The Gallery System

By:Rick Rotatne

I’ve always felt that you suspect in others what you yourself are guilty of. If you are a liar and a cheat, you suspect everyone to be a liar and a cheat. If you are deceitful, you expect everyone you deal with will be deceitful. It makes perfect common sense to me. All any artist wants from a gallery is to be genuinely treated with fairness. I don’t know of one artist who has said to me that their only reason for seeking a gallery was to cheat them. Once, artist’s needed galleries to show their work. This is changing and the suspicion from galleries is that artists are out to cheat them of their “deserved rewards.” Where is it written that any galley should take a higher percentage of the sale? I understand a gallery has overhead. But so do artist. Actually the artist’s investment is greater than the galleries investment. Both have rent/mortgage, phone, utilities. I won’t list the costs artists pay in fees, shipping, and transportation. Paint and supply costs alone have skyrocketed with more people making art. Material costs balance out in the end. But, emotional cost is greater for the artist. It’s the artist that is on the line, not the gallery.

The nature of the gallery system is that galleries believe they are entitled to more because they have availability to “money people”, which entitles them to a greater share of the profits. But without artwork to sell, there would be no need for patrons. Galleries are an invention of those who believed they could sell artwork which would give artists freedom to paint. But gallery owners use this as an opportunity to tip the scales. Traditionally, artists are notoriously bad with business or were just not adept at business or busy making art to conduct business. So galleries started setting the rules, in their favor, and sowed the seeds for their eventual diminished importance. Artists also were too willing to agree to “the gallery system”. Today, artists have website, galleries have become suspicious and mistrustful that artists will make their own sales. AND, in all fairness, some artists are probably thinking of ways around the gallery. When I was a child, my mother taught me to be true and honest and treat everyone fairly. When I became an adult, she told me a different story. I am reminded of her teaching and she, with a clear voice said, “the advice I gave was for when you were a child”. Today artists have alternatives and they are exercising them more. In the end what galleries have to realize is there are more potential buyers surfing the net than are visiting physical galleries. Buyers also know they can get a better price without paying for gallery overhead.

As a post script, galleries still exist today and will in the future. Some are run honestly. Do your research when choosing your gallery. It’s your artwork. Take pride in it and don’t sell it short.

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