Galleries, your work, and your money

There is a conversation on facebook that is worth sharing. Gallery owners Anthony Schaller and Charlie Cummings give some very insightful perspective too:

 Dandee Pattee: I don’t like or agree with making artists pay return shipping.
Grace DePledgeGrace DePledge: Agreed!
Rob KolhouseRob Kolhouse: I don’t agree with making artists pay for anything! Send sandwiches.
Russell WrankleRussell Wrankle: Same, kinda resent it. I often over look the fine print and end up paying for it last minute.
Dandee PatteeDandee Pattee: I work with a gallery here that is great! They refuse to put the cost back on the artists.
.         Dandee PatteeDandee Pattee: By “here” I mean Wyoming
Robert CunninghamRobert Cunningham:Stores don’t give you gas money to return something, why should you have to pay?
Ted NealTed Neal:Its a bummer, some are going so far as to make us pay shipping both ways and a ‘handling fee’ for re-boxing the work. I actually called a gallery up and asked what were they thinking, and they said it was now normative. I said, ‘I dont think so’… but you wont have to worry about me entering anything there anytime soon.
Bill van GilderBill van Gilder:Some tho’t’s… 
If I get some work accepted into a juried exhibition – to which I’ve applied, say, 2 or 3 pieces – I’m not feeling too bad about paying shipping to & fro. However, if I’m invited to send work to an (invitational) exhibition, the venue should pick up the shipping both ways. If the work sells & the venue is taking 50%, shipping to the site should come from that %. Hmmm…
Camille DemarinisCamille Demarinis: Amen sister
Charlie CummingsCharlie Cummings:Your statement is easy to get behind. As an artist I agree, but because I make work that does not sell, I understand there is no reason for a gallery to show my work if they have the additional burden of paying return shipping. A net loss of $60 for a line on my resume isn’t too bad. As a gallerist I also agree. We pay return shipping when we curate exhibitions and when we carry artists work in the gallery. The cup show is the exception. I accept a lot of work that I know will not sell, but it is important to me to keep the show egalitarian. Unfortunately the cost of producing a huge exhibition, (writing and replying to thousands of emails, building appropriate displays, properly advertising the show, buying clean packing materials, shooting thousands of photos, paying web designers, paying designers, paying for insurance, and paying the landlord,) often exceeds that actual revenue generated by the exhibition. For this show we ask artists to put a little more skin in the game. We get nasty emails that make us want to quit. We get love letters. We do it because it is a service to our community. There was recently an article on Bloomberg dot com titled “Why Do So Many Art Galleries Lose Money.” It lays out exactly where the money goes and why I as a gallerist have to make these hard choices. My advice is stick by your principles and say no to every opportunity that isn’t up to your standard. Just don’t be surprised when others decide paying return shipping is a small price to invest in their careers.
Ted NealTed Neal:Agreed, I have come to accept the return shipping for the most part, as it seems to be the rule these days but I, like you, am subsidized via my other job as far as the sale of my art work. Exhibiting is part of my ‘professional’ productivity as a professor, and I will do what I need to do to keep up this level of productivity. I did draw a hard line at the ‘handling fees’ for repacking work, no way. By the way, I think you do a great job CC and understand the great effort that goes into your endeavors and the fact that you return ship form the cup show is very nice, especially with the scale of that show and the displays you have made over the last couple of years. Keep up the awesome work!
.             Varian WolfVarian Wolf: Thanks for your kind words, Ted. We appreciate that your show your spectacular work with us and are also great to work with.
Giang PhamGiang Pham: I have very defined principles for showing work. If it smells like the gallery is putting too much of a burden and is exploiting artists, I close that window quickly and let others know about it (so they don’t waste their time). If others want to go through that process, however, that’s totally their prerogative.
Grace DePledgeGrace DePledge: Then again, if all of our work sells, then everyone is happy! Thank you Charlie and Varian for all of your hard work.
.          Varian WolfVarian Wolf: Thanks, Grace. Being and artist is hard. Being a gallerist is also hard. I can’t speak for other galleries, but we have our artists’ needs keenly in mind in everything we do. I also can’t speak for other artists, but the submission fees alone bar me from participating in many shows, though I thoroughly understand why they charge them.
.          Charlie CummingsCharlie Cummings: Full sales is the ideal outcome for everyone.
Scott LykensScott Lykens: I don’t agree with having to pay for shows I don’t get in.
Scott LykensScott Lykens: No seriously. These things cost serious $$ to put on.
Anthony SchallerAnthony Schaller: Oh my, this argument… Galleries should always always always pay return shipping. If a gallery knows ahead of time they are going to need to ask the makers to pay return shipping, then they need to reconsider what they are planning. Please stop screwing the makers.
.        Charlie CummingsCharlie Cummings: You are a very sharp businessman Anthony. I’ve always figured you didn’t host large juried exhibitions of ceramic sculpture because it doesn’t make financial sense. To say that asking artists to pay return shipping is equivalent to screwing them is a smart thing for you to say, but practically it means you will choose to exclude a lot of great artists because their work is not commercially viable. The potential for good sales does not necessarily make a great exhibition. I’d love to see you produce some exhibitions that challenge your patrons in a way they will be talking about for years.
.        Giang PhamGiang Pham:Now we’re getting into the terrain of what sells and what doesn’t, and how can artists market themselves, and who’s to judge whether or not they sell. Not sure about Anthony’s gallery and the exhibitions he host; I’m always at a loss on how to market my unsellable works. There are tips and advices on how to make sellable products for those of us making noncommercial and unsellable works, however, that’s easier said than done. Who would really purchase a book of poetry I wrote with images of my works? Is there a market for tchotchkes derived from my temporary installations? Are these products consider a part of selling out? So many greasy sticky zones.
.       Anthony SchallerAnthony Schaller: My absolute favorite moment every month is when the checks to makers are mailed. I’m committed to supporting makers lives and careers in a different way than you are and I think that’s okay. 

