As an independent designer-maker I have to constantly find ways to sell my work in order to fund the creation of new work. Nothing unusual there. I'm very lucky in that my glass-making has been self-funding for a few years now (which only means I make enough from sales to buy more raw materials and fire my kilns). Of course there are other expenses in life and if you want to turn a hobby into a profession, as I do, you need to step up the output and income to commercial levels and this means putting your work out into the big, wide world to earn it's keep. Which is where art galleries come into the picture.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love art galleries. Whenever I travel I visit galleries small and large and I'm privileged to live in a part of the world where art galleries abound. Every sea-side town and tourist spot in the sunny south west of England has an art gallery, or several art galleries, and these are a great place to display and sell work such as mine. But this is where my problem with galleries lies; No art gallery wants to actually buy my work. Gallery owners all tell me how lovely it is and how they think it would suit their customer base, and how it is very good value for money but then, almost without exception, they expect me to hand over the artworks without taking payment for them on the understanding that if it sells they will send me some money.
As a self-employed person, rather than a commercial entity such as a limited company, I am not offered any kind of credit terms by raw materials suppliers. When I need a few hundred pounds worth of coloured glass at the beginning of each month my supplier doesn't say "take the glass and pay us for it when your work is finished and sold". When I fire my big electric kilns the power company doesn't say "pay your bill when you get enough money in to cover it". Far from it. My suppliers all want cash up-front or no deal! Which makes the art galleries sale-or-return (or "commission sales" as they prefer to term it) business model seem very unfair to the artist. I understand that gallery owners have overheads to pay but so do we all and the rest of us don't expect other people to support our businesses at their own expense.
The standard art gallery business model seems to be;
- Fill the space with work provided for free (maker delivers or pays postage).
- If a piece of work sells give the maker 50% (or less) of the net income.
- Only give the maker his cut at the end of the month following the sale date.
- If a piece sells expect another piece to be provided, free of charge, to replace it.
- If a piece doesn't sell get the maker to arrange for collection or pay for return.
My own view is that if, as an art gallery, you take a piece of my brightly coloured art glass and place it in the window or on the wall it helps to attract people into your gallery where they may make a purchase of some sort but not necessarily of my work. So I am helping to draw customers in to your business to purchase someone else's work, at no cost to you. Now, I worked in advertising for twenty five years and I know how expensive it is to promote businesses so I find this just amazing. I now look at art galleries in a completely new way. I see rooms full of fantastic artworks which have been provided for free and loads of creative people who are being taken advantage of and can't see any way to change it, except perhaps to open my own gallery and fill it with work I have paid for!
So, if you are an art gallery, and you like my work and think your customers will like my work, BUY SOME! I will give you a good wholesale/trade price deal, which will allow me to pay my suppliers and create more work for you in the future. That doesn't sound unfair, does it? My new mantra, which I first saw on a visit to America, a couple of years ago is;
ARTWORK IS WORK!
SUPPORTING THE ARTS MEANS PAYING THE ARTIST.
and I intend to use it as my online signature wherever I have the opportunity from this point forward. Join me and support the work of designer-makers and artists.