that have made a significant contribution to the culture of their locality or within the wider context of art history, or contemporary arts practice. Generally the program will be developed through a
research process and it is going to be rare that an unsolicited submission will result in an exhibition. With the exception of open juried shows or the occasional curated project, it is unlikely that most artists will show with this kind of Museum Gallery until their career is already very established. University galleries also provide shows that will inform, create critical dialogue and develop the professional practice. They also provide a platform to exhibit the students thesis exhibitions. The most direct way an artist can show their work is to open their own gallery or join an existing cooperative. The benefits of owning your own gallery are: • You have complete control of how your work is shown. • You get to keep the entire selling price. • Your work can be permanently on display. The drawbacks are: • You have overheads to cover whether you sell any work or not. • You have to staff it. • There are administrative tasks that you will have to take on, such as permits, planning and marketing. These things might take more of your studio time than you are happy with.
The other way to go would be to join or set up a space in collaboration with other artists who can share the load. This kind of initiative is generally set up by a small group of likeminded artists. Once the core group is set up it is normal for new members to submit to a selection process or show by invitation. Because there is generally no single curatorial vision the resulting group may be very diverse. Although, there is still the necessity to sell work to cover overheads these costs are either shared equally or supplemented by membership or exhibiting fees. Also, those overheads are less because the artists usually staff the gallery themselves and no one draws an income from the gallery profits. This kind of gallery often has an additional remit that brings the members together. Potential members might be expected to join committees that originate projects and exhibitions and to be a participating member of their community. It may set itself a developmental remit, offering talks that initiate dialogue in arts practice. Apart from the exhibiting opportunities artists might join a cooperative to feel more engaged with the local art scene. Being an artist is often an isolating activity and the chance to exchange ideas and discuss work with other artists is welcome. The benefits of a cooperative gallery are: • It offers a way to not only present your work but, connect with other artists. • It shares the financial and administrative burdens associated with artist owned galleries. • The commission is usually lower than in a commercial gallery. • You have a say in how the gallery is run
The pit falls are: • The originating members are often left doing the lion’s share of the work and can get burned out.. • It can be frustrating managing by committee, especially if there are some clashing personalities. • Unless there is a steady flow of new engaged members, it is not uncommon for cooperatives to have a limited life span 3 to 5 years. A commercial gallery is a privately owned business. In addition to its creative ambitions it has to make financial sense. It has to sell enough art, or services to cover its overheads and provide the gallery owner with some kind of income. Selection is made by the gallery owner and generally reflects their personal tastes, giving the gallery a particular character or feel. This means that the nature of work likely to be selected is going to vary a lot from gallery to gallery. Submission processes will also vary dependent on how the owner likes to handle their business. Usually the commercial galleries work on a consignment basis with the artist, charging a commission. Commissions can vary from 33%to as much as 65%. 50% is normal. The gallery provides a delicate infrastructure that links the artist, gallery owner, collectors and the public. The art market is complicated and different galleries may target completely different client bases and audiences.
For example an established gallery with a good client base of serious collectors will be able to show significant regional and nationally recognized artists that can attract good prices. This price point means that their target client base needs to have a certain income level. To maintain this business model they have to look beyond their local audience. They might choose to do this by attending prestigious art fairs. This would be a substantial investment to make on their part. Many privately owned galleries will aim to show mid career artists. That means, that they have a proven exhibiting history, have established a market price, but for the most part, are still affordable. Their client base will be made up of made up of fairly ordinary middleincome people, who love of art – they may be first time buyers or avid collectors – young or old. Most gallery owners do it for ‘the love of it’ and may be collectors or artists themselves. My husband and I have always gained a great deal of joy from collecting art and want to make collecting achievable to the broadest range of individuals. Before choosing to approach a gallery you need to do your research. In addition to finding out what you can about the gallery you need to consider your own motivation. • • • • • Are you professional about your art practice? What is your exhibiting experience so far? Do you have an established market for your work? Do you need/want to support yourself financially through your art? What do you want from a relationship with a gallery?
