Thursday, June 28, 2007

my rant of the day

edward winkleman talks about "The Logic Behind the 50/50 Split "

"...In general, I find the artists most upset about the 50/50 split fall into one of two categories: 1) they don't understand the business that well (and many of them have never had full-time representation) or 2) they have a bad relationship with their gallery (i.e., their gallery is not doing enough in their opinion to earn the 50% they're taking)..."

I guess I never really saw 50/50 split as a long as I felt the gallery stood behind the work and were "working" their hardest to promote the artist. Sometimes I ran into places where the work just sat in the back racks and it seemed luck if something sold. I know that the Detroit market is a tough place to sell works and galleries do their darnedest to make a sale. Many galleries here offer a discount too that they usually take off their end of the sale too. I still get upset when I think about all those MI collectors that hop on their jet and buy their art in NY/LA/London...sometimes just to have the prestige to say that they bought it in those cities. Now, this isn't everyone in Detroit but ask any artist about collectors here and I am sure you will hear some sort of rendition of the "collectors buying else where" story. I think I just got off track from the 50/50 discussion....... Anyway, that is one of the reasons I am doing the gallery for the summer; to show that you can bring really, really great contemporary artists (from all over the world - LA, NY, Chicago, Germany...) and show them in context with Detroit artists. Not only does it put Detroit on the map when those artists tell their artist friends that they are showing here but it hopefully raises some collectors' brows.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you put this up as it's been on my mind lately. Top of mind, actually, because I followed a link you had up here for a printmaking expo in AA, I think, and was surprised by the 50/50 bullshit.

Maybe it's culture shock from coming from the publishing world but--- no, I have my degree in Arts Management and I "understand" the business. (these words are being delivered in angry stoccato). I might say I understand the business better than most of those currently running the business because they don't seem to see that they have a business model that's about to crumble in on itself (already is). They either don't understand, or are in big time denial (ostrich feathers. sand.) So I fall in neither A nor B of Winkleman's categories.

I can't beleive you, as a community, put up with this nonsense! Let me put it simply: these galleries would not exist without your art and yet you've let them convince you that YOU need THEM. The publishing industry tried the same BS until writers began to revolt. THEY need YOU, THEY need YOUR WORK. And while they can say "if you don't play by our rules there are a hundred out there like you who will" you have to know that that's... ok, well, that's half true but it doesn't make it accurate.

That's why I was excited by projects like RRR and independant gallery experiements with low, low, low overhead. Especially in Detroit with property rates so low, how they justify 50/50 is beyond me. Their overhead... not so much.

The publishing industry (much like the music industry before it) learned that because of the increasing freedom and self-reliance available to artists/writers today they can no longer sustain this nonsense. Writers don't NEED them, with P.O.D modules and self-marketing avenues, and the blow-up of social networking (to name a few)... And so the publishing industry is quickly looking for what we call "alternative business models" which means that they are doing the same things (making books) but considering a new way to create revenue than through the hardcover sales. Mind you, the publishing industry NEVER raped it's authors (the providers of its content) the way that the art community has been tolerating for so long.

My point is this: the galleries can turn a profit WITHOUT the 50/50 split. They can turn a profit while taking 0%, in fact. They just are too lazy and too (I can't think of any nice adjective here) to bother. But that doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is that that arts community is so slow to reject: YOU don't need them! And they don't even do a very good job of marketing for you anyway (for the most part). You could do better on your own. Everything you need is available to you, all you need is to know what to do. Take a self-marketing class and pay close attention and I promise you'll make more money at your art than you ever will playing by these absolutely ridiculous "rules". You have to make them persue new Business Models because as long as you remain their willing, eager, and stupid cash cows they have no incentive to do anything different. You maintain 95% of the overhead risk (unless they're buying your materials for you, you have made the investment in raw goods) and then they come along with 5% investment (a space, some marketing) and yet you reward them with 50% of the proceeds. Are you kidding me!? Does this REALLY make sense to you or are you just too afraid to overthrow the leviathon?

