A Post for Gallery Owners | How To Work Successfully With Artists

Today’s post is from a little different angle than normal RedDot articles. Today I would like to speak directly to other gallery owners. Though most of my posts are directed to artists, I know that I also have a good number of gallery owners who follow the blog – I appreciate the comments and perspective these gallery owners have offered in comments. I’m offering this post to these gallery owners but also to the many other gallery owners out there who may come across the article.

Today I want to share some advice about working with the artists that you represent. I want to be very careful about my tone – I don’t mean to imply that I know anything more about this subject than anyone else or that I’ve perfected my relationship building skills with the artists I represent. The reality is that much of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned by making mistakes, mistakes that I continue to make from time to time. Today I would simply like to share what I’ve learned and begin a discussion about how we can all better work together.

This post is born of some discussions I’ve had with artists and some tales I’ve heard over the years about the challenges artists and galleries face in their relationships. It’s amazing to me the discomfort, discord, and even animosity that can rise between artists and gallery owners and staff, and if we can start a discussion that helps decrease the tension in some way, I’ll feel it’s been worth the effort.

Obviously, not all of the challenges are created by the galleries – artist’s can just as easily foul up the works. If you look back over past blog posts you’ll see that I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging artists to work with their galleries in a more professional manner. Today I’ll turn the tables.

Perhaps the most important things I’ve come to realize over the years is that we all share the same goal: helping collectors bring art into their lives. As we do so, we all benefit from the sales to those collectors. The better we work together, the more successful we will all be.


I’m convinced that most of the problems that arise between galleries and artists arise out of a lack of communication. I know that managing communication with your collectors takes a tremendous amount of time and effort and that you can feel like you don’t have the bandwidth to spend a lot of time communicating with your artists. It’s amazing, however, how a little bit of effort to interact proactively with your artists can result in a dramatically more successful relationship.

callIt’s easy to fall into a routine where you only talk to an artist when absolutely necessary, and the next thing you know a year or longer has passed since you’ve had a conversation with an artist. When this happens, inventory tends to get stale and the energy of the relationship fades.

I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I’ve been guilty of failure to communicate, but I’ve learned that whenever we put effort into reaching out to our artists we are rewarded for the effort. If you don’t believe me, pick up the phone right now, dial one of your artist’s phone numbers and  say “Hi – I’m just calling to see what’s new!” Tell the artist about the reaction you’ve had to his/her work and find out what’s new out of the studio.

It’s obviously even more important to be clear and abundant in your communication if you are planning a show for an artist. Make sure you are crystal clear as you communicate deadlines and promotional requirements.

Get Organized

Another area of conflict arises if you aren’t well organized in your business. Specifically, if you are well organized in your inventory management you will avoid a host of problems as you work with your artists and collectors. A very common complaint I hear among artists as they talk about their experiences with galleries is that a gallery has lost a piece of artwork.

This is a baffling situation for an artist. How can a gallery lose a piece of artwork? It’s understandable that a gallery with hundreds or even thousands of pieces of work in inventory may have to work to find a piece, but, unless the work is microscopic, you shouldn’t lose it!

I suspect that most artwork that goes missing in action was either removed from the gallery by the artist or shipped to another venue without the proper paperwork being created.

Make sure you have a good inventory tracking system in place and that there is never a scenario where new artwork is arriving in the gallery or old artwork leaving without some kind of paperwork being created to note the move.

The goal should be that, at a moment’s notice, you can generate a list of current inventory that matches the actual inventory you have on hand.

Again, we are far from perfect, but we strive to create a certain level of discipline when it comes to inventory control. It’s a lot of work, but it saves a lot more work that will rise when you let your inventory records fall behind.


A simple show planning calendar showing deadlines leading up to an artist's exhibition
A simple show planning calendar showing deadlines leading up to an artist’s exhibition

Another huge key to success in the gallery business is planning. It’s easy to become complacent with your business, especially if you’ve been at it for a while. Don’t just let business happen, plan! At least annually you should be sitting down to plan out your show schedule and other promotional efforts.

Don’t just put dates on a calendar and call it good – make sure you set up checklists for each event with deadlines for you and the artists you are working with so that you can all work together to build your success.

Communication becomes absolutely critical when you are working together toward an exhibition or other special promotion.

