Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good advice, no charge!


The entombment, Raphael

Over the years I have had the opportunity to be mentored by a number of older painters. On several occasions I had list of do's and don'ts presented to me. A professional does this, a professional doesn't do that. Now I know many of you are not pro's, there aren't that many people who are. However many of you do show and sell your art. This piece of advice will be useful to you too. This was told me by an artist I am going to allow to remain anonymous, as he is alive and I haven't secured permission to quote him. There were a number of things on his list. Here's one.


Many times I have needed to make a decision in the business of art and knew the answer, simply by applying this principle. It has kept me from lot of unprofitable mistakes. I am going to give you a couple of exceptions to this rule up front. One is, fees to be in a show. I think its okay to pay a modest fee to be in a juried show. I probably would cap that at around $50.00.
The other exception is paying rent for a gallery you will run yourself. In that I would include a booth at a reasonably priced outdoor art fair. I would not include expensive trade shows.

That's pretty much where I draw the line.There's a philosophical reason for this. Your art has value. You wouldn't pay them to borrow your car. The use of your art is a privilege that has value. Now when you lend it to a gallery, that's not for free, because you agree with them that they will do a number of things for you that have value, financial value.. I will return to what a gallerie's responsibilities are in another post. But for now, they have em!

Lets now look at the places that will ask you to pay to show your art.

  • Vanity galleries, these businesses make their money from the artist, not from the customer buying art. You are their customer! They will offer you so many feet of wall space for so much a month. They will tell you they will sell your art. If that's so, they should hang it up and sell it, like a real gallery. If you feel you can't get into a real gallery, do outdoor shows until you can. But don't be exploited, Its not usually a scam, its just not a good deal for you.
  • Vanity publications, these guys usually approach you through the mail and offer you pages in a magazine that will be seen by over 100,000 people, mailed to every major art gallery in America and entered in facsimile form into the goddamn Library of Congress! Again you are their customer, you want to make money not spend it. Galleries get lots of submissions, they seldom choose their artists from these publications. These guys are out to sell pages to anyone who has the coin. The quality level of the art in these things is very low. You will probably be very disappointed with the art surrounding yours, and who you show with reflects on your art. The salesmen for these things can be very pushy, before you hand them a check, remember what that nice Stapleton Kearns told you.
  • Expensive trade shows, and art fairs. Often these are held in enormous convention halls and arenas. Generally the odds of your making back your investment are slim. Its sometimes good to be in the better of these shows, but let a dealer show you there. Most clients want to deal with someone who has a gallery. As an artist, you are there for a day or two and then you are gone. That's not reassuring to a buyer who is going to put down serious cash. Often the dealers who are there don't recoup their investments, but look to build leads for future sales and to be visible in the market.
  • "Special invitational shows" you are so special we're going to invite you to pay us to show your art. This is another version of the above. Some of these things have been famous catastrophes. The promoters of these shows will tell you that the dealers come to them and select artists, it may actually happen sometimes, but you can approach dealers and galleries for free.
  • Art printers. Now these guys aren't a scam, but their interested in getting paid to print , not in promoting your career. It may be you could use some prints to sell. I will discuss that in a future post also. ( I think we're going to need a lot of future ). The short answer is unless you have a retail means of selling your prints you probably could put your money to better use in your art business.
  • A subset of these guys want to put your art on coffee mugs, or baseball caps. Same deal as above.
  • There are online galleries that will include your art in their web site and pay you when it sells, but until then, you pay them. These guys call me up routinely and I always stop them about 15 feet into their pitch and say, if you intend to ask me to pay you, the deal is off. They usually start out telling you what a great artist you are, I sometimes like to stick around for that part. But I don't give them my money.
  • Advertising, this is a tricky one, I think I will suggest this, don't spend more to advertise a painting than you routinely receive for a painting. If you are an established artist, there are some fine magazines in which to advertise, and I am guardedly recommending it.You should probably look at it as buying name recognition in the corner of the art world that follows that particular magazine.
There are a number of other schemes to make you the customer rather than a seller. New ones are invented every few years. They can all be avoided by following this simple rule. For you young people who are thinking about getting a tattoo, like, on your sacrum or neck. I think you just couldn't do better than;



armandcabrera said...


There is another version of the vanity gallery. Galleries that take 50% commission and demand you use only their framing. The frame cost charged to the artist is deducted against future sales. As you can imagine artists who are starting out and have low price points never make any money with these situations.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I have never seen that one. I have on occasion bought a frame from a gallery I was in,they agreed to back it out of the profit when the picture was sold. Then months later the picture was unsold and they wanted to be paid anyway.The price was as much as for a 22k frame and it was an open cornered frame. I paid them, but learned not to do that aagain....Stape

Unknown said...

Great tips. I learned that in film school. There are film festivals of the same sort. If you pay enough, you get recognized.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Do you suppose that all of the world is on the same plan.I know only the painting world, but I am not surprised to hear the film world is th3e same way.....Stape

Cate Kashem said...

What's your take on joining non-profit art associations? The fees can range from $50 to $500/year!