Dealing with dealers


Dear Artist,

Perhaps nothing creates as much interest in the content of these letters than the mention of “proper dealers” as I did in my last letter. Some surprising responses can be found in the current clickback.

When I started out as a painter there were less dealers to choose from. It was easy to decide who were the better galleries in town. I arranged them in order of preference — 1, 2, and 3. I put half a dozen paintings under my arm and went to them in order of choice. It was either find a dealer or get a job. The first two rejected me on the spot. “Stuff like yours won’t sell here,” they said, and other discouraging things. In the third gallery the dealer seemed to be terminally busy. Rather than be rejected again I spread my paintings on the floor and left the gallery. My name, phone number, and price were written on the back of each. Several days later, while I was looking in the “Help Wanted” column in the newspaper, the dealer phoned to say, “Come in and pick up a cheque and bring more work.”

Over a period of 15 years that dealer sold 2700 of my paintings. This activity connected me with galleries all over the world. Other dealers wanted my work because they saw that it made connections. In a way I’m lucky because the things I like to do are sometimes appreciated. Not by everybody, but by a few. My idea was to be free to travel, keep stimulated, change if I felt like it, paint madly, and not be too concerned with what was selling. I wanted to be an island of my own dignity.

When I look into the faces of fellow artists, young and old, beginners and veterans, I see again that need for personal dignity. Failure lurks for those who don’t have dignity. Furthermore, all relationships are not made in heaven. You don’t need to be in bed with your dealer. But if he’s willing to be out there in the front seat, taking the bugs in his teeth, give him his dignity too. He’s the one who rings the register, and he has to believe in you.

Best regards,


PS: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Esoterica: These days effective dealers are taking advantage of the internet. There is no more discrete or timely way to give personal service and convenience to collectors than digital photo packs. My dealers tell me as much as 30% of business now has something to do with the Net — and it’s growing.

The following are selected responses to this letter. This clickback is longer than usual because of the valuable letters that came in regarding dealers, and also the results of the horoscope survey which is reported at the end. Thank you for writing and contributing.


Goose who lays the golden eggs
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Suwannee River”
pastel painting, 15 x 20 inches
by Eleanor Blair

When I was a young artist I had the great advantage of being married (briefly) to a soon-to-be-successful businessman. I had had a few less than satisfactory encounters with agents and dealers, and had developed quite a mistrust of the whole artist/gallery scene. He gave me some excellent advice; if someone is making money as a result of your work, he will work hard on your behalf. This has proved to be very true. I stopped resenting the money a gallery made off of my art, but saw it as a measure of my success and the increasing value of my work. And after a few years, I had some insight that transformed the way I related to agents. I realized that, actually, I was not working for them, they were working for me. I began thinking of myself as the goose who lays the golden egg. And this attitude has given me a great advantage in dealer/artist negotiations. Today I have a few excellent galleries and agents around the state who represent me, and one wonderful assistant who handles sales in my studio for a salary and a small percentage. They keep me busy doing what I most love to do; making paintings!


by Bev Willis, Fresno, California, USA

I especially liked the part about dignity of one’s self. That is where it all starts. When one goes out to do something, we must have faith in ourselves and what we are doing and present the best that we have and can give. And when we approach the potential buyer as with anyone we talk to, we must give them respect also. The old saying, “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” certainly fits here. Another plus is that even if you do not sell the work there is no loss here but perhaps at least gain in letting the potential buyer or a fellow cohort of his/hers know that you do paint. Perhaps in the future, you will get a call to do some work for them. So another good saying applies, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” In addition, you will have no doubt learned something. Perhaps the potential buyer will have given you a suggestion that might help you in the future to paint better or know how to sell better. As one of my daughters who has sold advertising for many years says, “each ‘no’ answer is that much closer to a ‘yes’ answer,” and that is what keeps her selling.


by Jim Rowe

Your dealer sold 2700 paintings in 15 years. That’s roughly 4 paintings a week. Which seems reasonable, I guess. I average about 1 1/2 a month and have sold only a couple. But I have my artistic freedom and I am confident that I am doing what I was meant to do. But I have this nagging feeling that I could be working a little harder. I feel I was put on earth to paint and I am getting distracted by all the other enjoyable activities the world has to offer. And this is fine, I am enjoying myself, but at the end, if there is a judgement day, I am afraid I will score poorly on productivity.


