Consignment blues?

Dear Artist, Huffington Post art critic Mat Gleason thinks the art business is stuck in 1966. “Artists have traditionally consigned artwork to galleries,” says Gleason. “When the artwork sells, the gallery and the artist split the sale 50/50. When the work doesn’t sell, the artist gets the art back. This is the way the game is played and it is ludicrous. The artist literally loans the gallery collateral at no risk to the gallery and with no interest on the loan. Galleries should just buy the art from the artist. How hard is that? If the gallery cannot afford it, either they should find an artist who will sell them work for what they can afford or they should get out of the gallery business. Of course, when galleries buy art, it works for the benefit of the gallery too — they can mark up the work 200 percent if they like. They can buy 10 paintings for $100 each and sell them for 20 grand each.” Mr. Gleason may be an art critic but he doesn’t understand anyone’s best interests. His system guarantees that artists stay poor. It’s not good for the dealer either. Dealers who buy art from living artists tend to go broke with weighty inventories of stuff they can’t sell. But the main reason artists shouldn’t sell their work to galleries is that artists lose control of their work. Believe me, Mat, artists are getting smarter. More and more artists are their own best handlers — they manage their distribution, their retail prices and their futures. Consignment is by far the best system. An artist’s efforts can be taken back and moved to other galleries — perhaps to ones with a more favourable commission structure. Not everyone is hanging out at 50/50 these days. With consignment you can even get stuff back and send it up the chimney. On the other hand, Mark Kostabi is one of the current breed of artists who seems to have successfully closed out his dealers altogether. He claims to make a handsome living using eBay and other inexpensive venues. While dealing direct with collectors and through the Internet may have its virtues, I prefer letting someone else tell people how good I am. Besides, I like moving around and doing the work much better than standing around talking about it. Artists with a stable of motivated galleries are free to follow their noses, limit their commercial thoughts and contacts, and deliver at will. Best regards, Robert PS: “Ending lending is beginning winning.” (Mark Kostabi) Esoterica: Particularly since the 2008 financial shakedown, I’ve noticed a lot more art buyers are contacting artists directly. Internet savvy and well-informed, they are often people who seldom go to commercial galleries but have a particular desire to get to know artists. Pleasantly, they are not necessarily looking for deals. It may be that more people are trying to “think smart” these days — similar to the millions who now do their own research and buy stock and bond investments online. In real estate, commission-free “For Sale by Owner” is popular once again in some areas. Among art collectors and artists alike, individual empowerment and self-management might be the new normal.   Don’t consign, sell outright! by Ian van Zyl, Durban, South Africa  

“Face to face”
original painting
by Ian van Zyl

The word “consignment” sends ripples of incandescent rage up my spine, through my head and down to my trigger finger! I have an infallible solution to this problem — I do not supply galleries, dealers or agents at all. Simple! Why should I finance another business by supplying work on consignment? What incentive does the gallery have to even hang or display the work when they get it for nothing? Artists should make a stand on this issue and insist that the galleries purchase work, just like any other retail business has to buy stock. The standing and reputation of both the artist and the gallery would increase immeasurably and there would be no waiting to get paid, excuses, my granny died, etc., etc. There are 6 comments for Don’t consign, sell outright! by Ian van Zyl
From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jan 13, 2012

Gorgeous painting. I’ve deleted a jokey remark about a naked girl in the desert because I had the wit to look at your website before submitting… 8-P So beautiful; inspiring. So under-priced…

From: Pat — Jan 13, 2012

Glad I went to your website. The colours in your paintings are absolutely incredible!

From: mikki Root Dillon — Jan 13, 2012

Oh, thank you for sending me to the website with your comments. The work is beautiful and the message is even more wonderful. Keep it up and blessings to you for it!

From: Sarah — Jan 13, 2012

So glad I went to your terrific website. Wow!

From: Suzette — Jan 13, 2012

Yes, wow, fabulous work!!

From: Anonymous — Jan 16, 2012

I must be slumming in the galleries I have gone to, but every gallery that I have ever entered has been a consignment gallery. ALL of them in our area are for sure.

  Benefits of consignment by Gwen Meyer, Pinetop, AZ, USA  

“The Catalinas”
original painting
by Gwen Meyer

I’m the former owner of the Joyous Lake Gallery, Pinetop, AZ. Consignment gives galleries a chance to show work they otherwise could not afford to — and sell it! Not all gallery owners are rich. I didn’t have a lot of money when I opened my gallery, but I had a great location in a tourist area, and an understanding of both the artists and the customers, since I was one (of both) myself. Consignment enabled me to sell a lot of artists’ work to a lot of buyers who would otherwise not have had a chance to see the work. Some artists sell well off their own sites or through their own efforts and, indeed, I almost never carried an artist who did not have a website. I only asked that images of the paintings that were at my gallery direct the viewer to my site. I also asked that my prices be in line with what they published, not be undercut by artists who felt they could sell directly “for less.” Not all artists are wonderful marketers, nor do they always have someone at home that will do that for them. I didn’t, which is partly why I started the gallery… then I found out I loved the gallery business. I loved artists and customers, but most of all, I loved writing checks to artists for work that sold, something I was lucky enough to be able to do promptly and often. There is 1 comment for Benefits of consignment by Gwen Meyer
From: Diane Overmyer — Jan 13, 2012

As a former gallery owner myself I totally relate to what you have shared Gwen! Writing checks for my artists was almost as sweet as writing up bills-of-sale for my gallery’s patrons! One thing I learned along the way was that it was easier for me to sell other artist’s work than my own…I had many artists tell me that I had better success at selling their work than they did also! It is easy to brag about someone’s work. Thankfully I had some marvelous help with the gallery and often my paintings would sell when one of the other staff was talking to a client. Today I am working as a full time artist, just because there are not enough hours in the day run a gallery well and be a truly successful artist. I work with galleries that carry my work, but I also sell work through art fairs and competitions… If I could survive solely on gallery sales, that would be PERFECT! I’d happily pay up to 50% to have someone else do the hardwork of selling, while I just could focus on painting!!! Unfortunately in the midwest, at my level, that has not yet been the case, but there is always hope for it in the future!!

