The more I chat with artists and get to know them, the more I see we’ve got a problem.
Before I go on, let me just say here that I love artists and creative people. However, I continue to see the ways that artists create their own headaches to go along with their masterworks.
You don’t have to be an art consultant or hold a PhD in Art History to see this.
I’ve interviewed nearly 400 art people. Here’s what I can tell you. Artists are notoriously passive about many things outside of their own work. Believe it or not, I understand that. People only want to do what they want to do. Life is short.
But here’s the problem …
Artists complain A LOT about things that are totally within their power to address.
They complain about the difficulties they face in getting their work seen by potential buyers.
Artists complain A LOT about galleries. They complain about not having gallery representation and then once they get into galleries, they complain A LOT about their gallery representation.
Artists complain about their lack of sales and then, when they’ve got great sales, they complain about having so many sales that people won’t leave them alone to do their work.
Artists complain about having a job that keeps them from creating their work and then when they don’t have a job, they complain about not being able to buy materials to create their work.
Again, I love great artists and this is NOT a slam job on them.
I just want to keep things transparent. Having said all of this, my biggest observation about artists is the fact that they are indeed SO PASSIVE. They don’t grab the bull by the horns and try to direct their own careers.
They’re waiting on a gallery to come out of the blue and do everything for them. Far too many artists continue to depend on that art gallery model. It’s very sad.
Oh, and then, when artists see another artist who has a spectacular business model and is selling left and right and getting solo shows all over the world, they get jealous and accuse that artist of being a “sellout.”
Whether that particular artist is a sellout or not is beside the point. Somehow, it never clicks in the minds of the jealous artists that their colleague is playing a huge role in his/her own career. That artist isn’t just sitting around waiting to be discovered. They’re being PRO ACTIVE.
I’m actually writing this as a follow up to my essay, “Artists Waiting to be Discovered.” Oh, and wait until you hear this …
Shortly after writing and posting that piece, I got an email from an art consultant friend in New York who said …
“Hi Michael … I've been meaning to write to you in response to some of your articles on artists waking up to promoting themselves and that this is a business. But, I just don't have the strength. I have been doing these Q&As with artists where they can ask an art insider anything - how to price works, should they participate in artist fairs, do you really need to have a bio, statement and CV, do I need a long term contract with a gallery, should they even have a contract with a gallery and so many other important questions to ask. Instead, all the artists only want to hear is how do they get into a gallery???”
I think my art consultant friend just nailed it. No?
Look, I’ll say it again. I adore art galleries. But guys, art galleries are OVERWHELMED on numerous fronts. Shall we count some of them?
1. Galleries don’t have enough buyers.
2. Galleries don’t have enough manpower.
3. Galleries don’t have enough money to pay their rent.
4. Galleries don’t have enough publicity.
5. Galleries don’t have enough hours in the day.
6. Galleries are competing with online and other retail entities.
Galleries are fantastic, but guys, you’ve GOT to seek out other options for yourselves outside of the gallery model. Galleries are run by imperfect professionals who adore art, but they’re also dealing with the realities of a changing world.
This isn’t only an art world issue, it’s also a much greater issue. It’s called … “LIFE!”
In short, galleries are not your savior … and certainly not your "saviour." Galleries themselves say that.
Galleries are not your saving grace. Many if not most galleries are struggling to keep their rent and bills paid.
Again artists, if you get into a great gallery, fantastic. I’ll help you celebrate and would love to come see the show. But doesn’t it make more sense to have your own, personal business strategy?
Given the commissions many galleries charge, should you have high expectations? Yes. Should you have unrealistic expectations? No.
Okay, you know what? I’m going to just come right out and say it. Artists who think galleries are going to save them? That’s just plain 'ole … lazy thinking.
You know, as I close, it just seems to me that there’s something in the water. So many artists have been so brainwashed for so long. Galleries are the comfy chair of artists. But gallery models are changing and that chair is almost on its last leg.
I’m NOT saying that galleries are totally going away. I’m praying they won’t, but what I am saying is that artists have more options available to them.
You’re an artist for God’s sake. Get creative! All it takes is opening your mind and rolling up your sleeves.
Oops! Sorry. I forgot. Rolling up your sleeves? That’s the tough part.
Well, I must say that I’ve had a great time writing this. If nothing else … if you’re an artist reading this, hopefully you’re now awake. Hopefully you’re now thinking.
Isn’t it time you finally claimed your power?