Last week Shirley Peters of Putney, NSW, Australia wrote, “My show is happening at the moment. My dilemma is that the gallery owner is using the email addresses I gave him to send invites for his next show. He is spamming my friends. I like the guy, and I don’t want to cause any ill feelings, but is this a fair thing to do? Should I say something?”
Thanks, Shirley. For those wanting to protect their mailing lists, the standard procedure is to ask the gallery to supply you with invitations so you can mail them yourself. If the invitations are online, you need to get the gallery’s permission to copy and then send them out on your own.
These days many galleries are grabbing everything they can to get folks coming in the door. In your case his argument would be that it works both ways — you help him contact further collectors, and the gallery’s ever-growing mailing list from all sources also helps you.
Their additional problem might be that many artists these days are using galleries as “showrooms” for their work, and selling directly or through other galleries after the gallery has given the “prestige” of a show or regular exposure. In some ways you can’t blame these businesses for grabbing what they can.
Fact is that the whole painter-dealer relationship is in a state of flux. While business in most places is currently quite good, observers from the outside often remark that high dealer commissions cannot be sustained. Real estate or auto sales could not, for example, sustain 50% commissions. The art market would indeed be a lot more fluid and friendly if commissions were lower. Many top painters these days have seen the writing on the wall and are selling directly where there’s no commission at all. Carefully managed personal artists’ websites are aiding this trend.
In spite of the current high cost of dealing with galleries, I’m a believer in empowering galleries through my own website. I sell nothing but connectivity to my galleries on my website, and I don’t ask for email or other addresses. I have enough trouble with my painting.
PS: “My dealers are the best of people. They earn every dollar of their commissions as they are in full partnership with their artists. I can sit in my studio and do nothing but paint.” (Harley Brown)
Esoterica: These days many vest-pocket dealers and art consultants are doing a good job. With their low overhead they can be expected to work for lower commissions. They also seem to have their own connections, often among people who seldom go into commercial galleries. Many collectors these days don’t want it to be public knowledge that they’re building collections, and don’t want to be on any mailing lists. In my experience, great collections are built by friendships, no matter what agent, gallery or artist the collector is dealing with. In your gallery in NSW, your dealer is just trying to turn your friends into his friends.
Nuances of spamming
by Thaw Malin, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, USA
In regard to Shirley Peters in Australia, her gallery is indeed spamming her email list. If the gallery does not have her friends/clients opt in to his gallery newsletter, email blast, it is spamming the recipients. The gallery may do it once for Shirley’s show, but not for any other without the recipients’ permission to be added onto the daily/weekly/monthly email blast.
In the US, I send out email blasts almost every day for my daily paintings. I had to agree with both GoDaddy, when I used them, and my current ISP that I would not send any email to anyone who had not asked to be added on my list. They could ask me in person, by email, or sign up to my list, but they HAD to ask. If not, both ISP’s said they would drop me like a hot potato because then I would officially be a spammer.
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by Marion Evamy, Victoria, BC, Canada
Just a quick comment on the “observation” that galleries have a “high commission” structure that ‘real estate or auto sales could not sustain.’ As a gallery owner and full time artist, the overhead and cost of having a brick-and-mortar operation is in a totally different ball park than either of the aforementioned “sales jobs.” Just keeping the doors open means that each of the 15 artists in my gallery must have sales of a minimum of $10,000 of work per year, at 50% commission, in order to have their work hanging in a place where buyers and collectors can find them and examine and appreciate the real thing. Not to mention the marketing that takes place on their behalf while they are hard at work in their studios. The artists in our gallery actually benefit because we introduce them to their new collectors — something they would likely not have attained on their own!
In real estate sales (which I also was involved in) the commission structure was much lower, but the pay cheque much fatter!
The average real estate deal pays out a whopping $19,000 (at 6% on the first 100k and 3% on the balance). How many works of art have to walk out of the door in an average gallery to pay that kind of commission? With most works in our gallery selling in the range of $1000 – $3000, it would take the sale of 38 works of art, averaged at $2000 a painting, for the gallery to garner the same average commission as on one real estate deal.
As for auto sales, again it is a matter of quantity purchasing, and a standard product. Far more competition and an infinitely higher number of “supporters” of automobile dealerships, mean the commission structure is not as high, because they have sheer volume to benefit from!
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Legitimate email services
by Jim Oberst, Hot Springs Village, AR, USA
I’m an artist who sells artwork mostly online. It’s hard work to collect email addresses of people who are actually interested in your art and/or art activities and want to receive your mailings. Since I also teach watercolor painting, my email list includes both artists and potential collectors. We all are tired of email spam, and are reluctant to hand out our email address. Therefore I promise my subscribers that I will never share their email address with anyone else. That includes galleries, of course. And if one uses a legitimate email delivery service — I use MailChimp — the service itself provides a simple unsubscribe method, and takes action if anyone reports your email as spam, since they must maintain a stellar reputation to be able to stay in business.
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Thoughtfulness and caring
by Stede Barber, Los Alamos, NM, USA
When someone joins my mailing list, I have told them that I will never share their mailing address; they will never be spammed. The cat is already out of the bag with the situation you describe, but it points to thinking through how to invite your mailing list to events sponsored by another… and leads me to think of ways that could work for all parties.
As an artist, I can send a newsletter including the invitation and a link to the gallery. I can address and mail myself invitations supplied by the gallery. I can send e-mail invitations… including the galleries, with their permission as mentioned. I can also send postcards. Then, once “my” people are at the show, if they love the gallery and want to, they can sign the guest book and be included in the gallery’s mailing list.
When I sign up for someone’s email list, and “suddenly” start getting email from someone I don’t know, no matter how the connection makes sense to the original person I signed up with, it doesn’t sit well with me and usually gets deleted… that’s not a win-win for anyone!