Become a Better Salesperson

Our business revolves around sales – as gallery owners we have to make sure that we and our staff are the best possible salespeople that we can be. Some sales expertise comes with experience, but there’s always more that we can be doing to hone are salesmanship skills.

While selling art is a unique process, it’s not so unique that we can’t learn salesmanship skills from other industries. A quick review of the business section of a bookstore will reveal numerous salesmanship guides that can be read and the knowledge adapted to your gallery.

I remember, early in my career as a gallerist, reading books by Zig Ziglar and other sales experts that opened my eyes to the techniques of salesmanship. Any investment you make in honing your salesmanship will be returned to you many times over in increased sales over the years.

Pay Your Artists Quickly and Reliably

This is a big one. Artists are thrilled when they hear a piece has sold. They are even more thrilled the moment the check arrives. The faster you can get the check into the artist’s hands, the more excited they will be. Excitement translates into better work for your gallery, goodwill, and reputation.

I understand that, as gallery owners, we have to manage cash flow and that you have to be careful to avoid problems if a piece of artwork is returned. It’s become a pretty common practice in the industry to have a 30 day turnaround on artist payments to insulate against returns.

emptymailboxWe were long on a 30 day float for artist payments until my gallery director, Elaine, encouraged me to rethink the policy. Having managed an artist’s business for many years, she convinced me that it would be good business to accelerate the payment. I wasn’t comfortable writing a check to the artist the day the sale happens – we do run into payment or returns from time to time – but we figured out that if we paid as soon as the artwork was delivered to the client’s home and the client had accepted the work and expressed satisfaction with the piece, we wouldn’t run into too many problems.

Our practice now is to contact a client as soon as we receive confirmation of delivery from our shipper to make sure the piece has arrived safely and that they are satisfied. Doing this is actually also great customer service – it lets your client know you care beyond their payment.

Once we’ve received confirmation of delivery and satisfaction from the client, we add the artwork to our list of payables and issue payment on our next weekly check run. This system makes it so that instead of receiving a check 35-40 days after a sale, our artists can expect to receive payment 10-20 days after a sale in most cases – a huge difference.

Nothing will frustrate an artist more than having to wait for an extended period or feeling like they are having to hound you for payment.

I understand that cash flow can be complicated in this business, but I can promise you that if you will prioritize paying your artists quickly you will see the benefits in your business.

If you are using artist’s commission to cover bills, you are masking problems in your cash flow. Worse, once you get behind, it gets harder and harder to catch up.

Treat The Artists You Work With Like Customers, or Even Better, Like Family

I’m going to try to say this without getting myself into too much trouble. I know that working with some artists can be . . . . challenging. Some artists are . . . . . quirky, disorganized, and maybe even slightly neurotic. Sometimes artists will let you down. Sometimes they will make mistakes in their business practices that will drive you crazy.

I try to remember that with artists there is yin and yang. You wouldn’t get the brilliance and creativity if you didn’t also get the challenges – it’s all part of the package.

I figure that, as a gallery owner, it’s part of my job to learn how to work with artists in difficult situations. I try to approach my relationship with my artists by treating them the same way I would treat a client – I want to get to know them, figure out their strengths and weaknesses and find the best ways to communicate on an individual basis with each artist.

As you strive to do everything I’ve talked about in this post, you’ll find that your relationships will stand on firmer ground. As you work together you’ll build relationships that will eventually come to feel like family. It’s at that point that amazing things will happen in your gallery.

What Do You Think About the Artist/Gallery Relationship?

To the gallery owners reading this post, what have you done to build strong relationships with your artists? What has been the greatest challenge as you’ve interacted with them? I’ve been at this for over 20 years, but I know that many of you have been at it longer – I would love to hear any advice you can give to galleries that are striving to build better relationships with their artists.

To the artists reading this post, what have you seen galleries do well as they work to interact with you or with other artists? What do you wish galleries understood better about you as an artist? What do you think galleries could do to increase their success in working with their artists?

Share your comments below!

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Well this was interesting reading and good advice all round; being a once upon a time gallery owner & also holding a paint brush for forty years my biggest gripe is how many artworks stolen from under my nose.

