But Aren’t Galleries Evil? And other FAQs (Pt. 1)

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Lisa and I have been in the arts, in varying roles, for over a decade. If we’re lucky, we have another five of those decades ahead of us to jam full of promoting Phoenix’s creative community, representing the art we love, and making work of our own. With Practical Art turning six in April, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to address what are seemingly ‘Age Old’ questions posed to galleries, questions that have cropped up time after time (after time) over those six years.

That’s not to disparage inquiry; we welcome and encourage questions– part of our goal as a teaching space is to have these conversations with emerging artists and new collectors, to introduce them to some of the good standards and practices of showing and collecting, and to give them the courage to not only dip a toe in, but to unabashedly cannonball right into the community pool. It is especially gratifying to foster the first buying experiences of new collectors, to host the first gallery solo show of an up and coming artist, or to make a craft artisan’s first ever sale.

But, heck, why not have a one-stop-shopping answer key with at least the “broad strokes” of our working knowledge on some of the most common queries? Yes, indeed, why not… so, here goes:

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As an artist, how do I approach galleries?
What’s the best way to start any relationship? Be confident and charismatic, not needy and demanding.  Most galleries have a very specific submission process that is geared towards how they can best and most efficiently evaluate and respond to each of the dozens to hundreds of applications that come in each year. Check their website; see if there is information available there. If not, call over and inquire about their submission processes and review periods. Be aware that some galleries review by invitation only. That one thing NOT to do? (Really…just don’t do it…) Show up, portfolio or work in hand, and impose on the gallery staff’s time and attention. During gallery hours, they are working on in-store sales, web sales, email sales, phone sales, customer service and client-relationship building. And oftentimes, the folks on the floor aren’t the ones who vet the work.  (That being said, I also invoke the Boy Scout’s motto, Always Be Prepared. Carry your business cards  on you and always have a copy of your portfolio and CV in your car. You may just run into the appropriate person who might have a spare bit of time on their hands. Get that elevator pitch ready.)

How do I choose a gallery?
With all of the information accessible through my friend and yours, Le World Wide Web, there’s no excuses for not doing your homework. Pursuant of the first question above, don’t solicit a gallery blindly. KNOW what you’re walking in to, and have an idea that it’s a good fit for you and your work– that’s the best way to avoid wasting your time and theirs. Start with the very basics– Do they represent your medium (e.g. should you submit your bronzes to a photography gallery)? Is your work similar in aesthetic, content, medium, or any of the other driving factors behind the focus of their representation? Can you tell who their audience is- their regular clientele- and in your estimation, is it an audience that will be receptive ($) to your work?   How does your pricing mesh with their inventory? Other questions you can ask yourself after the initial introductions:  is their business model one that meshes well with your pricing, output, and overall trajectory?  Do they insure your work? What all do they provide? What do they expect from you? Is their contract exclusive? If you’re seeking regular representation, it makes sense for you to have a dedicated local gallery. Dependent on your work and their reach, it may help to have another within the state (Sedona?), or, say you’re represented in Phoenix, as a visual artist, you may also want to seek out representation in LA, Santa Fe, (or both). If you’re a craft artisan, maybe consider Denver. And, ladies and gents, don’t be afraid to think nationally, globally. It might not come right away, but shouldn’t you have that on the table for yourselves?

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Why do I have to show in galleries?
The beautiful answer to this question is that you absolutely don’t. A traditional gallery representation is just ONE of the numerous models that have sprung up around all of the different wants, needs, and processes of artists and buyers. Galleries were established to take over the business aspects of an arts practice; Many artists have a self-identified lack  of certain key business skills or they simply aren’t interested in running the business around their art works. Galleries typically operate through a commission basis– where if they conduct their business rigorously, they sell your work, and the collector funds both your efforts. The artist’s and gallery’s upfront costs are recouped in the case of a successful sale, and in the case of no sale? Well, the artist can gather their work and attempt in a different arena, in front of a new audience, and the gallery subsumes the business and marketing costs they expended in the attempt. C’est la vie. If galleries aren’t part of your M.O., there are certainly other models: online marketplaces, where you remit a much smaller percentage to the sale site but you are responsible for much more of the business end; selling directly, where you keep your entire selling price but conduct the whole business of your art; art collectives, where you generally keep the majority of the sale price but have upfront costs such as dues, rent, and labor time; etc. And plenty more. Again, it’s about figuring out what’s right for you and your practice, and only you can know what that is. Also, as I mentioned earlier, there are many more nuances to each of these models, and this is that kind of a ‘broad stroke’ summation.

I’m already at the risk of a ‘tl;dr’ (as the kids are saying these days), so we’re breaking up this blog into a couple of sections. FAQ Part Deux will feature the following regular guests to our shop:

How do galleries determine their commission percentages?
Can I exclude any of my materials cost from the commission?
How do I determine my pricing?

If any of this is resonating with you, then stay tuned for Friday.

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