“I won’t work with galleries. The commission is too high!”
I frequently hear some variation of this statement as I am conversing with artists. You’ve probably heard fellow artists say something like this as well, or perhaps you’ve even thought it yourself.
Galleries typically take a 50% commission on the sale of two-dimensional artwork – paintings, photos, monotypes, etc., and anywhere from 33.3% to 40% for three-dimensional work. For an artist who feels that they are “starving,” it’s difficult to imagine how it could possibly make sense to “give away” half of their sale price. What could a gallery do that would possibly be worth the commission?
The truth is, it doesn’t makes sense for every artist to show with galleries.
As a gallery owner, you’d probably expect me to say, “Of course it’s worth it!” but my response is actually a little more complicated than that. The truth is, it doesn’t makes sense for every artist to show with galleries, so let’s take just a moment and look at the variables to decide whether it makes sense for you.
Asking the Right Question
The first thing you need to do is forget the question in the title of this post, “Why do galleries get such high commissions?” and the related question, “Are gallery commissions too high?” These questions simply don’t matter because gallery commissions aren’t going down any time soon. You may as well ask “Why is gravity such a downer?” You might be able to come up with some great arguments against the effects of gravity and reasons why you should be lighter, but gravity, just like the gallery commission, is immutable.
The correct question is “Do I feel it’s worth it to pay the gallery commission?”
A little math and the answers to a few simple questions should help you decide.
Let’s begin with the math to see what you are really giving up when you pay a gallery commission. In order to do this, we need to understand the value of your art. Let’s create a hypothetical piece of art and consider its value. Let’s say you have a painting, sculpture, photograph or other work of art that you have priced at $1,000. If you sell the art yourself, you’ll get the full $1,000. If a gallery sells it for you, they will keep $400-$500, and you’ll make $500-$600.
If that were all the math you had to do, this would be pretty simple because obviously $1,000 is better than $500. We need to dig a little deeper, though, and dissect the value to better understand where the original $1,000 value is being created.
The Value of Art
I would argue that the value of any piece of art is comprised of two distinct components. One part of the value of the art is created by you as you are in the studio employing your talent and creativity to produce this masterpiece. The second part of the value is created by all of the time, effort, and creativity that goes into marketing, promoting, and selling that work of art.
Which is more difficult, creating the art or selling it? Every artist would have a different answer to this question, but I suspect that a majority of artists feel it’s much easier to create art than it is to sell it.
When you sell the work yourself you’ve done all of the work and you earn the full $1,000 value. If a gallery has sold the work for you, in essence you have hired them to take over the marketing, sales, and customer service for you.
Now, all you have to do is figure out how much value you can create per hour in the studio, vs. how long it takes you to sell a piece of art yourself. If you generate more value in the studio than selling, you should be working toward finding galleries to take over the sales for you.
I have met many artists over the years who are born salespeople as well as great artists. If you, like them, find it easy, fun, and exciting to sell, then securing gallery representation is not going to be your highest priority.
Again, if that were all the math you had to do, this would, I think, be a pretty easy decision. There are other variables to consider, however:
- Getting into galleries takes preparation and work, as does maintaining the gallery relationship. There are also costs involved in getting your art to the gallery. These hidden costs need to be taken into account when calculating the viability of selling through galleries.
- Not all galleries are created equal. Some galleries work hard to earn their commission. They actively promote their artists and engage their buyers. Other galleries seem to take the spider approach by opening their doors and waiting for buyers to get caught in their web. Sometimes fate smiles on the second type of gallery and they sell well due to their location or some other combination of factors, but you are far more likely to be successful in a gallery that’s hard at work. In other words, you want to work with galleries that earn their commission.
- Early in an artist’s career, it is often difficult to secure good gallery representation simply because the artist hasn’t established her/his reputation. Often artists have to pursue their own sales to establish themselves in the marketplace.
- The art market is rapidly evolving as many tools formerly available only to artists through galleries (brochures, international exposure, the internet) make it possible for artists to promote their work effectively to qualified buyers. As the internet and technology make all of this easier, the calculation changes, and I don’t blame artists for running the numbers to see if it makes more sense to manage their own marketing and sales. I believe that galleries still offer consistent exposure that is difficult to duplicate in the virtual world, but the equation continues to move in the artist’s favor.
If the gallery can eventually sell the work for twice or three times what you would have been able to sell it yourself, you end up making more money and doing less work!
Those are all factors that weigh against the gallery relationship. On the “pro” side, you should consider that you may gain some credibility in the eyes of your buyers by showing in galleries. Many artists report buyers often ask what galleries they are showing in. It is also often the case that a gallery can sell your art at a higher price than you can sell yourself at art shows or out of the studio. In the long term, the higher prices a gallery can command change the initial arithmetic pretty dramatically. If the gallery can eventually sell the work for twice or three times what you would have been able to sell it yourself, you end up making more money and doing less work!
Ultimately, you should consider whether what a gallery is offering – a professional sales staff, gallery display space in a prime art market location, marketing, gallery prestige, etc. – is worth the commission.
Is It Worth It?
What do you think – are you willing to pay gallery commissions, or do you prefer to market your work on your own? What benefits do you see to self-representation? To gallery representation? Leave your thoughts and comments below.
I would need to get a gallery to actually exhibit my stuff before I can start worrying about commission being too high. As well as horror stories about artists not getting their art back after galleries close, disreputable dealers etc. Maybe do an article on artists giving up because they’re sick of getting rejected?
I know what is like to own and operate a store. It takes more than 40 hours a week and the expenses are high. Therefire I have no problems selling my art on commission. It would benifit me to have a gallery of my own but I’m not willing to make it my life. I just love to create. The gallery owners are in a tough business, I’m happy they are around.
This year we opened a ceramics studio, Laguna Clay retail store, and Gallery in the Arts district of Las Vegas. The reason for the gallery was to add to our community, to help expose people to our local artists, to expose our local artists to national artists. As a group of artists ourselves I can say we spend hundreds of hours a month trying to get new people in the gallery and to move work. With the cost of rent, utilities…… a pvt show in a small gallery easily costs the owner more than $1000. We all need to remember art is a industry like everything else and costs money.
I have a question for you. Gallery and clients have commissioned me to do a sculpture in bronze and the clients have agreed to allow me to produce 4 more pieces and an AP do you think the gallery has a right to own a portion of the edition?
Only if they sell the additional pieces. You might consider offering that gallery the exclusive rights to market the additional pieces in the edition….. with an expiration date. Example, gallery has exclusive to sell pieces for one year. If they are not successful, then you get to sell them yourself, with NO commision due to the gallery.
—— Mark Eliot Schwabe
Artists are their own worst enemies. They spend $50 on materials, 20 hours creating a work, $100 framing it, then decide to try to sell it for $500 (“because no one will pay more than that for it…”) Then they spend $400 on a booth at a street fair and drive 100 miles each way to do it, plus stay in a hotel, and never count those expenses, much less their time, as part of the costs of DOING THE WORK of trying to sell their work! Then they get rained out and incur the same expenses the next week somewhere else trying to sell the same paintings! All those expenses and time working to sell their art have VALUE (what if you spent the same amount of time at a job?) that whoever does that work needs to be paid to do. I realize I’m just paraphrasing what Jason said, but this issue has been a bone of contention with me for a long time. As a professional artist with work in others’ galleries, and as a gallery owner myself, it is my experience from both sides of the desk that galleries that take less than 50% don’t make it very long! That aforementioned artist would be much better off finding some kind of gallery to take his work, and to reevaluate exactly what he has in his work in time, money, effort, experience, and reputation to put a true value on his work, and let someone who knows how to sell artwork do that job. As far as the artists who have a hard time getting into galleries: there are many levels of galleries, from frame shops to coops to big, fancy galleries. A little research and leg-work will help those artists find the galleries that are right for their work, and vice-versa. No gallery is going to give wall space to an artist as a favor. They take your work because they think they can sell it and make money on it. It’s business. If you’re not getting your work into the galleries you’d like to, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the quality level of your work and work to make it better.