  The valued art agent by Ingrid Wypkema, Vancouver, BC, Canada   What about the advantages of having an art agent working on the artist’s behalf, and helping to fill the clients’ needs? Many artists are not comfortable selling their own work, and may not be inclined to deal with the business aspects of art sales. Being able to simply focus on their creative process is likely much more appealing. As an art agent I can also act as a liaison between galleries, artists and clients, helping to find the best possible match for what a client might be looking for. There are 3 comments for The valued art agent by Ingrid Wypkema
From: Jackie Knott — Jan 13, 2012

An art agent is even more rare than a literary agent – I’ve met many people who represent and are associated with galleries but have yet to meet an art agent. They must exist in a parallel universe somewhere.

From: Tina Sotis — Jan 13, 2012

I agree with Jackie. I have yet to meet an agent that represents artists. Believe me, I would love to have one because marketing my art is so difficult for me.

From: Anonymous — Jan 13, 2012

Regarding having an art agent representing an artist to the galleries, perhaps the reason the galleries do not often run into the agents is because the agent receives payment for the “chase”.

  What about framing? by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA  

“Snow day on the farm”
oil painting, 12 x 12 inches
by Barrett Edwards

I agree that Mat Gleason is a bit “off the wall” in this thinking. However, there is one aspect of gallery consignments that I do wish could be modified. I’m in four galleries and each one follows the 50/50 split. I used to think this was just peachy, for the reasons you mentioned. But that was back in the day when I could buy a lovely frame at a reasonable price. Now, however, frame prices have zoomed, but in this economy, my prices have not. Moreover, two of my galleries are routinely giving 10% “discounts” to all comers. Call me greedy, but if the artist pays for a lovely frame, I think the gallery should absorb the 10% discount. I’d love to hear your undoubtedly more seasoned take on this issue.

(RG note) Thanks, Barrett. You need to encourage your galleries to do their own framing and put their frame price on top of the unframed price of your painting. Galleries can double or triple their money if they supply their own frames. And they can suit their customers better when they are able to offer a variety of frames, rather than the one you supplied. Further, galleries are notorious for damaging artists’ frames. I was once told by a gallery that they would like to take me on provided I framed my paintings for them. I said “No, take them unframed or you don’t get my work.” They decided to try framing and they turned out to be one of my top galleries and they vastly improved their bottom line. And as far as I know they don’t ask any other of their artists to frame any more. There are 7 comments for What about framing? by Barrett Edwards
From: Diane Overmyer — Jan 13, 2012


From: Suzette Fram — Jan 13, 2012

That all sounds great, BUT the problem is this. The gallery does the framing and charges the artist top price for the frame (which includes their profit). Then when they sell it, they charge their 50% commission on the selling price which includes what the artist has already paid for the frame, so the gallery is making a profit twice on the frame. If the work doesn’t sell and goes back to the artist, the artist is then stuck with the (most likely) elaborate and expensive frame, which they now have to sell their work in at a price high enough to recover that cost. Not so great a system for artists, who usually know where to buy frames that are less expensive and interchangeable between works, so that the framing issue is not such a huge factor in the price of the work.

From: Sharon Lynn Williams — Jan 13, 2012

I am totally in agreement with Susan. How is one supposed to keep their prices constant when they allow the gallery to charge whatever inflated price they chose?

From: Anonymous — Jan 13, 2012

Suzette, Robert means that the gallery pays for the frame, not the artist. Then they can add on whatever they paid for the frame plus handling. It’s better for all.

From: Anonymous — Jan 13, 2012

In what universe would the artist pay for the framing done by the gallery? If the painting doesn’t sell, the artist takes the unframed painting back and the gallery can reuse the frame for another work. If the gallery tried to charge the artist for a frame, I’d say – what a scam!

From: Anonymous — Jan 15, 2012

This happens in my universe! Scam or not, it’s a common practise to charge the artist for the full retail price of the frame. I know artists who are stuck with paintings in expensive frames – frames that are not to their taste – because their painting didn’t sell at the gallery. As far as I’m concerned, artists need to learn to say “no” to such practises, not be so grateful to the gallery that their willing to accept terms that are, by anyone but the gallery’s standard, unacceptable.

From: Tim Schneider — Jan 19, 2012

I sell in 2 galleries. I frame my own work the way I want it to look, and deliver it ready to hang. One gallery takes a straight 40%, artist gets 60%. The other is a 50/50 place, but with a unique twist. They give me a frame allowance. Let’s say I deliver a $1000 piece, we sit down to record it and I want a $100 frame allowance. After a sale,the $100 comes off the top and we split the $900. They get $450 and I get $550. I am happy with this arrangement and it allows me to use a higher end frame if I wish without eating the extra expense. One other thought I would like to share is that a good painting in a cheap frame, looks cheap, while the same good painting in a good frame looks magnificent. One painters opinion.

  The power of direct sales by Frank Gordon, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire, England  

“Moonrise over bowland”
oil painting
by Frank Gordon

Much of what you say about direct sales seems to be true here in England as well. I sold around 25 pictures in 2011. Only one was sold through a gallery. The rest I sold from home, either through my annual open studio weekend or through previous buyers coming back for more. It’s a winning situation all round: I can sell directly at lower prices (no gallery commission) so the buyer gets a good deal and I make more profit. Galleries here routinely take 50% these days — it used to be 30% (prices were in guineas in those days!) but the cut has deepened as the years have gone by. (RG note) Thanks, Frank. Watch your discounts on home sales. The fact that you sold only one through a gallery may be because you discounted at home. Keep your prices about the same across the board and things will get easier, even though you may miss a few sales at home. There are 7 comments for The power of direct sales by Frank Gordon
From: Anonymous — Jan 13, 2012

Lovely painting, Frank! Wish I could see more at your website; but alas, there’s nothing there but little “?”.