No mystery
by Jack White


oil painting by Jack White

We ordered your book and found it of real interest. We also have written a small book dealing with the myriad of myths surrounding the art world and marketing one’s product. In our book I give a step by step outline of how I taught my wife Mikki to paint… sold her first piece for $200.00 on April 21, 1990… before the year of 2001 is over we will have sold over three million dollars worth of her originals. Since you mentioned in this letter your dealing with galleries, I though about my chapter on getting in a gallery and what to do once you are in one. How to break the ice and get in that first virgin gallery. No gallery wants to be your first one. The book is 20 chapters… I call the book The Mystery of Making It… then I show the reader there is no mystery. I wrote the book to help those who come to us for advice. We have made an oxymoron out of the term “Starving Artist.”

Mikki and I have probably conservatively visited 3,000 galleries. We always go in art galleries on all our trips. We never let them know we are painters. We stealthily sneak in and out… if approached we never use words like chroma, delineation, scale, design, perspective. I may say, “Nice colors”… if that. We go in to study the way the galleries approach us… what they do to try and sell us. I have made a study of art galleries for the past 30 years.

Mikki is the focus of my efforts these days. I have limited my work to a few commissions and one major gallery on Nantucket. We have her in major galleries in Florida, Santa Fe, Taos, Scottsdale, Carmel and the Napa Valley. Before I built my wife’s career, I built a fairly successful one for myself. I just see all the myths being taught in art schools… It makes us so sad when we hear those who have spent years in study and don’t have a clue how to earn a living with their craft.


Art career dead
by Victoria

The financial end of art… like finding dealers… the word make me cringe and my arm freezes up. Needless to say, I haven’t gone far in the professional world of art. The world of dealers was never understood… a different class. Yet I felt that without one I was dead in the water. So I have worked at many jobs. My art career is dead. Having earned a BA in Art did nothing for me… marketing was never addressed. Maybe that should have been a full semester! Reading about your first dealer-confrontation… well, I really liked how you handled it, and I wish I had thought of that 30 years ago. Being brave and ‘ballsy’ must also go along with being a professional artist.


Thanks for creativity
by Mary Jean Mailloux

“I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think this world would be unlivable without art. Thank you for inspiring me.” (Steven Soderbergh, on receiving his best director Oscar for Traffic) I really liked that speech, it spoke to me.


How to survive and prosper
by Janet Molchanko, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

I began painting earnestly almost two years ago. In the beginning, I was determined to get noticed by a gallery here in Calgary. I thought that being represented by a good name would be beneficial to my sales and to my esteem. Over the course of the last couple of years, I have sold paintings through word of mouth, through friends, through studio visits, commissions, little shows that I’ve been accepted for, from being on a popular morning local news program, from my website and sometimes from serendipity. All these things I have organized and promoted and set up. Yes, it does take quite a bit of work and time (sometimes it feels as though it takes more time than it does to actually paint!). But I feel that at this point in my life and artistic career that it is worth it. I gain valuable knowledge in learning the “biz” on my own. I gain more contacts. If you budget your time throughout each week to do a little bit of paperwork, research, portfolio building or contact-making, it doesn’t accumulate into one big mess when you realize that it has to be done right away. Additionally, I have realized that most galleries here take at least 40%. Artists must realize that there exists a “cult of the dealer” where we cow-tow to him because we think that he is the end-all and be-all of promotion and sales. We must realize that for that 40%, we must ask for what we want and deserve in return, whether it’s a certain number of group shows per year or having a big solo show once every two years — whatever. Artists should not expect to give up that 40% just because you get to be represented by a certain gallery. The book How To Survive and Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Caroll Michels has been indispensable for me. She writes about the “cult of the dealer” as well as how to create a proper cv, how to promote oneself, and even what types of jobs are out there to help with the finances.


