Monday, August 11, 2014

Why I'm Not in Many Galleries


Once people learn I'm a painter, the inevitable question is:  "What galleries are you in?"  I often feel that my answer will validate - or invalidate - me as a professional.

To be honest, I'm in only two galleries today, both of them artist-run.  (Green Drake in Milheim, Pennsylvania, and Symbiosis Fine Art in St Andrews, New Brunswick; and if you include my three studio galleries, Pumphouse Studio GalleryFriar's Bay Studio Gallery and Artist's Retreat Studios & Gallery, that's five.)  Oh, I've been in lots of other galleries, even one that was in Santa Fe.  Some folks feel that if you're in a Santa Fe gallery, you've made it.  Well, that gallery closed within a year and didn't sell a single painting of mine.

I have lots of issues with galleries.  First, you're just one artist of many; if a gallery has 30 artists, you will receive at most 1/30th of its efforts.  Unless there's a reason to receive more, such as if you're a personal friend of the owner or a superstar, you might even receive less.  Second, since a gallery is not a democracy, you have no say on how the place is run.  Some galleries have sales staff on the phone all day who ignore walk-in traffic; others have inconsistent hours or bad marketing approaches; still others hang your work behind a door on the second floor and then kick you out because you haven't sold anything.  Finally, thanks to the Internet, many galleries are finding it hard to survive.  Too often, they end up killing themselves:  A constricted cash flow leads to desperate - and often poor - business decisions that, in turn, lead to acccidental self-strangulation.

All that said, if you're a gallery without these problems and think we can forge a successful partnership, I'll be happy to give you a try.

I like artist-run galleries.  The artists who run them are interested in more than just closing a deal; they have more blood in the game than just some investor's money.  Quite often, they sink their soul into the business with the necessary belief that art will be civilization's salvation.  (I believe that, too.)  They will work hard for an honest artist.  I've had my artist-run galleries frame up pieces to help me save on shipping and assist me in organizing local workshops.  They didn't have to, but they did.

So what really validates you as a professional artist?  Having an M.F.A.?  Having seven galleries, one of which is Santa Fe, L.A. or New York City?  Or, like me, simply being able to say that you quit your day job back in 2000 and have been making a living ever since with your art?

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about what validates you as a professional and about your gallery experiences.

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