As an art marketing professional and the author of a book directed to those who seek land-based gallery representation, I have focused on the goals of those who might choose to follow the gallery path. Perhaps it's time to point out some other areas for artists who just want to make a living through their art, but are unconcerned with super-stardom in the art world.
There are many valid venues for art marketing and the one you choose depends on your goals. Thinking about this subject, a woman came to my mind. In 1981, after participating in a juried show in Panama City, Florida, a woman was selling her paintings on the side of the road.
We stopped and engaged her in conversation. She had two goals in life, to raise her children and breed horses on her ranch in Montana. For three months out of the year, she traveled the Gulf Coast, selling beach sunsets painted on canvas and sand dollars. The sand dollars were priced at $5.00 for the tourists and the ranch in Montana was supporting itself; the $100,000 -150,000 that she made during summer vacation was just gravy.
There was the artist in the mall, who made an excellent living by anyone's standards with pastel portraits. He was like John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley, a wonderful book I might add, and it might give you some ideas, but this man had outfitted a camper (like Steinbeck) in which he lived on the road.
Although, he did beautiful work, he did say, in his own words, "no one would buy a portrait from a black man named ______ _____ until I changed it to sound French." It must have worked. He did great. My former garbage man is a fabulous portraitist, who was able, through word-of-mouth, to earn an enviable income.
And the artists that travel the art show circuits do extremely well. Sunshine Magazine has them listed, rated and sales are often guaranteed. Not only is it a fun lifestyle, the adventure of meeting fascinating people while supporting yourself. In the French Quarter the artists do so well, there is a waiting list for space.
But, back to the juried show, artists make a fine living through them, the space is provided,
sponsors often pay for hotel rooms and hors d'oeuvres at the pre-show get together. Not only was I able to show my work, but there was a free vacation involved. These are great opportunities for the artist to make a comfortable living, and win prizes.
But the major disadvantage specific to those who wish to use it as a method for future gallery
affiliation, is that the juried shows, coffeehouses, internet or any other public venue, where it is viewed by the general public, the work is "shopped".
If the artist is only interested in selling there all is well. But, art dealers won't consign work that has been "shopped". That does not mean they will not take future work that the general public has not yet seen.
This goes back to the artist "unveiling" the painting, human nature, and psychology of the professional collector. The arrogance of the dealer in presuming to have discovered the artist is yet another factor, best for another topic. I am trying to get a lifetime of info into one post, so bear with me if you're so inclined.
When I mention art galleries, perhaps I should make a distinction there as well. On another forum, an artist had answered an ad for an art gallery looking for submissions. Upon visiting them, they wanted a $100 for viewing her work, her time as a docent, as well as monthly fees. Unfortunately, she had not realized that she had stumbled upon an artist's cooperative.
Although, the members might be professional artists, a cooperative has the same disadvantages of the internet. That is the work is chosen, not by its merit, but by the ability of the artist to pay the monthly fees.
Once again, I am not discrediting cooperatives, the Internet or coffeehouses. They can be a viable opportunity. But, not if you're looking for future representation in the gallery biz, professional collectors, or the museums. In Georgia, for instance, The Museum of Contemporary Art, is one of the few that actually feature the work of living artists. A prize in one of their shows will lead to sales, and most likely gallery affiliation. Since, it is the nature of the art dealer to follow the lead of the museum. The museum and their trustees pretty much dominate the market.
As an artist, the career and venue should be focused on the collector you are trying to attract. They collect for various reasons whether it be a pretty painting for the sofa that they see at the local offeehouse or the collector that called me about David Middlebrook.
This man said he really wanted a Henry Moore. But, because of the size, didn't want a crane in his sculpture garden. He had seen a piece by Middlebrook advertised in ARTnews. This artist carves his marble in Italy. Since his works are heavy, they are installed hollow, back-filled with cement and capped.
They are gorgeous. My favorite from his "Concerto Series" is "Mozart". It has 'pieces' missing. But, the method of installation solves a multitude of problems to the shipping of the marble to load bearing issues on roof tops. But, that collector had seen Middlebrook's work as an answer to enhancing his other works.
Many collectors are interested in the piece that will fit their particular niche. Which brings me to another point. Another artist I once represented, found great success by marketing her DNA paintings to those that have an interest in that market, Genentec, Harvard Bio Labs and thousands of collectors, simply because they are beautiful. But, it was her Byte Series, of used computer parts from the engineering department at U.C. Berkeley that caught the eye of the Director of the Pompidou while having a show at the Galerie de Suisse.
So, the artist can be in one venue,the right person see the work and you're set for life. And as far as the collector is concerned, why do they collect? The art dealers refuse to discuss this subject, but the answer is often investment or tax savings.
A collector once told me that he had a million-dollar yearly allowance from his inheritance and had been buying undeveloped land. He had to pay property taxes on that. Once he realized he only had to pay capital gains on the sale of art in the secondary market, he began to collect seriously rather than as a hobbyist.
So, the artist has as many valid avenues as the collector in their motivations for acquisition. It is all very personal and basically just depends on the individual's goals and in planning around that. And it does not really matter whether your piece is a $5 momento of a vacation at the beach as long as it brings you want you want and need.
Good luck to all and best regards,
Gallerist, Art Struck Gallery, Blue Ridge, GA, Former Faculty Member - Atlanta College of Art and author of Art Gallery Safari: Bagging the Big One.