Musings and Insights From Real(istic) Art Gallery Owners
Hello and welcome to the launch of “The Gallerist”, a blog devoted to giving artists and art lovers alike an inside perspective on the essentials of art galleries, and their (still) ever-important role in today’s arts and culture marketplace. Through our collective experiences and art dealings, we aim to provide the tips and tricks of the trade to help you succeed where others may only slam the door. Unlike the elitists with expensive PhDs that you see in oversize matte-finish art magazines, we are real people- just like the majority of you probably are. Nobody is gifted with a deep, specialized knowledge of art, and anybody that claims to is either pedantic, or lives in a far away world somewhere, probably full of other pedantries. One of the great things about art is that it can be anything, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to the industry. Therefore, we can only share with you our perspective.
Vestige Concept Gallery opened their doors on February 1st, 2021, founded by Artists Alexander Sands, and Kelsey Dennis. Against “wave 2” (non?) conventional pandemic wisdom**, we have, from Day 1, remained open for business, committed, and consistent in our efforts to bring the highest quality art and artists to Pittsburgh, engaging our community, and, having the most fun at it while doing so.
This leads us to RULE #1: HAVE FUN. If you are not having fun, something is wrong. Why bother being in business or creating works of art if you’re not having some fun? Sure, art can be brooding, laborious, love/hate, and borne from depression, wars, broken hearts, and dark places, but if that translates into you being miserable to work with, it shows, and, more importantly, why would someone else want to engage in your sufferings and try to pawn it off on someone? As we usually quip to people, “Were you on the beaches at Iwo Jima or at Dauchen”? Well, then you probably don’t know what real suffering is, and neither do we so let’s move on. Art is both fun, but at other times, a serious business. For now, let’s just keep it fun (the serious parts will come later).
Why keep it fun? Going back to a 90’s handbook (and best to continue reading this with an Australian accent) on how to start a successful rock band, RULE #2: NOBODY WILL BOOK AN ASSHOLE.
Whether you are a rock band or an artist, getting “booked” means getting a gig. Getting a gig means that you get to get dressed up, and go out and have a little fun. You get to drink the wine and help promote yourself and your art. Hard to imagine, but “But I’m not an asshole!” you might think, “you don’t know me!” Ok- well when you applied to an art show where it says “Bio” and you wrote down “I don’t write Bios“, well, it certainly has that familiar smell of asshole and it wouldn’t matter whether you painted the Old Man with a Guitar Sitting in the Sistine Chapel inside of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Here’s a real life example with some wording changed:
“I am told that an artist needs to have a bio for the benefit of their customers. For a while, I offered to send one to anyone who contacted me and told me a little about themselves, but that didn’t work out. Ergo I am trying a new tack, one which hopefully satisfies your curiosity without enabling the various internet trolls to steal my personal information.”
As you might imagine, this artist also followed up with an equally asshole e-mail threatening to sue us for not inviting their work to be displayed (and actually, this bio above was somewhat more thoughtful than a lot of other bits and pieces of barely constructed sentences, outdated websites, dead links, and so on… you get the picture). We’re artists, and we understand- you make art and are not a full time web developer and a marketing pro, but put out something. With all these phones you mean to say that you don’t have one decent picture of yourself? There’s a difference between pride and being an asshole, and nobody especially likes a proud asshole.
So, RULE #3: YOU GET OUT WHAT YOU PUT IN. Or in other words, fucking participate, mate. (Ok, you can stop doing the Australian accent now) Does “the man” got you down? Are you too tired of playing “the game”? Is capitalism not your thing? Are you addicted to Netflix? Hey– welcome to the club! Come in and grab a beer, and let’s talk. We hate to break it to you- but the world will rarely stumble upon you, let alone stumble upon the galleries as well. It’s a battle out there to catch any person’s attention, and you must consider the tools in your marketing arsenal. The question is how to make people pay attention, and most of the time, you can’t, and there is an endless amount of competition. A sub-rule to Rule #3 here should be, “We can’t help you unless you help yourself“. This isn’t a charity run by Mother Teresa who is going to make your website for you and magically click a button to make you rich and famous- it’s a business and art is the product- plain and simple. Most people start out in the mail-room, and rarely, do we achieve the luxury penthouse office at the top of the skyscraper. Galleries are just all the floors in-between. If you fall down, you’re too weak-willed, or give up, somebody else will gladly take your place, and likely fight harder for it. And oh by the way- that person has a website. However, we’re not saying that it’s not okay to have different goals for what you want out of the art world. When all else fails, busk it.
“But isn’t that the role of the Gallery to groom the artist?” you might ask. Well, the answer is yes, and no. In nearly all cases, the Gallery cannot make you into a superstar, no more than a record label can simply make a band into a worldwide sensation. To be groomed into anything, most of the time you need to have a little something going for you. You got to tour, you got to promote, and yes, you got to participate. Note that participation here doesn’t mean show up with your $10,000 list-price painting, drop it off, and then expect it to sell.
But with so little time and so much great art out there, at the very least, have a little fun.
More to come in our next post so please stay tuned..
**We also from our inception, we never, ever, mentioned the word “pandemic” or Covid, or needed to advertise “safe” rules as a marketing or promotional tool. If you are still using the pandemic as any excuse for anything, it is probably best to change up your strategy. And P.S., no one wants to buy art that is made of covid masks.
Similar idea here, well, you get the picture… https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-27/covid-excuses-are-bad-for-business-customers-have-already-caught-on