The whole thing is just... YUCK! It makes me so mad. I hate seeing creative individuals getting taken advantage of, which is why I got an Arts Marketing degree to help not to be part of the problem. When I see statements like winkleman's it makes me want to start an artists' self-marketing workshop to give you the tools that you need because, as I see it, your only short coming is that you don't know how to market yourselves. Fortunately, that is something that can be learned. The galleries, on the other hand, can't learn to make their own art.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh. wow, that ended up being long. sorry.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't read m's entire post, but here's my take:

If the gallery is working for you then you get paid. I make a living off of my art. I don't have any side jobs, I just paint, and that's all I have to do thanks to the gallery.

And prior to the sale, I have nothing. So, this makes me very comfortable, knowing that after the gallery sells a painting I will have the agreed upon 50%.

"I can't beleive you, as a community, put up with this nonsense!" First off, artists are a dime a dozen. They don't need us. We need them! Galleries spend money so that artists can have shows, and if the gallery is really attempting to be a serious gallery, then they also spend money to advertise the artist. It is not an inexpensive business to run.

Check this out:
Say a gallery spends $3000+ dollars on food, drinks, advertisements, etc. (real life situation) and they are not doing this for fun, because they have bills to pay too. Even with high priced works (2,3, even $4,000) it will not be easy for the gallery to make back what they spent on your opening.

Plus, a good gallery will also "sell" your work, and by that I mean that they will work hard so that you can make a living. They don't sit back on their duff and wait for things to happen. It's a job, just like anything else. So, if you can't handle giving 50% then you're in the wrong business, or at least you should get used to showing at galleries whose only concern is showing artists work and not helping them to further their career and become a professional artist.

It's a business, and 50% is reasonable, but that's just my take on the 50/50 cut. Others will tell you different, and they will most likely not be thriving as an artist. Either you sell it and take time away from making it, or the gallery sells it and allows you to focus on production. What would you rather do?

1:47 PM  
Blogger LoL Cool J said...

craig, it's nice to hear that a former detroit artist is making a living from his creative work. i am jealous, because i'd like to be able to say the same thing, but i respectfully applaud you! and very mature response to m's ravings. the 50/50 slice is part of the deal. hell, most galleries in detroit only take 30% (i sometimes wonder how they keep the lights on). i know a number of people involved with running several detroit area galleries, they work HARD to get sales. sales benefit the artists and the galleries. it's a symbiotic relationship. galleries sell the product artists make. and i don't know anyone involved in galleries who doesn't have a love for art, not to mention the artists. sales are celebrated... sales are good for all! shit, i'd be a gallery's cash cow in a heartbeat because we'd both be getting pizaid! unfortunately detroit isn't hot like that, at this time.

people want to see you're track record- where you've shown, how long you've shown... they want to know how committed we are. the gallery system in any given city is tied to the art lovers in that area. in a sense.. if you're not showing in galleries well, you're nobody.
it seems your best chance of getting sales is through the galleries. i don't need them to paint, but they sure can help me connect to an audience.. to collectors. i can always self-promote outside of doing shows. occasionally this can lead to a sale, but to have to work on that myself all the time and paint... screw that!

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


your argument is so flawed I'm having trouble picking a point to start dismantling.

50/50 is a standard split in a business environment. in an art business environment, it's actually GENEROUS even. do you know anything about this or do you just like to spew spew spew opinions and your-little-bubble-based beliefs based on nothing but speculation and misplaced anger?

yes, artists COULD do all of the things good galleries do for their artists, but since most of them would rather spend that time, you know, painting, they pay 50% for the help. do you think galleries are evil corporations making huge profits on this model? um ... have you seen how many galleries are closing? (your record lable comparison here is completely wrong, on many levels, so don't bother).

please, get a clue and then you'll have something to contribute that's worth reading.

3:47 PM  
Blogger LoL Cool J said...

a thousand apologies for the grammatical errors in my previous post.. my mind is swimming from a lack of sleep last night. the perfectionist in me has promised to go home and spank mahself.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ann still makes a good point about why collectors here don't support artists and galleries the way they do in other areas.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jim, "50/50 is a standard split in a business environment." Oh, good lord! What business environment do you work in?!

