Using Galleries versus Self-Promotion for Visual Artists

A couple of weeks back, Susan Elcox posted this on my Facebook Page (which, kids, if you haven’t headed over and “Liked” yet, well, you should. Smooth, hey?):

To do research for this post, I met with my dear friend, Lili Vieira De Carvalho, who, up until a few months ago, was working at the Diane Farris Gallery, and has a rich background of working with visual artists to help them create their brand and grow their businesses.

Here are some of her thoughts about the gallery route versus self-promotion.

Galleries:

Pros:

  • Higher exposure of your work, especially if the gallery has an excellent reputation and has taken the time to build their own fan base.
  • The gallery owner likely knows their own clientele quite well, meaning that they can match you up with, or introduce your work to, collectors that they already know will be interested in your work.
  • The gallery acts like your agent, so you don’t have to do much work or marketing, as the gallery usually takes care of things like managing openings, brokering sales, etc.
  • It is very unlikely that you will be able to have an international, or even nation-wide career without gallery representation.

Cons:

  • You have to pay the gallery a commission.
  • Physical, bricks-and-mortar galleries are beginning to disappear. This year alone, two major commercial galleries (Diane Farris and Buchelen-Mowatt)  in Vancouver have moved from bricks-and-mortar businesses to online businesses. The overhead is lower, and they can still thrive and be successful.
  • You have to get a gallery to pick you up. There is a lot of competition out there. It can be very challenging.

Self-Promotion:

Pros:

  • Empowerment! You don’t have to sit by the phone and wait for someone to call and say they’ve made a sale! If you are savvy, and are in charge of your own branding, you can use marketing tools to generate sales.
  • There is a better chance that a gallery will pick you up if you come with the complete marketing package: you own fans, your own e-newsletter lists, etc. It proves to them that you are a professional, and it makes their job easier, which makes it harder for them to say no to you.
  • If you do some market research, and you know who the collectors are who are interested in your work, you can market directly to them.
  • No commissions!

Cons:

  • You need to have a certain amount of “the business mind” mentality. Which means, that you have to at least be willing to learn how to do this stuff.  Honestly, some people are not. They just would rather pay someone to do it for them, which is fair enough.
  • It takes time to create and build all of your marketing tools, and it takes time to create a fan base.

So. Whatever route you choose, you should be prepared with the proper marketing tools. If you can create them, and begin to market your artwork while you wait for the gallery to call, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Here are the basic tools that Lili says that every visual artist should have to promote their work:

  • High-quality, professional, high-resolution photos of your work.
  • Two bios: a shorter one, 2-3 sentences, and a longer one, 2-3 paragraphs (or longer).
  • An artist statement: what turns you on? What’s your passion? What inspires you?
  • A photo of yourself: this should be not too posed, not too professional, it should look approachable, smiling, inviting. Perhaps taken in your studio.
  • A website from which you can sell your work.
  • In addition, you may want to add on social media tools: a Facebook page, an e-newsletter, a blog, perhaps?

Finally, explore alternative ways of selling your work:

  • If you are doing one-of-a-kind, craft-based pieces, perhaps ETSY is the place for you.
  • Hold an open studio, or get involved with an organization like the East Van Culture Crawl which organizes open studios.
  • Create a group show with other artists.
  • Sell your work at craft fairs.
  • Hang your work in high-traffic commercial spaces, like coffee shops or restaurants or retail stores.
  • Hang your work in hotel rooms or put it on a rental list for high-end businesses and movie sets.
  • Donate your work to charity actions to help generate exposure.

Susan, I hope that helps! Thanks for your question!

Are you a visual artist? What’s been your experience in dealing with a gallery versus doing your own personal self-promotion?

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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