This morning David Sharpe wrote, “What’s your opinion on marketing directly to the public and bypassing traditional galleries? I want to buy small print ads in community newspapers and city-life magazines showing my work and pointing the readers to my website. The idea is to ship direct to the public from my backyard studio and reduce the gallery commission slightly so as to not drastically devalue my work in the marketplace. I’ll give buyers a slight Internet price advantage. Is it, as Bill Gates said, “a friction-free marketing tool”?
Thanks, David. It would be nice if it worked, but it generally doesn’t. If your name were Mohammad Ali and you painted, you might pick up a volume of hits from folks who needed a connection to a celebrity. While you may be sharp, you’re just a guy who paints well. Sad to say, even excellent work is not a big enough push to get folks electronically beating down that backyard-studio door.
Most sales are made by direct connection between an eager dealer and a willing customer. The Internet has turned out to be a godsend for dealers, if not for artists. Some of my dealers find 40 percent of their business is Internet related. The current buzzword is “clicks and mortar.” Savvy, established galleries now make it easy for customers to electronically access art as it comes in. As they say in the gallery world, “Online showing is the killer app.”
All artists who might consider being their own dealer need to think about its possible effect on their current or potential dealers. Artists who sell themselves hard can get nixed by the mainstream. Representing yourself is tiresome for many and can be the kiss of death for a few.
My advice is to concentrate on your work and leave the commerce to others. Don’t worry about their percentages. Sharing glory and treasure builds your creative independence.
I thoroughly believe in websites for artists. On my site, we get fewer than a hundred visitors a day. However, many of these are curious, qualified collectors. My home page immediately spirits them to my dealers’ sites. Besides making the beautiful connection, the system is generally friction-free.
PS: “The first question I had to resolve was: What specific behavioral influences would cause a person to go to my site? There are four: (1)Researching me or my work, (2)Casually encountering my site link from another website, (3)Responding to an ad, and/or (4)Looking for a specific subject on a search engine and finding me.” (Marques Vickers, author of Marketing and Buying Fine Art Online: A Guide for Artists and Collectors.)
Esoterica: If an artist’s work is not attracting friends and not selling in galleries, it’s not likely to find buyers on the Net. Furthermore, relatively unknown, serious artists who run ad hoc ads in print media seldom realize their investment. As creative people, we need believers and dedicated helpers who will go to bat for us on a daily basis. We need a personal rooting section, even if we have to cross some palms. Art goes on walls by making friends. “I get by with a little help from my friends.” (John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
Dealers foster artistic growth
by Dianne Mize, Clarkesville, GA, USA
Thank goodness we have dealers and galleries who can do the marketing for us; otherwise we split ourselves in half half artist/half marketer then because neither half is compatible with the other, we find ourselves being less artist and more marketer. What I’ve noticed in our area is that artists who market themselves stop growing artistically and begin spinning their wheels and turning out repetitions and imitations of what they’ve already done. They seem to hone in on some approach that sells, then get themselves stuck in that mode. All hope for artistic growth or freshness of statement or any new discovery is lost so long as the marketing remains the motive.
Times are a changin’
by Dave Wilson, White Rock, BC, Canada
Artists have been, and remain, utterly convinced of a need for “galleries.” I used to visit galleries, until it eventually became plain as day that they are exclusively trade sites, money motivated, and not “art” galleries at all. True ‘art’ has to do with an artist’s vision, not a proprietor’s prosperity.
In Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo’s misery was largely the end result of his associations with those who fed him. The demands of those who feed artists inevitably affect their palette as well as their palate. With the advent of the Internet, it is inevitable that people will start buying from the source, and no longer from the middlemen. The times are a changin’.
Friendships propel sales
by David Schwindt, Tucson, AZ, USA
I loved your statement, “Art goes on walls by making friends.” My experience after 30 some years of trying to market my work bears that out. The more friends I have, the more sales. The wonderful part of connecting to people via my art is the opportunity to make new friends due to the shared experience of subject matter. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it is only a tool that is supplementary to the bigger picture. At a recent show in my hometown of Cortez, CO, a collector bought a painting of a Santa Fe Sunset, and we discovered that not only had both of us lived in Santa Fe, NM at one time, we had friends in common in Tucson, AZ. There is no better place to showcase one’s work than a well run gallery where loyal staff is available to show off your work every hour that they are open.
