One of the most vital assets for any artist is their customer list and their relationship with their customers — relationships equal revenue.

Ann Rea

Art Galleries Can Do More Harm Than Good

Most artists are always thinking about ways to advance their “career.” They work on crafting the perfect artist statement and building their resume or CV to highlight a list of exhibitions where they have shown their art.

However, successful fine artists do not show their art they sell their art. They do not have art careers they own businesses.

One of the most vital assets for any artist is their customer list and their relationship with their customers — relationships equal revenue.

But in art school you learn that after graduating, your first move is to contact local art galleries, hoping that they will agree to represent you. 

  1. Working with an art gallery can mean that you will suffer an exponential loss of over half of your income and lose out on 80% more art sales every year.
  2. Working with an art gallery can undermine the value of your art and your reputation as an artist.
  3. Even if your relationship with your gallery is great and they’re selling your art, eventually you will fall out of favor and be displaced by an artist whose work sells better than yours, or the gallery will go out of business.

How does this happen? Art galleries will make you sign an onerous contract, that no other reasonable small business owner would ever agree to sign. What will you have to agree to exactly?

  • You’ll have to agree to be paid 50% or less, if your art sells. 

The art gallery will not buy your art, unlike other retailers, they will only take your art on consignment. They may also charge you monthly rent to hang your art on their walls. 

  • You’ll have to agree not to have additional representation.

Even if they are not selling enough of your art, you will typically need to get the gallery owner’s permission to seek other representation. If you ask for permission, don’t be surprised if they drop you.

  • You’ll have to agree to discount your art.

The art gallery will take liberties with your inventory by discounting your art. And you will absorb half, if not all of the loss of income, that comes with each discounted sale.

Losing money from the sale of art isn’t the only problem:

  1. Discounting your art will damage your reputation. 

Discounting is not a problem for the art gallery because they don’t even own the inventory. So they don’t suffer a loss, you do. Discounting your art confuses your collectors and it damages your reputation as an artist. 

2. Discounting your art destroys the value of your art. 

Discounting not only undermines your income, but it also destroys the perceived value of your art and that makes it hard to raise your prices.

  • You’ll have to agree to miss out on the most accessible path to success.

If you remain under their crippling control of art galleries you will never be able to contact your collectors and gain referrals. Referral sales are responsible for over 80% of new business, they are highest and most accessible source of new customers for most businesses, including artists. 

If you are not cultivating referrals, then you are leaving a massive opportunity on the table.

  • You’ll have to agree to be manipulated by a false notion of prestige. 

Think about this. The art gallery who purports to represent you is preventing you selling over 80% more of your art where you keep 100% of the money, rather than 50% or less. There is no “prestige” that is worth this price. You do not need anyone’s permission or sanction to sell your art. You only need permission to show your art.

Do you want to sell your art or show your art? 

Most artists do not yet know that there is another way to build success or they might believe that someone else must deem them a legitimate artist.

This self-limiting mindset serves the art establishment in many ways:

  • They control a market where they never have to buy any inventory. That’s pretty sweet. 
  • They control the distribution of your product.
  • They can control and manipulate you because they have you are convinced that you need them to be legit. 

But you don’t need them, and you need to ask if you want them when the middleman is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Art galleries have hurt several of my students of the Making Art Making Money program. 

One student from Vancouver, British Columbia, worked with eight art galleries. Seven of her representatives “claimed” to have gone bankrupt, they stole over $60,000 of her money, and they did not return her art. The sad part is that she is the mother of a young child and the sole breadwinner for her family. She called the FBI, who frequently receives calls from artists like her, and sadly, they informed her that the contract she signed protected the art gallery but not her and her family. 

After the most recent recession, it is estimated that over 50% of the art galleries in the United States went out of business. Once that happens, the debt collectors are first in line to recover any remaining assets. Do you want those odds against you?

Here’s the good news. Most people who have the money to buy art would much rather buy it directly from the artist because most affluent people:

  • are not comfortable in an art gallery 
  • want to know you and understand the inspiration for your art
  • want to introduce you to their friends and family where you can earn over 80% more art sales

Most importantly, you get to keep 100% of the money! Wouldn’t that be nice?

In luxury marketing terms, that is called “Conversational Currency.”

Learn how to increase your art sales by way of referrals and learn what you should and should not say when you ask for a referral. Apply to join the Making Art Making Money program and learn how to sell your art without feeling like a sell-out. You’ll graduate once you’ve earned back your tuition investment, at a minimum, through the sale of your art during your final project.

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