The Future of Marketing for Fine Artists Part II: Whether to Seek Out a Gallery

By Chelsea Lang

Because artists do not usually get excited about mastering sales or marketing, getting into a gallery is a top priority for most emerging artists. Since social media has become a cultural mainstay, however, how do galleries fit within your business model?

In Part I of this series, we discussed the changing landscape of marketing and selling fine art, and what that may mean for you. Today we’re taking a closer look at each of those business models so that, regardless of the path you choose, you find your best fit.

Advantages to Each Business Model

When it comes to selling work, representation is often seen as the most straightforward route to success. The artist can focus solely on creating, while galleries or consultants who build their career through networking and creating a customer base cater to collectors who expect a traditional buying experience whether local or online. This also allows the artist to build a great deal of momentum quickly, as the gallery will provide an existing audience that is primed to purchase new work from an up-and-coming artist.

Conversely, selling art online can attract a global following to which an artist has direct access. Artists can reach out directly to their best collectors when they have new work available and don’t need to worry about whether a gallery is choosing to feature their work.

Dissecting Gallery Commissions

A common objection to entering into a gallery relationship is the negotiated commission rate which can be up to 50% that galleries or consultants receive for their work from an art sale. An artist may ask why rates are so high and speculate that it’s about keeping the lights on in a brick and mortar business. While this plays an important role, the truth is more nuanced and is the secret to understanding the pricing of your work.

An artist may be tempted to imagine the value of a painting based solely on the labor required to create it, but this neglects the reality that marketing the work is essential to selling it. Whether you post a painting to Instagram, spend time chatting with potential collectors, or host a pop-up show for your work, marketing is integral to your value as a professional artist.

With this math in mind, as well as the reality that galleries are much more expensive to run than an online presence, a gallery’s commission no longer should feel unusual, though it could potentially come at a disadvantage to artists who are comfortable selling, marketing, or nurturing relationships via social media as a part of their everyday operations. Furthermore, it means that if you are tempted to undercut a gallery as a loophole, you ultimately hurt your own business in the long run, as you aren’t fully valuing your time spent marketing (not to mention the perception you may be creating of your work as being worth a lower price point).

Which is Right for You?

When it comes to choosing a path, there are some additional considerations that are important to factor in. First are exclusivity clauses, which some galleries and consultants may ask of their artists. These can help galleries create demand but could just as easily could hold an artist back from making additional connections and expanding their reach. On the flip side, there is the reality that if you want to market your work and capture that revenue, it requires time spent outside of the studio, and this may be a dealbreaker for many artists.

The decision comes down to this: Are you able to generate more income and cultivate your ideal work culture by focusing solely on your art, or do you have additional time in which you’d enjoy marketing your work?

This ultimately comes down to a cost benefit analysis for your unique skillsets and limitations. Making art for a living is still a business, and it needs to run like any other. There is no one right answer, except what best allows you to thrive as an artist and professional. The choice to outsource your marketing to a gallery or consultant has to be a business decision — after all, as artists we are all business owners.

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