From: Frank Gordon — Jan 13, 2012

Robert – many thnaks for the comments. Not sure it applies in my case, however, but will give it some thought. Just got acheque from the gallery in this morning’s post as it happens. Anonymous – thanks for pointing out this problem on the website which I didn’t know about. I have passed it on to my IT Consultant aka my son Russell. Will come back when he’s fixed it – don’t hold your breath!

From: Mikki Root Dillon — Jan 13, 2012

Frank, I love your painting. Hope your IT (son) guy gets your site fixed soon. Please let us know when it’s fixed. I want to see more!

From: Darlene Derksen — Jan 13, 2012

Depth of field…..amazing!

From: Boa — Jan 13, 2012

Love the painting!!! I agree with Robert, since you are undercutting your galleries, no wonder they get no sales. Here in NA that’s a big no-no.

From: Patsy, Northern Ireland — Jan 14, 2012

This lovely painting puts me in mind of the farm we lived on in West Berkshire. We used to walk along a ridge with a view over the fields back towards our cottage, not unlike this view. Sighs nostalgically… ;-)

From: Liz Reday — Jan 19, 2012

Great painting!!!!

  Gallery couldn’t work without consignment by Jean Armstrong, Portage la Prairie, MB, Canada   Thank you for your words of support for ‘consignment.’ We are a small gallery (and gift shop consigning with local and regional artists and artisans) and we take only 25% of sales. Part of our mandate is to promote public interest and understanding of the arts and provide exposure to a cross-section of artists from our area and beyond. This would not happen if we had to purchase outright. Fortunately we get some public funding or we simply would not exist. We also offer art and dance classes to help pay wages, etc. Although artists’ exhibitions are the main focus of what we do here, we support each other using the consignment method and can, therefore, feature emerging as well as established artists.   Lots of work running a gallery by Fleta Monaghan, Asheville, NC, USA  

“The Long Journey”
oil painting, 48 x 48 inches
by Fleta Monaghan

It’s often the labor of love that drives galleries. Some artists grumble to me that when they go to art fairs themselves or sell from their studios they receive “100%” of the profits. Somehow they fail to calculate in their preparation time, rents, travel time, gas expenses, booth or studio rental, time spent being a sales person, packing and unpacking and all the other time and money involved. I do both: I create, sell and also show the work of other artists. I also take less commission than is usual, because I am an artist too, and I know it from both sides. Giving up real estate to others in the form of wall space and providing my time to talk to the public, show work, make sales, take care of sales taxes, pay credit card processing fees, advertising, time spent with each artist to hang new work, discuss the art and other matters and interrupt my own work time for the benefit of others is really worth more money than I receive in the long run. But it’s a labor of love of the life of the artist, and the desire for everyone to make art a part of their lives. Do the Math!!   Art Fair surprise by Rosemary Cotnoir, Essex, CT, USA  

acrylic painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Rosemary Cotnoir

I wanted to add my experience regarding your recent letter about consignment. I live in a rural area of Connecticut and was with a gallery for the last 3 years. During that time I sold 6 paintings, mostly to people from out of town, and also my own collectors. The gallery closed last June. At that point I didn’t know what to do. I knew I was going to continue making art and figured they would just pile up to be left to my heirs. I really wasn’t interested in participating in art fairs. You know, dragging tents and “stuff” all around the country. But a nearby art center had one in Oct. so I thought I’d give it a try. My work sells for between $800 – $4000 so I figured I wouldn’t be selling anything. But I knew I wasn’t going to go down the giclee/greeting card route. I mean I do have my standards :-). To my surprise I sold a painting for $2,500 and the buyers came to my studio a week later and purchased another one. That certainly changed my attitude. I found out about another art show over Thanksgiving weekend. I participated and this time sold two paintings, one for $3500 and another for $800. Both venues were fund raisers so they took 20% but I was fine with that since the gallery took more. So the bottom line… I almost sold more in two months, and at a higher price, at these two shows than I did in 3 years. My game plan for 2012 is to apply to 3 or 4 local outdoor art shows that are geared toward fine art (some of them are juried). Even if I don’t sell at every show my work is getting exposure plus I can increase my email list. As much as the money is great, just “getting it out there” is good, too. There are 3 comments for Art Fair surprise by Rosemary Cotnoir
From: Angela Treat Lyon — Jan 12, 2012
From: Rosemary Cotnoir — Jan 13, 2012

Thanks, Angela for your comment. I have recently joined Fine Art America. I’m glad to hear that their print quality is so good. I’ve been meaning to order one to see how it looks. I probably didn’t word the giclee/greeting card comment properly. What I meant is that I won’t sell prints/greeting cards at the art shows I participate in…only original work. Some of the juried shows will only accept original work anyway.

From: Laura Zerebeski — Jan 13, 2012

I’ve always been pleasantly surprised at how well the art festivals work, though I had the exact same doubts as you about whether people would buy $800-$4000 paintings at an art fair. They do! I understand the “giclée and greeting card” route, but I find having a stack of cards and magnets and coasters and calendars on hand is a handy promotional thing for those folks who can’t afford a piece of mine – yet.