I’m saddened that you devalue what is created. I agree some artist effort seems limited, but others put much creative effort into their work. The fact that you think there is no value there is sad. I’ve been selling my art for 20 years at a great price. But I do not rely on it as income, I am not well known, and I’m not interested in competing with the simple projects I see making money and printing on purses and everything else. I find the Gallery is a good way to achieve exposure, however, 50% is cray cray and over valuing a service that creates nothing but income.
Wow! that’s really powerful points ! thank you for posting this
I love the relationships I have with the galleries I am in presently, but find that sometimes my work is not being marketed actively enough. Galleries have stopped requiring exclusivity, but also seemed to stop representing them as individual artists; instead marketing the gallery as a whole. To see more evidence of that would be worth the
“Why aren’t I on your website?” Etc.
I think galleries are great, and they have to charge that much to make a go of their business. It’s a tough business, especially at the moment in our economy, when lots of discretionary income that was there has dried up.
I hear artists complain about this all the time and I don’t understand it. I don’t think artists understand it takes money to market your work, whether it’s in a gallery, online or art festivals. I do Festivals and a decent weekend show will cost me $300-$600, plus travel expenses. Some shows I will do great and make lots of sales but some shows you may sell nothing or just break even. Also remember I’m at these shows about 8 hours a day talking to people and 2-4 hours set up.
If you want to sell your work online you need to develop a website which can be expensive if you hire someone, there are fee’s for a domain & to keep your site running. Your going to need to advertise to get your name out there or go through websites like Ebay, and yes, they will take a commission also. Costs may be less than gallery commission but your doing all the work. If your on the computer all the time when will you paint?
As far as galleries are concerned, 50% percent commission after you SOLD a piece, isn’t so bad. The tricky part is finding a gallery that can sell your work. I visited Scottsdale’s gallery district about 3 months ago to check out what galleries would be a good fit. I just went back last week and 2 out of the 5 galleries I had on my list were out of business. 2 others were not open during the hours they had posted online and on the sign on their door. So that left me 1 gallery to talk to. So if your lucky enough to find a gallery that is selling your work, say thank you. They deserve that commission!
As a sculptor time, tools, & materials eats up profit. Is that why some galleries take less of a commision on 3-D work?
Any suggestions for how to respectfully ask our galleries to increase marketing?
Hi Anne. I don’t know how old this blog post is so my comment may be moot. As a newly opened gallery space in Maryland we are trying to generate as much interest as possible and make ourselves a destinations. My recommendation to you as you attempt to get a gallery to boost their market is to ask how you can help them promote you and your work. Promoting both is important. We are finding artists turn their work over to us to install by ourselves with little input and then begrudgingly attend the opening event we plan and host for them. Make yourself available to the gallery and to the public through the gallery. Buyers love to meet the artist and talk about your inspirations. They may even want to commission a piece. Just my humble opinion/
We have some Vanity Galleries here in Tucson, and if you don’t sell in them, you are out your “wall space fee”, so you have LOST money. On the other hand, with your art in a real gallery, you can control your “loss” by your pricing. Maybe you ask $2000 for that $1000 painting Jason mentions, so you both win. And you do not lose anything! Real art gallerys are the place to be.
I would never have two separate prices, one lower when I sell directly, one higher when sold via a gallery.
Among other reasons an important one is that it’s not fair to the buyer and to the gallery, not even ethical in my opinion.
One price no matter how the artwork is sold!
A reputable, hard working art gallery possesses the most important variable in sales: credibility. Their demonstrated confidence to represent and exhibit a specific artist has an immediate, positive impact on potential clients who rely on art galleries to identify quality art that *might* also have long term investment value.
Furthermore, the exhibited artist is a direct beneficiary of this gallery/artist partnership as both the artwork and the artist instantly assume a higher level of “credibility” because of this relationship.
Great article and comments. I own the Bay Area’s largest co-op gallery located in Sausalito, Ca. I only represent up and coming artists and artists that haven’t established themselves yet. Unfortunately, some never will. A couple of reccomendations for artists who are trying to get into a gallery for the first time. After a gallery owner has seen your website ( you should have one to be taken seriously) and has agreed to see your work in person, be prepared. This means; 1. Have all your artwork wired and ready to hang on the wall. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen good artwork that’s not ready to hang on the wall. 2. Your artwok should be signed and have a list of the titles, prices and medium of each piece. 3. You need to have some idea of what you want to sell the artwork for. Most gallery owners will be up front and honest and will let you know whether you are priced to high or to low. 4. Be consistant with your prices. If you come in with 4 pieces that are all 24 x 24, they should be priced the same or very close to it. Many times artists have come in and 1 of the 4 pieces is much higher priced. Well, guess which one is your favorite? If you are not ready to let go ( sell ) a piece of work, then don’t bring it with you.
As a gallery owner, my number one priority is paying my artist their commission when a piece sells. I don’t think it’s fair for gallery owners to hold onto a commission until then end of the month or billing cycle. Galleries that are having trouble financially many times use the artists money to pay the galleries bills. I don’t know how these galleries owners can live with themselves when doing this.
I wish all you artists and gallery owners the best!
Christopher, great advice! I hope you don’t mind, I’ll be sharing your advice on my Facebook page!
Thank you for your time and attention to articulate the critical facts as an artist contemplates if a gallery is the next step in their art career. Valuable information and perspective. The importance of the realization no matter how much passion we have for art and the pieces we create, it is a business!
I’m new to representing artists and have a few questions I would really love some help with. Do you mark up your artists work if you think you can get more than what they told you they want to ask? Do you need to run that by the artist if you mark it up? If you’re paying them on a percentage basis, is the percentage on the amount they originally gave you or the marked up price?
Thank you for your thoughts and opinion on this. Much appreciated.
I currently have my art in two galleries. One I have been associated with for many years. My work sells consistently and I feel the 50% commission is well worth while and I am now working with the second generation owner. The other gallery I have been with for about two years and the sales have been very poor. Even though the owner is a wonderful person and the contract generous I do not feel we are a good fit. I have even tried painting animals that live in the gallery’s area of the country. So, in that case, my work is sitting wasted with no profit for either of us. Since I paint miniatures, it is easy to send them off, in a small box, to the competitions where the bulk of my sales derive.
I’m learning a lot on the comments but of course I’m frustrated about where and with
whom I could show my art also… Lots or work and being older the energy sometimes is just not there..
If I sell a painting myself, 50% of the cost goes to my overhead, marketing and other costs involved in selling a painting. If a gallery sells one of my paintings, they are welcome to the commission as I understand they have wages, advertising, hydro, taxes, rent and or mortgages to pay and it’s not easy earning enough to cover the costs of running a gallery. Either way I only receive 50% of the selling price. And another % of the 50% goes to the government, and supplies. Ah but I do love being an artist, and would far rather work with galleries than sell on my own.
It’s more simpe, if Artist and Gallery do well, then commission is going to be lower with time due to volume or price can go up with popularity which increaces volume of profit for both parties. It realy is brutaly simple…
I believe it would be far easier for me to sell my work through art gallery representation. Finding a gallery that will represent me/my work is where I am right now. Perhaps I am being too impatient.
I’ve entered many shows, won the ribbons, gone through the process of different shows, loading up the car, sometimes two cars. It is exhausting, and all the hours spent while doing this—I cannot begin to add them up!
Finding a gallery is the problem. I send the emails, jpgs, letters, and I am ready to take all the advice I can get.
Great article, but how about this
I have a finished piece , I go and pay a framer 200 euro to frame it ,I bring the piece to a gallery who charges 50%
I am now paying commission on the frame I have already paid for ??????????
I made a deal with the gallery to deduct the cost of the frame from the price before calculating the commission
I have made many deals with many galleries to split 50/50 AFTER the cost of materials have been deducted. I find that many gallery owners are open to working with you – you just have to ask, and then, of course, make sure it’s written in your contract.
