Once you’ve discounted your art, you have devalued your art and you’ve damaged your reputation as an artist.  

This practice doesn’t hurt art galleries at all. It just hurts you.

Ann Rea

Artist & Mentor

Art Galleries - Hurting or Helping Artists?

Interview Transcript

What do artists need to know about art galleries?

So obviously all art galleries are different and all art reps are different.

So I’m just going to discuss some basic terms that are, let’s say some common terms that your art representative or art gallery will make you agree to in writing.

And the first thing is they’re not going to buy your inventory.

Okay? So you are going to have to consign your art and then if and when they sell it, they will give you 50% or less.

Now it might be less because two things will happen.

  1. They’ll either discount your art, right, which will be at their discretion or at you’ll both agreed to it.
  2. And the other problem is is that now art galleries aren’t doing so well.

So what they’ve started to do is not only take a commission from the sale of the art, they’ve also started charging artists rent so that if yes, it’s true. Yes.

So if you have your art on their walls, they will charge you a monthly rent fee. So that’s one thing to consider.

What else do artists need to know about working with art galleries?

That gallery is probably not going to be able to sell enough of your art to cover your living expenses and provide you with a profit.

So maybe you want to have other representation. Well, a lot of the contracts will stipulate or it will be an unspoken contract because they don’t want to get caught putting this in writing.

And they’ll insist that you ask for their permission before you go and seek additional representation.

Now, some gallery owners, if you ask for their permission, but mind you, they don’t own anything.

They haven’t purchased anything from you, but they still want you to submit to their authority and ask for permission.

And if you do that, depending on the gallery owner, they may just drop you and they can do it because there’s a long line of artists with no other understanding of what they can do.

So they’re lining up right behind you to see if they can get into that art gallery.

What else do artists need to know about art galleries?

Well, I would say the biggest problem really, and this is ridiculous, is that, and it’s illegal in some states.

Um, and I’m talking to a worldwide audience. So check your own legal jurisdiction to see whether or not this is legal, but because they do not actually own the inventory, they don’t really own the customer base.

Those are your collectors, but they will not share your collectors’ contact information.

So why is that a big deal? That’s a big deal because if you don’t have your collector’s contact information, you can’t build a relationship with them. And if you can’t build a relationship them, then you can’t cultivate referrals and referrals generate over 80% of all new sales for most small businesses.

And the problem is, is that, so that’s 80% more sales, gone forever. You never going to get it.

And not only that, those sales you keep all the money, you don’t get half or less. You keep all the money.

So the only way it’s sustainable to actually make a living from the sale of your art is if you have a direct relationship with your collectors, where you keep all of the money and that you cultivate those relationships and that you get referrals. But an art gallery will not allow that.

What else do artists need to know about art galleries?

This discussion is about the typical terms that you can expect if you work with an art gallery. So this is what they’ll do to you next.

So they’ll, what they’ll do is they’ll play with your head.

They’ll say, you’re not a legitimate artist unless you’re represented by a gallery.

Well, okay, that’s a, that’s a high cost to pay for their definition of prestige.

My definition of prestige is having collectors who I have a relationship with, and I get to see their response when they buy the art and they introduce me to their friends, they become friends.

That to me is more worthwhile than some false notion of prestige. So don’t fall for it.

Should you discount your art?

So discounting you art, what a bad, bad idea. So here’s the problem. When you discount your art, first of all, you lower your profit number one, you make less money, right? That’s a problem.

Number two, when you discount your art for one person, now you’ve been very unfair to all the people you’ve made pay you full price. Okay? That’s number two.

Number three, once you’ve discounted your art, you have devalued your art. You know the population is already really confused about why art cost so much.

Now you introduced this element of confusion, when you discount it. Now they’re really not sure what the value is. Okay, so that’s number three.

And then you know, you could go on and on and on. And the other thing is you can’t meet the goal which is to raise your prices, right?

The goal is to increase the value of your art. You destroy the value of your art when you discount. So it’s going to be hard for you to raise the price once you’ve discounted and discounted.

But art galleries will often reserve the right to discount your art because they want to make the sale. And why wouldn’t they? If there’s no loss to them, it’s not like they like our typical retailer where they’ve paid 50% for the cost of an item.

They paid nothing so it’s skin off of their nose if they discount your art, it doesn’t hurt them at all. It just hurts you.

So that’s why you should never discount your art. And I would just end with this. Understand that art is a luxury and luxury marketing 101 teaches that no discounts, because it’s not a luxury then.

And if you think it’s not, I mean, just look up the definition of luxury. You don’t need art. You don’t need it. It’s not like clothing, basic transportation, housing and food. It’s just something that you may want. So if you don’t understand that you’re in the luxury marketing space, you will have a tendency to discount your art.

Is it easy to sell your art?

We all know that it’s not.

Is it possible?

Absolutely!

16 Responses

  1. What’s your thoughts on listing Art on Amazon or any of the online sites? – (opposed to showing at small local galleries). Myself, I find the public goes to galleries out of public interest vs. intentions of buying art; and possibly many galleries work out of arts grants?

    1. Yes. Most people who attend gallery receptions are “cheese eaters.” They are there for the food and wine and social benefit. If you want to sell your art you need to own your own platform and know your niche or you’ll get lost on Amazon.

  2. Hello, you make a great many good points about galleries and how they may treat artists.
    However I have had a variety of experiences in my more then fifty years that are different or different enough to mention.
    As far as representing artists that are very young or really hungry for sales they have you by the short hairs. I think art fairs, weekend pop up events and in my case summer long art festivals are one way to go that is a real alternative to galleries. I also twice had my own gallery and found out for myself it was a trap to have to man it as much as possible , keep the doors open and so forth. I didn’t become an artist to then have to be a shop keeper.
    My best advise to any artist is to develop relationships with your own clients if possible and not rely on galleries. I don’t however get referrals from my collectors. It always seems like the people who collect my work don’t
    necessary have friends that do as well. So I don’t get 80% referrals or any.
    I have some collectors that have been with me for years and some are a few paintings wonder
    or just one, so you never know.
    Basically my entire career in my opinion has been a fluke, but a string of them because I have made a living in America as an artist for a long time.

    1. You must know how to ask for referrals. A successful “career as an artist” is most often a fluke but a successful fine art business requires a goal and a plan. 😉

  3. Just pulled my art from a Gallery in a small town for a lot of the reasons you said.
    I hope I have done the right thing? The 5 works he sold last year I know I could sold them from studio without paying him 50 % – I do not want my name attached to this comment – I still like the the Gallery and support their vision but they are not apart of my vision.

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