  ‘Too much on the street’ by oliver, TX, USA  

digital art
by oliver

Consignment works when the gallery is honest and returns the work. Over the years, I have had galleries not return the work that didn’t sell, say the work was lost or damaged and they tossed it — etc. Hard to say if that is true or they sold it and pocketed my share. Most do return unsold work. That said, I’ve gotten more careful about to whom I consign work. Consignment galleries also often want an exclusive territory. This can be an issue — how big, when do you drop someone for another or do you just say, “You find the buyer, you get the sale”? I’ve had some galleries say, “Take down your web site, don’t put your URL on the work — I don’t want you to undercut me.” I respond, “Hey, I’m loaning work to you and I don’t know how long you’ll be in business or want to carry me.” Only seldom does this work with such a gallery. I tell them, “It’s in my interest to support a distribution network of galleries but, at the end of the day, I need people who like my work to be able to find me — I’ll return sales in your area through you as long as you represent me.” This usually doesn’t carry the day, and I point out I’ve taken my plate signature with the Web on it down to needing a magnifying glass to read. I haven’t regretted this decision, because occasionally I’ll get an email or call that says, “So and so has gone out of business or has stopped selling your work and…” I don’t know if the Web, eBay and other channels will supplant or replace the gallery system, but if it is going to it’s going to be a while. The relationship between the gallery system and the museum system, serious critics and academics is very well established and I think it will take a while, if ever, for serious art. EBay seems to be a good place for certain types of collectables, and art for people to buy and decorate, not caring about investment or gallery worth. However, eBay and most art and wine festival sales may help to build a sales history, a following, a mailing list and other things that, when presented to a gallery they will say, “It will sell — it’s time to come into the gallery.” However, I’ve seen and heard some gallery owners say, “It has been too much on the street —  it’s not gallery art.”   Changing dynamics of gallery sales by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA  

original painting
by Marie Martin

How art is viewed, interpreted, used, enjoyed and bought/sold has changed forever and, along with it, so has the traditional gallery-artist relationship. The old paradigm was that an artist was to consider her/himself lucky that a gallery would ask an artist to show. With few other options for visibility, this was true. The process has been a three-legged stool: artist, distributor, buyer. Gallery owners, or distributors, wanted to make money but also used to want to be known for developing a stable of quality artists. Artists wanted to make money too, but typically were hoping to develop an enduring narrative. Buyers wanted to purchase enjoyable art reflecting personal taste transmitting the notion of an “intelligent” purchase. In recent years, dynamics of the three parties have changed dramatically. Today, gallery owners want disproportionate cuts, artists want to sell fast, and too many buyers want pretty things to match the sofa like pillows without understanding what “good” art is. It’s hard to pin down exactly why these changes have occurred, but much of it is associated with “I want what I want, and I want it now.” In recent years, the process has become intrinsically entwined with the Internet. The Internet has become a prominent fourth leg on the stool because it has its own voice (comprised of Everyman’s Voice) and is an amalgam of all the components. The Internet has become a marketing and distribution vehicle. It’s become a way to create art and to create the artist’s narrative. It’s become a way to buy art, and a way to disseminate dialogue on the subject of art. As with many innovative technologies, it’s a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it’s provided an avenue and a powerful vehicle for artists to exhibit, and to develop their own relationships. It’s provided a way for art lovers, buyers and collectors to have unimaginable access to an unending supply of talented people. On the negative side, the Internet has become a way to trick people. It’s created a way to hawk fast and easy “stuff” by wanna-be’s. It’s encouraging more of those buyers who match their sofa. I’m putting my money on the hope that the Internet and art will be a good pairing. Art/Artists and the Internet is a concept in the making. In the long run, it seems it’s never a bad thing when more (rather than fewer) individuals are able to speak for themselves. Perhaps that’s ultimately what went wrong with the traditional gallery model: important voices — and ideas — were not encouraged. There are 3 comments for Changing dynamics of gallery sales by Marie Martin
From: Jan Ross — Jan 13, 2012

Thanks for so eloquently voicing your thoughts about the current ‘trends’ in art sales! Considering the increasing number of outstanding artists competing for sales/recognition and the limited number of successful galleries, online sales as well as self-promotion makes alot of sense.

From: Sharon Lynn Williams — Jan 13, 2012

It seems to me that what some of these gallery sites are doing is offering extremely inexpensive work to the masses. This is having a negative effect of what the consumer sees as the ‘value’ of art. I had a gentleman call me from LA wanting two of my plein air paintings (completely finished paintings, not ‘sketches’). When I told him that they were $495 each (the price they sell for in the galleries) he almost fell out of his chair. He told me that a local painter sold the same size for $75 online. I told him that he should then purchase those if he liked them just as well. I have spent over 25 years developing my craft and cannot possibly compete with newcommers selling at ridiculously cheap prices.

From: Anonymous — Jan 13, 2012

What’s described here is competitive market. That’s exactly what makes America so great.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Consignment blues?

From: Sarah — Jan 10, 2012

Although I agree with you Robert, I do believe a better system of selling is needed in the art world.

From: Susan Avishai — Jan 10, 2012

A great topic. Alas, to my mind there’s no ideal way to sell art. You can give away 50% (often without a show) at a gallery. Or you can pay up front–sometimes thousands–to be in a large indoor Expo with no guarantee of breaking even and an investment of 3-4 days of cheeriness answering the same questions over and over (and you’ll need credit card capability). Or you can rent your own space but then there’s some credibility lost, plus you need a great mailing list to get the crowds. I haven’t found the internet to be a good vehicle for sales yet, and in truth, *I* wouldn’t buy a painting online without seeing it in person. We need some new ideas, especially in a tough economy. I’d love to hear what people are thinking that’s a bit outside the box.

From: Fay Fisher — Jan 10, 2012

Isn’t it true that most galleries have a contract with the artists that states that the artist cannot sell art directly to clients? Our city has a very active arts council that has a committee called Art in Public Places with the intention of making our city an artistic aware community. In fact, this provides city buildings and businesses with free loans of artwork. While it provides local artists with opportunities to exhibit their work, it is rare that anyone buys the art. Isn’t this sort of like, “Why buy the cow when you get the milk free?” and is this a wise decision?

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jan 10, 2012

I love Mat Gleason. He is a pro-artist activist and a sensitive observer of one of the most frenetic art scenes in the world, Los Angeles. He speaks knowledgeably to the issues artists have trying to survive within the current system. Under-capitalized gallery owners (with their own survival issues) succumb to pressures to stay in business and are not always honest in their accountability. I think the Gleason approach would make the galleries more honest. Artists might make less at first, but over time, everyone would benefit. I am not sure how it would all get started, though.