I’m glad you’re out there, excited about what you do and am always interested in hearing/reading your opinions. Yeah, I wish you (and every other place) would pay return shipping from the cup show, but ultimately it’s your choice… if that’s what it takes to make it happen, then so be it.
Nicole GugliottiNicole Gugliotti: lots of good food for thought!
This is the conversation so far. If you are on facebook and know Dandee you should join in the conversation. Or you can restart the conversation here in the comments.
What I think?
Galleries are in a tough place, and so too are artists. Occasionally we can work together for our mutual benefit, but the system of gallery representation is also perhaps much different from what it was in the past. The greater democratization of selling opportunities has allowed far more artists to take the leap as professionals, and galleries have struggled to accommodate greater numbers of unknown artists all at once rather than specifically nurturing the rising stars of the field. This is a huge risk for galleries, but at the same time galleries are no longer necessary for artists doing good work. Academic artists are required to participate in shows, but after that its a choice for how one builds a career.
The whole consignment model that we have in the arts is almost unheard of in ‘real’ business practice. Its a vestige of gallery practices that had guaranteed sellers for the most part, only big names worth promoting and a few rising starts sprinkled in. It does not make sense in an arts economy where the playing field is much wider. Imagine any other industry not paying outright for its inventory, forcing you the maker to pay for it to be shipped, and then returning anything unsold with the responsibility for shipping in your hands, again.
Several things follow from this:
  1. Galleries are not always invested in your work, they are invested in selling whatever sells. They have no necessary commitment to your work specifically.
  2. Galleries have wide access to filler work fleshing out their displays as decoration at no cost while they can spend time promoting the proven big sellers. If you are inside the system as an established player you can often play at a profit, but as an outsider you are like the extras they bring on a movie set to make a scene look occupied. Your role as an outsider artist in galleries is like that of an extra. Maybe you’ve got talent, but that’s not necessarily why you are there. The movie doesn’t make money because you are there. The audience has no idea who you are and the director is already committed to the big name actors. Why give you screen time when they’ve got Leo DiCaprio? Steal the scene if you can.
  3. Unproven artists are sold on the experience by “Paying $60 for a line on their resume” much like the rationale of exposure in charity events. If galleries are a business and not a charity they should act like a business.
  4. Galleries do what they have to to survive. It turns out that galleries can’t survive without some artists to sell work there. They need us, and in the best of circumstances this can be mutually beneficial. Once upon a time galleries were the only way for collectors to know who we were, so the relationship has an established air of traditional authority. As a result artists have been sold on the idea that Galleries are necessary for their own survival, but that is simply no longer the case. For galleries to make it in today’s world perhaps they need artists to believe that playing their game is necessary, but in artists’ own lives the balance has shifted as well. In the past galleries could make a living by selling reputable work. The risk was limited by knowing what collectors would buy. Some galleries still operate by this model. But artists are no longer as beholden to making a living through gallery sales. So even with a stable of reputable artists galleries now make a living by much riskier means, and its no surprise that to survive they put that risk as much on individual artists as possible. We artists end up paying for their survival. The question is, is this what we should want? Is it even right? If its still a good business proposition for some artists is it a good proposition for all of us? We all need to think more clearly about this and possibly adapt better to the changing circumstances. Galleries fulfill a need, they DO provide a community service, but artists’ needs have also changed. Where do we go from here? That is the question.
What do you think?
Peace all!
Happy potting!
Make beauty real!

