with Barney Davey & Jason Horejs

As mentioned in the provocative article, The Visual Artist’s Challenge – Should Artists Work with Galleries, Go Direct to Collectors or Both?, art marketing expert and fellow art blogger, Barney Davey, and I both agreed on a strategy that incorporates a healthy combination of gallery representation and self promotion.

But how does the artist balance promoting oneself while maintaining a successful business relationship with his or her galleries? To bring balance to this conversation, we asked Jason Horejs to participate. He is the owner of a successful gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona and the author of “Starving” to Successful: The Fine Artist’s Guide to Getting into Galleries.

Lori: I have personally proven that Social Media is the quickest way to build brand recognition for you and your art business. Galleries and artists can learn to harness the power of Social Media to gain free exposure and free marketing opportunities which can broaden their collector base like never before.

The statistics are compelling regarding the outreach of Social Media. Here are just a few stats that really caught my attention:

Years to Reach 50 millions Users:

  • Radio (38 Years),
  • TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…
  • Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months…
  • iPhone applications hit 1 billion in 9 months
  • If Facebook was a country it would be the world’s 4th largest between the United States and Indonesia!

Barney: Lori, your story sets a fine example for other artists on how they can leverage Social Media to help them gain awareness and, more importantly, find new customers. That you have been able to do this without shredding your long-term relationships with your galleries is both commendable and instructional.

It was my belief before the advent of the Social Media phenomenon that self-promotion was the primary job of the artist. Yes, there are cases of art dealers and promoters who have driven an artist’s success, but they are few compared to the thousands of artists who are on their own when it comes to gaining recognition.

The trick, in my opinion, is to use the leverage that comes with recognition to build a stronger base with galleries who can appreciate when an artist brings in a loyal following. These things, of course, do not happen overnight just because you get a Facebook Fan Page going. But, if an artist is diligent about building a strong database of bothtraditional mail and email addresses it can be used to the benefit of both artists and galleries.

Jason: This is timely discussion and raises the greatest challenge that has faced the gallery industry in decades. How to remain relevant in Web 2.0 world? I believe the art industry is in the midst of a huge revolution similar in many ways to what has happened in the music industry, and to what is now happening in the publishing industry. An interested buyer no longer needs to go through a traditional middleman, but can buy directly from the source.

It’s an exciting time to be an artist with the prospect of being able to connect directly to collectors, and, frankly, it’s a bit of a terrifying time to own a gallery and face the prospect of ever-increasing expenses juxtaposed against the threat of your traditional buyers circumventing you to buy directly from the artist. I hear much bemoaning about their fate among fellow gallery owners.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to observe what has happened to the music and publishing industries. Have the middlemen (music labels and publishers) been cut out of the loop? Perhaps they have to a degree. Does that mean there are no more middle men in either business? Not at all . . . there are just new middlemen, primarily in the form of Apple and Amazon.

The challenge for musicians, writers, and artists, is that potential buyers don’t want to go through all of the work of becoming editors, music purveyors, or galleries. There’s simply too much variety available through the web, and the social media . . . too much noise. Therein is the opportunity for galleries to cut the noise and be the arbiters of taste and talent. Not unlike the traditional role in that way, but very different in other ways, including relationships and arrangements with artists.

Galleries are going to have to change the way they operate to continue to survive in a world where collectors can discover the art in the gallery, then go directly to the artist to buy. We’ve already started to see more draconian contracts that limit an artist’s activity online. I predict you will also see a rise in the number of galleries that are charging artists to display their work.

So where does that leave the artist today? They are in a bit of a difficult position. I agree with Barney and Lori – self promotion and networking are critical to building a long-term success, and if done correctly, can create life-long fans for themselves and their work. The artist’s challenge is doing it in a way that won’t create perceived conflicts with the galleries they want to work with. If artists couch self promotion to benefit both their galleries and themselves, they can succeed. The best route for artists is to openly communicate their plans so they do not step on their gallery’s toes.