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
First of all, galleries are a business. They are a stepping stone between the artist and the buyer. There may have been a time when galleries signed an artist and the contract for fame and fortune was created. These days, buyers are savvier, artists are greedy and the Internet has changed the trajectory of both worlds. It has been my experience that the artist does more for the gallery than the gallery does for the artist. I am also sure as in real estate, 90% of the sales are made by 10% of the agents. However, most artists are not with galleries and yet we pay homage to them like they have the answer.
At the beginning, artists have to be enthusiastic when they are marketing their work. The first thing a gallery wants to know about an artist’s work is its value. Artists usually cannot put a monetary value on their work so they are hoping the gallery can get whatever the best price is. Artists are dead in the water with this approach. Most good galleries already have 24 or more artists in their corral, to take on another one must mean they know they can sell the stuff. I know of one gallery owner who often says “shit sells.” The best thing for an artist to do is jump start their career by promoting their work, seeding the market by donating a few pieces to worthy charities and attacking the media with every opportunity they can get their hands on. It’s called “branding” and is crucial to the success of any product. I steer clear of galleries, unless I am admiring other artists’ works.
by Prem Sing, Kala Kutir Garhi, New Delhi, India
What you have written is all from the angle of commerce. Art, for me, is one of the vital means of seeking relationship with the people. Websites on the Internet only widen this scope to reach as many people as possible.
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Spanish Springs, NV, USA
I believe that there is a real future in selling directly from your studio via the Web. I have seen such a dramatic change in this over the last 5 years from initially selling nothing via the Internet to selling virtually everything from my website. I do believe that the type of art you sell may make a difference. Since focusing on liturgical art (banners and cloth ministerial stoles) almost 2 years ago, I have seen such a dramatic change in my business. Liturgical art is a very small market. Doing custom liturgical art puts you in an even smaller market and being able to create large scale art narrows it down even further. During this second year of selling liturgical art, I’ve seen my business double in just five months. So the answer is, I believe, it depends on what you do.
by Chris Bolmeier, Omaha, ME, USA
I so look forward to waking up on Tuesday and Thursday to read my e-mail from you. I have a question about artists listing prices under paintings. Should the artist do this? Why? Why not?
My feeling about this is that when I’m looking to purchase anything, if the price is hidden, my gut reaction is to walk away unless I’m really interested. I suppose it depends on many variables, but being a face value person, it makes me feel more comfortable to see a price.
(RG note) Thanks, Chris. As the Internet becomes more and more a comparison shopping tool, it’s important for people to be able to look up and find current values. I also know that a lot of visitors to my site are not buying but just checking to see how much their paintings are currently worth. I believe in laying it out for them — we even let them know values in three currencies. Further, the terms of my pricing process is clear and timely, so customers are generally informed when they walk into galleries.
Successful marketing reflects current technology
by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
I steadfastly believe that an artist is, at least theoretically, his or her own best promoter. That being said, the business side has to be approached with as much gusto and positive energy as the art side. No retreating exclusively into the right side of the brain.
As for galleries, the ways in which artists meet and interact with potential clients has always been evolving. With the evolution of the telephone, the Internet, and other global communications, it is inevitable that the marketing structures (including commercial art galleries) will go through changes. Those galleries that try to block the ease of communication between artist and client will eventually lose out, whereas those that readjust their part in the process and find ways to use all these new possibilities to the mutual benefit of themselves and the artists will jump out ahead.
by Judi Gorski, San Francisco, CA, USA
After reading your response to David Sharpe’s question regarding promoting himself on the Internet and selling directly to the public and thus bypassing galleries and their commissions, it occurs to me that your readers, especially myself, would be assisted with information as to how to go about selecting and a hiring an agent to market paintings to appropriate galleries where the gallery owners are aggressive and successful in closing sales. How does this process work?
(RG note) Thanks, Judi. I don’t believe in hiring an agent. The best thing an artist can do these days is to have a simple stand-alone website that shows representative current work. When a gallery seems appropriate, or when one is recommended, the artist needs only to connect the dealer with your site. A phone call may do the trick. If you have a clean site and your work is of interest to them, dealers may even appear out of the blue. These days potential customers walk into galleries and ask if they represent certain artists–and dealers with a nose for demand may google you when they have a spare moment. This is just one of the reasons you need high placement in search engines, such as in our Artist’s Directory.
