April 08, 2013
Self-promotion is all the rage these days, the Internet and social media seemingly being the ideal channels to get your art out into the world and galleries being frowned upon because of their high commission fees. If you asked me I would be the first to tell you that having your own website is an absolute must for every artist as is having a Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and Twitter account. It is definitely worth it to be informed about sites like Reddit, Kickstarter and Etsy and to spend some time online doing research and promoting your stuff. Nowadays the Internet is the first place where people look for stuff so your art being out there to be found can never be a bad thing.
But the Internet is a vast place where millions upon millions of items are vying for your attention and it is very, very hard to stand out. Online your art has to compete not just with the work of other artists but also with the world news, the latest viral YouTube video and that cute lol-cat meme that is going around. Besides the chances being slim that people will stumble upon your work online, and the chances are even slimmer that people will then stay on you site and actually purchase something, it is also very time consuming to maintain an active online presence. Keeping your website up to date, writing and posting regular blog posts and being active on all of the social media sites can be a full-time job leaving you no time to paint or create anything.
So what is the alternative? Find yourself a couple of good brick and mortar galleries. They know the art world and will be able to market your art more effectively. A brick and mortar gallery will have an established clientele and specific collectors that they market to. The gallery system has been around for a while so they know what they’re doing. Granted finding a good gallery is not going to be easy and getting into one is going to be even harder, there are a lot of places out there that are in it only for their own benefit, you have to watch out for the vanity galleries that have you pay fees upfront. Do your research and try to find the good ones, the ones that actively promote their artists, organize multiple group and solo events without charging monthly fees and the ones that are pleasant to work with. The latter being the most important because you are going to have to build a good relationship with them. You have to invest time in building that relationship, go to their openings, help out at events and help promote the gallery.
I agree, commission fees are steep and it may seem harsh that you have to give up half of your work to someone who does nothing more then put it up on their wall and sell it but look it this way. The gallery has to invest a lot of time promoting the artwork, time that you can spend in your studio to create new work. The gallery has to pay rent, usually a pretty steep one because they are often located in high-end locations, which benefits you as an artist as well, they also have to keep the lights on and pay their employees. They spent time organizing events that introduce your work to new people and they deal with shipping and handling as well as with all the difficult clients. Running a gallery is a full time job; there is so much work you don’t have to do if you are being represented by a good gallery.
If you feel that you’re not making any money selling through a gallery because of the commission fee you have to pay, talk to them, be honest, explain why you’re not happy and try to find a solution. Your gallery is there to help you, you need them but they need you as well. A good gallery relationship is a two way street, they have to actively promote you and do anything in their power to sell your work, that’s why you pay them the big bucks. But in return you’re going to have to promote them too! If people inquire about your work don’t go behind the gallery’s back and sell something for cheaper, your prices should be the same across the board whether you sell online or through a gallery. If you sell something yourself you just made more money, but in return you also had to invest time to deal with the client, package your art and arrange shipping and insurance or pickup.
In the end you’re going to have to find a balance, be active and aware of the online environment and make sure that people can find your work if they go looking for it. But find some of those great galleries as well and most importantly, invest some time to build that relationship with them. Time spent working with your gallery will pay off. A couple of hours updating you site or writing a great blog post might give you a couple of extra hits but time invested in a great gallery relations may give you years of active, targeted promotion which will lead to more sales.
So go out there and invest some time in building that relationship, you’ll be glad that you did!