Maria, Can you tell me about when or if it’s appropriate for a gallery to mark up the price of an artists piece if they feel like they can get more than what the artist hoped to sell it for? I’m not sure of that part of the business and what that communication looks like. I’m both artists and art rep. I’m feeling the tug on both sides of the tight rope here. Any advice would be so helpful!!
By the way – I’m repping artist at art fairs internationally. So sometimes to make a sale or more commonly a collector wants to buy multiples from the same artist, they are looking for a deal. I don’t mind offering 10% but where does that cut get applied? My portion or the artists? Or do I mark the work up anticipating the potential cut? Am i making sense? I want to make sure I’m being fair to the artist and still covering my costs. The mind labor behind the cash flow of this is trying.
Wow. I am glad you are bringing this up. Since I use a professional framer for many reasons, and I use better frames than my peers, I end up with little after the 50% commission. I have not been successful in getting my gallery owners to compute the commission after the frame cost is deducted. Any suggestions on how to negotiate this?
Double the price of the frame and add it to the gallery price. For me, what I get should be what I calculate per square inch is a fair payment for me for a painting and then the frame is added to that and THAT total is the 50%. It doesn’t matter if the gallery makes money off the frame; it only matters if I get reimbursed for it. I have even seen people add an amount for the work they did framing a piece, like something that needs a mat and glass. And that is not something they tell the gallery about. They just readjust their price.
Thank you for your valuable insight. I always find your articles so informative and helpful and I appreciate your willingness to share.
You covered all angles Jason. I am convinced that the galleries I have are well worth it. I used to run my own gallery with another artist and it was hard fitting it all in.
My main question/problem on this issue is where & how do you find reputable galleries to even consider your work? I would honestly not mind paying a 50% commission to have my work sold. But so many galleries I have seen that sell work by living artists only show “contemporary” (i.e. non-representational) work! Nothing like I paint at all. I do really appreciate Christopher Holbrook’s comment, though, about gallery owners (at least good ones) letting you know if your proposed pricepoint is a good one. I’ll keep that in mind if I can ever find a suitable gallery!
I’ve always been glad to share the profit with a gallery when they were the reason I made the sale. Though I’ve made the effort to learn to market myself better, and see results when I apply it, it’s a very unnatural thing for me. I’d still much rather let a good gallery handle it and earn their commission!
I have two problems with galleries (really me.) First there are only a few galleries in my area, so getting into one feels more difficult. But mainly, because I am so slow in my work, I wonder if I will ever have enough to generate interest by a gallery. I will rely on a local art club and see what happens. Shouold a modicum of success come through that, then a gallery somewhere may hear from me. I don’t doubt a gallery owner earns his/her due.
I have been in several small galleries and have learned from each.
1. Be sure to get the gallery manager/owner to be honest with you about their market and what it will bear. Your work
could sit for months otherwise.
2. Be sure you get a signed contract between you and the gallery as to what the commission will be and when you will
be notified of a sale and when you will be paid. You could end up waiting months for a payment. Make sure you
have a commission and don’t just agree to what you want, unless that’s all you want if the gallery sells your work
for double of what you are awsking and you still get 1/3 of what it sold for. Lesson learned.
3. Always make sure your work fits what the gallery sells. Unles it is in flux, your work may or may not sell.
As an art rep and daughter of a gallery represented artist I recommend that you obtain answers to the following questions before you attempt to approach a gallery about representation: How long has the gallery been in business? (It is better if the gallery has been in business at least 4 years.) Does the gallery have a good location? What is the director’s background? (Ideally the Director not only loves art but has a marketing or business background as well.) Does the gallery cross-promote with other dealers? Are you able to obtain a referral for the gallery and the director? (As in, do they pay their artists on time.) What kind of marketing does the gallery do? How are you treated when you go to the gallery? (I recommend you pose as a buyer and visit the gallery before approaching them.) I am a big believer in artists learning how to sell their work themselves, and I even conduct workshops to train artists in how to do this, but if the answers to these questions are all positive, and you feel good about a gallery or galleries, then the gallery will be doing a very important job for you in selling your work and will earn every dime of the percentage they take. Note that before I became an art rep and alternative gallery owner, I did not understand why galleries took 40 or 50% of each sale. Once I started selling, however, and paying bills, and following up frequently with potential buyers, I learned why the galleries had to charge what they do. This is the opportunity cost of your time and potential hard expenses that you as an artist would be expending to sell the work yourself.
I’ve done both: for about 15 years I sold through top art festivals (about 5 to 8 a year). Currently, I’m represented by two galleries and don’t do the festivals anymore. This suits me now. However, I really miss the personal interaction with the art collecting public!
I Love the Idea of telling friends and other Artists that a Prestigious Gallery has Accepted my Art.I know most
Galleries work hard to seek out Buyers .And it is cost effective.I know I would not be able to show my work to as many
people as a Gallery does. I do like to know that Galleries are earning their commission. I think if a person feels that gallery commission is too costly then if it were me try another way and see what happens.
Actually, if a gallery is taking 50%, you can be sure that it is actually 60% /40%. What some people forget is
the “framing” of the painting can be quite expensive and that cost is usually on the shoulders of the artist.
why wouldn’t the artist, if having paid for the framing not include that with the overall price of the art? I guess I am not understanding why framing and ready to hang art would not be considered as a whole entity priced accordingly.
Well… here is my simple math take on the issue. Why does a gallery take such a high commission, a doctor charge so much, my car mechanic so many dollars per hour for just labor? A gallery first of all has to pay the rent or mortgage. In a large metro area this can be outrageously high and the landlord does not care who you are. Next comes the insurance, the utilities, of course the salary, the gallery owner needs to eat as well, and all of the miscellaneous office expenses. This doesn’t even include the time put in for promotion.
If a galley does not promote its product, it won’t make a sale, the artist gets their work back, except for a few unsavory cases, and the gallery owner goes broke. As far as the “spider approach”, this may only be successful in high tourist areas with a targeted product, or in a few large metro areas where it’s the image that sells and maybe not so much the art.
If some one has a galley and would like to represent my work at a 50% commission, they will happily get a high quality product and I can concentrate more on making it. Maybe this time thing in building my image myself is the reason I never get to putting more work on my website; I’m not even going to start, you can see the vicious circle.
I am a sculptor who has gotten into Western Art Shows, run by foundations. I have happily given up 35% even when half the sales were to friends. I think the prestige of fancy setting and gallery helps promote art all by itself. I am also learning to raise prices, because it takes a lot of time to make my sculptures and I have a limit I don’t want to drop, so it is making me raise prices about 40% . We will see where that goes soon, but I am also learning to produce a little faster, altho I will not sacrifice quality…..I feel good galleries are definitely worthwhile. I am in a happy position that I sell enough that I can’t maintain a “body of work” so I haven’t tried for a gallery for years. Right now I am pushing to make as so many are entered in shows. Maybe someday I will rather a gallery and not the time it takes to enter a show with photo preparation etc.
Commissions are relative. I’ve been a retail shop owner, so I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’m all for the gallery getting 50% if they actively promote the artist and have the clientele that will buy the work at prices that will generate a reasonable return for the artist. I’d rather be in the studio.
I have my work in a handful of galleries and also make sales myself. I am used to paying the gallery commissions and agree it is well worth the cost if they actively sell your work. I did NOT know that 3d artists are charged less of a commission. Can you explain why this is? And do most galleries do this? Like several artists above have mentioned the cost of framing is usually paid for by the artist so it seems to me it should be the other way around with 2d paying less and 3d paying more.