Finally, in my extensive contact with artists around the country, I find very few who are successfully selling their work based solely on their Web promotion and social media contacts. It appears those who have succeeded solely online have come from galleries where they have already established a large collector base – in other words they have leveraged the work the galleries have done to build their careers. I would love to hear stories from artists who have established successful careers and are selling their work extensively, never having worked with galleries.

Lori: It is important for me to maintain a happy relationship with my galleries. My self-promotional strategy strives to benefit my galleries and me. Most importantly, my promotional campaign has not focused on sales, (I really do leave the majority of that to my galleries) but rather on personal branding.

Here are a few examples:

YouTube, Twitter & Facebook:Recently, I have been making YouTube videos of my paintings in progress or as tutorials. When I finish a video, I post it on my blog, website, Twitter and Facebook. I also send the finished video to the gallery where the relevant painting is on display. My galleries are using these videos as a promotional tool for interested collectors. I also ‘tweet’ and post images of new works on Twitter and Facebook.

I have sold some small paintings through the Twitter auction, @140hrs. These were 6×8 paintings that had already been through my galleries and remained ‘homeless’.

Blog/Website/Newsletter: As a working artist who shares art marketing and fine art tips, it is important for me to put my money where my mouth is. Therefore, I also use my blog, personal art website and newsletter to share news from my studio. When I announce a new painting, I always link back to the gallery that is representing the piece. I also share articles about my gallery openings as a learning tool.

My available paintings link to the gallery where it is hanging. When a prospective client contacts me directly and is interested in a painting from my website, I send them to the gallery where that particular piece is available.

Because of my presence on Social Media, I have been asked to work as a hostess for Plum TV, Sun Valley. I am using this opportunity to promote my Sun Valley gallery.

I have found that an open dialog between the artist and gallery is the best way to maintain a healthy working relationship.

Barney: While I do not think galleries will ever go away, I believe they will continue to change their business model to stay relevant and profitable. However, selling direct to customers in a retail environment will remain constant. I envision galleries getting online and using social media to develop their own followers, friends and far flung collectors. You will see them helping artists sell by putting up a virtual gallery, as Jason has. His online gallery extends the artist’s’ influence, reach and offerings beyond what a brick and mortar setting can produce. A natural spin off for galleries would be to work with artists and giclée printers to become boutique publishers of digital fine art prints available only through them. Surely, other creative ideas from artists and galleries will develop as we move through these changing times.

The plans and actions Lori describes above are those of a smart ethical marketer who understands the value of supporting her galleries. Still, I could see her creating a line to be sold direct. This would be work that did not compete with her galleries, but rather would generate interest and drive traffic to galleries where originals or very limited editions were exclusively available.

Having the ability to earn some direct income could offset some of the costs of the larger role in marketing we suggest artists take. The way I see it if there is trust and respect then new opportunities will arise. Otherwise things will devolve to an each person for themselves situation which can only wreak havoc and chaos. I believe it is far more likely these challenging circumstances will create a survival of the species mentality leading to what Stephen Covey calls “interdependence.” This is a balance point where great results derive from a synergy created by open communication and positive interaction from independent parties with common goals.

Lori: Barney and I appreciate Jason joining in on this conversation. As a gallery owner, art marketing expert, book author, and the son of a full time fine artist, Jason brings a unique perspective to this ‘timely discussion that raises the greatest challenge that has faced the gallery industry in decades.’ I found his analogy between the music and art industries very thought provoking.

Social Media is a two edged sword which has also increased the sense of competition between artists. Now collectors can easily compare and contrast artists with only a click of a button. This coupled with the ever-increasing expenses artists must also absorb, leads me to believe that the idea of ‘charging artists to display their work’ will backfire on galleries.

Barney’s suggestions of ‘interdependence’ and coopetition’ are important ideas to keep in mind as artists and galleries attempt to navigate through these uncharted waters while keeping the line of communication open and honest.

Stay Tuned: Our last installment to this conversation to be announced! 3 Tips for Artists to Promote Themselves and Their Galleries

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