3 Reasons Why I Left Galleries

Working with galleries is the traditional path for most artists. There’s a level of prestige and validation that’s implied when you’re accepted into a gallery. This was the path I took as a new artist upon graduation from art school 9 years ago. I remember when I received my first gallery representation I was so excited! For eight years I would work with 13 different galleries. My experience with them led to my decision to leave galleries altogether and represent myself in 2019. This choice didn’t happen overnight but evolved over time. I’ve never shared the reasons why I made the choice to leave the gallery system until now. Here are 3 reasons why I left the gallery system. This is my experience so if you’re 100% on board with gallery representation then this article isn’t for you. 

1. They Took Too Much Money and Did Too Little

A photo of an original oil painting on panel of a still life of fall gourds and a brass bucket by Kelli Folsom.

On average galleries take a 50% commission on your artwork. That means if you have a small painting that’s priced at $1,000 I get $500 if they’re able to sell it. You’re also responsible to pay for the framing and shipping out of that cut. 

Before you say raise your prices, you should know that most galleries took me on after the crash of 2008 and looking for artwork that was lower priced. Many of them chastised me if I tried to raise my prices. Most wanted smaller lower-priced works because that’s what they could sell. This limited me to painting miniatures and getting a check in the mail for $500 that month from a gallery. 

I’ve heard legends of galleries in the past (from the sounds of it during the 80s to early 2000s) that acted as art agents. They would take on artists to build their careers. They’d cover the cost of advertising and do solo or group show events to promote the artist. 

This wasn’t my experience. I never once got a solo show no matter how many times I asked. Very rarely was I in a smaller group show. When it came time to advertise in the art magazines the galleries always asked me to fork up the dough to help with the cost of advertising. Very rarely did I ever get a complementary feature of my art in any advertising. 

I thought by being in galleries that my work would get seen by qualified buyers. That wasn’t the case. Most of my work hidden away in storage. The galleries had too many artists to represent. Most of the time the same artists got the limelight again and again. If you were a lower tier artist you got closeted. Which meant that no one saw your work to buy it. What’s the point in that? 

Galleries now are treating their business as a retail store. Artists are a dime a dozen and they can take on as many artists as they want to without any risk. They’re getting FREE inventory (they don’t even have to pay for shipping). This lowers the incentive to sell it. Most will store it because they don’t want to pay for shipping back. If you pull out of the gallery expect to pay for shipping to get your paintings back.

2. The Future Will Be Without Galleries

In my nine years as an artist, most of the galleries I was in shut their doors. Not able to adapt to the changing economy and the world moving to e-commerce the galleries lamented the loss of a time gone by rather than adapt. 

Some are now trying to adapt as they see it’s inevitable, but I think that in twenty or thirty years there will be no galleries left. More and more artists are choosing to represent themselves and sell on their own. If you’re a younger artist I encourage you to consider this possibility. The older established artists can ride this out, but we can’t.

I would get into a gallery and be so excited. Those first sales would come in like a windfall, but a year later they’d start to dry up. It was like the few collectors on their list interested in my work bought and that was all they were going to buy. 

The few galleries that sold on the regular shut their doors due to financial struggle. This would leave me losing that little bit of consistent income and no collector list. Poof gone! Like getting laid off from a job you thought was secure.  I’d have to scramble trying to figure out where to find that $8,000 a year I lost fast.  It was anxiety-ridden. 

By 2018, I only had a couple of galleries left. There was no way I could survive on those two galleries. I’d started to sell more and more on my own online to fill in the income gap (which upset the galleries I was in because they weren’t getting that money).

By 2019, desiring my freedom and conflict-free representation I decided to say goodby to the one gallery I was still represented by. I didn’t want to because I had a personal attachment to this gallery since it was in my home state and I  liked the family that ran it. I knew I had to leave to be free. I thought they would take it harder, but the next week they had a new still life artist already signed on. That taught me a very important lesson, the galleries are acting as a business and in their best interests and so should I. 

I don’t want to put my financial future in the hands of those who will never believe in or work as hard for me as I will. 

3. No Connection with the Collector

Many of my galleries were out of state so if I sold a painting I wouldn’t know who bought the painting. The gallery didn’t want you to have the collector list. This was a little bit better at my local gallery where I could actually attend the shows and get to know the collectors. I always enjoyed talking with the collectors and hearing why they bought a painting or where they placed it in their home. 