I have been in galleries for years. Took a break at the beginning of last year and was doing better on my own. Then a prominent gallery approached me at the beginning of last summer practically begging me to show for them, I was really hesitant since I had been doing so well on my own but thought I might regret passing up this opportunity. They wanted me to be exclusive with them which made me uncomfortable but I agreed since they had such a great reputation. Well I have been very unhappy there this past year. They take the 50% which is fine but they also charged for putting my work up on their site and promotional materials etc.. They have sold 10 up to now but I lost many more sales just being there. The first part of last year I had sold 17 on my own, it has been very disappointing. They even controlled my leads from the internet which I worked hard to build for the last years which I didn’t think was right and she would tell me that the internet inquires aren’t serious buyers! Is she kidding?. I am leaving there next month and very Happy. I don’t want to get locked into something like that again. Leah Saulnier The Painting Maniac
Now that this has been discussed. I’m waiting for an article on how to sell my contemporary art work out of a state where Western art is more popular than contemporary. I’ve won every award contest I can enter here but it is limited. I have my work being showed at museums and have a current 6 month exhibit at the state capital. I need to get in a progressive area, a state with bigger cities. I don’t do street shows, I rely on the galleries. But if I’m not in an area that appreciates my form of art it doesn’t work well for me. I am selling a few pieces a month but know I could do better in a progressive enviroment. Any ideas? One idea I have is I am traveling out of state for 4 months throughout the southwest and hope to approach galleries along the way. But still none of these will be in very large cities. Are there any “hot spots” I should know about?
P.S. Are there any out of state contests I should know about?
I have had to make a lot of medium as well as drastic art style changes due to cancer. A big thing I would like to add is the artists must shop around to find a gallery owner as well as their sales people has a personality you can get along well with. I am speaking of a business working level. However, a charming like a friend a well is best. Just always remember they are a business and you are not the only artist in the world. I have seen many well selling artists loose a gallery due to too much self ego. The next big thing is do they make their sales people not only know the background story of each artist but also the processes involved in doing the art. I have had more times then not seen this take a” just looking” to a sale. I feel this is crucial to artist working in unusual and very non traditional mediums out there. For me this extra step has brought many commissions as well as articles which makes the 50% priceless.
I think Robin Lee Makowski’s scenario of doing an outdoor show paints a good picture of what we all risk and of course much of what she says can be applied to indoor shows, too.
I’d like to add that we all lose valuable studio time before and after the show. Packing-up time goes without saying but for most of us there are the everyday non-art things that have to be taken into account; laundry, food for those left at home, the veggie garden, getting the lawn mowed and house cleaning might make the list of many of us. How about after the show? How many of us need at least one day at home before our bodies feel like there’s any energy for creativity? Then all the unsold work has to be brought in and stored…
The right gallery is a blessing to me and walking to the mailbox to pick up the cheque is effort I’ll never resent!
Interesting! An artist questioning why a gallery takes so much “profit” is similar to a collector asking why an artist charges so much for a painting. It may seem as if the artist couldn’t possibly spent enough time on it to justify a price of $2000 or more. But they don’t realize that artist spends large amounts of time and money purchasing materials, keeping the books, maintaining a studio, promoting their work (whether one is represented by a gallery or not), going to shows, etc., and doing everything else that comes with running their own business. Collectors probably think that when they’re buying a $2000 piece the artist is getting a windfall, but the reality is that after the gallery commission or show costs, it’s immediate whittled in half, then all the other artist expenses must come from it too. So, too, with galleries and all their associated costs. No need to use them if you can do better yourself, but I would far rather have my art hanging where folks are going to see it regularly, then sitting on my walls at home. The commission seems stiff but is worth it.
I show in galleries, on my own website and from my public studio/gallery space in an arts center. Once you find out how much time, expense and expertise is demanded to successfully sell art, you will not begrudge that 50% commission! I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that if a gallery is paying huge rent (as in Chelsea), or has a huge client list, and can significantly raise my prices, I’d be willing to hand over an even higher percentage.
And here’s another wrinkle: You should be consistent with your pricing, whether your work is in the gallery or you’re selling it out of your studio, and not just because the gallery owner will be furious if you don’t (reason enough!). But remember: you still have to build in those hard and soft selling costs and collect the commission, even if you’re selling out of your dining room. I think it’s unprofessional of artists to kvetch about the commission, unless the gallery isn’t providing the appropriate services. Then find another gallery, and remember to build those marketing efforts into your wholesale price (I know, easier said than done!)
Well, first of all, WHO sets the market value of the art? Who is doing the pricing? If the gallerist is letting the artist set the price willy nilly, that’s not smart business. Unless of course we are talking about art stars or artists who have a built in buyer/collector base. Secondly, isn’t there a mark up? As in, this is a simple retail/consignment concept.
Next up, is the gallery a good fit? Is the artist putting on big business pants and shoes and doing their diligence in this regard? What’s in it for both sides of the relationship?
Gallerists and other arts promoters often INVEST more than they get in return from artists. Think about it. Marketing doesn’t come cheap. Especially if it’s done correctly and well. Galleries pay rent, and utilities. Just like artists. We all have overhead.
So we need to change this conversation to one of mutual investment, symbiosis. Instead of looking at it like galleries are taking from artists. That argument is tired.
I have yet to have a gallery relationship that promotes my work, Although several exhibitions that I have produced in galleries have sold well there has never been a followup by any of the galleries. Always has been a puzzle to me. They have made more on my shows than most and yet…? Is Xanadu different?
As one of my favorite gallery artists said to me when I opened my gallery eight years ago “the gallery/artist relationship is much like a marriage…trust and communication are parmount.
Our success over the years is due to committment of time and energy and a great deal of communication. My success is theirs. Selling art and representing artists is an exciting business and I am greatful every day I open my gallery doors. It is a team effort.
I really appreciate your article as we approach a time when there are so many galleries folding and so many artists looking for space in galleries. Times are certainly challenging! Good luck to us all.
First of all, the gallery owner will choose his artists according to the taste of his customers.
So the gallery owner knows each customer very well and choose the paintings very carefully.
Of course if the artist is accepted that s mean he has a better exposure and a very good chance to sell.
I will prefer to create than to sell, although I like to talk to people. But I am not a very good seller,
I will prefer someone else to talk about me
I find the tone of this article to be insulting.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence ~ I’ve owned and sold out of my gallery and now since I’ve closed my gallery I’m selling it myself again. Yes there are a lot of costs that go into being a gallery owner and you have to be willing to put it up and not count on the sales. Artists are under the impression that galleries are greedy because of the commissions, but they just don’t get it. I do however feel that the commission of 50% + is too much. A more reasonable commission would be 35% or less. Because of the high commission the cost of ART has been going up and sales have slowed, much because of the fact that the price is harder to reach, no matter how much you love the work. I also collect art, and the art being created today is out of hand, as far as price, in part because of gallery commission prices.
To JoAnne Warren,
The reason 3d has a more “favorable” split than 2d is that the cost of materials is a lot higher than for 2d. I am a sculptor and at a 50/50 split I would have to raise my prices significantly to cover foundry costs, shipping heavy pieces, and the dreaded “discount” split. frankly even at a 35% gallery take, its a tough number for me.
As a gallery owner as well as artist, I fully understand the 50/50 split for 2d. It is a personal decision for the artist to make.
Galleries as a business are as diverse as the artists they represent. Indeed if they are skilled at marketing, data base management and promotion their fees are worth it. In the end an artist’s work needs to be able to communicate with an audience, if the attraction isn’t there then promotion will matter little. Expressive communication is essential for both parties.
I truly enjoyed your comments, Jason, and all the comments from other artists and gallery owners. I feel it is worth
sharing the 50% with a gallery if I feel they are doing a good job at marketing. I am currently in only one gallery,
but I am putting together a portfolio which I intend to submit to several more. I do own Starving to Successful and have read and reread it, but I keep hearing from artist I know who are in galleries NOT to approach in person as the gallery owners do not like it and will reject you. I am a very serious artist painting almost every day.
