I have a gamekeeper turned poacher feeling about galleries. I had a similar sort of job working in a picture library in the nineties and the overlap has stood me in good stead when it comes to understanding and working with galleries as an artist.
I used to manage a collection of child development photographs, the work of about ten or so professional photographers. There’s much I could tell you about alternative methods of childbirth and developmental milestones. Instead I’ll tell you that looking after those photographers and managing their work was more than enough labour to entitle our business to the 50% we took from any sales. Hopefully no artist would arrive at a gallery with a big smile and several carrier bags packed with uncut and rapidly unspooling ribbons of film as my photographers often did, but still the workload for any serious gallery is huge and the responsibilities equally demanding. And that’s just the behind the scenes work, not the selling.
My time managing the baby photos taught me not to be sentimental. I needed to send out photos that would sell, not photos I liked. Among the hundreds of babies, it was easy to spot that my son Jim was the winner; clearly the most intelligent and beautiful child on file. That didn’t mean he’d sell for every job.
When I sent my photo selections to clients they were based on sales, not mother-love, and he often didn’t make the cut. Remembering this when a gallery turns me down or returns work unsold helps to remind me that rejection isn’t personal, just a practical decision based on sales and not to take it too much to heart.
We loved our photographers, crazy and demanding creatives that they were. We welcomed their visits, drank tea, shared lunches and took time to truly understand their work and methods. I don’t expect every gallery to supply lunch and tea, but I’ve no time for any who have no time for me. A good gallery never makes an artist feel it’s a favour to take their work and, if they don’t mind, could they use the back entrance and be quick about leaving. Without the artists, there is no gallery and without taking time to understand the artist’s work, selling must be close on impossible. It’s not often I walk away, but I did the day a gallery owner greeted me with ‘love your work darling, now remind me which ones of these are yours?’
On this week’s Ask An Artist podcast we talk all things gallery, don’t forget to subscribe!