Non pariah
by Gail Lastiwka, Canada House, Banff, Alberta, Canada

I have always admired your position on “dealers” and have been equally bemused by the apparent attitude of some artists that we are pariahs. It is our job as dealers to actively, sincerely, honestly and enthusiastically promote an artists work with integrity and bring it to the attention of as wide an audience as possible. It is also our responsibility to do this in a variety of creative ways to ensure that the “audience” is continually interested in viewing the artists we represent. This needs to be accomplished via magazine, radio, TV and internet advertising, proper signage, remote broadcasts from exhibitions, slide shows and artist talks, demos in the gallery, media interviews with the artists, etc, etc. There are huge costs associated with properly doing our job.

The artist’s time should be freed to do what they do best… create! Nothing is more gratifying than to see the connection made between the artwork or the artist themselves and a patron. Nothing is more exciting and rewarding than to see an artist become or continue to be successful and to eagerly request more work from that artist. Nothing is more genuinely appreciated than witnessing a sincere exchange made between an artist and an obvious “fan” at an opening. Nothing is better than having an artist acknowledge the efforts made by a dealer to assist in their success. It all boils down to mutual respect and yes, dignity!


Hug your dealer
No signature

The dealer has a tough time these days, with bankers, the internet, fussy patrons, poachers and artists who think they can do better on their own. So have some pity; go to your nearest gallery and hug your dealer. If you are an artist, the dealer will put you on the map and keep your paintings dry while he tries to sell them for you. If you are an art buyer, think of all the crap out there that the dealer weeds out. To be a dealer means you creatively use your time to find the best works you can lay your hands on while seeking out new and veteran art lovers to purchase the works you have found. To be a dealer means you spend your days in the presence of artists and art lovers who can make your days interesting beyond expectations as well as financially rewarding. I take my hat off to those artists who support me and I will do everything I can to support them.


You may be interested to know that artists from 81 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.

That includes Elsha Leventis who reports that most people in her art class are Leo and Aries.

And Brian Griggs of Queensland who says, “My birth sign is ‘persistence.'”

And Amir Oli from somewhere who says, “I had the misfortune to be born under the sign of procrastination with laziness rising.”

And Ila G G Quin who reported, “I am a semi-professional visual artist and a Sanitarian.”


Results of Horoscope survey

Thank you to the 605 artists who were willing to send us their birth signs. Not everybody gave their professional level. We did not feel there were enough responses from four of the categories to give an accurate statistic. For example, only 14 people said they were art teachers. However, if we include the Professional visual artists with the Semi-professional visual artists we get by far the largest response level — and a mass large enough to give reasonable statistics. Here they are: (rounded)

Aries 10%
Taurus 9%
Gemini 8%
Cancer 8%
Leo 6%
Virgo 7%
Libra 6%
Scorpio 11%
Sagittarius 11%
Capricorn 6%
Aquarius 7%
Pisces 11%

Thus we see that among subscribers who responded and who told us they are practicing artists Scorpio, Sagittarius and Pisces seem to lead the pack with Aries not far behind.

Among everybody who reported the results were: (rounded)

Aries 9%
Taurus 9%
Gemini 8%
Cancer 9%
Leo 7%
Virgo 8%
Libra 7%
Scorpio 9%
Sagittarius 10%
Capricorn 7%
Aquarius 7%
Pisces 10%

Of all of the people who responded to this survey Women represented 92 percent. Men: 6 percent. Sex unknown: 2 percent. This is a bit surprising as subscribers are at the present time fairly evenly divided between men and women. Does this mean that women are more curious or perhaps that women are more inclined to be believers in the possibilities of the horoscope? Or that women are more inclined to open and read their emails? Or that men don’t like to be seen to cooperate in things like this?

