Most artists with the ambition of being seen and ‘appreciated’ by the artworld at large tend to look for insights into the secrets or means of being found with a myopic perspective. Let me buy a book or pay someone to ‘tell’ me what to do to realize all of my dreams and finally master this thing we call art.
Approaching this endeavor with a one sided view [yours and that of typical fellow artists] will give you exactly that in the end a very limited egocentric mindset where there is ‘us’ and ‘them’. I would propose that a holistic approach would include 3 views that if understood gives us a more thorough look at the environment of challenge and opportunity that we have chosen to engage in.
This subject owes a bit more attention to fully grasp all sides of this equation so it is my intention to do a series of articles covering the facets mentioned as I find the time [house renovation going on!]. The three views that we need to consider are that of the artist, which is the prevalent view that is talked about, but added in we need to consider the gallery or representative involved, and then importantly the collector who acquires your work hopefully. Without an understanding of these three elements spinning wheels will occur and typically we will get ‘stuck’ both in our way of thinking as a coping mechanism [the artworld is so unfair,blah blah blah] and also in the limitation of actions that we will consider based on our particular view of ourselves.
So for this article I will introduce a view from the other side just as a backdrop of what the environment will typically be when you step into ‘showing’. The gallery will typically be the venue of exhibition for most with variation but let’s take a seasoned established gallery and look at their considerations in ‘putting on’ a show. The concept seems simple enough on the surface. The gallery, before anything is even determined, always has an eye on 2 things, matching up work with potential clients or collectors. This dynamic is the first element any successful gallery has to focus on.
Before I spend a dime as the gallery owner, does the show I am considering have aesthetic credence and does it have the chance to activate a response in the form of acquisition and interest to the clientele I have developed? In general this is very hard to do consistently and every gallery knows this. Typically a gallery will make 80% of its income from maybe 20% of its shows the rest being feelers for future development. So let’s say I think I have found work that excites me and that I feel has a chance of gaining activity. I now need time for the artist to prepare for the show [typically 2 years] and time for myself or staff to adequately promote this event.
We decide we will do a catalogue that will cost between $2000 -6,000. We will do an invitation which will cost typically $1000-2000 just for stamps if sent in the mail with a 2000 name mailing list. We then have to figure in food costs for an opening, cost of rent and utilities and all other miscellaneous PR and logistical expenses to just get the door opened for this exhibition[numbers used to make a point and of course will vary wildly according to level of operations]. So as we see the gallery has an increasing risk parameter and pressure before the show even opens betting that ‘this’ artist [s] is worth taking a chance on but never knowing for sure if this investment pays off. For those of you thinking well how about all of the expenses the artist has to incur I say for sure part of the equation and that also will be addressed in this series.
If perchance this show results in the 80% category of income producers we begin to see the pressures the entrepreneur must contend with despite the romantic notions all involved might bring into the picture. I can increase my chances of return by ‘selecting’ a better horse obviously but we also then possibly dilute the idea of originality, risk and exploration but as in all things in life there are tradeoffs. My purpose in detailing this is to bring into focus the other issues involved in this process of selling art, exhibiting excellent work and being relevant in a world of image and irrelevance. The task is daunting to most but being aware of the whole picture is required in my view.
I will continue this discussion and get into more detail and things to consider from all sides involved. I have said that in the end the commerce of art and the making of art is one great big cooperative effort where everyone gets what they want. Defining that is individual but we each do know what we want out of it and hopefully this discussion will trigger some light bulbs along the way.