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Approaching An Art Gallery

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A lot of artists are apprehensive about approaching an art gallery to represent their work for the first time. This is not surprising considering there are galleries that portray an atmosphere of intimidation.

For the most part though, this atmosphere is not to deter an artist intentionally. Essentially this "still mood" that often exists inside, gives the gallery its marketing power.  

In simple terms, the role of a gallery is to ensure there is significant importance cast upon the art hanging on the walls. Hence the "silent chamber" atmosphere associated with more reputable galleries.

The Art Gallery Owners Role

In many respects, the artist and the gallery owner operate from two very different worlds of thought.

The artist lives for pure self-expression, personal exploration and growth. This is the earthy nature of the artist.

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An art gallery owners (or dealers) role is to rally people to see your work then present it with major importance in order to attain a successful sale. This is the materialistic nature of the gallery owner. This is the business side of art.

So before approaching an art gallery for representation, it's important to appreciate up front; that a gallery is in essence a business. In order for a gallery owner to operate successfully, they must operate their gallery as a business with the goal of making a profit.

Therefore, the more prestige or importance a gallery can project, a higher price can be attached to the artwork. Which means more profit can be made.

You may have experienced the "atmosphere manipulation" that exists in a lot of the popular commercial galleries. This "secret club" type ambience that often fills the display rooms is merely to provide a sense of being surrounded by great value - the value of course being the artwork.

So next time you are walking through one of the great art galleries of oil paintings somewhere in the world, take note of the aura that fills the room. It's designed to be that way. It builds a perception of great monetary significance.

Misconceptions Of Approaching An Art Gallery

Another misconception that some artists have with approaching an art gallery is, the idea of not being worthy enough because they don't possess an art degree. Or they need to have had their face on five art magazine covers.

There is no doubt that a lot of galleries want to represent established artists. But essentially, an art gallery will look at your work and assess as to whether what you paint will sell and if there is the potential for them (and their business) to make a profit.

They are not really interested in your artistic achievements or your competition ribbons.

Therefore, your primary goal should really be… to assess as to whether you have made enough distinctive development in your art.

If you feel you have, then you are ready for approaching an art gallery to hang your work – regardless of how many awards or how much formal art education you have to your name.

Despite what you may be concerned with about approaching an art gallery, the worst thing that they are going to say is, "I'm sorry, your work is not suitable for our gallery".

So try not to take it personally. The gallery owner has a vested interest in providing work that suits a particular clientele base. Chances are, the gallery owner or dealer could well suggest another gallery that is more suitable to your work.

How To Approach an Art Gallery

The first step you need to take is to seek out a gallery that carries similar work to yours. It's probably not a good idea to get the attention of a gallery that hangs oil landscapes if you are marketing abstract art. You'll just be wasting your time and the gallery owner's time.

So consider seeking out a gallery that is in line with your style and expression.

The most obvious way to discover if an art gallery is suitable for your work is to simply go and visit as a pretend potential customer. That way you'll get a feel for the gallery, the clientele walking through the doors and witness the overall presentation of the gallery and its staff.

There really is no official set procedure you need to follow when approaching an art gallery. While some galleries are quite laid back and don’t mind the cold canvas approach, there are many galleries that much prefer you to arrange an appointment to speak with the gallery owner or dealer.

Do not ever first contact a gallery by email. I am telling you this from experience. I admit it – I got lazy and thought, "Ah what the heck, I'll send an email - it'll save me making another phone call and I can send pictures as well."

Not a wise move.

By using the email contact approach you stand a very big chance of being ignored. I promise.

I don't really go for the cold canvas approach of walking in unannounced when approaching an art gallery either. But if this suits you then why not test it out. But what I recommend you do first is approach your gallery of choice via telephone and organise a time that is convenient with the gallery owner.

It's nice way of doing business, because after all, the galley owner is essentially a business owner. If you are dealing with a reputable gallery, then they'll have people in-house looking to buy art on a regular basis. Which means they have clients to attend to.

Quite often they don't have the time to stop and attend to you when you walk through their doors unexpectedly with your paintings under your arm.

I have a friend who owns a gallery. He mentioned in conversation only just the other day about how much busier his gallery is getting on the weekends.

So the big tip here is… don't arrange to meet with a gallery owner on weekends. They are simply too busy to consult with artists looking for representation.

Approaching An Art Gallery and Meeting With The Gallery Owner

Meeting With The Gallery OwnerWhen you eventually arrange a meeting with a gallery owner, just be yourself and listen to how they operate their business. 

You'll gain more from listening and asking questions than you will by going in with the mindset of trying to get a good deal.

Forget about trying to secure a solo exhibit off the bat. 

Just try to get some of your work hung on a commission basis to begin with. 

By simply concentrating on that, you'll begin to acclimatise yourself to the wheeling and dealing of having your art represented by a gallery.

Keep in mind that many galleries will take anywhere up to 50% in commission. In fact, if they take any less than 30% I would be a little weary of their ability to market and promote the artwork they have inside.

Creating a marketing buzz requires a reasonable budget, hence the reason why so many galleries will take anywhere from a 30% to 50% commission from the sale of each piece of artwork (some major commercial galleries have been known to take anywhere up to 80% to 90% commission – yikes!).

On top of their marketing budget, they have such things like monthly rent, utilities, taxes, staff, payment facility fees and housekeeping to take care of as well.

Until you have developed your level of understanding as to the procedure of dealing with a gallery, short-term agreements can be a good way start.

While they may not always be an option with some galleries, it is worth asking in order to give you a "dry run" and familiarise yourself before tying yourself to any long-term contractual agreements.

The key to making anything happen is taking action and having the willingness to interact with people. If you can do that then you'll eventually get your work distributed out into the public eye.

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