Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art and Bill Gates

"I am picking up a lot of unease from artists about going with commercial galleries, myself included. I think the internet and blogosphere is the direction a lot of artists are going..."

I received this interesting comment from April Jarocka a couple of days ago and, with my own web site on the launch pad, I'm prompted to outline my thoughts concerning galleries and the less traditional, web-based method of presenting and marketing my art.

In doing so, I accept that I'm unqualified in any practical sense to offer an opinion on the effectiveness of the internet as a marketing tool, or whether it can successfully replace the more traditional gallery outlets. If nothing else though, it might be an interesting and timely exercise to record my thoughts so I can reflect later on how well thought out (or how naive and foolish) they turn out to have been!

My last foray into art as a part-time commercial venture was around 15 years ago. Apart from some local art shows, I sold through a couple of city framing retailers masquerading as galleries and enjoyed a good relationship with them. I had no prior expectations of them and they managed to sell most of the work I presented them with relatively quickly, relying only on passing trade. When it came to framing my work, which was usually Conte or acrylic on paper, I felt it was worth the added expense of a double matte and, together with glass and mouldings, the final cost was far from trivial. I was happy to accept the galleries' advice when it came to setting prices and was elated enough just making a sale. In fact, my prices were such that with gallery commissions and the aforementioned framing costs taken into account, it might have been more lucrative flipping burgers.

Fast forward to 2009 and the ground rules have changed markedly; as April points out, the internet is the new paradigm. Add in a sprinkling of suspicion and a dash of cynicism which inevitably comes with age and experience, and I find the gallery option much less appealing than it once appeared. In my mind, pricing my art realistically remains a black art and I would almost certainly accept the advice of the gallery, as I have in the past. However, with the world economy still shaky, I wonder if their need to turn over stock and generate cash flow would outweigh any desire they might otherwise have had to put my interests up there with their own. Harking back to those intimidating framing costs, the issue of dead money tied up on gallery walls is a further disincentive.

If you’re reading this, you already know the power of the internet. Political and geographical boundaries are rendered (mostly) irrelevant and our target audience extends to the far reaches of the globe. With a potential market such as this, I’m opting to sell my work online, unmounted and unframed, which removes one of the objections I have to selling through galleries and greatly simplifies shipping. The other advantage of a web-based shop front is the opportunity to offer originals and limited-edition prints from a single point of sale in an effort to cater to all budgets. My belief that signed and numbered prints are a hugely attractive marketing option again stems from the computer age and is reinforced by my experience as a software developer. How successful would Bill Gates have become if his team of developers had created Microsoft Office, or any of his other products, and the code and copyright had then been sold to a single purchaser? Likewise, I don't think I should limit myself to selling original paintings and drawings through a gallery when my digital imaging company of choice also offers a “print-on-demand” service and are happy to run off single prints as and when required.

I doubt that anyone questions the wisdom of marketing via the internet, however, it would be great if those of you with practical experience could chime in and offer up your thoughts on the relevance of galleries in the big picture, and the extent to which they've played a role in your success.



April Jarocka said...

Hi Peter. Great post. It's left me sitting here all morning thinking of how artists can and should promote themselves, especially myself in these hard times.
I've been looking at some online galleries, of which there are a great variety out there for artists of all abilities to sell their work through. There are so many artists listed and their testimonials will tell you that there are a lot of happy customers buying their work.
I wonder how well Bill Gates would have done had his product been fine art?

Peter Brown said...

April, no doubt Bill would have found a way to make his art work obsolete after 18 months, much as he does with software!

Without having investigated the online galleries you mention, I would fear getting lost among dozens of other artists. I'll have a look nevertheless.

It's worth mentioning that having a personal web site is no guarantee that people will visit it. There are specialist companies around whose sole business it is to optimise web content in an effort to maximise traffic and I'll certainly be implementing the techniques I'm aware of. Google Adwords is also well worth a look if you haven't already considered it.

April Jarocka said...

Ps. Thanks for link back to my blog! Much appreciated Peter!

Gary Keimig said...

I deeply apprecaite the comments you and
April are contributing on your blog, Peter. On the last post I didn't know where you were going but now see. I am a little ignorant about selling through internet galleries and guess I would have to take a look at it to see what I thought.
I have gone through galleries myself. Have had some great ones to deal with and some horrible experiences as well. Currrently I have my own gallery that is a pardnership with several other artists and are now in our 4th year. Had tried my own in times past but found it to be very time consuming. In a perfect world a pardnership is great to go with and I feel blessed with the pardners I have now. We have all been friends for years and even so there are times when you wonder as I am sure they do too. It is a matter of not taking trivialities too seriously.
Through my gallery I have handed out cards to folks with my blog on it and it is slowly beginning to pay off with customers.
It does help to have a gallery where there are a lot of folks coming through or a market that will suport it. We have a low population area but a lot of tourists bound for Tetons and Yellowstone and we even advertise in the Jackson art market.
I still do several shows a year just to keep my name out there and have a couple of other galleries that don't really sell that much but again keeps my name befor the public.

DennyHollandStudio said...

Peter~ I'm am so done with galleries at this point in time. I've sold the bulk of my work through my own studio and now my blog. People who buy work like to have a connection with the artist, I think, and most of my sales have been to people who know me or have followed my work for years. I'm seeing less need for the traditional gallery route (with their 40% cut ) and frankly I like pocketing more of the money I get for a painting. It keeps me solvent as an artist. The internet is an amazing tool!

Peter Brown said...

Gary and Denny, thank you for this great feedback. I sincerely appreciate your comments and I'm sure others reading them will benefit too.

For the sake of a simple example, let's say I offer a matted and framed painting (under glass) for, say, $1000. My friendly neighbourhood gallery sells it for me and takes their 40% cut. That leaves me $600. Framing would have cost me in the vicinity of $200, maybe a bit less. Nett income is therefore around $400, ignoring material costs and the other overheads which I'll incur whatever the method of sale. I recognise that I can claim these gallery commissions and framing costs when I submit my annual tax return, but I'm left with the feeling that there must have been a more financially rewarding way to have sold my painting!

I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised to read that your blogs actually generate sales. I assumed that my audience consisted of other artists, who are probably the last people I would expect to buy original art!

DennyHollandStudio said...

True, other artists aren't buying my work through my blog/studio/website vehicles, but the blog is getting to another circle of non-artist buyers (or potential buyers)...I don't want to come down as too negative toward galleries, they do get an artist in touch with collectors and serve a purpose. I'm sure I'll get my work into another gallery at some point, I guess what I'm trying to conclude is that the internet gives us artists a whole lot more control in terms of exposure.

Peter Brown said...

Denny, only time will tell whether I crawl submissively back to the galleries with my tail between my legs!

L.Holm said...

I think it's best to do both. The artists who seem most successful on the web, also sell larger pieces in several commercial galleries.
Best wishes! Liz

Peter Brown said...

Hi Liz, thanks for visiting! My thoughts on the topic seem to be evolving as the weeks go by and I'm now thinking seriously of doing both, as you suggest. As I continue to explore other people's blogs, it seems many are of the opinion that few people are willing to purchase originals online, although sales of prints may do quite well.