This is all just so... sad, sad, sad. But I really don't need to force your eyes open. That's up to you. (but, until you have worked inside the publishing industry, music industry, and gallery industry as I have please don't speak to me about my comparisons-- thanks! (oh, and software, too.)

PS., JIm: Yes, I know how many galleries are closing. Obviously their business method isn't working. Gee... I think I said as much in my original post. But let's keep on keeping on the same strategy even though the world and economy models is irrevocably changing around us. You guys are so silly. But it's really not your own faults. But silly, nontheless.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will risk incurring the wrath of m. to point out the real flaw in her logic. This is a real risk because I share an office with her. She is absolutely brilliant. She has a knack for all things marketing and is able to see the bigger picture with uncanny accuracy. She is also very humble (though I know you wouldn’t believe it from her posts on this site). Like all people who are brilliant and humble she genuinely takes for granted her unique skillset. What I mean to say is that she thinks that these things are common sense because they are common sense to her. She thinks everyone can market themselves successfully because she can. And so, if you lack those skills then it makes sense to pay someone else to do that other stuff for you. That is why people pay her, after all. Still, 50% (pretax I assume) of your assets seems steep to me. But I admit that I am not in the art field at all.

It may also be that she has gotten used to our Seattle economy and will have a rude awakening when she gets back to the midwest.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the music industry the artist gets only about 5% of the retail price of a cd.

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your negative attitude toward people who are willing to bypass 50% of their sales to the otrganizations that assist them in doing what they love and occasionally provide them with successfull and sustaining careers is what's sad to me.

How can you come up in here and talk down to us. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you say that you are not an artist. And in that, you can not possibly know what it feels like to have to complete an entire body of work for a solo show. Could you possibly imagine how hard it would be to complete those works, which at times can range from 50-60 small-large scale pieces that each require a minimum of 7 hours and a maximum of 60+ hours to finish, and then find time to market yourself.

You completely underestimate the value of good representation. Self representation is meger in comparison. All I feel is anger coming from your posts. And I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but in this instance, you're wrong.

So, what are you suggesting, that we get intimately involved with someone who is capable of marketing our work and then load that entire responsability onto them? Are you suggesting that instead we hire a PR person, who most likely costs more than what we pay the galleries which in reality become more like partners to us than a PR person ever would?

A well functioning gallery is designed to take on this entire load. Where I would say that you are right is in saying that galleries are lazy. When I see people like Ann, Curtis, the RRR crew, and so on attempt to take on the responsability of opening a gallery I get worried. And it's not because they're stupid; they are very intellegent people who are interested in providing artists and art communities with exciting shows that add to our knowledge of art and life in general.

But what is generally neglected or ignored by the gallery is that if they have the audacity to represent artists, then they have a full-time job on their hands which involves all of the things that you claim to be able to do with a simple self-promotion class and/or an Arts Management Degree. (PS. what the gallery does for you does cost money, lots of money, and you can't do it alone unless you yourself is loaded)

Although, if you are interested in struggling your whole life, then avoid the galleries who are NOT going to budge just because a couple artists thought they could muscle their way through life. m, it's not about the galleries needing us or us needing the galleries. Ask any educated artist who is making a living off of their art and they will tell you that we need eachother.

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gee craig, with all of that talking i wonder how you have time to paint your big head.

10:31 AM  
Blogger LoL Cool J said...

oooo a personal attack from an anonymous hater.
and jeremy, way to suck up to m... she must be pretty hot eh?
i'll second what craig mentioned.. m.-if you're not an artist you've really got no business pointin' your finger and telling us we're all stupid. so you can shove your business models up ur ahahaa jus kiddin.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

craig: i don't mean to sound angry, or talk down to you. just flummoxed. completely flummoxed. the caps come from exasperation, and anger at the institution not the artist who I feel are really victims. I have never seen a group as individually empowered yet at the same time so economically unempowered as visual artists.