From: Jackie Knott — Jan 10, 2012

A few galleries do buy paintings, but at the lower end of the market. They have to be. The inventory a gallery must carry would guarantee a short life if they paid for higher priced work. Galleries aren’t volume based and you can’t compare them to other retail venues. They’re unique. That’s not to say the whole arrangement is satisfactory. 50% makes me gag. We all have our websites these days and some work well and others do not. Art is such a tactile, visually stimulating enterprise no computer screen can display it properly. The Internet tends to be more a “get acquainted” bus stop than a destination a patron buys from. Whereas I appreciate Mat Gleason defending artists how about coming up with the next best option? The gallery system is flawed, but what else is there? Mark Kostabi is as much an entrepreneur as he is an artist. This guy would be successful selling rocks.

From: David — Jan 10, 2012

Cautionary Tale: The best and longest running gallery in our area went under as a result of the crash of 2008, with the owner declaring personal and business bankruptcy. Among his creditors are artists whose work was sold, but who never got paid… $50-100,000 worth. Of course this is wrong on every level and the worst behavior by the gallery owner, but artists need to stay alert to such potential disasters.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Jan 10, 2012

What is art? How is it evaluated? Who decides its value? Why are the people who sell cars, drugs and art called dealers? Geez, Robert, you’ve reopened a right ornery can of worms! I am fortunate to have gallery representation. I show my work, rent-free. I spend my days painting, rather than working in a retail environment. I don’t have to worry about the art business: paying gallery staff, paying the rent, heat and hydro, making sure the floor is clean and I am presentable. In return, if/when a work sells, the gallery’s expenses and overhead are included in the price (which I have set). If it doesn’t sell, it remains mine to keep, circulate elsewhere, or dispose of as I wish. Another advantage is that it is placed in a venue where people go to look at, and buy, artwork. It doesn’t have to compete with socks and underwear, kitsch and cars. While fairly unique, and not without flaws, the system seems to work reasonably well, and i’m not savvy enough to develop a better art-selling business system.

From: Rick S. — Jan 10, 2012

Is there another alternative way to sell art? I would like to know. Some galleries require that you have work framed before they will take it. You figure out your framed price, then the gallery adds their 40-50%. Then another 13% tax goes on top of that. This tax of course includes the frame which you have already bought and previously paid taxes on. Thus the customer ends up paying another 53 -63% more than the artist payment. Thus in effect at least doubling the cost. This at times places the painting above probably what it is worth.

From: TH1 — Jan 10, 2012

I also prefer to work with galleries, and the good ones earn their 50%. That way, the artwork remains the property of the artist until such time as it is either sold or returned, and the artist usually retains control over the selling price. I don’t believe in contracts with galleries, preferring a relationship based on integrity and trust when it comes to other methods of selling my work – which is always gallery based anyway. The only practice I do not agree with is the gallery retaining all the payment for a piece of work for at least a month ..sometimes more. Only 50% (or whatever the agreed commission is) of that amount is theirs, and the remaining amount belongs to the artist and should be forwarded as soon as the payment has cleared. After all, the cost of materials, framing and shipping has already been borne by the artist – not to mention the hours of work. I once asked a gallery owner why this practice exists, and he was bemused – the only answer he could come up with was ‘because they can, I suppose’.

From: John Ferrie — Jan 10, 2012

It is this sort of bent perspective that Mr Gleason is referring to that gives the art world a very bad name. Let alone sucking the life and self esteem out of an artist. When I was in art school, back when the earth was cooling, they told us that when you sign with a gallery they will pay you a monthly salary and you just paint all day long. Oh, you might have to start out on a consignment level, but once your work starts selling, the contract for fame and fortune comes in. This was, of course, from teachers who claimed to be artists and yet non of them had this vapor, cloud like dream in their careers. For the longest time I couldn’t find a gallery to carry my work. I hit the sidewalk and shook every shingle I could. My work was too commercial, was told I did not do gallery quality. Once I was told my work was not avant guard enough. I could never get a break. But I knew I had to have showings and I knew I had to get my name out there. I logged over 75 showings in every coffee shop, restaurant and hair salon I could find. All I heard was “John, I see your work everywhere”. I moved into a large warehouse space and had two showings a year. I would invite the media, have drag queens and opera singers and margarita machines would pump out lethal cocktails. These were fun and formative years. I have now moved into another building with a gallery space I can use anytime I want for free. I have one large show each year and set the place up like a proper gallery. I put huge banners outside, I hang the work perfectly. There are people on the door handing a price list to the guests. I do an imprompt interview and talk about my work till I am blue. All the while selling my works. I even produce a hard cover book for each collection. I leave the show up for two weeks and have private consultations with clients. This has become my reason to be. All the while side stepping the used car salesman approach the Vancouver art galleries have proven to be. In the last year, two of them have closed their doors. Most of the artists I know who have been part of ” the system” have been with five different galleries over a decade. They all have the battle scars, law suits and nightmare stories to show for it as well. Being an artist and going after that brass ring of success with a gallery is an urban myth that can destroy an artist. It is ironic that native galleries buy the works from the artists and then sell them. As far as I know, this only happens with the indigenous people’s. So I guess I am in that category where I see my career from end to end. I have learned what is right for me the hard way. I have been to hell and back twice. Nobody needs to know it is all put together with zap straps and duct tape. Being a painter is still what defines me. And I don’t have a gallery telling me to paint a certain way so that it will sell. But today in 2012, that is just me. John Ferrie

From: MMC, LI, NY — Jan 10, 2012

very informative Mr. Ferrie. until reading your comment i was going to ask how in heck does one get gallery representation?

