Selling your art


Dear Artist,

There are two main kinds of artists: Those who want to sell their work and those who do not. In light of all the artists from the former camp who have written lately, I’m addressing this letter to them.

In my experience the highroad to freedom has been to consign work to dealers, art galleries and agents. If you’re thinking about this, you need to select them with care. It’s not like maintaining a chain of donut-shops. Dealer-artist relationships require more intimacy and mutuality than normal business associations. It’s pretty obvious that a stable of well-adjusted and capable dealers pays off in your peace of mind. At the same time problematic dealers cause sleepless nights and interfere with the muse. I like to think of my best dealers as partners. There’s a mutual feeling of integrity — they have to be interested in you, and respect you. They also need to have the unique skills that complement yours. If you’re planning to get your greens from your creative work, give some thought to the following:

A “fit” in a gallery is important. Being unique in a gallery is better than being one of the crowd.

For you, quality is Job One. Concentrate on what you do best and leave your dealers to do what they do best.

Give dealers plenty of time with your work. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

A low-key, not too commercial web presence is the best way to let new dealers discover you.

While some dealers will develop and find many friends for you and others may find only a few, they are all the valued oarsmen of your ship.

Don’t sign exclusivist contracts or agreements unless you think they will benefit you. Just tell them you always try to do your best, and then do it.

Give your dealers their territory and don’t try to deal around them. You’re too busy for that.

Realize that loyalty is the top virtue, but that in the world of art change is both inevitable and desirable.

Congratulate dealers who hit home runs and who pay you in a timely fashion.

And try to deliver regularly and in a timely way to the congratulated dealers mentioned above.

Best regards,


PS: “If you believe in unlimited quality and act in all your business dealings with total integrity, the rest will take care of itself.” (Frank Perdue)

Esoterica: Say bye-bye to the idea that you are going to be taken advantage of. Dealers deserve their percentages. They can build you better than you can. You may be the source, the fount, the very basis of the food chain, but you still need friends. ” Artists are often excellent businessmen. They have to be. Otherwise they do not remain artists.” (A. Y. Jackson)

The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Opportunities for exhibiting art?
by Barbara Elizabeth Mercer

Thanks for your advice on having a website. Two important responses have resulted from one of these links (I do not know which one). The first response was from Italy. I was selected and formally invited to exhibit, representing Canada in the Biennale Internazionale Dell.Arte Contemporanea, Florence, Italy, Dec. 4th through 16th, 2003. The second response – A Gallery in Soho, New York City, NY, reviewed my portfolio on my website and have offered to represent me in New York. Of course these are both expensive, trying to find a sponsor to help with financial assistance. I can apply for a travel grant from Canada Council for the Arts but they have informed me that only one artist has received a travel grant for the Biennale in Florence. The Agora Gallery in N.Y. requires a chunk of money up front, 4 to 6 months in advance of exhibit. I will go to Italy, saving for this because I feel it will open doors for the exposure of my work and with luck, some sales. N.Y. is also an opportunity for exposure and sales, so somehow I will have to come up with a down payment by Sunday Nov. 10th, 2002, to start the process of selecting a date for an exhibition.

(RG note) It’s a good idea to treat exhibition offers that require money up front with some degree of suspicion. The Biennale may be legit but you don¹t need to show up. The Agora Gallery pumps through hundreds of artists in group shows that are attended by an arty crowd noted for their lack of red dotting. For a fee and a reduced commission they have been a popular venue for all kinds of emerging and international artists who want to say they have been hung in New York.


by Barbara Elizabeth Mercer

The fee for the Agora Gallery for one year is 2,350 US dollars which may be paid in 9 installments of $285 ea. The fee for the Florence Biennale is 1,800 Euro with first installment of 40% paid within 30 days of formal invitation. Second installment of 60% by May 31/03 to cover cost of ex. space and photo of work in catalogue. I have chosen to go to Florence, it will be my first trip to Europe except Sweden where I was the only Canadian to exhibit in the Autumn Exhibition of The Scandinavian Shield, along with 10 other countries.

The Biennale suggests sponsorship from my Gov. plus private sponsorship. I have contacted The Canada Council for the Arts, they consider Florence Biennale to be legit. and I may apply for a travel grant.

As far as the Agora Gallery is concerned I cannot meet their financial expectations unless a miracle happens. It seems that one must be a rich artist to become an international name, this along with being a dead Canadian Artist, will almost assure your name in history books.