Value development over sales
by Donald Cadoret, Tiverton, RI, USA
Due to many factors — global Internet and desktop publishing being paramount — the artist no longer needs to be subjected to the inconsistencies of galleries and the celebrity marketing required to keep the doors open in their pricey real estate locations. I don’t believe that sharing glory and treasure spurs creative independence. If anything, it locks it into a cell that you may find impossible to extricate yourself from… I’ve always been a believer in promoting your own work through many avenues, including the occasional gallery showing, local exhibits, museums, high-end art shows, advertising and the Internet.
Perhaps the artist should first determine what standard of living they really need and then develop a plan to succeed. My goal is to obtain as much creative freedom as possible, meaning more free time to let ideas percolate and reach fruition. I know it’s a tradeoff financially. But, for me, time is more significant to my creative soul. More money from an already saturated commercial world is just not worth it to me.
Popularity of ‘supermarket’ paintings
by Lois Isaacs, Tauranga, New Zealand
It is kind of comforting to hear that the USA and Canada are suffering the same plight as we are in New Zealand — that of a flood of substandard work in the market place. I am frequently appalled at the ‘supermarket’ paintings folk put out there, expecting to garner the same prices that we professionals have fought so hard to achieve. I am also astounded by the number of folk who are happy to pay those prices for a worthless piece of work.
I really appreciated the tenor of your reply to Julianna McDonald, and the wisdom of years that is contained within it. Sometimes I think what is needed for anyone who is painting is the courage to store a new work until it is ‘old,’ then take it out and assess it in with a fresh mindset. At this stage be prepared to be really critical of what you see and decide whether it is up to your usual standard. Use this criteria to decide whether it is going to enhance what you have already sold and the value of your reputation in the market place, or whether it needs modification, or even whiteout all over!
Gifts as publicity
by Geoffrey Jamieson, Calgary, AB, USA
I don’t believe it! Did you actually advise Julianna that it’s OK to sell her work to her mother at half price? Man, that’s mean! It’s also unwise professionally. Personally, I don’t hesitate to present works as gifts to immediate family members. They are tickled to receive them and the professional payoff is the publicity generated when their friends visit. This is especially true of family portraiture because their visitors have the advantage of comparing the work with the subject. “Ooo… I want one of those!” or, “Do you think he’d do one of my kids?” are the usual result. Charging one’s mother for work done of any kind is really not on.
Art for all
by Robert Ault, Topeka, KS, USA
In donating paintings, U.S. artists are only credited on their income taxes for the cost of materials. For instance, this year I donated seven paintings to various organizations to be auctioned as fund raisers. On my own income tax I was only able to declare under $200 in supplies. There is currently a bill in congress (H.B.-1524), that would change the IRS code to give artists full market value credit. This would be a wonderful thing and might encourage people to dispose of older or unsold paintings.
We have started something here in Topeka, Kansas, called the KEG, which stands for Kansas External Gallery. It is based on the belief that art belongs to anyone who enjoys it and not just people with a lot of money. So, we have been setting paintings out at night on the sidewalks downtown for anyone to take. Whoever wants it can have it free. So far we have put out 6 pieces of art and they were all taken. I still sale my best work, but I love the idea of giving some of it away to people that are otherwise excluded from having original art work in their homes.
Making it happen
by Monika Welch, New Zealand
In my experience, (which is not long) I have found incredible value in marketing my work online. I have a personable website that seems to make people comfortable when browsing through. It is not art-wordy or pretentious, just me, my thoughts and paintings. Apart from the mental health issues and control-freak behaviour that have become evident in the supposed ‘dealer’ gallery world, it seems it is almost a rarity to find a high profile, artist-supportive gallery these days. I recently moved up to Kerikeri and was invited by a wonderful artist, Joanna Upperton to share her gallery/studio space of which we predominantly just sell our own work.
We immediately set to work to enhance things for ourselves and create further interest in our profession. We have started to revamp our wee cottage gallery to give it more of a quirky appeal. Better signage was erected and I introduced a visitors book of which we invite customers to write down their email details. We have since acquired a database of over 1200 clients in a very short space of time and these include overseas investors as well. Every month we send out a friendly and cheery newsletter that shows new works, latest info and what we have been up to. We let people know if we are involved in upcoming exhibitions and generally just have some fun. The feedback has been fantastic and sales and commissions are forthcoming.
