Are Galleries Really Necessary in Today's Art Market?

By Sonja Caywood on 2/10/2015 8:53:01 AM

It was once difficult to sell artwork without gallery representation, but websites, social media and online venues allow today's artists to sell directly to consumers.  Galleries no longer monopolize the art market, so artists wonder whether it's necessary to relinquish up to 50% of a painting's price tag to a gallery middleman; however, partnership with a reputable gallery provides benefits such as exposure, promotion, and advice that can advance an artist's career in immeasurable ways.

A gallery can greatly broaden the scope of an artist's work to include clients not in the artist's realm of contacts.  Emerging artists are lucky when their gallery represents very popular artists, as their art is exposed to that artist's collectors.  Corporate clients choose galleries who can professionally frame the work and hang it on location.  Galleries with a corporate clientele can promote their artists' work to businesses and interior designers whom the artist may have never made contact with on his own.  Good galleries increase exposure tremendously.

Though they no longer provide the only means of exposure of an artist's work, a gallery provides advertising on a level greater than most artists can afford.  Besides print, radio, TV, and Internet, today's successful galleries utilize social media promotions.   A savvy gallery promotes their artists with classy receptions.  At my one-man show opening in Billings, MT, recently, Rimrock Art & Frame served smoked salmon, hors de oeuvres, fine wines and chocolates, and gave out souvenir cups printed with my art.  Their advertising brought people in, and their grand reception lent credence to my work and an air of sophistication I couldn't convey on my own, making it a successful and profitable opening for us both.  Knowing the time and resources they put into a presentation like that makes their commission fee quite nominal, because gallery promotions increase an artist's popularity.

A dependable gallery partner provides advice you can trust.  My Billings gallery owner makes suggestions that prove he places my career and our customers above his own profit margin.  This kind of support is hard to find, and their partnership means so much to me that I've shown my gratitude by gifting them a couple smaller paintings and referring people to them often.  I don't have an art degree, but nearly everyone working at that gallery does; their counsel on many aspects is helpful.   Honest, professional advice makes gallery personnel trusted associates in my career as an artist.

A relationship with a respectable gallery is mutually advantageous.   Artists: If you don't feel that trusting alliance with the gallery representing you, find another one.  Likewise, if you have a gallery you value, treat them well.  Refer people to them whenever possible, and don't undercut their prices.  If a new customer comes to you after seeing your work at that gallery, kindly send the gallery a commission check for any purchase they may make.  Partnership is a two-way street; a relationship with a trustworthy gallery is worth the commission fee.

Before approaching any gallery, take time (and by "time" I mean years) to build a cohesive, quality body of work that represents your area of focus.  Research galleries carefully.  Make sure your work is a good fit for their walls, and never approach a gallery until you're quite familiar with it and the artists it represents.  Understand that many galleries do not accept new artists.  A brief email inquiring whether they are screening new work, then making an appointment, is preferable to walking in unexpected with an armload of paintings!

Find a gallery you can trust, one that goes the extra mile for you and for their customers as well, and you'll find that their partnership is well worth going the extra mile for them too, for a reputable gallery's services of exposure, promotion and advice can elevate your art career to a new level.

I'm primarily a painter, but I enjoy expressing myself in writing once in awhile.   Most of these posts appear in my "official" blog at Several also appear in the arts feature for our local paper, The Sheridan Press.  Thanks for visiting.

Sonja Caywood is one of Rimrock Art & Frame's featured artists who displays ranching, landscape and livestock oil paintings reflecting the ranch lifestyle of the West. We're proud to have her.

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