From: Michael Parsons — Jan 10, 2012

I offer galleries 2 deals. Pay cash for paintings for one third of the expected wall price (gallery frames)…or on consignment at 60|40 in favour of the artist.

From: Helen Opie — Jan 10, 2012
From: Barbara Youtz — Jan 10, 2012

I agree with your advice about not selling your paintings directly to a gallery. I would also like to add something else. I have been asked on several occasions to put my paintings in a restaurant, and even a car dealership with the idea that they would be for sale. One such place kept my paintings for several years and it was only when I moved from the area that I went to take them back, I did call first to give them some time. They were very upset when I came to collect the paintings saying, what are we going to put on our walls. I have learned my lesson. Never put your paintings in a place where people don’t come to buy paintings. That said there is a restaurant I know of that actually has openings for the artists who hang work on their walls and the paintings sell very well there, so there are some exceptions.

From: John F. Burk — Jan 10, 2012

Yesterday I was told a very pleasant tale from a personal collector. Her husband, a financial advisor, was visiting a new client of his at their home in downtown Baltimore. He noticed and commented on a painting prominently displayed in their front parlor, and found them to be another of my collectors. He took a cellphone photo of their painting and emailed it to his wife, who replied with cellphone photos of their two paintings. I was told there was great and excited conversation over this discovery. I don’t know how productive the financial advising portion of the evening was, but from my standpoint, very gratifying work was accomplished.

From: Gloria Miller Allen — Jan 10, 2012

The Huffington Post strikes again in absurdity. Perhaps another planet?

From: Rick Rotante — Jan 10, 2012

I agree with Mr. Gleason in a way. If galleries buy art from unknown artists, they will buy better art and not first year student works. They will “vet” the artist and weed out Sunday painters. If they are so expert(?) in the art business, they should know good art from bad art or at the very least they know what will sell and what won’t. Further, if they are a gallery of any substance, they know their clients tastes and would only take work that stands a better chance to appeal to this clientele. There are also “risk” galleries who take a chance on new contemporary experimental work. Consignment might be the way to go there. Artist and gallery share in the risk. There is also the point of what I call “strata” with galleries. Artists and galleries have different monitory “requirements” and, dare I say, quality price points. Aunt Jenny sells for $400.00 would not be considered in a high priced gallery, I would hope. For “low end” galleries, they can’t afford to pay for artwork in quantity and need the consignment method. I, for one, don’t have the time or the inclination to waste standing around trying to convince someone they should buy my work. My problem is standing out in a wheat field of artists where a gallery would buy my work. Life isn’t fair, and when you are unknown, your work is priced less. When you are famous you can call the shots. This is not just in the art business but everywhere. Of course, the solution is to create work that knocks the gallery and clients socks off. Good Luck!

From: Alex Nodopaka — Jan 10, 2012

The history of representative imagery was always the realm of the financially privileged. It documented material goods and personas. The advent of mechanical reproduction further decreased required handwork. Finally, art became art for the sake of art only in the last 150 or so years. Let’s not forget that painted scenery was a window to the outdoors when residences had limited openings to the outside, for warmth and safety. And the real reason that artists in general have been starving is because they always settled for less than their craft was worth and because the demand for art always ranked below the necessities of life. As for consigning blues, art is a shared financial risk. It’s up to the artist to create a demand for one’s wares through visual appeal of its content. Of course a little jazzy auditory blues wouldn’t hurt the picture.

From: Stewart Turcotte — Jan 11, 2012

The idea that all artists can market their own work and make more money is a great idea. The trouble is, most artists cannot market their work because they do not have the people skills or the time to do it. Galleries do more than take a cut of the money for nothing. Take a look at what galleries do for the artist and the client: Galleries charge for services and real estate. It is a fee arranged ahead of time and it is commensurate with the marketplace and the services provided. The gallery has to pay for retail space, lights, taxes, heat, food, drink, brochures, advertisements, books, and just being there on days when no one is buying art. Galleries can do this because they represent many artists, so when people are not buying one artist they can buy another. Artists do not have that freedom, so they should be in many galleries to reach more people. Artists should count themselves fortunate to have a gallery. Galleries restrict the number of artists they represent and there is some form of assessment involved when being chosen to show your work in a gallery. A gallery acts like a sieve, going through thousands of potential artists before deciding which ones have merit and deserve to be shown to the public. It may seem controlling or some other negative adjective to a marginal artist but clients want to be spared the tedium of looking at every piece of nonsense that is produced in the name of art. Having a gallery lets you hone your skills and become the artist you think you are. If you are spending half of your time marketing, you are half the artist because you should be painting or sculpting 100% of the time. You must be passionate about your work and marketing should not be your passion. Galleries show the works to many potential clients, most of whom would likely never meet the artist. Artists tend to be solitary or at least not the most gregarious of peoples, so to have their work presented on their behalf to more people than they would likely ever meet is a good thing. This gives the artist a wider audience and he or she will be able to affect more people, which is what most artists really want. Having works on consignment is a great way to do business because a gallery can easily have millions in inventory and few can bankroll this much inventory and look after operational expenses. Some large galleries with deep pockets can do this but regular galleries and artists work on a consignment basis so many pieces can be offered to many clients. It is this ability to give a choice which makes the system work. To have little choice would be a distinct disadvantage to both artist and gallery. If only items which had been purchased could be offered, it might be difficult to line up the right piece with the right client. This illustrates how having many galleries benefits the artist. Galleries provide a web site that has a higher than average chance of someone finding an artist online. Consider this, a million web sites are likely created every day so the chance of someone finding one particular artist by luck is more remote than winning the lottery. If you are in a gallery with lots of well known artists, people searching the web will find the gallery and in turn see your work, thus ensuring contact with a much wider audience. A personal web site for an artist is a marketing tool not a sales tool. A gallery is a union made in heaven because it relieves the artist of everyday minutia and lets the artist concentrate on work. I would never want to confine an artist who wanted to market his or her own work, however we would disagree on fundamental issues so it would be counterproductive for me to try to please this artist. Galleries are great places that show art and let people come in to view works and not feel pressured to buy the work of one particular artist. Not everyone will want the work of every artist so it is a responsibility of the artist to seek out a gallery which will agree to actively market works for that artist. If an artist has problems in dealing with a gallery there may be hidden issues that are the true problems in this case. Consider these the ramblings of a happy gallery owner who works with many great artists and who really enjoys what he does, likes all of our artists and brings art from all over to clients from all over. I think I can safely say that the artists we represent like our gallery, too.

