Should working artists avoid art galleries at all costs?

When we think of art, where to view it and where to buy it for many of us our first thought is an art gallery.  Growing up I thought the pinnacle of my art career would be having my work hanging in a well known and well frequented gallery. art-gallery-wall

I imagined hundreds of people gazing at my work, professionally hung and admiring the beautiful pieces I had created.

My imagination saw me being given large cheques as people clamoured to buy my art work and saw my bank account growing healthily.   The reality could not be further from the truth.

Galleries can be difficult to make a decent living from unless you’re popular and you find a good one – preferably someone who gives a crap.

Gallery commissions can kill sales

As part of the agreement with a gallery, the final selling price of a piece of art will be made of the price the artist places on the work plus an extra sum, called a commission.

The commission is the amount  added on by the gallery to help pay for their costs, salaries, rent, publicity and other business costs. Plus they also have to turn a profit.

This means the price artists want to sell at (the amount of money they need to earn to make a living) is only a part of the final selling price passed on to a client or collector.

Artists are forced to take this commission into account when deciding their final selling price if they want to increase the likelihood of that piece of work selling at all.  The level of commission will be individual and negotiated with the gallery.

There is no standard level of commission

Galleries often add on anywhere between 5% and 100% to the price as their commission, but commission on work sold through boutique shops or specialist stores may reach as much as 250% or more – making the final selling price two and a half times more than what the artist earns from the sale.

Galleries will want you to standardise your pricing

When artists sell their work both on their own and through a gallery, they will expect the artist to keep their prices at the same price. art-gallery-wall

If a gallery is selling the work for £1000 and the artist is selling it for £500, the obvious thing for a collector to do is to try to buy from the artist directly, cutting out the gallery and reducing their profits. My advice to collectors would be to always buy from the artist directly.

However it has another twist. If your market can only sustain the £500 price point then to sell with a gallery you’re going to have to reduce the amount of money you get from a sale with them. If the gallery sells at £500 too then what do you take home? See the problem?

You may have to create specially for them and make it as unique as possible to give it some distance from your normal work. Then you can justify two price points.

Art galleries struggles to sell art just as artists do

Galleries have to convince their clients that work by gallery artists is worth adding their collections.  Many artists who show at galleries, including better known ones, not only struggle to maintain their relationships and continue getting shows, but also worry about making enough sales and enough money to survive. swarez-art-gallery

Galleries don’t need more artists

Not only do the large majority of galleries already have more art and artists than they can handle, but they are also continually contacted by new artists looking for representation. What they really need is more buyers.

What’s the alternative then?

Social Media saturation, local events, art fairs, business breakfasts, art sale portals like ArtFinder etc, a good website, eBay, Amazon, Etsy. And have you tried picking up the phone and talking to people? What about people you know and the people they know? In business and in private. Galleries are but one place you can sell from. Think wider than that.


To buy beautiful art, appreciate the time and work that has gone into creating it and to support working artists then buying directly from them, and not through a gallery, is the preferred option. If you are creative then don’t dismiss galleries but understand that they have to make money from you.

If that doesn’t sit well with you then don’t approach them. If you can work with that and they like you then you will have a great relationship with them.

I am always happy to invite people into my studio to see my work first hand and by the person that made it – me! Above all else surely that’s the most important hing? I mean, who else knows more about it than the person who made it? Can’t ever get that from a gallery – no matter how good or bad they are…

If you would like to book a viewing and take the tour then get in touch with me today.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *