Tuesday, 3 September 2013

OPEN STUDIO - and a few rebellious thoughts...

Towards the end of this month, on these dates specifically:


I will be opening my home again as part of Herts Open Studios.  Hertfordshire is a huge county in the UK (relatively speaking...it is probably ant-sized compared to the distances that Americans think nothing of travelling!) and many artists live within its borders. For me the whole event was certainly worthwhile last year, both socially and commercially.

  I believe in these days of financial hardship for most people, the purchase of artworks is a low priority - hence the popularity of art fairs, such as The Affordable Art Fair here in the UK, an annual event which attracts vast numbers - I suspect many attracted by the word "Affordable"!

It is also a way for the artist to meet buyers in person and hear what they say about the work.  When work is given to a gallery, the artist may have the privilege of meeting people at an initial private view...but then, for the duration of the exhibition, the gallery owner sells the work, and the artist never knows who buys and has very little in the way of buyer feedback.


Given the high commissions charged by galleries, and the fact that purses are rather more tightly closed in these days of recession, it is not always easy to sell lots of work through a gallery.  Also I believe that the ridiculously low interest rates on savings means that people don't have lots of spare cash...so there is a general reluctance to purchase unnecessary luxury items - hardly surprising.   So, an Open Studio is a chance for an artist to sell works at "affordable prices" - that is, prices which are not as high as those in a gallery. 
Wow.  Risky business this...I may incur the wrath of many a gallery owner, I know, by saying this.

 There is a school of thought - most voiced by gallery owners -  that says Open Studio prices should be the same as gallery prices...but I do not subscribe to this.  Gallery commissions are supposed to reflect the work that the gallery does and the costs involved in that effort. Many galleries take as much as 50-60% of the selling price, leaving the artist with far less than the remaining 40-50%, given that they too have costs to cover - they also have light, heat and studio costs; materials costs; framing costs - very expensive these days;  travel costs - and if artists were to charge for their efforts by the hour, goodness knows where prices would be. 

So I see no reason why an artist should not sell from their own studio, to their own customers ,  at their own set price -perhaps the same as they might earn from a gallery.  (she said, while ducking....) 


Well, my position is that I feel that artists are generally given a pretty rough deal in the market. We are expected to give our works to a gallery on a sale or return basis.    I do acknowledge that of course, it is good when a gallery is supportive of an artist and does a really good job on their behalf.   BUT ...a gallery, after all, is the same as any other retail shop. A retailer generally has to BUY in their stock. Yet, gallery owners have the luxury of being given works on a sale or return basis.  !!! How many other retail shop owners enjoy this privilege? Gallery stock changes every couple of weeks or so - when a new show is hung - yet they incur no buying costs whatsoever.  I have often even had to contribute towards the printing cost of show invitations, despite the fact that I was never given access to the gallery mailing list, which is always a closely guarded secret. 

Many artists have no choice but to sell work thro a gallery for all sorts of reasons - location, time, preference, etc.  And many are grateful for the opportunity.  But I do have my concerns about the fairness of the established system.  (I feel much the same way about book publishers who ask for images from artists - and expect them to PAY for the privilege of being included in a book.  I actually think is outrageous.  When I wrote my books, I negotiated a fee for each contributing artist, from the publisher).

Let me tell you a story told to me a couple of years ago by one artist, after what most of us would consider a successful gallery show.

He had shown 50 large paintings.

He sold about 35 paintings.  The gallery took £30,000  

Of that £30,000, the artist earned less than £15,000.  

Each painting had cost him money frame  - and of course, he framed all 50. Even only counting the cost of those which sold, he had paid about £2500 for framing - plus it had cost him money to travel to the places he had painted, and all other artists' general expenses.  
So let's say he earned about £10,000 at the end of the day.
 Now - it took about 6 months for the artist to produce those 50 works.
The gallery earned £15,000 for TWO WEEKS work.  Oh yes, I know they have costs...rent, rates, light, heat, staff, advertising etc .....but they could, potentially, earn £15,000 every two weeks...£30,000 a month....£180,000+ in 6 months.............. Even if one or two shows earn less...let's say £100,000 instead...it is still way different to earning £15,000 in 6 months. 

I know, of course, not every show will be successful.  But that is surely a fair trade-off for getting stock on a sale or return basis!  A general retail shop cannot send their unsold goods back to the wholesaler for a refund - they have to have a Sale.  And they have to write off a lot of unsold stoc 

A retailer has to choose his stock carefully, buying what he hopes will prove popular and will sell well.  Why shouldn't a gallery have to operate in exactly the same way?  Am I missing something here?

  Having said all that....if my work was being exhibited by a local gallery, then I might think twice about undercutting the gallery prices, since it would not be fair to those people who had purchased my work at the gallery.  

These are deep and turbulent waters, and every artist has to think carefully and make their own decisions about how they want to sell their work.  

Perhaps I may be considered an ungrateful rebel by most gallery owners and I run the risk of being run out of town by any gallery I might approach in the future...but there we are. I don't believe artists get a fair deal. If anyone disagrees, feels I have missed something crucial -  do tell me your thoughts! 


If you decide to join with a local Open Studio event, my advice would be to go for it wholeheartedly, make sure your work looks great, that you do some of your own marketing as well as appear in the organiser's brochure, and have a terrific time meeting with your customers!

As for my Open Studio days............if you live anywhere within driving or commuting distance, I am 15 miles north west of London, you will be welcomed wholeheartedly, given drinks and snacks, can browse round a range of paintings from home and abroad, see my ceramics, glass, and enamelled copper items, and wander round my gorgeous garden.

for details and directions, email me to jackiesdesk at gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Jackie, you have definitely "hit the nail on the head!" I agree with you wholeheartedly on all that you said. I also believe in my gallery here in Marietta GA, but I am low on the totem pole at this time in their "stable" of artists.

    They have sold a few pieces for me, and sent a commission my way (for only a finders fee!). I do think they try to do the right thing. I have not been offered a "spotlight" in a showing (like four artists with a reception and many pieces hanging) at their gallery yet. I have been with them almost 1 1/2 years. I do expect it to get better. I am about to change out some work -- with some larger pieces and many oils. We shall see how this goes.

    And, I market my work for myself (same prices) and also the gallery. I do have a group of paintings that are studies/experiments/plein air that are a lower price point ... for entry level clients! And, I started a Open Studio tour two years ago ... this will be our third year and we have tripled in numbers. It is going to be a good one for the area. I just started / joined Daily Paintworks to show my best demos / plein air work and we'll see how that goes.

    Enjoy your posts ... always relevant!


please feel free to leave me a message