By Bob Bahr
The fantasy of most artists is to simply create art, leaving the business side of painting to professionals. This is particularly true about marketing and sales. Artists dream of having a gallery that takes care of everything, and simply cuts checks to give to the painter or sculptor when a sale occurs.
Well, there’s a reason why it’s called a fantasy. A few lucky artists may conduct their lives this way, but chances are they got there by hustling on their own for years. They’ve already put in the time to market themselves.
Some artists might consider the following very bad news: quite a few established galleries are closing these days. “There is a disproportionate amount of galleries going out of business,” says Darlene Cecil, an industry expert living in the Kalispell, Montana area. Cecil owned a gallery for years, and she also ran a successful marketing and advertising agency in Florida. “The question is why. People are still buying art. Are they buying prints? Is it the impact of the Internet?”
The World Wide Web certainly has played a key role in the changing marketplace. Even established artists maintain a website, and many have enewsletters that regularly go out to collectors and fans. Some artists sell through Facebook; others utilize Etsy, or use a FASO-style website. SKB’s own Anthony Cannata has been preaching the gospel of smart Internet use for years, as have other members of SKB’s staff.
Last September, Cecil offered a presentation on gallery representation at the SKB workshop in Dubois, along with one-on-one sessions. She estimates that she visited with about 30 artists during the workshop. Only about four had fully functioning websites. About half didn’t have a website at all. And to date, only about four of the artists she saw have made substantial improvements to their website or built a new one. This amounts to an enormous missed opportunity.
Galleries are being squeezed by online sales, even as the costs associated with brick-and-mortar stores continues to climb. “When I had more than $1 million in artwork in the inventory of my gallery, I was paying $25,000 a year just to insure the pieces,” Cecil points out. “That’s overhead. Now, the Internet is creating a really negative environment for galleries beyond that.”
It’s creating opportunities as well. But galleries aren’t going to build and maintain your website. That’s on you. And that means time away from the easel for artists. As with most things, there’s no substitute for hard work in creating and maintaining an online presence.
Cecil also thinks that many artists are inherently shy, so marketing doesn’t come naturally to them, to say the least. “I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing a career in art, but I think artists will have to work harder and harder to sell their artwork,” she says. “It’s not just learning the skills to paint; to become a better artist, you have to be a good businessperson and be responsible for selling your own work.”
Cecil expects an increase in in-home galleries and artist websites that serve as gallery stores. She notes the trend toward galleries becoming more geographically specific—more regional. And she sees animal or wildlife art holding its own.
But more than anything, Cecil wants artists to sell more work. It is what keeps a painter going, financially and emotionally. “Paintings must be sold,” she says. “They can’t just sit in a corner. It’s nothing but a piece of canvas until it connects with someone and they are willing to pay good money for it.”
Finally, Cecil hopes that SKBers attend her presentation this September in Dubois…and she strongly recommends another presentation that is scheduled. Angela Sauro Davis will be talking about licensing, another income stream available to artists. “That class on licensing will be one of the most valuable offered in Dubois,” says Cecil. “It will be interesting, and it’s a topic that is only becoming more important. How do you protect your image and license in the Internet era?”
Davis—and Cecil—are part of the Specialty Instructors SKB assembles each year. Take advantage of their wisdom while at the SKB Dubois Rendezvous & Workshop. Ω