I firmly believe that if I am to surrender 40% commission to high-end dealer galleries, they sincerely need to buck up their ideas. They need to have an easy-read and active presence on the Internet, in order to market our work! Online marketing is a vital tool in this profession and if they can’t be bothered then I’ll do it myself. Many galleries say they have neither the time nor the skill to do so, which is just a cop-out! If they wish solely to rely on customers coming off the street then I really don’t want to know. Would it be that difficult to employ someone for a few hours a week to update your website? I would further like to add that approaching magazines is a wonderful way to promote yourself. A free article and photos are just an incredible boost to your career. In the next few months, Joanna and I will be in no less than 5 different high-profile NZ mags. We want to be seen and we are making it happen… ourselves!
by Jamie Lavin, Gardner, KS, USA
I have a couple I’ve done a few pieces for, and they called one Saturday morning at about 06:45 a.m. I had scheduled my own show at Buttonwood Art Space here in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s an upscale office and it had a former art gallery of some renown. This couple had finished a year-long remodel of a home built in 1937, and they were coming to my show and “they were ready to buy.” I almost could not eat breakfast, those words rang in my head incessantly! “Karen” ended up coming by herself, and took three small pieces home and told me of two places they’d like to have commissions done for. I was elated at the prospect, their first commission I’d done for them was in the upper 3K area, so I had a history, a comfort zone with my work already in their home in Hilton Head, what could go wrong?
I did my follow up call, as requested, the following week. They had been to a local gallery that has a good reputation here, and spent just under 20 thousand dollars on other pieces. They said they were sorry, and to keep sending “those little cards reminding us of your little art fairs…”
I am leaving the circuit for good, I will do local shows only with the total involvement of my galleries – they will get their commission on every piece I sell. I cannot describe the utter pain and frustration that I have endured since that event. The experience initially left me despaired and barren, deprived of creativity and wondering how I could be so passed over. Making a living as an artist is uphill, at best. Who needs suicide when things like that can happen to you? The key to this is understanding what they were telling me, and their decisions told me a great deal. First, they are thoughtful of my status as an art-fair artist, not an “artist in a gallery.” Second, after doing an outdoor venue with the gallery’s total co-operation, my work was featured on the Friday entertainment section, then on Sunday morning, on the front cover of the Topeka Capitol Journal, at the very bottom of the page. They work as hard promoting me as I work on painting.
You’ve encouraged it for years — to deal through galleries only. It is true also that you never really know what the customer is thinking, or comparing your work to. In health and in art, it’s better by far to work with the specialists!
Enjoy the past comments below for Friction-free selling?…
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 Kathy Schinhofen of WA, USA who wrote, “In the DVD Art City, an art journal publisher suggests that instead of spending $40,000 on graduate school it would be much more effective to your success to spend $40,000 on 40 $1000 parties and develop yourself socially in an art community.”
And also Susan Yost-Filgate who wrote, “I always say, 50% of something is a lot better than a 100% of nothing. Let the professional dealers do what they do best and the artist do what he or she does best. It is worth it.”
And also Maxx Maxted of Melbourne, Australia who wrote, “Wasn’t it Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who said ‘Create, artist, do not talk.’ Artists can’t paint and market at the same time. It requires two brains to sell. Three if you count the buyer.”
And also Kate Lemay who wrote, “How did you find your dealer? Can you have more than one? Any suggestions on how you made connections to the people you trust to make your art your business? Lawyer/ Business manager/ Marketing & PR/ Accountant/ Dealer(s)”
(RG note) Thanks, Kate. I have about 30 dealers with about ten active at any given time. For the most part they are in different cities. One dealer leads to another, and success in one area leads to success in others. Things ebb and flow in all areas, and some dealers seem to dry up for periods of time — even years. This doesn’t bother me. I just keep working. We move things around.
And also Ralph Hislop of Maple Ridge, BC, Canada who wrote, “I seem to recall that the late William Ronald, in his later years, felt the need to market himself despite his fame and despite the number of well known dealers in the Toronto area who, apparently, did not come up to his expectations.”
And also Angela Treat Lyon of Kailua, HI, USA who wrote, “As far as people go who begrudge the gallery owner’s 50% – they need to buy and run a gallery for a while. I’m happy to share the revenue with them!”
And also John Fitzsimmons of Fayetteville, NY, USA who wrote, “I have been in the industrial world for 30 years, designing, making and selling all kinds of useless junk, sometimes by myself and sometimes as part of a team. I can say that being part of a team is far more effective and more fun than going it alone.”