  2. One thing which I strongly believe in is applying the golden rule of “doing unto others as you would have done unto you” with my artists. I try to go the extra mile with them, and look out for their best interests. Without them, my gallery would be nothing. I am able to help assist, and advance them at times by also placing them in another gallery along with mine. That is something that most galleries would never consider doing. I realize however that the more successful they are, the better off I am. It is much easier for a gallery with connections to pick up the phone and make that happen. I also spend a lot of time observing the public’s response to each of my artists, and hear both the positive and negative comments daily. It is information that the artist is typically not able to hear, because they are not present with the work all the time, and the public is more honest with their feelings and opinions when the artist is not in their company. Once a year I share that information with each artist privately, and it is up to the artist to do what they may with that information. They are more apt to be more successful if they key into the positive aspects of what I hear, consistently and make adjustments to some of the negative responses , if they are consistently echoed from the public. I am careful in how I couch my input, because I well understand that an artist has to be true to his or herself as an artist.

    I am unlike most gallery owners I know, in that I am completely transparent with my artists. The artist is paid as soon as the work is delivered, and they receive a copy of the bill of sale along with the charge receipt. They have all the contact information with the client, for I feel that if there is a retrospective of their work one day, that they should be able to locate those works. There has to be a level of trust between the gallery and the artist. I have to look out for them, and expect that they will not try to undercut me, and deal with the client directly. If that trust is broken, my relationship is broken with that artist as well.

    I require a contract with each of my artists, however I realize that some artists have different circumstances within their personal and professional life which requires me to be flexible with each artist with regard to their contract. Understanding each of my artists, and striving to work with them in a harmonious relationship is a key objective, however it does not come without its challenges at times.

    1. One of my galleries doesn’t have a website, so I will pay their commission if my artwork sells on my e-commerce website—even if the customer didn’t find the artwork from the gallery. I feel like it is only fair since they are investing in me by displaying my artwork in retail space. You sound like the kind of gallery owner any artist would truly be lucky to have represent them.

  3. Integrity
    … perhaps the most important quality on both sides of the artist/gallery owner equation!

    I’ve found integrity to be critical whether I’m working with a gallery owner, or a licensee of my artwork, or a publisher, or another artist/ collaborator, or my direct customers. As an artist/creative I need to have high integrity, to make sure that my word is golden — that I’m honest, I honor my commitments, and I give my best. Ditto on the other side!

    My guess is that the Gallery Owners who read your column are ones with high integrity, however, all of you wonderful Gallery Owners please keep in mind that many of us artists come to you a bit bruised – whether it’s because our images are being stolen on-line or we’re healing from prior collaborations with unscrupulous Gallery Owners (such as some who advertise ‘Support local artists’ then stock the gallery with Chinese knock-offs of our designs, yes this happened), or we are simply uncomfortable marketing ourselves. Perhaps our quirkiness and challenging traits come from a place of bruised egos?

    I agree Jason that developing a strong relationship and keeping open communication is key and thank you Ray Wiggs for pointing out the Golden Rule – I couldn’t agree more. As an artist, I wish all Gallery Owners had your integrity!

    1. Right on. My experience with gallery owners has not been the best. Art works that have mysteriously disappeared from the gallery, no gallery inventory to confirm their disappearance and then being told someone must have crept in a second-floor window and absconded with a 48 X 60 inch painting, not being paid, etc. I have one gallery in my town which is very ethical and runs his gallery with a good business hand. Do gallery owners think that all artists are not good business people?

  4. As a gallery owner – CHECKLISTS are so important !
    Firstly for our gallery to make sure we cover everything: from the first meet with an artist, right through to the other end of the process of follow up with the clients who made the purchase of that artist’s works, to make sure everyone is happy.
    And also a comprehensive checklist for the artist – we never assume that an artist knows how to present works and what our gallery prefers, what we like in a bio etc etc. So we make an easy tick off list that an artist can go through so that when works are delivered we as a gallery don’t have to keep asking for more and more information.
    Totally on board with everything from RWGallery – we make prompt payments to artists the day after the sale, so they get immediate gratification for their work.
    It is important for a gallery to immediately give the artist a detailed inventory of their works when they arrive in the gallery. This gives the artist peace of mind that we are looking after their creations. We update it straight after a sale – no mislaid artworks yet !
    Communication builds trust and good relationships. We have artists from all ranges of the spectrum, from totally professional in everything they do, to very random artists with no communication skills at all. The gallery learns what to expect from artists who are not professional. We love them all, as without them we would not have a gallery 🙂
    As an artist having sold in galleries previously and had some not so wonderful experiences (not getting paid is the worst), it has been invaluable to me in setting up our gallery, as I know what artists need.
    Great article.