I have been painting for 30 plus years and have won both National and local awards, but have been lax about approaching galleries. Now, a question…….Jason, when an artist approaches your gallery for representation either in person or by mail, is the age of the artist a concern or are you judging solely their art? Thank you for all the
knowledge you share. Jeanne
I totally agree that galleries are worth their percentage. I work many art fairs, but am also blessed with a little presence in some gift stores, currently part of a group show with a one gallery for the second time, and represented online by two galleries out of state. I’m actively looking for other galleries out of my ‘show area’. As Margaret said – established gallery, probably not a spider gallery and not exclusive – unless they can move everything I can produce! Ha!
The amount of time and expense and physical effort that goes into fairs definately makes galleries worth their 50%, whether or not they spend much time in active marketing. I spend a lot of time on marketing, call backs, follow ups etc, but more on going to fairs.
But putting the gallery price higher than the art fair/online price in order that you would receive the same amount if you sold directly and didn’t count *your* to-market costs is undermining your gallery – although at an art fair I probably have a little more ‘wiggle room’ on a price than a gallery might take without consulting me, such eventualities can be covered by upfront agreements – and cell phones. I don’t like to deal with galleries that say ‘we take x%, adjust your prices accordingly.’
The only thing I so far have disliked about galleries is that I don’t get to know my customers. Not that I’m so into people per se, but having them on my mailing list – my database tells me where I ‘acquired’ them – would allow me to continue to market to that potential repeat client and earn extra revenue for both of us.
A consideration I’ve also recently discovered and a reason galleries are not viable for me is, the cost of my materials. It may be possible that a gallery can sell for 3-4 times what I ask at shows (though, in my experience that’s not the case), but I’ve been told that I shouldn’t “undercut” my galleries. So, if I put my work into a gallery, then at shows I’d have to sell at gallery prices – sounds like a catch-22 to me. My work sells at art shows, so that’s not the problem. The problem seems to be that my work is not mainstream; my pricing structure is based not only on my cost (which is plenty since I use crystal, beads and gemstones), but what my market will bear. When a gallery takes 40% of that, then I’m making what I made in 1995 when I started despite the fact that my costs have tripled+. I think there is a big difference between the cost of materials to a wall artist vs. artisans whose materials cost more up-front, out of pocket. There should be a difference in % for 3-D artwork (assuming that’s the case.)
I think a 50% commission is theft. As an artist, I avoid galleries for this very reason. When I sell something online, I keep 100% of the price and pay only — in some cases — shipping fees. Galleries need to wake up and realize that the internet is the biggest gallery of all and artists are relying on it not exclusively, (yet) but more than ever. Artists need to be more independent and reject these high commissions. Even 30% is too high.
The gallery that represents me is across the country. I do a find job networking, by going to openings and social events in my area. I also enter group shows and competitions in my surrounding area so I have a local footprint. However, to expand my collector base, I need galleries that will put my actual work out there for people to see that I couldn’t reach on my own. Cost is not the issue, time is.
this is a response to SL – who obviously produces the kind of art that appeals to “online” buyers. There is a huge population of art lovers and collectors out there in the real world, who still rely on being able to “see” and “experience” the real thing, and appreciate the interaction with knowledgable galleriests or art promoters or even the artists themselves. The internet is a tool for marketing – it is not a “gallery.” You are deluding yourself if you think that real human contact will be replaced by the virtual gallery. Everyone, including the online sales artist, has expenses – the 100% you receive still has to cover your overhead, your “on-line” time, your website fees, etc. etc., Galleries are made of bricks and mortar, there is rent, electricity, promotion, and yes, even real live face to face interaction required – a symbiotic relationship for the professional artist and gallerist to be sure!
Most artists who have gone the “independent” route know how much time and expense the galleries must put into running a gallery and promoting their artists…and they gladly share their commissions. If the artist does not succeed in the gallery, neither does the gallery.
How does an artist who has no “following” get into a gallery? It is not easy! It seems you have to already be successful before they will show your work.
I spent a year with an artists co-op gallery. Having experienced how much time it takes to just run the gallery, the business aspects, marketing, promotions, events, hanging, cleaning, working shifts, etc… I am completely happy to pay 50% commission or more to a brick-and-mortar gallery, especially one that is actively participating in trying to promote and sell their inventory. I love the business side of things and even have a degree in Marketing. But, since I don’t work as a full-time artist right now, it is too time consuming to take care of the “business” of selling my art. I would rather spend that time making the artwork and pay someone else to sell it!
Its like digital cameras. Just ’cause you got one “don’t” mean you’re a photographer.
Galleries have walls and lights and in most cases that is about it. There are few galleries that have the actual gravitas that it takes to truly help an artist receive the awareness they need. Most refuse to give the names of individuals who purchase work regardless of requests to provide provenance.
And far too many do not pay in a timely manner or at all. There is constant negotiations over insurance responsibilities.
My primary gallery is an art center and has the best win-win business plan for both artist and gallery owner and I wish more galleries were organized this way:
The gallery offers wall space to artists who are juried in by a committee; the spaces ranging from a 24′ x 12′ cubicle to a small piece of a wall which may only show a couple of pieces. These ‘rented wall’ spaces are controlled by the artists… they paint the walls, maybe put down a rug, add a piece of furniture, can display their advertising brochures, have a bin for their giclee prints, change out the artwork as they wish, can have ‘openings’ of their own during gallery hours.
Additionally, the gallery holds a juried art competition every two months with an opening; often in conjunction with a charity function. We usually get from 700 to 1,000 people attending. The gallery does the local marketing/advertising and also advertises in national art magazines such as The Art Collector.
The gallery’s operating expenses are paid by the rent of the walls, not by sales commissions… The artists pay only 15%. It truly is a joint venture between the artist and the gallery…. and the artist has control over their paintings. I have a 12 x 12 space, and rotate my work in and out… send notice to my contact list for every opening, can meet clients at the gallery to discuss potential sales, etc. But… the gallery handles all the sales. They are open 7 days a week, and recently expanded their space to provide classroom space and working studio rental space.
We started in an old carpet/rug retail center, and are next to a large antique store… The gallery keeps succeeding and expanding…. I keep looking for a similar situation out of my local area, but haven’t found it yet!
Crossroads Art Center
as a former gallery curator, all the above information is relative and useful…
A gallery that really understands and appreciates your work is the best promotion, especially, when they
go above and beyond the normal in locating buyers who would be interested in your work…
Being with a good gallery is in itself, positive and rewarding in ways that you cannot accomplish on your own.
congratulations for creating this message.
Jean Johnson C.M.
I have worked in two different galleries and know dozens of gallery owners. Here are the facts. Any gallery that is able to stay open year-after-year is earning their keep. The owners are working hard to nurture artists and collectors, they continually market to find new collectors and put in lots of time nourishing their relationships with repeat buyers.
Buying art is a 100% discretionary choice. Only a small percentage of the population have both the funds and interest to purchase art from a gallery. Being able to identify those precious few potential buyers and then to move them from initial interest to paying customer is a process. It can take up to ten repeated contacts to convert a buyer, and that can take months to years to happen.
Running a gallery is not an easy business. The people I know who operate successful galleries do it because art is their passion. If profit were the only motivation, there would be no galleries because there are too many other easier ways to make money. Not all gallery owners are saints, neither are artists. When either finds one who is, they should cherish the relationship and seek to make the most of it.
Like Owen Luck above, I’ve had mixed experiences with brick and mortar galleries. At one time in my career, I was showing in galleries in California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Arizona. Some were wonderful and I was happy to have a relationship with them. Some were awful. One in Sedona sold my work and didn’t pay me until I threatened to go to the Better Business Bureau. One in Scottsdale refused to give me the names of people who had purchased my work over many years with the gallery, even though the gallery owner was retiring and closing the business when I asked for these names—I have no idea where all those pieces are. When I first started showing in galleries, the commission was as little as 33% and for that they often hosted the opening reception including mailing out announcements. Now it seems common for the artist to pay for pretty much everything except the physical space in the gallery. However, I’m not great at sales, so someone else selling my work so that I can spend time creating more is a better fit for me.