I took this discussion with me last night to a gallery where I was performing. They have a catepillar style space in N. Seattle that does gallery + poetry venue + wifi cafe. It's just a little space, but on an opening night they'll have upwards of 500 people, and I never see less than 30-50 people in there even in the afternoons. The owner makes her money on the wifi/cafe side. But she still takes 35% off the art! Why? (I asked her). Because she can. That 35% which comes straight out of the mouth of the artist doesn't make a dent in her overhead. It's nothing compared to the revenue from the cafe sales, revenue driven by the crowds that the gallery brings in I might add. And yes she does pay to market the art, but if she didnt have art worth marketing she'd have nothing to market, would she? And nobody would come into her cafe. And she doesn't share the cafe revenues with the artists that drew the crowd, of course.

Conversely, having the cafe business attached allows her to show work that has no intention of selling itself (installation work, performance peices, peices meant to decompose, etc.) If we're talking about straight up profits then how does a gallery afford to show work that is experimental or experiential, that will have no price tag for them to take 50% of? If a gallery is making 100% of its revenue off the sale of the art they have no choice but to show art that is 1. commodifiable and 2. marketable. Thus their economic limitations shape what art is shown, not the art itself and so on. I find that sad and troubling and questionable. They need to find a new business model. But this isn't just my opinion, it's evidenced in how many galleries go out of business, are continuously in the red, etc. This existing model that depends on a cut of the sales of the art doesn't work for a plethora of reasons, only one of which being that their 50/50 split keeps their revenue source (artists) in such poverty that many turn to day jobs and thus produce less, or quit altogether. I don't think galleries do this because they're greedy or evil, but I do think they do it becaues they're lazy, it's the status quo, it's easy, and many directors lack a certain level of business saavy and, yes, common sense to recognize other business models that would make that 50% irrelevent.

When it comes down to it, artists are self-employed, and yet they do not (seem) to take on the saavy of self-employed individuals in other disciplines and industries. Sure, marketing costs money. But if you were keeping 100% you could invest however much you wanted back into the business side of your self-employment. There are a lot of artists' co-ops out here that do exactly that and I find that model very interesting (the costs of self-marketing and shared space not nearly requiring 50% of the sales of the successful ones).

It's the 'occasionally' in your line "the organizations that assist them in doing what they love and occasionally provide them with successfull and sustaining careers" that would worry me. I like having a bit more control over my career and financial future. As for considering myself an artist: no, I definitly don't. But I am going to Cranbrook in Sept. so I'll have to figure out what label that makes me then. Probably a two-headed snake.

I just think that in this day and age you can't afford not to have your best interest up front. In the same way that a self-employed person can't afford NOT to learn about COBRA insurance, Keogh savings plans, et al, I think self-employed artists have to know how to market themselves or else their career hinges on the whim of the gallery. That would scare the shit out of me because, as I mentioned above, the galleries themselves don't have a very sound business model. I think once the mystique of PR were removed you would see how easy it really is, and inexpensive (not free, but it also won't break your bank if you have work that sells, and you must if the galleries are willing to take you on and so in this regard working with galleries is sorta like living off credit cards: you don't have to pay anything up front, but you do pay exhorbitantly on the back end).

Promotion and Distribution (which is essentially what galleries do, plus adding the questionable label of "quality" which means less and less these days) really IS common sense and if not common sense then basic principles that can be taught and I think that the idea that it's only something a marketing person can do for you, or a gallery can do for you, is really enslaving (to anyone, in any practice).

But I'm definitly not suggesting that you seduce a marketing person or hire a PR rep. What I have been suggesting from the get-go is that you take your career firmly into your own hands. Most artist do this already, to the extent of chasing after galleries and even once they have representation most saavy folks don't just hole away in their studios 24/7 but instead double-up PR duty with the gallery anyway. But it may be that the artists I know are just really ambitious and sleep less? It seems to me that the #1 thing the gallery has to offer that you can't necessarily get yourself is the actual, physical space. That's why RRR, Ann's project, etc. were interesting to me. Recycling spaces, as it were. I agree that it's audacious, but I also think there's a lot of potential with that model that would have been more successful (in the case of RRR) with a bit more marketing saavy.

