I try to show my work in a gallery at least once a year. I’ve been doing well, and I already showed my work in a couple of places this year, but doing all of this by myself, shopping around, applying for shows, coordinating with galleries, framing and shipping work, all of it can be very tiring. Then I stumbled on an article which examined whether brick-and-mortar art galleries are still needed when the Internet allows artists to directly reach out to their audience.
It’s a rather long article which ends with the writer promoting his services, but the biggest takeaway for me is that for the longest time, galleries have enjoyed the myth that they are the gatekeepers to “making it.” That once my art gets into a particular gallery, I will reach an audience that would buy my art and love me. This might have been true back then, but now reaching out to audiences has been democratized by the Internet. Instagram artists can be more popular and possibly sell more works than professional artists who shows work mostly in galleries. And art-lovers no longer have to visit gallery to discover new art. Of course some art have to be seen and experienced first-hand, but many works are now made available to be enjoyed online.
Two things however, one is being accepted by a gallery is always a good acknowledgment of one’s talent. This is why I try to apply for gallery shows and not rent galleries. That, plus the returns for renting a gallery and hoping for sales simply doesn’t make economic sense. I also believe in Marcel Duchamp’s message when he made Fountain. If all works are accepted by a gallery as long as the “artist” pays a fee, then that makes every object art. It makes beauty, talent, effort, and meaning all null. And as Stephen Hicks argued, “Art is something you piss on.” Not to sound too conservative, but you need unbiased gatekeepers to tell you that yes, what you have on the canvas is indeed art. Of course, many galleries will reject your works, but when you do get accepted by a gallery, it makes the moment and the work even more meaningful.
Another thing is that because of the proliferation of art on the Internet, it is very difficult to grow an audience and stand out in a sea of artists. It has given rise to businesses ranging from online galleries that promise artists to introduce them to buyers, to companies which boost online presence and add more clicks to artists’ Web pages. The brick-and-mortar gallery model has moved online. It is still the same game.
So what is my point? My point is, if you want to sell work. Don’t rely solely on brick-and-mortar galleries. In fact, unless your work already sells wells and is ideal for hanging, then yes, galleries are the way to go. I think however for most people, a mixture of galleries, online hustling, and participating in art fairs and other events is the way to sell art. Most non-famous artists would be spending just as much time selling their art as making them.
If you’re interested in growing your audience, go online. Galleries will promote your name on their newsletter if you have a show, but more often, they’re relying on you to bring your audience to them, not the other way around. Don’t think that a gallery show will suddenly make you popular. If you are interested in growing a local audience, go with the brick-and-mortar gallery route. Show your work to several galleries regularly. I’ve been making art forever, but since I rarely do shows in my hometown these days, I’m quite unknown. Local galleries don’t know me although I’ve toured my works all over Canada.
If you want validation, apply for shows. Submit your work to calls for submissions. Chances are, you will get rejected repeatedly, but you’ll learn to deal with it. Don’t splurge on applications and definitely don’t spend money in vanity galleries in New York. Also remember that galleries are a business, and they often want art that they could sell. Don’t feel too bad if galleries don’t want your work especially if you’re not interested in making to sell anyway. Growing a big following on social media could be a sign of a good artist as well, but I’ve seen far too many artists on Instagram with thousands of followers who I know will never make it in a professional gallery.
So yes, for artists, there is still a need for brick-and-mortar galleries. It all just depends on what exactly the particular artist needs. Having work in hung in a gallery is no longer the standard of “making it” as an artist, it just simply means that it’s good enough that a business is willing to have it on a wall for a few days.