Free Content • A Guide to Art Galleries II

A Guide to Art Galleries II
Selling your art is possibly the most important part of being a professional photographer. In this second part of her series on art galleries, Tiffany Reed Briley discusses how to price your art and gives advice on things to be aware of when approaching galleries
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In the November issue we published part 1 of the series, in which we discussed the value of researching galleries, the best practices for approaching, and outlined the differences between emerging and established artists. In this article we will discuss setting the price of your art, the benefits of gallery representation and things you need to be aware of before you begin approaching galleries.

Setting your price

One of the most common questions and dilemmas for photographers pertains to pricing their photographic art. If you have struggled to put a price tag on your work, you are not alone. One of the benefits to working with a gallery is that, as your representative, they will guide you with suggestions and provide feedback on pricing.

As mentioned in the previous article, identifying yourself as either an emerging or an established artist will assist you in setting your price. Different markets will allow for various price points and the gallery can be an invaluable asset in providing objective opinions.

Commission

Quite possibly, one of the only drawbacks to gallery representations is the commission you pay to the gallery. In larger cities, such as New York, you can easily expect a commission split of 70/30, favoring the gallery. Here in Charleston, South Carolina, where I interviewed Jennie Fili from Martin Gallery, a more common split would be 50/50.

If you are an emerging artist, you will need to be prepared for a higher split because the gallery is going to take a greater risk of representing you versus representing an artist with a record of success in sales.

When setting the price of your print you will need to keep in mind the cost of printing, the gallery commission and the amount you will have to pay in taxes.

Building your name

Building your name within the community will not only help you build leverage when you negotiate commission with a gallery, but it can also become an additional source of income for you until such time that you become represented. Whether the gallery is the end goal or not, the value of building your name within your community cannot be overstated.

One piece of advice on where to get started would be to display your work in any art shows your community might have. In a later article we’ll discuss art shows in more depth.

During my conversation with Martin Gallery (see previous article), a great deal of weight was put towards juried art shows versus open shows. One primary take away from my conversation was the value she placed on being approved and shown at a juried art show. She mentioned that the credibility you receive by being accepted into a juried art show played a part in her level of interest in prospective new artists.

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The role a gallery plays

Although the commission split may be tough to wrap your mind around, you must keep in mind that they are saving you the cost of space in a building, electricity and other expenses. The gallery is also minimizing your risk. A relationship with a credible gallery can be a profoundly beneficial one.

If you have come to an agreement with a gallery, you can expect that they will host a show for you where your art is either displayed exclusively or you and your work are highlighted for the evening. This additionally lends to your resume as an artist, and for many photographers the show in and of itself is the prize they are after.

A great gallery relationship will also be one that is committed to your success. You can expect that they will encourage you to sit down with them, review your work and discuss images they feel will sell. It is important to approach this meeting with humility and an open mind. The gallery director will have a great idea of his/her market and what consumers are interested in.

The benefit of having an advocate who knows your story, your passion, your work and your art is invaluable. Having a representative of your work to speak about you is a great thing; I consider it to be one of the highest points of a representation. It is important to note that not only do galleries become your advocate to individuals out for a Sunday stroll, but that it is also their role to have a book of business, which includes qualified investors and collectors. A gallery becomes a matchmaker between the artist and the collector. A great gallery director will know their investors and will work to fit your images into their collections where applicable.

In the previous article I wrote about best practices regarding approaching a gallery director or owner. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I very much want to encourage you to reference back to it. Jennie Fili made an interesting point that I had never thought of prior to our interview. She communicated to me how strongly she feels about being the advocate or representative of her artists. She gave me this example: If she had three people in the room, the artist, a collector and a prospective artist who was seeking representation, it would be offensive to her existing artist if she were to take time away from the collector to speak with a new artist about potential representation. Regardless of whether or not the artist is physically present, her integrity and work ethic causes her to respect the artist at all times. While this may be frustrating or come off as rude and aloof to a prospective artist seeking representation, to the artist who is already represented it’s a clear act of respect and professionalism.

Choosing a medium

This topic could be an article in and of itself. The value and importance of choosing a medium that reflects the tone of your work is vital. It will also be a benefit to discuss with the gallery what they feel will sell and work in the gallery.

If the gallery tends to favor a more modern look, you may want to present metal prints. They have been very popular among photographers due to the ability to hang the print without the cost of a matte and frame, while still having a polished presentation. The size of the prints will also be an important point. Prior to printing, you will need to have a conversation with the gallery as to what range of sizes they would prefer. Bay Photo has long been known for the quality of their metal prints and has the ability to print incredibly large sizes. Specifically, they can print up to 4 feet by 8 feet.

While printing on metal is a common medium for photographers, it is still a relatively new medium to consumers.

Having a theme or body of work is of great value for galleries. That theme should be analyzed to determine if it is the most suitable one for a traditional frame and matt, or if it will be most complimented by a more modern look such as a metal print, acrylic or canvas.

In closing

It is my hope that these last two articles have been beneficial to you and have answered some of your questions regarding art galleries, getting started and the benefits of representation.

One key point I’d like to leave with you is this: never in the history of humanity has a farmer gone to his field on a Monday, planted a seed and then gone out on Tuesday to reap the harvest. This principle of sowing and reaping is vital to nearly every aspect of life – the same is true for your business as an artist.

It is an unrealistic expectation to think that having the body of work appropriate for a gallery is an overnight assignment. It is also unreasonable to think that working through the steps from juried art shows to galleries are life events that happen overnight. Hard work, persistence, consistency and honest self-assessment will go far in this competitive world of fine art.

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