I also think that we have different ideas on what a gallery should do. You seem to think the gallery exists first and foremost to sell your work. I think the gallery exists to bring art to a community/audience and so I take the sale of the artwork completely out of the equation and put it back on the responsibility of the artist. I think the gallery's bigger responsibility is to the viewing audience (not only the paying audience). IMHO. Sorry to have offended you, Sincerely.

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lolcoolj, or whatever, you are just as anonymous as an anonymous poster, there is no name, on your profile it doesn't even say what state you're from, plus i thought the comment was pretty funny, you know craig paints nothing but heads, its funny get, you guys are all a little too serious, is craig your man or something i,m sure he really needs you to stick up for him

3:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A Nonprofit take on this:

The BBAC's exhibition program puts on about 25-30 shows a year in its four galleries. The cost of supplies, receptions, postcards and mailing have outweighed revenue from exhibition sales in past years, even counting the overhead of my salary as Exhibitions Coordinator or bills, maintenance, etc. Our fiscal year has just concluded and our exhibition sales actually surpased expenses by a whole 1%!

The Art Center retains 40% commission and 30% for student shows. So for us, a fair commission exists for a reason.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

oops! I meant not counting salary, maintenance, overhead!!

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my sister became very very successful as an artist who markets herself. she bought a house, a studio, and more.... essentially a new life with the money that poured in. shows from NY to Japan.

But not in "traditional" galleries.

she told me she wanted to show in galleries now. I told her what for?! she still felt like she hadn't been validated as an artist. i told her she'd have to double her prices to cover the 50/50 and expect not to sell as many or often.

my point: there are two ways to go, and some are never happy -- self-marketing road, and gallery road. at least there's a decision that can be made, and crossed even. doesn't mean one should be dissed or hated over the other. as m. says the decision is up to the artist. she chose her road. she's happy. or is she? why slam everyone else who doesn't go her way?!

anyway i don't know of a single gallery at mid-level and below (raw spaces) that actually makes a consistent profit. one month you may sell well. and next nothing.

it takes a lot of money to rent a space. light bulbs are 8 bucks alone when one pops. if you know these gallerists you know they have backers. especially here. district, revolution, hilberry, klein, kidd, lemberg...

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not dissing anyone, I just think the status quo is unsustainable and I'm critical of the galleries for taking advantage of the artists, and I wish artists would stand up for themselves. dissing would involve more powerful adjectives.

8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'll agree with a majority of what you said. You make some valid points, the best of which is that this entire discussion balances on the morals and/or quality of the gallery in question. A shady gallery is a shady gallery and therefore should not be dealt with (the cafe/35% taker). I also agree that self employed individuals do require a certain amount of knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong: in order to claim self-employment, you have to gross a minimum amount of earnings? If people are worried about the 50/50 cut then they most likely aren't earning enough. I'm living off my art, and I'm not even earning enough.

On another note, I don't believe that a gallery exists for sales alone. I'm of the same mind as you, art should be shown to help introduce new ideas to the community. But try leaving your marketing career behind to focus on your art career (it sounds as though you are an artist: Cranbrook, performance, poetry, etc.), and then lets see how your beliefs change. If the art doesn't sell then you don't eat. And me personally, I have 2 "make or break" solo shows and 2 prominent features in Art fairs that I have to produce all new work for. They all take place before the end of the year (not bragging!)

I understand that I will get shit from people for mentioning that, and yes I am long winded (anon), but the point is simply that everything that we're talking about also depends on the professional level and desired professional level of the artist. I wouldn't have gotten this far if I hadn't at least done a little bit of self promoting, but believe me when I say that teaming up with hard-working galleries and submitting to the 50/50 split was a quintessential contributor to my career. Without it, my middle/lower-class poverty-stricken ass would never have made it here...

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the art world is made up of a system of artists, galleries and museums. i don't think there is any wool over any artist's eyes about the system. and choices are made realizing this.

m. sounds angry and one can't help but wonder that the source of this is that she's made the wrong decision

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't consider a cafe a gallery. C'mon.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

m.--how do you propose to cover the gallery's expenses? I'd love to know, since you seem to "understand the business better than most of those currently running the business." PLEASE do tell.