Can anyone shed light on this statement?
“Galleries typically take a 50% commission on the sale of two-dimensional artwork- paintings, photos, monotypes, etc., and anywhere from 33.3% to 40% for three-dimensional work”
Every gallery I talked to requires 50% commission for sculpture. Mine is not bronze, is that the difference?
I have absolutely no delusions over how hard galleries, owners and staff work. Most I’ve met earn their pay–remember they get paid nothing if they don’t sell paintings. The simple fact of the matter to me is there is no better way to establish yourself and legitimize your work than to be able to claim gallery representation in a major market. Representation in several is all the better, nevermind the increase in sales volume. I am happy to have the partnership a gallery provides.
I have found most galleries demand framing of the work and if I am to present the effect I desire with the photo renderings, the cost of my time and framing doubled so everyone gets their share… drives the price so high no-one will buy it. I just did a show where the commission was only 30% and this still increased the price of my two-dimensional work and the other artist’s three dimensional work to a point we only sold one piece between us. I was able to get Jay Leno out to look at the automobile art and you could see in his expression that the price was just a bit high. I really don’t expect to sell certain work such as the automobiles (tho once in awhile you find that rare person) and other sport fans don’t want to spend money (myself included).
I am an artist who is self represented but has also tried the gallery route galleries that work hard to promote the artists they represent are usually the successful ones and have been around a long time.and have established a solid client base that continue to return to their gallery. That type of gallery is the kind you want to represent you but they are difficult to find and a lot of times they are not accepting new artists unless they are already established.
I promote and market myself because I enjoy the direct interaction with clients I speak to and make a personal connection with the people that buy my art which I put my heart and soul into.
I have tried galleries but have always gone back to self promotion because you get to know and understand your client and the client gets to know the creator of the art which is not always part of the gallery process.
I respect the Gallery system!
I am once again looking for the Gallery for me.
CAC was always a big help ,however, I am looking for a good Rep.
When looking at a gallery for representation it is a good idea to find out if the gallery owner or manager is an artist showing their own work there. Artist galleries are possibly not as lucrative for the outside artist as you may be there just to cover empty wall spaces. Commissions will probably be rare in an artist owned gallery as well. If your work is dramatically different or better you can make sales despite the obstacles. Also you want to be in galleries that have artists whose work is in your range in style, talent and pricing. I try to find galleries where I fit in compared to the other artists.
What resources are available to find out of state galleries?
I personally like to meet collectors when I can but I would much more prefer to be in the studio painting as being out trying to sell all the time as for 50% hay they have to sell it to earn it, sounds like a win win to me.
Successful galleries get high commissions because they can! It’s supply and demand. There are TONS of great artists and art out there, and not enough walls to display much of it.
i have been in a few galleries. the first one tried to tell me what to paint after being there for a few months, another put a price on my work that was way over what i was asking plus the commission when a client came to look and then gave me 50 percent of what the original price was. a lot of galleries are nothing but rip offs and the people that run them are business people, not artists, they don’t crap about art and all artists are to them are idiots.
now i go to shows, i have websites, i go to the park and paint, go downtown and paint and do my own marketing, people can come to my place and not feel intimidated by snotty, uppity gallery owners and get a much better price and i sell a lot more work. people think it’s glamorous or that they “made it” when they get in a gallery and that is silly. also, like i said above…. people that aren’t in the art “scene” but love art don’t go into galleries and most people can’t afford gallery prices . so i call bullshit on this article and agree with the others that said most artists don’t get a chance in a gallery anway. these “people” that own the galleries and know SOOOO MUCH about art won’t take anyone that isn’t known and the reason they don’t is that they can’t talk about the art unless someone else has talked about it. the best advice i ever got was from the book “how to survive and prosper as an artist” by caroll michels and what she said was if you are going to make money selling your art you have to learn how the business works and learn how to market and do all the business parts of it yourself. we don’t like to do that as artists because we just want to create. so if that is all you do and you rely on a gallery to show and sell your work.. good luck with that. that only happens to dead artists or those few who become overnight sensations. if you don’t fall into those categories then you better learn the nuts and bolts. a gallery taking 50, 60, sometimes 75 percent for commission to show your work is insane. if your work isn’t hot and selling left and right, they don’t market you anyway, they could care less and will soon ask you to leave. and if you don’t know them and trust them then they will rip you off. and why wouldn’t they? you don’t know any better…. so get educated, learn some business and marketing and use your creativity to bring attention to your art, you’ll do much better and be a lot happier.
Barney Davey pretty much sums up the experience of a commercial gallery.
Good art is not bought it is sold. So Barney you are right on with your views.
This is a great article.
I’m heading into my 11th year as a professional artist. I heard the “magic” number for years practicing before “making it” is 10, so I was determined to be full-time before then. It hasn’t been easy. For all but the past 2 years I was working full-time, and focusing on my art every night and on weekends. I just didn’t have the time or opportunity to try to market my art on my own, plus I did have the notion that I had to have gallery representation to gain respect as an artist. So I actively caught out galleries to represent me. I can honestly say, that every single one of them was the “spider” type: passive, sat back, and did not work for me or actively try to move my work, and did not communicate to me when a piece sold, or who my new fans were. It was very frustrating. I opened an Etsy Shop in 2009, and in late 2010 I had the opportunity to have a weekend booth at my local city farmer’s market. I never had sales experience, nor did I ever think I was the selling type. But when you’re talking about your own work, and connecting with people who are genuinely interested, it becomes easy- exciting even! If any artists out there have a local market where artisans and crafters sell their goods, consider signing on as a regular. Because of this move, I was able to leave my career of 12 years for a sustainable and rewarding living as a full-time artist. I’ve taken every commission/custom painting opportunity that has come my way, and through these happy collectors who have spread the word about me to all their friends and family, business has snowballed. I am thrilled to say that I pulled out of all the “spider” galleries (who allowed cobwebs to take over my artwork) and now fully represent myself. It’s wonderful to be able to connect with buyers in person. And it’s even more thrilling knowing that my annual sales last year exceeded my comfortable salary that I left behind. My best advice is to look at the bigger picture and weigh your options. Unfortunately, you can’t represent yourself while having a gallery represent you. Why would a pay higher prices to support a gallery when they can come straight to you, right? If a gallery with a great long-standing reputation, who knows how to work hard for you, and wants to represent you I would jump for the opportunity. Then I would seek out other galleries of similar stature in other cities, because 1 gallery cannot sustain you. On the other hand, if you’re willing to learn about business, take courses, have the opportunity to sell your work to the public on a regular basis, are social-media savvy, and very driven, maybe the route I took would work for you, too. I did have an amazing gallery (a well-known chain) in the most perfect location (Hawaii) discuss the possibility of representing me, but they also said that they would have to increase my prices by 3-4x! I was so tempted, because I really did want to be in their company, and I still do. But I realized that I’m not ready yet. I would have to take down my online business because of my prices, and the gallery would cause me to out price my local market, which I am just not ready to give up. It’s a tough call! Write up your pros and cons, and weigh your options. There is no one-size-fits-all, as the article stated….
Does “the company you keep” have any thing to do with how the public perceives your work, or your pricing?
I don’t mean to belittle anyones art but once I had some landscapes I had done that were hanging in a show next to dried fish on a stick, glued to blank canvas. My prices were not high but they were higher than typical for the gallery.
Do you think that the publics acceptance/seriousness of prices for your work have anything to do with the quality of your neighbors work? Can it drag your asking price down?
That dried fish on a stick painting sounds cool.
Was there tartar sauce nearby?
Great article! I’m wondering, what’s the typical split between the gallery owner and the art director? Does the art director usually get a chunk of the gallery’s commission, and if so, is it after gallery expenses?
I have no problem paying a 50% com. on my 3-D work, if the gallery is holding their end of the bargain.
I recently began showing in a well respected gallery, and was pretty excited about the venue.