  5. As an artist and gallery owner dealer the basics of what you lay out are good policies to practice. The caveat i would offer is that there are many artists whose works are admirable and marketable but cannot be worked with in any reasonable functional manner. They are simply too far from the realities of life to have any awareness of proper successful conduct either with clients, gallery owners or dealers. there is a limit to the hand holding that can be done! For these and most other art i deal with the works are simply purchased outright eliminating the issues by assuming a risk value. the inventories still need to be maintained and contacts with the artist ongoing it only removes the angst on the artists end. like any other business decision you will win some and lose others.

  6. Now I am an artist and gallery owner but in a previous life I worked in healthcare, specifically patient safety and like the majority of air crash investigations the underlying cause of the vast majority of problems is absolutely communication, closely followed by lack of systems…if you keep them both in check then you will have a low likelihood of issues! But despite your best efforts some artists are just never going to be organised or follow an agreed plan but will be indignant when things don’t work out as expected.

  7. Jason. Thanks for showing your checklist. Your email reminder that comes out the day before show opening – how brief is it and does it have image or images of the artist’s work?

  8. As a new galleriest, just one year in, I have found so much useful information on this blog. I really appreciate this article as I’m constantly learning from trial and error. I have sought mentorship from previous successful gallerists and always welcome input from them and my artists. I have some wonderful professional artists that just wow me and others that with such poor business practices (and common sense) that I’ve had to sever the Gallery/Artist relationship. I love working with the artists in my gallery, but I was surprised by some experiences I’ve had that I never expected. Artists that dissappear for months at a time and will not take calls/texts, artists complaining about other artists in the gallery, artists not wanting their work hung near another particular artist, artists wandering into the gallery and taking 10 pieces of their work right off the wall as if nothing would be wrong with doing that in the middle of a working day, artists that refuse to price their work with any consistency, artists bringing in framed work in horrible condition and then getting upset when I won’t accept it, and artists that sign a contract that restricts them from listing their art that’s concurrently in the gallery for less than the retail price on social media, etc. and they do it anyway.

    All of this and more has happened within a years time. However, the majority of my artists are wonderful and I consider them my friends. The best ones are respectful of my time and written protocol, communicate regularily when I reach out to them, attend the reception parties that I throw for them, and keep producing enchanting creations. I realize that I only know about 1% of what makes an excellent gallerist, but my heart is in the right place.

    1. Wow, I am amazed of what you said about some artists behavior. As an artist I would be so thrilled to be in a gallery and do whatever it took to have a great relationship. I guess they feel their art is so good, they can do what they want. People are terrible sometimes.

  9. While it can be difficult, our gallery (I’m a part owner) ensures that the artists have a personality that will mix with the group. The artist’s personality is our first criteria even before reviewing the work. The points that you list here from inventory to paying the artist immediately is key. Fast pay, communication, monthly set events, promotion and an inventory system make for a happy artist family.

    1. This is interesting. I doubt that Jackson Pollock or others we could name would have been chosen based on personality. I’m currently part of, but about to leave, a small local art guild and gallery because it’s more like a social club than a group of professional artists. I like the people in the group, but I miss that stimulation which always keeps me on track as an artist.

      Also, despite nice personalities, there’s more talk about recipes than art, and the payment system is messed up.

      I understand wanting everyone to get along, but not sure how it is as a criteria for choosing art in the gallery.

  10. I am an artist. Over the years I’ve worked with a number of galleries, including NYC galleries. In NY it was the all too frequent experience of not only having difficulty getting paid, but not even being informed that a painting had sold. These experiences displayed a complete lack of respect for the artist. These galleries lost my business.

    Then I found a gallery that loved my work, had decades of presence in NYC, but had moved their operation out to the Berkshires of MA. They had built a multi- generational body of client’s that had tremendous loyalty to the gallery because they were treated like family. They truly respected the creative artist as well. Every year they would host an appreciation dinner for their artists in one of the owner’s homes. We felt like family as well. On the commerce side I could count on being paid within 2 weeks and was always informed immediately when something had sold. In a few cases, when a long time trusted client purchased a painting, I was paid even before the gallery. I was every bit as loyal to them as their clients and would bend over backwards for them. Sadly, they eventually decided to retire. They had no interest in selling the business and its good name. They just closed the doors. I have never been able to recreate that relationship with a gallery. It is all too rare. To gallery owners: You have the possibility to have something so much more than an income generator. The gallery/artist relationship truly needs to be a symbiotic one, enriching both.