It would be interesting to know which signs have naturally the most births. Is intercourse and its results a seasonal occurrence? When art runs in families do artistic parents tend to copulate more or less frequently at different times of the year than regular people? The mind boggles.

Among all correspondents who reported their brain tendencies 16% were left-brained, 47% right-brained and 37% centered.


Historical Artists’ Signs

For your further interest here is a list of birth signs as related to historical artists that we might all know about. These were chosen at random with no particular agenda in mind and the number for each could be greatly changed by pursuing the birth signs of other artists that you might particularly admire. If anyone wants to do this research please just go ahead and we will publish those extended results.

ARIES (Mar 21 – Apr 19)
Anthony Van Dyck – Mar. 22
Vincent Van Gogh – Mar. 30
Francisco de Goya – Mar. 30
William Morris Hunt – Mar. 31
Max Ernst – Apr. 2
Raphael – Apr. 6
Thomas Hart Benton – Apr. 15
Leonardo da Vinci – Apr. 15
Theodore Rousseau – Apr. 15

TAURUS (Apr 20-May 20)
Joan Miro – Apr. 20
Joseph Mallord William Turner – Apr. 23
Willem de Kooning – Apr. 24
Eugene Delacroix – Apr. 26
Ernst Kirchner – May 6
Salvador Dali – May 11
Georges Braque – May 13
Jasper Johns – May 15

GEMINI (May 21-Jun 21)
Albrecht Durer – May 21
Henri Rousseau – May 21
Mary Cassatt – May 22
Franz Kline – May 23
Paul Gauguin – June 7
Frank Lloyd Wright – June 8
John Constable – June 11
Jim Dine – June 16

CANCER (Jun 22-July 22)
Peter Paul Rubens – June 28
Geoff Slater – June 28
Marc Chagall – July 7
Kathe Kollwitz – July 8
David Hockney – July 9
James McNeill Whistler – July 10
Andrew Wyeth – July 12
Amedeo Modigliani – July 12
Rembrandt – July 15
Edgar Degas – July 19
Edward Hopper – July 22
Alexander Calder – July 22

LEO (July 23-Aug 22)
Henry Moore – July 30
Tom Thomson – Aug. 5
Andy Warhol – Aug. 8

VIRGO (Aug 23-Sept 22)
Caspar David Friedrich Sept. 5
Grandma Moses – Sept. 7

LIBRA (Sept 23-Oct 23)
Mark Rothko – Sept. 25
Robert Rauschenberg – Oct. 22

SCORPIO (Oct 24-Nov 21)
Pablo Picasso – Oct. 25
Roy Lichtenstein – Oct. 27
Johannes Vermeer – Oct. 31
Auguste Rodin – Nov. 12
Claude Monet – Nov. 14
Georgia O’Keeffe – Nov. 15
Rene Magritte – Nov. 21

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22- Dec 21)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Nov. 24
William Blake – Nov. 28
Georges Pierre Seurat Dec. 2
Edvard Munch – Dec. 12
Paul Klee – Dec. 18

CAPRICORN (Dec 22-Jan 19)
Henri Matisse – Dec. 31
Alfred Steiglitz – Jan.1
John Singer Sargent – Jan.12
Berthe Morisot – Jan .14
Paul Cezanne – Jan. 19

AQUARIUS (Jan 20-Feb 18)
Edouard Manet – Jan. 23
Jackson Pollock – Jan. 28
Norman Rockwell – Feb. 3
Franz Marc – Feb. 8

PISCES (Feb 19-Mar 20)
Ansel Adams – Feb. 20
Horace Pippin – Feb. 22
Winslow Homer – Feb. 24
Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Feb. 25
Dr. Seuss – Mar. 2
Michelangelo – Mar. 6
Piet Mondrian – Mar. 7


