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Your Career in Art – Go with a Gallery or Go it Alone?

September 26, 2014

my past gallery, Cairns CBD

Are you better off to hand your career over to a gallery or go it alone? The answer has to be both yes and no because it all depends on...

What do you want from an Art career – to make a Name or make money from your art? I once thought the answer was obvious. Come back in time with me to see if I was wrong or right.

In the first few minutes of my first-ever gallery interview, the director leans across his desk to look into my eyes as he asks the momentous question. 'What do you want from your Art career?'

With no experience of gallery policy or politics, I haven't a clue to what he  means.

Until that day, my experience of exhibiting with a professional gallery was of invitations to join group shows. This new opportunity arose after a phone call from my framer. He told how an inner-city gallery owner saw some of my paintings waiting in the workshop and suggested I should phone for an appointment.

  • Now, here I am, heart in mouth, wondering how to answer the question. The kind man explains. 'Do you want to make a Name or make money from your art?' Oh, that 's easy, I think.

  'Both. I'd like to do both. Surely one follows the other?' It seems self-evident but the director is shaking his head, dropping his gaze. He lets the question go. The rest of our talk is now long forgotten, except its result: an offer for my first solo show. The show succeeded and more followed, with that gallery and others.

I sort of 'fell into' being a gallery owner/director. I've truly enjoyed contacts made over the years with artists I've represented and clients from around the world - many still are friends - with fellow gallery owners and directors, with art journalists and even with a few critics. Yet, sometimes I wonder: if I had it all to do again, would I  let a gallery handle my career? Here are 3 reasons why it's better.

1. You can spend all your time at the easel, making your art.
2. You don't have to promote yourself to public Art organisations.
3. You don't have to make sales, cater for launches or do your own PR.

So, would I change a thing if the past could be undone? No, I wouldn't and here's why.

  • Knowing the situation from both sides – from in front of the easel and from behind the desk – gives both the artist and the businesswoman in me a greater depth of understanding. I now recognise the mistakes artists often make in dealing with galleries. I've a more forgiving view of gallery staff, through experiencing the same problems they face. Giving media interviews teaches me respect for those press and television journalists who treat their job as a craft, with the same dedication we do, as artists. If you choose this two-way path, I wish you well.©Dorothy Gauvin

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