There are many reasons why people make art. There is no singular path that leads individuals to this endeavor. Their motivation may be a different as the work they produce. To many people, ‘showing in an art gallery’ seams like a logical next step. Although, this is certainly the most traditional direction for an artist to take, it is not the only option. The genre in which you work may have a particular audience, price point or cultural remit, which would be best served by approaching a very particular kind of gallery or pursuing a completely alternative approach. There is no one right way of doing things. The main thing is finding the right path for you as an individual artist. Different artists’ motivation to exhibit also varies. You may be looking to build profile. You may be just looking to share you work with an audience. You may want to show in order to participate in the arts community and contribute to a dialogue about art. Selling your work may not be a priority for you at all. You need to be sure that your motivation and aims match up with the gallery you choose to submit to. If you decide to go the gallery route, make sure you have a clear idea of what to expect. Not all galleries work with written contracts. That’s probably not a big problem as long as the details have been discussed in full and you trust the gallery. If it’s a gallery out of your area, that you haven’t actually seen I would advise getting some kind of written agreement, even if it is all done by email. You need to know about deadlines, consignment periods, commission, how and when the artist get paid. If you have been invited to exhibit by a gallery make sure you have actually talked to the owner or manager/director and preferably visited the gallery. In the end it is a matter of trust and you need to feel comfortable about who you are working with.
Before submitting work to any galley... ask your self: • Am I familiar with this gallery? • Do they have a good reputation? • Will my artwork be right for them? • Is the space suitable for my work? Ask other artists who have shown with them. Checkout their website and literature. See if there is any press about them available online. Find out the best way to approach them? How they program their space and how far ahead do they plan? Once you’ve done your research and are clear about your reasoning for approaching a particular gallery you are ready to make your submission. The best way to do this is to follow their individual guidelines. You can usually find their submission process on their website. On the whole galleries hate unsolicited visits. Usually the first approach will be a few images and a bit of info, emailed or by post. If you are going to post an unsolicited submission don’t expect material to be returned – sometimes even if you include a postage paid return envelope. If the gallery doesn’t except submissions it’s still perfectly acceptable to send the curator notices and invitations to see your work in other exhibitions. In general: • Don’t over load the gallery with hundreds of images, but make sure they have enough to judge your work.
• Choose images that illustrate a cohesive body of work. If the images are too diverse in style it is difficult to judge consistency of quality or envision an actual show. Choose pieces that you think will best suit the individual gallery. • At this stage images don’t have to be huge, just big enough to view to be viewed on a computer screen. I prefer image to be sent as separate jpegs rather than in a presentation or document. Again, this may vary and you will need to check with the gallery about their preference. Don’t assume they have the same software as you. I do not use or have Powerpoint on my mac so I pretty much dismiss all submissions in that format. The other reason I like separate images is that I can actually select works that interest me, and include them in my reply. The best file format for this first approach is the simple jpeg. If you must send a fancy presentation, PDFs will view on most preview software, or alternatively make sure it can be viewed by a browser. If you get to the stage of presenting your portfolio, the gallery is going to want to see the actual work – not photos or reproductions. The only reason, other than actually you are actually photographer, to bring photos to a face-to-face meeting is that the scale or particular nature of the work just makes it impossible. Generally if that is the case, and the gallery is really interested in you they will make a studio visit. The work doesn’t have to be framed, but if its not they may want to discuss how it would be presented for exhibition. I will have already been in discussion with the artist for some time before inviting them to show me actual work. So, I will have already indicated which works I am interested in
seeing. Often I just want to see a small group of the works to check that it is what I am expecting. Other galleries may want to see a lot more. You will have to take your lead from them on how much to take. If you get an exhibition, the gallery is going to expect certain things. • Keeping deadlines. You may think your show is months or weeks away but if you have been given a deadline for certain information there is a reason. Press releases should really be sent out at least three months in advance for the periodicals and a month ahead for most local press. • Good documentation. List the works you are consigning to include titles, dimensions, media, dates and selling prices save the gallery a lot of work. • Thoughtful information, fact and figures: The gallery is going to have to talk confidently about you and your work in both the press releases and directly to press and clients. You need to be able to give them information to enable that. • Being able to confidently talk about your work is important. Discuss it thoroughly with the curator, answering any questions they have, so they can in turn talk to clients in an informed way. • Good images: Once you have got a show you need to provide the gallery with good print quality images. The normal resolution for print is 300dpi. Make sure your image is large enough to print at that resolution. If editing images for size – you can make an image smaller, but don’t try and make it bigger.