From: Bob Ragland — Jan 11, 2012

I don’t consign any art to any gallery. I handle all of my own business. I am financially stable enough to be in the position, of independent. I worked for years to get in this position. I control every facet of my art life – ON PURPOSE!!!!!!

From: Jim Lorriman — Jan 11, 2012

This was an interesting letter. I have just finished doing the books for my studio. It was most surprising. I have always seen my galleries as being well situated, with a good clientele and excellent salespeople. They earn their commissions and I have time in the studio to do what I do best. This year my studio outsold all my galleries combined! This happened even though I support my galleries by directing customers to them and doing joint marketing with them. It is obvious that my relationship to the public is changing. This winter I will be taking a course in how to best use the social media and I will be reviewing the marketing plans and objectives of my galleries. While I agree with you that it is gratifying to have someone else believe in you and sell your work, I am also coming to the realization that many galleries are not staying current, do not understand the new reality and do not make proper use of the social media. They are being left behind by the younger markets and as a result so are we.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jan 11, 2012

Actually Robert, I wanted to ask you to write daily…you know, just to report that you are still with us.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Jan 11, 2012

Stewart Turcotte: well said.

From: David Glover — Jan 12, 2012

I can understand any artist’s concern regarding consignment sale. It is easy for a gallery to obtain free inventory from willing artists on the promise of gallery exposure and potential sales revenue. In typical cases where the gallery is long established and reputable it is generally favorable to both parties. However, there are many horror stories of galleries closing up and the artist is left high and dry. My rule of thumb was always to make sure that the gallery owner has some skin in the game. In other words there is some financial incentive where the gallery is prepared to invest some of its capital in the success of marketing your work. This can be in framing, publishing booklets, direct mailers, exhibition invitations etc. My experience has been that galleries are more diligent in selling something they have some investment in rather than purely free product.

From: Harding — Jan 12, 2012

This certainly isn’t true “A gallery acts like a sieve, going through thousands of potential artists before deciding which ones have merit and deserve to be shown to the public.” Galleries only decide what work they think they can sell. I have not yet met a gallery owner who can decide merit of art.

From: John Ferrie — Jan 12, 2012

I must respond to Stewart Turcotte’s comment. Galleries, simply put, are nothing but a stepping stone between the artist and the buyer. They are a business. Galleries claim to filter through and pick only the best art. Good art doesn’t bring the bad are up, the bad art brings the good art down. I heard a well known gallery owner say “…S#%T Sells as long as you have a $10,000 price tag on it…” There is also NOTHING wrong with an artist having some savvy when it comes to marketing and promotion. This notion that artists should be these worker drones who sit there mindlessly painting away and if they are really lucky, a gallery will swoop in and sign them to the fame and fortune contract is nothing short of a fallacy. The FIRST thing any reputable gallery will ask is “How much will your work sell for?” They want exclusivity and they want everything an artist will paint. Inevitably, an artists work will change. A good gallery will follow along with an artists new direction. It has been my experience that a gallery will dictate what an artist will paint as they can only sell a certain aspect of an artists previous work. If the artist has savvy about what their work is about, they will know this is the time to find a new gallery. Sorry Mr Turcotte, but I know from where I speak. It is like a marriage, if you find a gallery that you can have a relationship with then by all means go for it. But with the 55% current divorce rate the separation between artist and gallery seems to be more the norm. John Ferrie

From: marie — Jan 12, 2012

If I counted on gallery sales to pay my bills, I’d be on the street starving. However, I make a darn good living selling original oils at art festivals. I also sell out of my own gallery (Open Houses or by appointment) and my own website. I enjoy painting, marketing, and selling and am pretty good at all three. Keeps life fast paced and exciting and inspiring.

From: Susan Holland — Jan 13, 2012

RE: What about framing? by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA Barrett, you have given me a little green light with your comment. I have a LOT of art I took out of frames back in NJ so I could manage to move it all to Washington State a few years ago. So now what? I am still recovering from the moving-expenses and have since relocated twice!! Now I am looking at really going back to Seattle where my kids live and calling that the end of the moving for me. But what about all this unframed art? My itchy imagination is causing me to set up a website to be called something like Deckles and Fringes dot com and sell it unframed for a price. Guaranteed or money back. What does everyone think? Will it fly? I could offer to frame for a price, but they might just as well choose something they love, and they might like the price break in this economy? Thinking of a clothesline background with large clips at the tops of the naked images. Susan Holland

From: Karen — Jan 13, 2012

I’m happy to have a gallery represent me, except for one thing that sticks in my craw. Where I live, the galleries will not tell me who bought my painting because they are afraid the artist would contact the buyer directly and cut out the middle man. But, I think I have a right to know where my paintings end up. In my fantasy, I imagine a retrospective of my works, but no one knows who owns them, so we are unable to mount a show. There has to be some degree of trust involved between artist and gallery. If an artist rips off a gallery by cutting them out of the middle in violation of a mutual agreement, then, by rights, the gallery should drop the artist. There’s no need to take it out on every artist.