Now that I sell my work myself online I have more of a direct connection to the collectors. It thrills me to know that my work is in good loving hands. I love getting photos from my collectors showing me where they’ve placed the work in their home.

My mission isn’t to be a big name artist, have my work on the cover of every magazine, or sell my paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. I don’t have dreams of being in the art history books either. I want to make beautiful paintings that a lot of people can afford to have in their homes. My mission is to preserve beautiful traditional representational art for future generations. I need collectors to do that. 

If you’ve bought any of my paintings I want to say a BIG HEARTY THANK YOU! Please send me a photo or your thoughts on the paintings you’ve bought too. If you haven’t found the perfect painting for you yet, then I invite you to keep watching as new work is about to be released.

If you’re on my Collector’s Circle list you get an automatic 10% off any paintings! Use coupon code: 10OFF. 

I have some exciting Holiday Sales planned and special extra perks that only you’ll get. Go here to sign up on the list for free:  http://eepurl.com/dpg-_9.

A photo of an original oil painting on linen of a still life painting of fall pumpkins and mums.
A photo of an original oil painting on panel of a floral still life of fall mums in a green ginger jar.

Love in Light, Kelli

11 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why I Left Galleries

  1. Happy new year Jackie! Congratulations on starting your website! That’s key to selling more work online. The business and art is a difficult balance, but if you know why you’re doing it – it helps. I don’t offer prints personally. Mostly because there isn’t a lot of profit range and I’ve found it to be just as hard to sell a print as it is to sell an original so why bother? Again,that’s just my experience. I’m sure it’s totally different than others. You’re so welcome! Wishing you much success this year.

  2. Happy New Year Kelli! I am in the process of creating my own website for selling my work. On a MUCH smaller scale my experience with galleries and marketing mirrors yours. Marketing, always a dilemma for me, finally got the better of me and I stopped. Still painted but sporadically and lost my drive. Here’s the blessing I’ve found in being closeted at home. The belief that it’s possible to successfully market my work online. I found this post at the exact right time!
    I’d like to thank you for the positive energy and support I get from your teaching. I’m finding my confidence and focus returning and a new determination to continue to improve and learn. Most importantly, believing that my work has value and is worth marketing.
    One last thought, question? have you ever offered reproductions of your work. What is your feeling about offering prints?
    Thank you for your generous spirit,
    Jackie Braden

  3. Hi Jerry! Thanks so much for commenting. The nature of life is change. Sometimes it happens slowly. I always question how good the good ol’ days were. But in the end it doesn’t matter because we’re here now. The internet and global connection have been bringing about change over the last couple of decades. The tech side has been a very hard learning curve for me. When I went to art school I certainly didn’t think I’d be doing half of what I’m doing now. The biggest think I’ve learned in selling online is very bluntly asking for a sale is the only way to get them….and most of us artists are uncomfortable with that. I will suck up any discomfort however to be able to be an artist and continue to make a living from my craft. Merry Christmas!

  4. You’re so welcome Leanne. Thank you so much for commenting and I’m glad it confirmed what you’re experiencing too. This is kind of a hush-hush topic I think in the art world. But there is a shift happening.

  5. Hi Kelli,
    I’m enjoying getting reacquainted with your blog after several years. I agree with your thoughts about galleries and the new covid realities. My question is about your pochade box. It appears to be sealable to keep paint fresh. What is the brand name? Thanks.

  6. Hi Kelli.

    Self representation seems to be the future for serious fine artists. It took a year of this pandemic to show us the writing on the wall.

    I am represented by one gallery and manage my own website with point of sale. I agree with you. I only show on a regional scale. Although a member of the older crowd I have only been in the fine art game for six years. Reading this article just reinforces a growing trend. Thank you.

    Leanne Fink

  7. Thanks for the blog.
    I needed to read this. I’ve had gallery representation for over 20 years and it has dried up. I finally got into a Co-op in Norman this year that was quite nice and I had high hopes for the potential visibility. Then Covid hit… two months after I entered the group.
    I’ve continued to sell some online through Facebook, and even with a relatively large following on Instagram, there have been no sales through that site.
    Guess I’m one of those who long for the “good ol’ days” of gallery representation, but your article was an eye opener regarding what you dealt with. I’m not sure what the future holds for me. Younger generations seem more techno savvy regarding online marketing of their work. Also, being an “entrepreneur” is better suited for some personalities than others. Not so much for me…
    Guess we’ll see where it all goes.
    Much love,
    Jerry Piper

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