Saturday, July 9, 2011

What Goes Around Comes Around

There seems to be an ongoing debate these days about the worth of galleries.  To some, galleries are as mysterious, alluring, sexy, and as terrifying as that thirty-five year old divorcee is to a seventeen year old boy.  Others think that galleries are as important as teats on a bull.  I haven't taken any scientific surveys, but it seems like the rabble that are artists are rising up, pitchforks and torches in hand to throw off the mantle that is gallery representation.  In other words, galleries have a bad rep right now.

To tell the truth, it's not like they didn't bring it upon themselves.  For years a gallery was THE place to buy art.  Sure, artists could sell their paintings themselves, and years ago many did from small shops in art-friendly communities.  But those artists died out, and galleries eventually became lords of it all.  It got to be that selling by yourself was the sign of an amateur hack; real artists had gallery representation.  And galleries became the exclusive enclaves where the elite connoisseurs and folks of privilege came to meet and greet over wine and cheese.  Want to get into that club?  Don't call us, we'll call you.  It was a I don't need you, you need me hubris brought on by years of monopolization.  But then came the storm clouds.  After 9-11 the economy slowed down, only to fall off the cliff that is the current recession. 

Sales dried up.  Galleries were dropping out like teeth from a meth-heads mouth.  Many of those that remained open went into full-fledge hide-in-the-bunker survivalist mode; they wouldn't take any new artists because they couldn't sell the ones they had.  (A philosophy that always mystified me:  you won't try to find something that sells in order to hold on to what isn't selling...)  But artists were struggling just as mightily too.  Galleries weren't exclusive clubs anymore, they were lifeboats on the Titanic.  Artists had to look around for other venues, anyplace where they could sell their work.  And that's where the internet came in.

Who needs a brick and mortar store in a fixed location when any one with a computer can view your work from around the globe?  So we all jumped on the internet with our fancy web pages showing our brilliant art and waited for the sales to come pouring in.  Now, some artists do make a fair living from their internet art sales.  But I am going to climb out on a limb here and bet that you don't.  Which is no crime.  The fact of the matter is that all of us artists haven't gone anywhere, we're all just trying a different tact to win the "who sells a painting" game.

But you know what I find rather ironic?  The same internet that was supposed to free us from the bondage of galleries is now being used by artists to attract galleries!  Before, it was, "you must have an internet presence to attract buyers!"  Now, it's "you must have an internet presence to attract galleries!"  But you know what will attract buyers?  A good painting. 

In todays world we have access to every other person on this planet through social media.  Because of that, there has never been a better time than the present for artists to have their work be seen.  Galleries may have a diminished role in making an artist be known, but love 'em or hate 'em, they still are important for sales.  Many galleries are using the same social media that we all use.  And lo-and-behold, alot are even looking for new artists!  So listen, stop bashing the galleries.  Instead of being the gun, now they're a bullet.  We have all kinds of weapons at our disposal to sell paintings.

But no matter how many friends you have on Facebook, or followers on Twitter, the most important thing is making art that people want to buy.





Susan Roux said...

You pulled a switch on me here. I thought you'd decided galleries were a farce, after all the work you put into getting into one! I believe serious buyers are still shopping in galleries. Just as we the artists can't get the thought out of our heads that galleries are "it", neither can the seasoned buyer. They return to their favorite galleries, much like we return to our favorite restaurant or bar. There's a comfort. They like the gallery owner, have come to know them a bit and trust in the quality of the art they represent. Many buyers have buyer's anxiety. They know their knowledge in art is limited and they fear their taste will be laughed at behind their backs by their fellow "art lover" friends. (You paid that much for this piece??? lol) Maybe I should post about this..? My galleries often talk to me about buyer's anxiety.

Good post, Kevin.

Deborah Paris said...

Good post Kevin. I think "art marketing gurus" do a great disservice to artists suggesting that the internet is a ticket to financial freedom as an artist. A mix of gallery sales, events (like plein air shows and museum invitationals) and a few studio sales (occasionally from the internet) are how I make my living.