Fear of success
by Jamie Lavin


painting by Jamie Lavin

I’m 44 years old. I’ve painted for money for 11 years now and this is my second time going full time. My folks sold their business last year though, so I’ve got to make it this time, and it looks like I will. I’m in acrylic and my ability grows with each work. I paint on 4″ squares of 8-ply cotton ragboard, put a spacer behind each one, and set them up like a mosaic (3/4″apart) on a painted canvas that acts as a mat for all the tiles. I had a critique from John Boyd Martin – the well known portrait and sports artist, who encouraged my style. I like to keep my artistic contacts to those who are open & direct, functional at the art business, and can express a broader view of the model to which we all aspire — artistic & financial success. I’m still doing the show circuit here in the Midwest, mostly because it’s closer & faraway shows can cost a fortune if you can’t get into several within a sensible proximity. In some of your writing you mention fear of success. I could never find anyone who knew what a fear of success was, or how to grapple with it. I have finally figured it out, but I almost fell out of my chair when you mentioned it! Thanks!


Arrived in time
by Anonymous

Your letter about selling art — and info about galleries arrived fortuitously since I had just removed all my art from a gallery that morning. After a 7 year relationship that started with them selling 30-50 paintings a year but this year had fallen to a paltry 3 — I realized that hanging on (just to say I had local representation in a fine art gallery) was eating at my innards. I had compromised and had lost the “love” of creating art for the gallery and for myself as well. Although I painted other things and even switched mediums, I had allowed myself to be “robbed” of the joy. I need not blame the gallery owner, difficult as she was. As a result, my “inner artist” was frustrated and unhappy. However, the universe immediately rewarded my action of inner truth when I made the decision and followed through. Even better, when I got home there was a message on my answering machine — a better opportunity to be more in control of my destiny. What synchronicity.


Gallery Support
by Anonymous

I recently overheard an emerging artist in conversation with some friends. They had attended the lavish reception of this young artist’s first one-man show. They praised her work and said that they were considering a purchase. This artist suggested that they wait till the show was over; then her prices would be much lower, since she wouldn’t have to pay the gallery a commission. It drives me nuts when I hear artists do this. Number one, I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the support this gallery gives to local artists. They invest a great deal of time, energy and money in every show they have; advertising, big opening party, etc. and artists shouldn’t cheat them out of their fair commission. And secondly, the price of a piece of art should reflect its value, in a consistent way. Not how much profit the artist wants to make after expenses. Not higher prices in a gallery and lower prices at the studio. That’s very poor business practice. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I will be having a private conversation with my young friend soon, to suggest that she re-evaluate her attitude toward her gallery.


High maintenance art galleries
by Pamela Simpson, New England, USA

My husband (David Lussier) and I have found that the better the gallery fit the higher the maintenance. We are required to attend openings, participate in auctions or whatever is needed to help the gallery have more friends. We need to be thinking ahead to the schedule of what paintings will be needed when. We are landscape painters so we have to be a little ahead on the seasons, we cannot offer our fresh crop of fall paintings for spring. We have to put some of our plein air work away for the proper seasons because we have a commitment to provide paintings for this gallery including the cream of the crop. I am about to search for another gallery for each of us and I have had to count up the maintenance cost of every dealer relationship we have in time, frames, schedules etc. I have a pretty good idea of what we will need to do and I feel we are ready. It’s wonderful to have a great fit in a gallery but it is also a big responsibility. I know that you have at least 10 galleries handling your work at one time. I’m sure it took time to cultivate those relationships and that they don’t all make the same amount of demands on you. Did you find that the best gallery relationships start with galleries that sought you out rather than you seeking them?

(RG note) I haven’t noticed that. Sometimes both parties just know. For me there are lots of galleries that come hat in hand, and this is nice, but I know better. An artist should not spread himself too thinly. And as in all good and beneficial relationships; they need to be maintained. But to be straight up with you, I have to say I really appreciate galleries that just go about their business in a regular and efficient fashion, carry the ball themselves, and are not always trying to get you to do this and that. Sometimes they’re hard to find.


Business of getting exhibited
by Martha Calvo, Burnaby, BC, Canada

Although I have participated in numerous art shows in my country of origin, due to diverse circumstances I have been impeded of a regular production and therefore of presenting my artwork in the last few years. In the last ten years, however, I have participated in one collective and one individual show at one of my friend’s homes. This year I have started my steady production again. I would appreciate if you provide me with information about the procedures to follow either consigning my work or in order to mount my own exhibition.