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Ceramics, Creative industry, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Galleries, your work, and your money

  1. Scott Cooper says:

    | “Imagine any other industry not paying outright for its inventory, forcing you the maker to pay for it to be shipped, and then returning anything unsold with the responsibility for shipping in your hands, again.”

    If I can make a minor point that’s pretty off-topic from your main concerns here: My understanding is that the publishing industry (for good old paper books) works exactly like this. That’s one of the reasons Amazon started with books — it was a backwards industry ripe for exploiting with a nimble new technology.

    • Explain this a little more! I’m intrigued!

      I’m imagining what you are talking about as authors needing to pony up for the printing costs and then when things don’t sell needing to ‘buy back’ all the unsold copies, all without being paid up front. Crazy!

      • Scott Cooper says:

        No, as I understand it, publishers send books out to stores as if on consignment, with an obligation to take back any unsold stock from the stores. Not sure who pays the return shipping in that case, but considering the rest of the deal, that’s probably a fairly negligible cost.

        So as I recall, Amazon/Bezos realized they could exploit this with a “digital warehouse” that seemed to stock every book in print, plus keeping quantities of the stuff on hand that was most likely to sell, with no real up front cost. Bye bye Borders.

        Related tidbit: they targeted books because a) they were easy to mail; and b) selling books helped them build up a customer base of highly educated, above-average income people. Nefariously smart!

        • Chuck Wendig just wrote about the scamming of writers in this post:

          “The title to this post is Admiral Ackbar’s greatest fear:

          It is, indeed, a trap.

          Because the answer to this question is obvious: you shouldn’t pay anything to get published.

          Now, classically, this was pretty easy to uphold and understand because authors had mostly one way to get their books into people’s EYEBALLS, and that was through the Legacy Traditional Old-School Publishing System. Which is to say, you sent your precious baby manuscript out to agents, and then when you snagged an agent, that agent sent your precious adolescent manuscript out to publishers, and if you snagged a publisher, your all-growed-up book got a job on a bookshelf somewhere in America selling itself like a piece of prime narrative beef.

          And in that chain, the author was routinely warned not to pay anything. Don’t pay reading fees to agents. Don’t pay publishers to publish you. Don’t pay booksellers to sell your book. They will make their money off of your book — that’s how they get paid, and that’s how you get paid.

          The saying went, and still goes –

          It’s money in, not money out.

          Money flows toward the writer, not away from the writer.

          The rise of self-publishing has changed that equation… sorta. In the OLD WAYS OF THE ELDER PUBLISHERS, you didn’t pay for things like cover, marketing, editing. They did that because they are the ones backing the book and the ones with the ecosystem to (ideally) help that book not just survive, but thrive. They did that shit, because that shit was their job.

          As a self-publisher, that shit is now your job, but it is of course unreasonable to demand that a single author is also simultaneously really good at cover design, e-book design, marketing, editing, and so on. Which means you have to hire people to do this thing for you, which somewhat disrupts that whole “no money out” rule, yeah? Though the core truth remains: paying for these things are not you paying to get published. Meaning, you could literally write a book (or any equivalent steaming diaper fire that consists of words), upload it to Amazon or wherever, and boom, YOU GOT PUBLISHED. No fees. No nada. Paying out money is therefore to make your existing product better — not get the product to shelves.

          And so, it would seem then that the rise of certain bundling services is an attractive option — they bundle together editing, cover, marketing, liquor purchases, grief counseling, and other vital services — and then you pay one price and that gaggle of book-wizards turn your self-published book into something that looks better than the aforementioned diaper fire. It’s sensible enough — if you’re going to pay for these services individually, then if you find a trusted service-bundler, more power to you.

          Of course there the question becomes, do you trust said service-bundler? Do they have the experience necessary to make this work? Do they hire the best, or do they just have a van full of chimpanzees they call upon to do their work?

          In this interstitial gap of paying money, you start to find people whose intentions might be impure toward you and your manuscript. Or, best case, their intentions are well-meaning but their actual actions are either exploitative or simply incapable and inept.”

          Read the whole thing. Its really appalling what some services are getting away with…..

        • Scott Cooper says:

          Yowza. $12,500?!

          I wonder how many aspiring clay artists would pay a gallery or promoter some similar amount for a lot of hand waving about BEGINNING a CAREER?

        • Yeah, that’s pretty incredible, isn’t it. I suppose if you have more money than talent its a good deal. But if you are actually trying to earn a living and not just inflate your own ego, paying that kind of money serves very little……

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