    1. In the past 32 years, I’ve truly been blessed to be represented by a bunch of amazing, professional galleries that do all of the above soooo well. They promoted me in mags. They had shows for me. They paid right away or on a regular schedule. When I delivered new work, they had a typed consignment sheet before I left the gallery. I love those galleries!

      And I’ve been in a few galleries – not so much.

      But in all those years, I’ve only been “stiffed” for a couple of hundred bucks on the last installment payment by one direct collector. And one gallery took a down payment from one of their “best collectors” and didn’t receive the rest of the $$$$ for over a year. But the collector did finally pay. And get this, the gallery also paid me!

      I’ve had to hound some of my galleries for payments (I hate doing that!), but they eventually paid me. And I’ve had a gallery burn flat to the ground, but because I had good consignment records, their insurance company paid me.

      And some galleries regularly sold my work for 30% off. (I give them 10% “wiggle room” but not 30% (buy 2 get one free!?).) I price my work the same in all my galleries and my studio, so I couldn’t “fudge” the prices up, but as soon as it was reasonable, I found better galleries.

      This “artist game” is a roller-coaster ride, but what else would I do!

  11. Jason, I have been a gallery owner for over 40 years, and am also a professional artist. Every item you listed is spot on as far as I’m concerned, as is every comment Ray Wiggs made. I have always paid my artists just as soon as the check cleared, which is sometimes only days after the sale. Why not? And I also ask my clients to send me a photo of the art they purchased in its new setting, which I copy and send to the artist. That has proven to be incredibly meaningful to the artists. I keep my copies in a leather binder and it is also a terrific sales tool in the gallery. And I will add one thing to both galleries and artists – never work without a written contract that covers every detail of your relationship – if you are fortunate, your relationship may last for much longer than your memory will, and it’s very helpful to have things written down. Thanks for all your efforts, Jason.

  12. Hello, Jason,

    I sincerely wish that there was something positive to say here, Jason!

    I have not had a single friendly, professional or compassionate conversation with any
    gallerist that I made the mistake of calling….No, I did have ONE; but then that gallery was closing it’s doors…the woman was actually kind to me. Imagine an art gallery wanting to talk to those who make what they sell. I no longer even try and call galleries. It is harmful and hurtful. Yet I have always remained professional and calm on my end.

    I have never called a gallery cold. I always communicated and let them know that I would be calling them after a week or so. So that they had time to look, if interested, at my site. If you don’t get to attempted contacts for months at a time, that is your affair.

    I actually thought that I would be welcomed in the gallery world. I was in the past; but these days this is one hostile environment if you are not the right “person”. And you know exactly what I mean by that, if you are honest with yourself. My work needs to be seen in person; so I make small samples and send them as gifts so that the gallery could evaluate my work accurately. The responses that I received were just plain mean, when I was not completely ignored. I no longer waste my time and materials doing this….and it really saddens me.

    Apparently we artist are ruining the gallerists days by attempting to engage in business with them in any way. One gallerist in Cleveland actually yelled at me for calling him. I still send out my digital portfolio as an exercise in futility….”hope springs eternal”, as they say.

    I have certainly had the smile wiped off my face by some of these folks.

    You should at the very least be kind in your dealings with others.

    Best of luck to all of you.


    1. Will,

      I’m genuinely sorry to hear about your distressing experiences. It’s unfortunate that you’ve encountered such negativity in your interactions with galleries. While bad experiences do occur, they are not typically the norm within the artist community I engage with.

      I believe that thorough preparation is key to increasing the likelihood of positive experiences. It’s crucial to present yourself and your work in an appealing and professional manner, especially to galleries that align with your artistic style and goals. However, I want to be clear: the poor behavior you’ve encountered from gallery owners is inexcusable, and it’s not a reflection of your approach.

      Persistence is vital in the art world. I encourage you to continue reaching out, refining your approach, and seeking galleries that appreciate your work and professionalism. Remember, every artist’s journey is unique, and finding the right fit can sometimes take time.

      Your experiences, while challenging, are part of your growth as an artist. Keep striving, keep evolving, and don’t lose hope.

  13. I know, right? I should be so lucky. I would bend over backward for the gallery simply out of gratitude for the opportunity, and then I would proceed as if we were in a business partnership, which, by definition, you are.

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