Thoughtfulness and caring for all involved can create a great solution… and yes, that does take time. But… aren’t our beautiful art careers, clients, and business partners worth it?
Press your advantages
by Todd Norgaard, Pacific Grove, CA, USA
As a former adman, working to become a painter, I’m sorry that you (Miss Peters) didn’t anticipate this problem. But now that you are where you are, look at the positives: a stronger relationship with your gallery, your customers now associating you with that gallery, future p.r. opportunities with the gallery await your positive response. Press your advantages. Build a stronger relationship with your gallery as a cooperative painter. Who is going to sell your paintings in the future? Help your gallery any way you can to sell all of the artists they represent. Nobody has to buy art.
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by Pat Zalisko, Fort Myers, FL, USA
Robert, your letter failed to mention a US federal law that governs how email solicitations can be sent. The reader who wrote that her gallery was spamming her contacts may very well have been done something more serious. Here’s a layman’s newsletter published by the US Federal Trade Commission’s circular in plain English:
And another interesting article on anti-spamming laws, again in plain English:
Apparently, Canada has a similar law, and many countries, like the UK and Australia, have SPAM prohibitions, too. Spamming is punishable under the American law by significant monetary penalties and there are instances where both the artists and entity issuing the SPAM can be held responsible.
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The co-op gallery solution
by Nancy Tankersley, Easton, MD, USA
You are so right that galleries are in a state of flux. As an artist and gallery owner, I have seen both sides and I think the galleries are losing. With the explosion of non-profits running major art events, including plein air competitions and art fairs connected to a “cause,” not to mention the Internet, it’s no wonder that galleries are closing at a record rate. I can’t imagine galleries surviving at all with less than at least 40% commissions. 50% at least gives a small profit.
We’ve solved our dilemma about how to stay open in this increasingly competitive climate by turning our gallery into a co-op where the artists do their own marketing, sit the gallery, and only pay 10% commission which goes back into co-op expenses and advertising. The artists pay a monthly fee which covers the rent/mortgage and utilities.
With this situation, the artists have a showroom (still important), a beautiful place to hold receptions, and the possibility of increasing their earnings by keeping 90% of the sale. The artists who do the work are flourishing; those who sit back and just wait for customers to walk through the door are finding it rough going. It’s been an eye opener for these artists to see how much work and money goes into marketing each show and just keeping the doors open, and how much time is spent on reaching out to collectors through notes, e-mails, newsletters, etc. We’ve been a co-op for 14 months so far and have lost two members who we have replaced without much difficulty. We make sure that all members are at a fairly equal place in their careers in that they are established artists with experience in being in galleries and with a strong collector base.
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The little town that could
by Marjorie Tressler, Waynesboro, PA, USA
Here in Waynesboro we have just opened 7 galleries in 6 weeks transforming our dying down town into one big art show. We are calling it “Destination Arts!” We asked the landlords of these vacant building into giving us rent free, for at least 3 months. And they agreed! In return we cleaned up and spot painted and transformed these vacant store front buildings that used to be regular stores such as woman boutiques, men’s stores, children’s shops and even a former Western Auto, into beautiful art galleries with art from all around the region. We have some of the best artists in the region and art from as far away as California and New York City. I am the lead curator and have put in more than 60 hours a week and have acquired from over 70 artists/artisans over 800 items for this show. We have a gallery just for photography and pottery, ceramic arts, weaving (textiles) and ceramic sculpture, as well as a fine arts gallery with sculpture and one designated to modern abstract art. Plus, we have other store fronts with art on easels up and down 2 blocks either way of our town square. It has been a community effort and when we started it I said it would take a village and it has! Our little town of 10,000 plus people produced sidewalks filled with smiling visitors going from gallery to gallery with receptions in each gallery. We are planning our second phase as I write this by installing new art for September, October.
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Daring to sell
by Elisa Choi, Paco, Manila, Philippines
I just finished my second painting for selling and after calculating the pricing my inner thoughts said something like this: Do you call yourself a professional painter? You don’t have a gallery that represents your works. No one knows you except your Facebook friends and some acquaintances. You’re not famous. Do you have a consistent style? Is it even right to put a price on your paintings? I can’t help but think if I have the right to do all these just because I am not a professional. Like I am not good enough. Do I have to be what other painters are already? — professional?
(RG note) Thanks, Elisa. Art is one of the few vocations where beginners are free to offer their wares. If you were a plumber or a computer technician, or even a doctor, and you didn’t know what you were doing, you wouldn’t last long. A precious few painters are great right out of the gate. You might be one of them. A much greater number figure it out as they go. Every pro was once an amateur.
Offensive person in the society
by Maryann Nomann, Winfield, AB, Canada
In our art society, a wonderful person and really good artist, who has accumulated quite a following of collectors and does a lot as secretary and so much more to try to promote us and help us all, has been subjected to outright hostility from another member. This person gives verbal abuse and throws things at her and our president, etc. It is getting progressively worse. I can’t stand it. What should I do?
(RG note) Thanks, Maryann. You might join or start another society, or you might quit using societies altogether. Alternately, you could not go to meetings and just submit your art to the society’s shows. You could buy an ad in the local paper and tell everyone in town that this person is offensive. You could get stuff ready and the next time throw it back at her or him — all the while making a short, memorable video of the event to put on YouTube. Alternately you could allow that these shenanigans are just comic relief, and have a good laugh. Life is too short to take this sort of stuff seriously.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Mailing-list etiquette…
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Richard Komm of Rostock, Germany who wrote, “It’s all about sharing for the mutual good. You have gathered a number of friends who might collect you. It may be a strange phenomenon, but your association with a gallery legitimizes you.”