How to get into galleries

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How to get into galleries.

A lot of artists want to exhibit in commercial art galleries. They see it as recognition of their quality as an artist, and they expect that the gallery will provide an income for them. Sometimes this is actually what happens, but sometimes not.

I remember when I was first tempted to get into galleries. What I mean is that I remember the time that I decided to try getting into commercial art galleries and get them to sell my artwork for me. What I had been doing instead for several years previously, was making a full-time living as an artist selling my paintings directly to the collecting public.

So why did I want to go into the galleries?
How did I do it?
Did it work?
Did it make me rich and famous?
And do I reckon that it is a good idea?

Why did I want to?

I reckon that status and security are the driving factors behind much of what we all do. And I accept that these factors drove me to try to use the commercial art gallery system to further my career as a professional artist. How wrong I was! The gallery system does not provide much in the way of security. And the status that a gallery artist has is achievable elsewhere.

How did I do it?

I joined organizations that had existing art gallery members, and I paid out fortunes to exhibit at specialist trade fairs where art gallery owners would see my work. I visited and opened dialogue with gallery owners and managers to try and learn what they wanted and how I could provide them with it.

Did it work?

Yes I got into several galleries. Some have continued to show and sell my work, and others have not. In fact so many art galleries have folded and vanished that much of the effort was wasted. I have found out that the downsides outweigh the upsides.

Did it make me rich and famous?

No it didn’t. Not rich anyway because galleries need to take at least half of their sales income to be able to pay for rent, heating, lighting, publicity, etc. They also need to make a profit. So they cannot give artists more than half the sales revenue, if that. That means that artists have to produce artwork that is valued at twice the amount that they get, or would get elsewhere if dealing direct with the collectors. Famous? Not really. Galleries want you to be well known and collectable specifically for their customer base. But not for everywhere else where you might be tempted to cut them out or risk getting poached by other galleries.

Do I reckon that it is a good idea?

Not really. Because the effort and cost of getting into a gallery does not result in a secure income or higher status. But even more than that I am sure that artists can gain much more satisfaction if they deal face to face with their collectors. The direct feedback from collectors is both encouraging and discouraging, and is very valuable. You probably make better art if you get the feedback, whereas galleries will probably only feedback what suits them. And galleries will try to keep the artist and collector apart.

But suppose an artist is not driven by a desire for security of income and need for status as an artist?

Ah ha! Then the gallery system might be just the right place for you. Especially if it a local gallery where you know and can trust the gallery owner. Maybe your work is specific to the locality, or client base of the gallery. If so, then it could be really good for the artist.

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Colin Ruffell was born in 1939, then he was bombed, evacuated, educated, expelled, repatriated, married, bred, qualified and taught; until in 1965, aged 26, he became a professional artist. Since then he is proud and happy to have survived. He qualified from two Art Colleges in painting, design and printmaking, and the Open University in psychology and aesthetics, plus he has a reasonably clean driving license. He has founded, led or organised the following; Spectrum Studios, Artists in Action, Bayswater Road Artists Association, 9-Plus Artists Group, Buckingham Fine Art Ltd., Brighton Artists Workshop, European Fine Art Ltd., The Fine Art Trade Guild, The Fiveways Artists Group, and Crabfish Ltd.

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