From: Eddith Buis — Jan 13, 2012

Loved your story about Mel and the blended family! And the painting you did is wonderful! You’re a great inspiration to a long-time art teacher, finally retired and hoping to make GOOD art before kicking the can! Bless you! Eddith Buis

From: misspeggyartist — Jan 13, 2012

great story and I’m sure Mel’s portrait will have more adventures . . . recently I came across an artist-trading card that I had painted and donated to a childrens charity . . . on EBAY. I wasn’t sure how to feel . . . the bid was $6 LOL. My mixed feelings relaxed when shortly after that I saw two paintings done by two artist friends at a consignment shop. Both of these artists are quite successful now . . . hopefully more of my art will journey throughout the ages :)

From: ella lawless — Jan 13, 2012

I really enjoyed your story about Mel. No heavy messages just plain fun. Thanks

From: sherrie miranda — Jan 13, 2012

Wow, beautiful painting/collage. So what do the numbers mean?

From: sherrie miranda — Jan 13, 2012

You have me thinking now. My friend has a watercolor signed Diego Rivera. Of course, it could be a copy. Or another Diego. But we saw some other nice pieces the other day. Maybe I will look up the artist’s name next time to see how they’re doing. Of course, I buy art because I like it, not because I think it might be worth money. As for my friend, she told her husband she would not give him any of the profit if it turns out it really IS a Diego Rivera since he laughs at her for thinking she could find the real thing in a 2nd hand store. ;-)

From: Louella Davis — Jan 14, 2012

Love the Mel story. It’s amazing what friends and relatives do with gifts of artwork. You may see it in the next yardsale you go to! lol

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jan 15, 2012

I enjoyed reading this post. The consignment woes are real for very many artists. We need the gallery so we can spend most of our time painting. But, then again, we are the best people to talk to potential customers / patrons about our work. And, the distrust of most galleries certainly drives me crazy. One comment above by Karen was so right on. We should know who purchased our work! If the gallery does not trust the artist, they should not take that artist on. Trust should be #1 when talking to the artist. We support and place the gallery link on our web site, why shouldn’t they do the same. I always ask direct contacts where they heard about me or if they saw my work somewhere. It will be interested to see what happens in the next few years with the brick and mortar galleries and the consignment issues we face today. Being our own advocate is probably the wave of the future for the masses of artists that won’t be taken on by the few remaining galleries. There just will not be enough room and time for those artists …. and I am talking some very wonderful artists! Thanks Robert — I always read your Tuesday and Friday posts before anything else.

From: Valerie I. VanOrden — Jan 15, 2012

I’m on fineartamerica also. Do you know people can lift those images off that site? People make tattoos out of my medical illustrations of the rat and skull. Now I do farmers markets (“buy local” is the mantra in Kalamazoo, MI). I get to schmooze with the Amish while I get a suntan, and maybe take home some tasty pickles. But seriously, I’d LOVE to be represented by a gallery, only I don’t have a BA degree, only 128 credits (or more maybe) undergraduate in fine art and business. Some of those credits are 30 years old. So I represent myself, enjoy beautiful weather most of the time. I come to my booth a little late and leave a little early, because I’ve got doggies that need letting out. There’s a flea market in town I’m itching to do but I have to get over myself being represented by a “flea” market. Were it a “flea/farm” market, I’d be more eager. Or an Antique market, which I’ve done, all of my stuff is new, but it’s pretty and the antique crowd likes that. I do postcards of my work, not giclee, but just laser printed at the office supply store, and keep most of the originals. Rarely do the John Q. Publics of the world like calligraphy as much as I do, so stationary is a safe and cheap bet for them. And it’s a good way to share art. I also do Spencerian penmanship now, so I’m reorganizing my portfolio to include more scrapbooky type poems and hymns on beautiful paper. Thanks for letting me share, Robert.

From: juanita smith — Jan 15, 2012

One day at our weekly portrait painting group, I did a relatively quick drawing of our pretty female model and left it at that without fiddling with it. A while later we had a portrait show and sale and when this particular model came in, I pulled the sketch out of my bundle of portraits and laid it out for her and her family to see although I didn’t think a whole lot of it. They visited my table several times and when it seemed they might be about to leave, I offered the drawing to the model. She seemed genuinely pleased and accepted my offer…I was sure she had done that so as not to hurt my feelings. Her mother carefully carried it out to their car and shortly after they left I remembered I hadn’t signed it. I didn’t really think this significant and put it out of my mind. Several days later I got a call from the model’s mother asking if I would stop by the local framer to sign the drawing. ‘Oh,’ I said, “I didn’t think it would make much difference not being signed”. “Oh, we care very much” she said. I did stop by to sign it and also later to see the finished framed product that was to be the model’s Christmas present from her mother. It was absolutely stunning in its mat and frame and it taught me never to underestimate my work and to always always sign my work. The framer guaranteed me that the picture would be in their family for generations!

From: Richard Mazzarino — Jan 16, 2012

To all gallery owners present and future– Enough already! Everytime a gallery decides to print here we get the same old speach about overhead. Do you seriously think artists have NO overhead??!! Not only do we have the SAME bills you have i.e. rent,phone,website,taxes, heat, electric, food, drink, advertising how about what you DON’T have i.e. paint, brushes, canvases, entry fees, commissions, easels, shipping, handling(boxes) auto repairs, photo reproduction, slides, portfolios, and a hundred other paint supplies needed to paint and clean up. So Please..come up with a better reasons to charge 50% commission for us to be in your gallery.

From: Peter Muzyka — Jan 17, 2012

Mel’s tribute portrait is great. Adding his favorite song to the painting is a masterful stroke. It’s great that Mel’s family and friends could get it back where it belongs. Nice work Robert.

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mixed media by Derek Gores, Melbourne, FL, USA

  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 John Ferrie of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Being an artist and going after that brass ring of success with a gallery is an urban myth that can destroy an artist. It is ironic that native galleries buy the works from the artists and then sell them. As far as I know, this only happens with indigenous peoples.” And also Jane Walker of Canterbury, Kent, UK who wrote, “Artists who regularly sell through their Internet page can get into difficulties with gallery sales. Customers get fed up when they see these price inconsistencies.”    

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