The problem I am having is, there has been absolutely zero promotion of my work in the month and a half I’ve been there.
50% is a bit steep for stone sculpture, but that’s not an issue if it’s being marketed.
I’ve yet to be added to the gallery website, I’ve watched new artists receive acclaims on the galleries FB page, and still nothing for my work.
The last gallery I was showing in did very well with my work, and we both made great money.
Of course, they were marketing me.
I’ve contacted the curator and politely asked “what is the time frame for promotion?”
The answer I received was “I’m busy, Ill get to it when I can.”
Obviously, not too busy to promote other, newer to the gallery artists.
Not sure how to proceed.
I feel black balled, and a bit bamboozled.
i am in Australia, over the past few years galleries are charging the artist , commission, exhibition fees like food and vino etc . also a fee weekly of up to 500 AUD ….to show work. I have been offered a solo and it will be 1500 AUD to show my work, i will also cover the cost of the opening. I am not sure it is viable as the gallery take the commission on top of the cost to use the space, also i will be expected to be there when open to sell. I have been trying to come up with ideas to make money and still enjoy making art . it is tough and very expensive in the art world.
Great article, and I agree, gallery representation is not for everyone.
My own experience with selling my husband’s art (Drewbrophy.com) has led us to hardly work with galleries anymore.
CONSIGNMENT IS A POOR BUSINESS MODEL: One reason is because we found that putting art on consignment is a terrible business model. It makes little financial sense to play “banker” by advancing large amounts of money and time to provide inventory at no cost for a gallery.
Unless a gallery is selling your art extremely well, you will go broke with this business model.
50% IS GREAT IF IT’S EARNED: I don’t mind paying 50% if the return is great – I know that some galleries earn that money in their hard work, and it’s expensive having a “retail” space. The 50% is worth every penny if the gallery brings us new collectors.
However, that’s not what usually happens. We bring OUR collectors to the gallery, and we end up selling to people we already know. This was evident in the last show we did in Laguna Beach with a gallery – all of the buyers were existing collectors that we invited. Our hope was that the gallery would bring us NEW customers – that did not happen.
I think with emerging artists, it makes sense to work with a gallery. A gallery will fill in the gap and help them get new collectors that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get on their own.
But for artists who are established, and have a following, it isn’t necessary. You can sell direct to your collectors and keep the 50%.
One other way to work with galleries – there are a few that we have sold art to at wholesale pricing (essentially 50% off the price we sell it for). They buy the art up front, pay for shipping, and then resell it at double or more the price they paid. Not many galleries will do this, but we found a few and this is the smartest way for us to keep the cash flowing and avoid having art out there that disappears. (We also send our customers to them to buy the art; this keeps the gallery coming back to order more!)
This is very helpful, thank you for the information, as you say if they expand your market it is worth it.
I am selling my work in an art gallery call Maui Hands in Makawao on Maui Hawaii, I just realized they are taking 55% and I get 45%……I questioned the gallery and they said they have always done it this way, someone please scream at me and tell me I am not getting what I am worth! Does anyone feel this is unfair like I do??? Yes it is a nice gallery there are 4 on the island, yes professional sales staff, yes nice displays. I wait a month to get my check so since I am new to this I guess I got so excited at being accepted that I was blind to the percentage ratio…..I am awake now~
It is nothing wrong with Art Gallerys to charge 55 % – in your case.
It is to bad that you realized that fact after selling.
Probably you did not included commission to your price tag.
For example : you want to sell (received) $ 150.00 for your art piece.
Knowing that The Gallery will charge you 55 % and you will receive 45 %, your gallery price should be $ 333.00.
After sale, The Gallery will get $ 183.00 ( 55% ) and you will get $ 150 less fiew penny
If they reject your price ( too hight? ) than you did not loose,maybe saved 55 %.
just a question. If i have an artwork and it ends up being displayed in a gallery. Do they own copyright for that item of work? or is it still mine? thanks
You own the copyright, and even when the work sells, the buyer owns the artwork and you retain the copyright.
You retain the copyright unless it is agreed upon in contract form that the gallery has rights to it. A good gallery contract typically states that the gallery can use the image for marketing purposes alone such as on social media, brochures, etc.
Artist here I have been dealing with galleries for about 30 years. Commissions used to be around 33% to the gallery. There are no economic forces that affect galleries and do not affect artists. I call BS on the sliding scale towards galleries. Having said that 33% may not be enough for a viable business model. 40% seems fair. When I first started showing my work galleries where interested in helping you build a career. Pushing hard for media coverage and exposure. 80% of my sales (gallery and private) are because of my social media work and my connections. And if a piece doesn’t sell you get it back in a year with a frame all dinged up that can’t be reused. To galleries, if your costs have risen by 5% the so have mine. I am sure there is an economic sweet spot the commission rate but there is no reason for it to move. You had better offer a lot for 50% commission, and you still want to split show costs? Can I get my framing cost back off the top?
Galleries seem to charge different commissions and work at different levels to sell the art they show. Surely it is up to the artist to recognise all the work that goes into the running of a gallery and also how much time effort and inspiration that goes into their own work. It is for the artist to decide what they are willing tot tke for the artwork and let the gallery decide how much commission they put on it. If the gallery wants to sell a particular artwork then they can reduce their commission without affecting the amount the artist gets. That’s what happens in retail and is there really anything so very different about art and galleries.
This is a good article. I have had very intense discussions with fellow artists about this. When I exhibit in “real” galleries ( Currently at Piante in Eureka CA for instance) I add the gallery commission to the prices of my works. Even though I hate to think of my work as such, I believe that once it enters a gallery it becomes a product…And like any product you have “the manufacturer” ( or in our instance the artist) and you have the dealers ( galleries) selling it. I am represented by 2 galleries ( Piante and the BlackFaun, both in Eureka Ca) and an agent in Europe and find this to be a very good working relationship. I sell also directly when clients come visit the studio ( works that have not been shown in the galleries as per my arrangements with them) and clients always seem to be aware that gallery prices are higher than studio prices. I think people connected to art do understand this as being professionals on all sides. Now this differs for “pay to show” galleries… not something I do so I can’t comment on the process. Anyways, cheers and a happy new creative year to all
The artist is dead, his art sells for 110.5 million dollars. Who is happier, the dead artist or the greedy dealer?- J-M. Basquiat
I showed at a gallery for which I paid wall space for a set time, in advance, framing and other ancillaries in advance. No promotion was done by the gallery. All bills were paid before opening day. One piece of work sold but the gallery owner has yet to pay me after 11 months. He now claims I am badgering him and says he will charge more for hanging the works, although we had been there and were happy to do it, out of the money remaining on the work sold. The bill is going to be zeroed. Seriously, I feel he considers he has the upper hand and I am nothing more than a cash cow for his own bills. He also upped the commission which is not high, but this is dishonest doing so after the fact. I have already paid a lot of money. I feel very disheartened and I don’t know that there is anyone to go to to prevent this kind of behaviour.
Take him to small claims court.
Galleries that charge for wall space generally don’t work very hard at selling your work. They’re basically in the business of subletting.
Galleries are not the GODS of the art world. Charging the artist for invitations, ads etc., AND taking a 50% commission is ridiculous. If they have to do this, then they are not players in the art sales arena, so stay away.
Material costs in the production of my 2D pastel artwork is as high as my oil paintings. The framing costs can be quite high even with economical moldings and the pastels have to be framed under glass. My gallery agent charges 50% and I wear the publicity/framing/exhibition opening entertainment expenses/photography and a transport. My material costs normally work out to be about half of my profits, that includes framing at my expense. This means I stand to make about 1/4th of the gallery retail price, so for a $1,000 work, I get a return of about $250 on average.
I think most visual artists consider the material cost outlay to be important to give the customer the best quality and durability. Private commission work is sketchy at best and I try to be as scrupulous as my gallery agent so that I don’t undercut him or my gallery retail value.