1. What is the best way of establishing a relationship with the art dealers/galleries?

2. Are they tied to their own circle of artists?

3. How do I recognize the “well-adjusted and capable dealers” from the “problematic ones.”

In case of having my own show:

4. How long are the periods of exhibition?

5. How much is, approximately, the rental fee?

6. What other requisites are required?

I would be most grateful for answers to these questions and for any other information you can provide me regarding this subject.

(RG note)

(1) The best way is to check galleries out. You can do this incognito. Go into galleries at openings or on weekdays and see how they are in action. See how they treat customers. Try to get an idea if they are doing any business. Note the artists they have on their walls and phone up the artists and find out how they are treated. Decide if you might feel comfortable there, if you like the people. Do you think your work might fit in? Let the gallery know that you exist by phoning them, telling them you are interested in exhibiting with them and suggest that they take a look at your work at a convenient place on line. If you really want to get into a certain gallery, be persistent. But don’t count on anything. Some dealers don’t know what’s good for them. Have lots of irons in the fire.
(2) No. While many galleries will tell you they are not interested in taking on anyone new, they are always looking around.

(3) This is sometimes difficult. The grapevine is about as valuable as anything. This is why it’s a good idea to have other professional artists as friends. If you suspect something, check with the Better Business Bureau.

(4) The length of time shows stay up varies between a few days and a few weeks. Some dealers get most of their sales out of the way in a couple of hours. Others take time to contact and bring their (or maybe even your) customers in. Others may not do anything for you in a month of Sundays. (This is another type of problematic dealer)

(5) Most worthwhile galleries charge no fee for a show. They do however invite you to share in a show’s expenses. (Invitations, wine, etc.-generally 50/50) My shows can cost me between $400 and $2000. The dealer generally sends out a separate bill after the show. Some dealers swallow the costs of shows, often in exchange for 50/50 commission split.

(6) Other requisites? An artist should bring to a dealer a consistent collection of recent work. I think a commitment to follow through is also important. The dealer should have the confidence that you are still going to be around next year, and the year after. Dealers go to work for lifers, not for dabblers.


Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism and Synesthesia
by Dr. Bob Holmes, Nicola Valley, BC, Canada


by Dr. Bob Holmes

Towards the end of my forty-year career in medicine, I came to the conclusion that I had Tourette’s Syndrome, and it was confirmed by one of my colleagues. I cannot say that I “suffered” from it, but it did account for my getting into trouble at school, and for the rather odd twitching at times. I certainly had lots of mental and physical energy, which was useful for a country doctor, and it was reassuring to learn that Mozart and Dr. Sam Johnson were probably “Touretters.” I see mild cases very frequently, and one of my sons is a mild “Touretter.” Oliver Sacks has written about neurochemical case studies in his 1985 book, The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat. One essay entitled The Autist Artist gives an account of a 21-year-old man who could not communicate, except through his pencil drawings, and Sacks states that “artistic gifts of a fairly high order are not uncommon among the autistic.” Synesthesia, like Tourette’s, was first described over one hundred years ago, and then neglected until the last twenty years or so, during which time the search for brain chemicals, and the development of Prozac-like drugs, has brought the conditions to the fore. David Hockney is apparently a synesthete. Is the urge to paint hereditary? Is there a gene that urges people to apply colour, form, texture to a surface?


Autism and communication
by Nicoletta Baumeister, London, Ontario, Canada

The common description of Autism is the inability (perhaps genetic, perhaps developmental, perhaps self-determined) to communicate, and a prodigious, genius-like ability to focus on one topic. Now, communication is being defined in current terms, i.e. speaking, writing and reading. Is it possible that we are witnessing a paradigm shift in human development? Are we passing into a state of non-concrete communication? Are we missing the boat on these autistic children by looking at them like there’s something wrong with them? Or, are they really at the forefront of a non-verbal, more intuitive, holistic style of communication? Is this development environmentally or genetically based (with all the questions that go along with theories of genetic enablers). This scenario is not so far fetched when I look at computer designers who are aiming for neurological interfacing with computer technology, and the developments in biological implantation technology. Combine all this with the amazing over-development of sensitivity to one particular subject evidenced in autistic persons.







Pamela Masik, Vancouver, B.C., Canada


Modern Romance


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.

That includes Jo Ann Williams Walker, who says, “I think it’s important that we artists support good causes with our work. I am a member of the Bay Point Womens Club, here in Panama City. Last year I donated a piece of work that brought in $850.00. This year I am giving another and it will probably bring even more. I could perhaps sell it for a very nice price, but I think it needs to support these organizations that desperately need funds.”


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