The most common problems I get with images are: o They are provided at 72dpi and when I convert them to 300dpi the image is too small o They are pixelated because they have been badly edited. This happens when trying to make a small image larger. o They have lots of sheen because of poor lighting o They are distorted because of the camera lenses isn’t correct or the picture was taken at and angle. • Pricing your work: This is perhaps the most difficult element to marketing your work. Galleries much prefer it when they have a clear idea of your market price from the beginning. But, if you do not already have an established selling record, finding a comfortable starting price is very tricky. The artist often attributes an emotional value to the work and then there is the cost of creating it. Neither of which bears any relevance to how much some one will pay for it. In an ideal world you should be able to calculate a starting price based on your overheads, material costs and time. If you need to support your self through your art, at some point you actually need to achieve this. Add up everything you might spend in a year – studio rent, materials and any other overheads you might have then add the income you need to live on. Estimate how many pieces you might realistically sell in a year (remembering that you are not going to sell everything you make). Now divide your overheads by this number. This will
give you the average amount you need to get for each piece. Now double it to account to account for the galleries commission. The reality is, commercially speaking your work is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. So you need to know what your market will support. Look at the pricing of other artists for comparisons. More established artists will have an established market and will be able to price their work higher than a first time exhibitor. You want to find a starting point that will encourage sales, but not undervalue your work. If everything sells quickly you know you can come up a bit in the next show. If you are in that fortunate position make you increments slowly. A sudden price hike may put off the buyers you have just found before you have established a market at the higher price point. The last thing you want to do is lower your prices again. Market confidence is established by consistent pricing that shows a nice steady growth. Don’t adjust pricing based on what commission you are being charged particularly if you are showing in one region. Galleries located in the same area share audiences. If a client has seen your prices go up and down they will not have confidence to buy the work at the gallery where the wall price is higher. It will not only affect the way they view your work but their attitude to the gallery. It’s a good idea to consider the normal gallery commission of 50% at the time of pricing your work. Or you can time your move to a commercial gallery to coincide
with a time when you feel you need to raise your prices anyway, and then keep to those prices even if you return to a venue with a lower commission. To finish up I just wanted to mention a few things some artists do that really annoy gallery owners. • Inconsistent pricing. • Selling at artist prices direct to clients and cutting the gallery:. If you set yourself up for direct selling that’s fine, but if you are working with a gallery you should discuss how that might work and under what circumstances it’s ok, and when you should refer the client to the gallery. If it is common knowledge you can go direct to the artist no one is going to buy at the gallery and the gallery is just not going to want to show you again. • Saturating the market: This is another big problem we come across with local artists. More is not always better. When you first start out it is great to get your name out there by contributing to lots of shows. But if you do that for too long it can actually begin to negatively affect your sales. You begin to collect fans rather than buyers. Many people are going to own works and are not going to buy any more. And, people who may have been considering buying a work become complacent about actually making that final commitment. If they feel they can see your work any time they are much more likely to procrastinate.
Anticipation is a big motivator. Space your solo shows. If you are only showing your work in a single region you need a good interval between exhibitions. You can continue to contribute to selected group shows and submit to juried shows, but keep it to just single works or small groups that keep interest going and act as a bit of a tease. If you want to do more solo shows that, its best to look further afield and make sure that the distance is far enough between the galleries that they are not competing for the same audience. • The last thing I am going to mention is bad presentation and framing. A commercial gallery is going to want you to deliver wall ready work. If a client gets something reframed they want it to be a matter of taste rather than they have to because the work is not properly protected or the frame is falling apart. Framing is expensive, but if you don’t give your work the respect of presenting it appropriately, other people aren’t going to respect it either. If the gallery has a framing service see if they can do you a deal, or perhaps bill you for the framing once the show is over and hopefully you have some sales. I began by saying working with a gallery is a partnership and that can’t work without a clear understanding of each other and a health dose of respect. You should respect the gallery by doing business in a professional manner. They should reciprocate by handling your work with respect, showing it in an appropriate way and working hard to achieve sales.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.