My agent can reach wealthier clients than I can normally. I make a modest living from my art mostly through the annual exhibition and subsequent commissions that spin off from those shows through my agents gallery. For 3 decades of working with my agents gallery, the retail value of my work hasn’t risen very much even though we commenced at 33%so I’m making about as much as I did back in 1990 and it’s now 2019 but in that time I have established a solid reputation for affordable works and I can trade off my name.
The cost of materials especially framing have risen exponentially so I just increase the volume. Some years where sales are poor, works are left in the storeroom at the gallery and although it appears online at the gallery website, they will otherwise remain unseen. This may mean I have to retrieve them from the gallery storeroom and sell them for whatever I can get. Since the GFCrisis in 2008, the market has taken a hit and sales generally have been unstable for the gallery agent and myself.
I have been working for many years with some online Galleries who are charging in between 35 and 45% commission.One of them is charging taxes on their commission which drives the commission up, is that normal?
I’m an artist, and this idea is a primary part of my pricing formula: 50% of my retail price covers the marketing and sales of the piece, regardless of who does it. So if a gallery sells it, they get 50%. But if I sell it, I keep it. But keeping that money is not some great windfall for me, since most of it just goes to cover my own marketing expenses (the website, mailings, etc that actually let me make that sale).
Okay, so I am working with an artist to help me open a local gallery associated with my community center. It would focus on only artists who live and are producing in a very small geographic area. The point is to get more people connected to those they live near. I know Id be more inclined to buy art from my neighbors. Really I have no interest in buying art for arts sake, i want a personal connection. So here is my idea for a business model and I’m interested to hear what people think…
I need to cover expenses associated with having a brick and mortar. I charge 20? 25 percent commission on gross sales if someone is displaying their work full time plus if you are displaying your work you have to commit time to staff/sell work (both theirs and others like a coop).
When costumers buy they buy directly from artists via posted links to artists Venmo, or other online platforms (or pay with cash/check which is handed directly to artists). Whoever is on duty records what the sales are and then I invoice the artists for the commission once/month. If someone wants to do a pop up (bring their work with them and take it when they leave) they would pay just the commission from sales during their event and not have to commit to work additional hours. I would waive commissions for the artist who has agreed to manage the space.
If you are an artist who is complaining that galleries take too much money in commission, then you are not dealing in reality. The average gallery only makes about 6.5% off of revenue after expenses. That is a very low profit margin, and the main reason art galleries come and go as they do. The main advantages with working with a gallery as Jason mentioned are that they free the artist up, and allow them to be more productive, and that a gallery is also in a position to advance an artist’s career. Galleries typically can command more money than an artist is able to, and lend more credibility to the artist. Just because someone is able to create something, it does not necessarily mean that they are a good salesperson. Galleries typically hire people who are skilled at dealing with the public from a sales position. On the other hand , galleries are not ideal for every artist. If you would rather sell your work at festivals, off of restaurant walls, in hotels, and social media, then go for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it is the right course for many people producing art. I do not know of any artists however who have acquired national or international standing with that business method. Galleries are better suited to the serious minded professional artist. The professional artist who is in a gallery and selling well, never complains. So my advice to any artist is to evaluate your own work and honestly ask yourself where it belongs. At the same time, don’t criticize galleries, and tag them as thieves simply because the gallery system does not work effectively for you.
I am all for having my work in a gallery that I appreciate. One that I can partner with and one that communicates well. Changing my medium in 2018, and staying consistent and honing in on my new medium has allowed each painting to get better and better. I would much rather spend my time, energy and money in being in a working relationship with a well established gallery were we share mutual trust and appreciation.
I LOVE working with the galleries that represent me, because they have opportunities that I would never come across. I just received a large commission through one of my galleries for 60 of my miniature originals that a company wanted as corporate gifts!! Wow. I’d never have landed that myself. And the corporation is paying full gallery price for each, no negotiating down, which I’m sure the gallery did better than I would.
Of course I like selling my work directly (at gallery pricing) when I have a convenient opportunity (I gave up art fairs years ago- too much physical work, too much opportunity for product damage, not enough return).
I love this topic as my next art career challenge is approaching a gallery for representation. I’ve done the shows prior to Covid. Two rained out shows and wet paintings under a tent. And slogging artwork to events makes showing in galleries sound pretty good. I have my work in two E-Galleries but I honestly don’t know how hard they are working to promote my paintings other than having me on their website. Behind the scenes are they chatting me up? You honestly don’t know but they would get a 40% commission from my work without having to worry about paying their rent. There’s no rent for them on s virtual gallery. So if I could get into a real gallery and actually have people really look at my art and be promoted by the gallery owner that would be a dream come true. I would happily give up 40-50%.
One more point, Gallery owners don’t have to pay for merchandise like a retail store would have to pay for shirts and pants they plan to sell so the Galleries costs are just the cost of housing the art (rent, utilities and marketing).
Here’s a question – if you’ve been with a gallery for years, and you have an exhibition, and they tell you someone has come in and would like a commission done based on one of your pieces, does the gallery still take the same percentage commission? It will never take up wall space, and they haven’t had to try and sell it. Thoughts?
As a previous small business owner overhead is not cheap. I love to create and as a new artist all the exposer you can get is best. As an established artist and living off your work makes a little sense.
Has anyone had experience with a gallery requiring the artist to pay the gallery a commission for art commissioned as a result of a gallery customer. In other words, a gallery client asked an exhibiting artist to create custom work for them. The sale is private and outside of the gallery. The gallery nonetheless expects to be paid a commission for the sale.
the gallery already incurred the costs to get thr client in the door, the promotional expense of their time. etc etc. a commission fee is rightfully due for that effort. the only difference is in a commission work you and the gallery have assurance the piece will sell. your going to turn down a gift horse sale? i have seen artists turn down commissions and then go back later and want to reconnect. experiece gained from 45 years as a proffessional artist, gallery owner/ dealer and collector.
There are so many comments on this post that I doubt anyone will read down this far. That said, I would definitely be willing to pay the gallery’s commission and have done so in the past, but I’ve been selling from my website and other venues for the last decade.
As I grow older and want more time and less work, I’m considering the gallery model again… especially galleries that are close enough to my home to drive to, but I will ship if needed.
I’m reading Lori – thanks!
Jason, you mention galleries being able to get a higher price for work vs at a studio or art fair. If we set prices to be the same across all points of sale, do you mean that once in a gallery, artists should raise their prices? I think that’s what you’re saying but I’m not sure.
That’s right Ellen – once you have gallery representation you’ll want to make your pricing consistent wherever you show your work – see https://reddotblog.com/video-ask-a-gallery-owner-the-truth-about-gallery-commissions-and-how-they-affect-pricing/
I have a question: Is it common for galleries to sign a legal contract agreeing to be financially responsible for the artwork we have placed in their care and agreeing to insure the artwork for it’s full “for sale” value against fire, water, “acts of God” and theft?
Well, that was a long and interesting read. so many points of view. Thank you Jason for being prepared to state your case, and wait for the reaction. I am still seeking gallery representation with galleries that sell enough work for me to make a living. I have in the meantime being making attempts at selling myself, and it is indeed a good lesson, in learning to appreciate a successful gallery when one comes along …
Very interesting read. I am an artist and recently opened an art gallery. We are clear with artists about submission guidelines and provide them on our website and in-gallery. We take a 50% commission and it seems that artists in our small area don’t like that. Regionally, there are a number of galleries that charge less than 50% but these are funded by tax payer dollars and or grants and legacies from patrons. We don’t have any of those assets but we do provide a newly restored, clean, beautiful, and insured historic venue for artists. My husband and I both have extensive backgrounds in sales, service and business in general. Quite a few artists have come in to see the gallery and I can spot them the minute they come through the door…certain “tells.” And while most of them are lovely people, there have been a few who arrive defensive and leave rude and angry….that’s no way to start a business association! Jason, as we restored this building, I relied many times upon the information you’ve so generously given us through the years. Thank you.