Friday, 31 July 2009

Selling Art/Not Selling Art

The appeal of art is very subjective (one man's meat is another man's poison...) and so it stands to reason that the buying of art can be rather emotive. Anyone can buy a mass produced print from Ikea but buying an original piece of art can be a significant transaction for the buyer and the artist. There are several reasons that people buy art but the most important one is that the work "spoke" to the buyer, that it became a desirable (or must-have) object and that, by the very nature of its originality, it will be treasured by the buyer.
I have been TRYING to buy a print from Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery for a couple of months now. It is an original lino print (similar to the one shown below) by the artist Colin Park and was part of their Black and White Exhibition earlier this year. I travelled up to Leeds for the show and, as soon as I saw it, I wanted it. When I went back to buy it a couple of weeks later the gallery was closed, although there was nothing on the website to say that it would be closed. So I called the gallery a few days later to try and "seal the deal". I was told that the print was being taken down and put in a browser, that they can't update the website because they don't have a web designer (your website is vital to your business - don't start one if you can't update it) and
that I couldn't buy it over the phone.

So, now a month's gone by and I have taken the day off work to go up there to buy the print. Yippee! But no, the print has now been sent back to the artist. I can't contact the artist direct (understandable and not ethical) but the employee would contact the artist and get back to me. Oh, and I would probably have to pay postage costs. When I pointed out that I felt that she (the employee) didn't really want to make a sale she went on the attack saying: I am being very friendly here and your remarks aren't very helpful. (as I was actually purchasing an arts magazine from her as she spoke).

These are recessionary times and this is not the time for galleries to be complacent about chasing for those all-important sales. At Keighley Arts Factory we can't take credit card payments by phone either but this is what we would have said.
"The print is coming down this week - would you like me to save it for you? When will you be coming to collect it?"
"Sorry, we don't take credit cards over the phone but if you would like to send a cheque we will hold the print for you".
"Can't get to the gallery? Let me find out how much it will cost to post it to you and I will call you back. I'll post it on receipt of your cheque".

Here are some truisms about gallery sales.
  • People who buy art from you usually come back to buy more.
  • Not every potential customer will buy on-the-day and may leave it for months before coming back to enquire. It pays to keep in touch with previous exhibiting artists.
  • A gallery is still entitled to the commission if they broker a deal between buyer and artist.
  • Never suggest that a customer looks for the artist on the internet themselves - don't deprive yourself of that commission.
  • Galleries who make an effort above and beyond their remit will often have a customer for life.
  • Artists/gallery owners usually want the sale more than the salaried employee.


  1. Interesting. I recently had a conversation with an established artist about the role of galleries and I can tell you now that he would be horrified if a gallery representing him treated a customer in such an appalling way. Could they have made it harder to relieve you of your hard earned cash?!?

  2. That is so unfortunate for both you and for the artist, Colin Parks. I hope he finds his way to this post as I imagine it would be of interest to him and I hope you finally meet up with this print!

  3. Yay! I have tracked down the artist - sending him a check today - opefully the print will be mine!