In the age of internet and social media marketing, many artists wonder if they still need to seek out gallery representation. The internet seems to offer a marketplace for artists to reach out and connect directly with art buyers.
If an artist can sell art directly to art collectors, why bother with gallery representation and gallery commissions?
Before I share some reasons I believe galleries are still important, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ve been in the gallery business since 1992, and I’ve been a gallery owner since 2001.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide range of artists and collectors. We’ve sold millions of dollars worth of art through our gallery.
In addition, I come to the business with a unique perspective. My father is a full-time, professional artist, and has been since I was a child. I am able to see the business from both the artist’s and gallerist’s perspective.
My broad experience in the art world gives me some unique insights, and qualifies me to tell you that, yes, galleries still do matter in an artist’s career. Allow me to share some of the main reasons why.
Why Art Galleries Still Matter
The Internet Isn’t What It Promised to be for Artists
In the early days of the internet, there was a lot of promise for artists who wanted to take control of their own marketing and sales. An artist could set up a website and have an online gallery of art that anyone in the world could access. Many artists felt they were seeing the future as they made their first sales online. Online sales seemed to reduce the complexity of the art market. Buyers could connect directly to artists and artists could make sales without paying gallery commissions.
Over the last twenty years, the amount of art sold online has grown dramatically. Tools have become available that make it easier to set up an art website and handle e-commerce.
To be clear, I believe that online sales are critical to the future of the art business. Online sales make up an important and growing percentage of our business. Many artists feel that art buyers need to see artwork in person before buying; I’ve found that for many collectors, this is no longer the case. I’ve sold many pieces that were only seen online.
These increasing sales belie a critical reality for artists, however. The reality is that it has become incredibly difficult for artists to get collectors to their websites, especially artists who don’t already have a strong following. An artist trying to attract buyers is competing with hundreds of thousands of other artists who also have websites and are vying for those same art collectors.
Many artists have a hard time getting more than a few dozen website hits per month, and even those who are getting traffic report that online sales are far and few between.
Social media has given artists another tool to enhance relationships with collectors, but, again, it seems to be better for creating sales to existing followers rather than introducing art to new potential buyers.
Galleries Are Destinations for Qualified Buyers
Art Galleries have the advantage of being able to draw a constant stream of new potential clients, both online and off. As you might expect, we’ve found that the vast majority of our online sales are made to clients who discovered us by visiting our gallery. Their visit to the gallery gives these clients confidence to make purchases that they might not feel visiting an artist’s website at random.
Just as important, a visitor to an art gallery has had to make some effort to get to the gallery. Not every visitor buys, but our success rate with visitors to the gallery is much higher than the typical sales rate to website visitors.
Galleries Provide an Experience to Collectors
It’s also important to note that for many art buyers, the actual purchase is only one small part of the art buying experience. Over 70% of the sales we make out of our gallery are made to clients who live outside the state of Arizona.
Our clients come from all over the world, and we’ve found that they love to visit galleries and acquire artwork as they are travelling. They love hearing stories about our art and the artists who created it.
These buyers could certainly make their purchases online if they wished, but they enjoy travelling and visiting galleries. They enjoy the experience.
Gallery Staff Provide Sales Expertise Difficult for An Artist to Replicate
While some artists are great communicators and natural at selling, most find selling difficult. It would be great if art sold itself, but the reality is that it takes skill and care to guide a potential buyer from interest to purchase.
Gallery sales associates have the advantage of honing their sales skills daily. The experience that comes through constant engagement with customers helps gallerists better understand how to overcome the many doubts and concerns buyers have when considering a purchase.
I’ve often heard artists say, “I’m great at talking to people, and I’m good at selling other people’s art, but I have a hard time talking about myself and selling my own art.” I understand why this is hard – it’s difficult to toot your own horn. Clients see gallerists as objective, making it easier to communicate openly about an artist’s work.
Galleries Can Attract New Buyers Through Marketing
Another advantage that galleries have is their ability to reach new buyers through their marketing efforts. We advertise our artists in magazines along with our extensive internet and social media advertising. Individual artist can advertise, but because our gallery is selling art in volume, we have a budget that allows for more extensive advertising than many artists can afford on their own.
One of our biggest assets as a gallery is our long-term presence in our current location. We’ve been fortunate to build relationships with collectors who return regularly to see what’s new and make additional purchases. Our buyers know where to find us and they enjoy working with us.
We send out regular newsletters and catalogs to keep our buyers informed of new works.
My sales staff works very hard to provide superior customer service to our long-time customers. Many of our clients have become good friends as well as customers.
Are Art Galleries a Part of Your Art Business Strategy?
There’s little doubt that the last fifteen years have been difficult for galleries. The art market has changed dramatically, and many galleries are having a difficult time adapting, or have failed to survive the new circumstance.
I would argue, however, that there is a whole new generation of gallery owners emerging who are savvy and dedicated to building successful businesses for themselves and for their artists. These galleries are helping cultivate a new generation of buyers by reaching out through many different channels.
I know there are more artists than galleries out there, and that it makes sense for an artist to be doing a great deal of self-promotion online and through art shows and festivals. I also know that not every relationship with a gallery will be successful. The potential benefits of having good gallery representation can make a huge difference in an artist’s career, however. By partnering with a gallery, you are, in a sense, hiring a professional marketing, sales, and retail team to work on your behalf.
Those benefits are multiplied if you can expand your representation to galleries in multiple markets.
Are You Interested in Showing Your Work in Galleries?
If you are successfully selling your work online or through art shows and festivals, you may decide it’s better for you to continue your self-promotion. I hope, at the very least, that I’ve given you some food for thought about the benefits galleries might offer.
If you see the benefits of working with galleries and want to learn more about what it takes to successfully approach and establish relationships with galleries, I invite you to join our mailing list to receive free updates about the art business and insights into what it takes to prepare to show in galleries.