As most of you know by now, in all things regarding art, I have some specific beliefs about most of its topics, and this holds true for the issue of selling our art. I realize I’m a bit old-fashioned surrounding this topic, so bear that in mind and know these are just my ideas, not the be-all and end-all to marketing your work.
The issue of selling can be a touchy subject. The most important thing I want to tell you is that selling art does not make it “good” and NOT selling art does not make it “bad”. Remember that Van Gogh didn’t sell one painting in his lifetime. Often, the most cutting edge work is not immediately understood and, therefore, not accepted by the public and purchased. It is important that you paint what is in you to paint and that you not fall prey to making art “for the market”. There is a name for that kind of work—pieces one makes with an eye for sales trends: Many of us call it “couch art” and it’s not meant as a compliment.
Don’t plan to sell your work off your own personal website. As a sales tool, our websites give us credibility with galleries and offer the public a way to see more of our work, but they rarely generate sales (this is not necessarily true regarding some of the functional arts such as pottery and bells). There are a few sales sites other artists have mentioned that have worked for them but these are out of my experience, so you’ll need to research them elsewhere.
My preferred method of selling is through galleries and I would like to suggest this to you. These can take two forms up here on the High Road. Many artists have their own galleries where we offer our art for sale. Unless you live in a place where this is common, however, I don’t recommend it. That leaves the traditional gallery, which is owned by another who actively markets your work and takes a percentage of each sale. This amount can vary from region to region, but 50% is still considered average. Some galleries take up to 60% while some still offer the artist 60%. I have never had a problem paying these commissions. Consider the fact galleries have staff and other overhead they’re covering for you, as well as some advertising, promoting and, ideally, a developed collector’s list, and you can decide for yourself whether you feel it is worth it.
Do you feel you’re ready to be in a gallery? Aside from the quality of your work (it should be of professional caliber and you’ll need to be the judge of that), you must also have a body of work before you present yourself to a gallery. This could mean anywhere from 10 to 25 pieces depending on many different factors. Just know you’ll need to have enough work so a gallery can make a good showing and still have enough to replace pieces as they sell.
So how do you get into a gallery? To start out, I recommend sticking with local establishments. While you may, eventually, be accepted into a New York gallery, for instance, I think it’s good to develop a close relationship with your galleries and that’s easiest to do when you’re in the same town or region. It is also far less complicated getting your work to them.
The first step in seeking gallery representation is to visit all of your local galleries. You have to go in. Don’t just visit their websites because these frequently don’t offer a clear picture. Make a list of those where you feel your art would fit—those who already represent a similar style to yours. That means they have a clientele who is drawn to your type of work. Chat with the staff about the gallery’s philosophy. Learn whatever you can about the business.
Then you’ll need to approach them. Go to their websites to see if they offer a protocol for submissions. If they do, honor it. Some galleries will note they’re not seeking new artists. You need to respect that as well. For those galleries that make no reference to submissions on their sites, while some people wouldn’t recommend it, galleries in New Mexico can be informal enough to handle you dropping by with some paintings out in your car. You can go in, introduce yourself, tell them you have several pieces outside and ask if they’d be willing to see them. Some galleries respond positively but others won’t. It’s a risk. Other than this approach, you can put together a portfolio that represents your current work, include a resume and artist’s statement with a cover letter about why you feel you’re a fit for their gallery, and drop it off. Follow up a week later.
And let go of all attachment to outcome. If you are meant to be in galleries, you will find your gallery home. It’s like looking for a job: Keep getting yourself out there until you find the fit.
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