Horoscopic info from a practitioner
Love and Light, Marlene

About our sun signs… our birth signs only tell which sign the sun was in when you were born. All the planets dance together within a person. Looking at the sun without its relationship to the other planets is like trying to describe an elephant when you’ve only viewed its foot. There are naturally creative signs, true, such as Leo or Libra or Pisces that may lead a person to art, but I have found some very talented artists who were Capricorns or Aquarius. Needless to say, all signs have this potential. The sun will just describe the kind of art one may find himself in, such as the Virgo who ends up being the fine craftsman or artisan or expresses his/her artistic nature through fine detail, the Leo who loves to entertain through his/her art, the Pisces whose imaginative, poetic and often dreamy works inspire others the Libran whose fine sense of balance and color bring peace to the viewer the Aries, whose works are original and fresh. The Scorpion whose art can transform one’s way of thinking. We are much more than the sun which is our core nature. But how we express this core depends on the constant interplay between all the planets at each moment in our lives, as well as which special planets were in strong communication with our sun when we were born. The Moon is like the right brain to our left brain Sun. Knowing our moon sign can also tell a lot about our artistic nature, since a lot of our work is governed by this side of our brain. This subject is so vast, and as country farmers have planted by the moon for eons. I have studied the influences of the moon on my art and have sometimes worked with its rhythms to achieve a certain quality of expression. The moon changes signs every two days or so and so one can really see its effects quickly.


Something that was not node
by Josanne Van Hees

I would like to tell you that if you are serious about doing a survey on birth sign and artist, you need to know that the horoscope is much more complicated than that. The ascendant or rising sign is of prime importance in any chart and where the ruler of the ascendant falls (which house). Where is the Moon, Venus, Mars, Mercury, all the outer planets, the Moon’s Nodes, aspects to each planet, the houses they fall in, and on and on and on.

(RG note) Every day millions of newspaper readers are given a prognosis based on only one criterion — date of birth. We based our investigation on that criterion. If there is anyone who would like to do research relating to artists that brings in other criterion we will be glad to publish the results. I’m sure some of our subscriber community would cooperate in something with more depth. It would require the preparation of a questionnaire by someone who was familiar with the finer points.


Still more
by Frank Sant’Agata

There are four different personalities that have a significant effect on one’s affinity for art. They are: Choleric (controlling) Sanguine (outgoing) Phlegmatic (passive) and Melancholy (quiet and creative like many of the artists, writers, poets, and musicians) We might have some of each personality, but one is dominant. Here is a simple test:

If there were going to be a play (such as you may have had in elementary school) and you had to participate in some way; which role would you have chosen? (these questions refer to a childhood endeavor because we were less likely to be phony or dissuaded from our true selves as children.)

If you said the star performer, you are probably a Sanguine, the life of the party. You dress flashy and are talkative.

If you really desire to be the director you are Choleric. You feel you are the most organized and capable person to do the job.

If you are Phlegmatic, you would help in any way others needed you. You never question; simply do what ever it takes to keep things happening in a smooth and peaceful manner — even menial tasks — a real team player, and quite un-opinionated.

But if you would rather write the play, or work backstage with set design, find creative answers to technical issues, figure out lighting, make costumes, design the program, etc. and not be in front of the public, you are probably Melancholy.

Most of us have one dominant personality, and one secondary. We would find the other two distasteful or alien. Some people wear masks. They have two conflicting personalities. For example, you simply can’t be a Choleric/Phlegmatic, because one is controlling, the other passive. If you test out that way, one of your personalities is phony. You are not being true to ‘thine own self.’ The same is so for Sanguine/Melancholy because one is outgoing, the other withdrawn and quiet.

I am Melancholy/Phlegmatic and Aquarius. I’m an artist, designer, musician, craftsman, restorer, writer, teacher, and dreamer.


Why bother?
by Asher Levy, Tel Aviv, Israel

The horoscope industry is a harmless mini-religion that gives people the feeling that there is more to living than meets the eye. Perhaps some innate human characteristics and future happenings are “written in the stars,” but as most of us know it’s what we do to mold the material that we have been given that really counts. I’m surprised that you would bother with this.



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