Galleries, even on the 50/50 model, are often owned by people who don't need to make money, because even at 50/50 and with the best business practices, approaches, marketing, etc., it's rare to see a profit. It's difficult to sell art, especially in Detroit. But, if you think the NYC crowd isn't bragging about how they bought their latest work in Basel and not New York, you're wrong. It's a global issue.

Yes, the artists front the money for everything it takes to create the art. (Unless you're Damien Hirst or Frank Stella.) The gallery makes an investment, also, fronting the money for the space, insurance (huge), announcements, staff (usually underpaid), transporting the art (ultra-huge with gas over $3/gallon), utilities (have you ever seen the electric bill from 100 halogen lightbulbs?), web sites and other advertising, accountants, lawyers, paint, etc., etc., etc. Before any show opens both the artist and the gallery have committed a great deal to the success of that show. If nothing sells, both suffer.

Yet, dealers take chances on works that aren't so saleable all the time. (Are they just crazy?) Those who don't are regularly criticized.

When gallerists spend time working to get their artists into museum shows, other galleries (in other regions), etc. they are not compensated for that time. It's part of the deal.Most galleries do not turn a profit on the 50/50 model--it's a labor of love.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ivan karp (ok harris) exhibited daniel buren for years before he began to make sales. he has stories of eating corn flakes for dinner.

i think i agree with michael about m -- sure you can make a living out there on your own, but you don't make it in the art world without a gallery(s) - and sour grapes from m that she's only got the money not the validation.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


anon makes some good points. what would you do?

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I don't have any sour grapes. Sheesh. I can't emphasize enough that my posts weren't written in anger. Damn poor mode of communication. If you must know, I am very happy, not looking for validation anywhere, and don't consider myself an artist Cranbrook aside. Craig- I wouldn't, couldn't separate my marketing career and I guess my friend Jeremy had a point when he said that it's irresponsible of me to assume that what is common sense / easy to me is common sense / easy to everyone. But I do, I really do, think it's easily taught.

As for what would I do (yours and anons questions about the issue of overhead) let me preface by saying that I don't work in the gallery world and I don't ever want to. I forayed into it about 3 years ago and found the practices (beyond just the 50/50 split, things like nepotism and just all around poor business practices) distasteful. I shifted into the publishing world, then to software (Microsoft) and now back to the publishing world (Seattle Book Company). Where I have been very successful, thanks.

But as a result of this career I have disposable income that I am able to put into marketing my writing, bookarts, etc. I have an allowance from S.Book.Co that covers my printing costs and I love self-publishing and being in control and also reaping the full rewards of my hard work. I do know about overhead, a table at BEA alone costs $6,000 a year plus travel, etc.

As for what I would do: maybe my point got lost in my loquatious word count. You all seem to be validating my main point that the $$ the galleries take from the 50/50 split does not sustain them. They either A. float their business out of pocket or B. find other sources of income. These sources can be an adjoined cafe (which MOCAD is doing, I believe), grants, donations, private funding, merchandizing, etc. They could also purchase the art from the artist and sell it at an increase (I find that more ethical than 50/50 because they are taking on the inventory and the risk, instead of leaving it all on the artist), they could charge admission, host adjacent venues. I'm not advocating one or any particular combination of these strategies and there are obviously many more that I haven't listed here and haven't even thought of myself, I'm sure. It's a case by case strategy given location and audience,etc.

My point is simply this. In order to stay afloat they have to consider these other sources of income (see my original post: "alternative business models" which means that they're doing the same thing (showing art) but getting their revenue off it from a different related avenue (for example, grants instead of 50%). I am not talking down to you here, I just want to make sure that business terms/concepts are clear. The publishing industry is currently struggling very hard with this same concept which is why I am so familiar with the braod shift in mindset that's going on throughout the creative arts: in the world of publishing, statistics show that our generation is 50/50 on books vs. electronic media but the generation that follows us will be 90/10 in favor or electronic text so the publishing industry has had to take a step back and say "what is it that we are really selling? little squares of paper? no, we are really selling legitimacy and quality, the curation of literature". Some are moving into an advertising based business model, some are trying to collect royalties on resale and electronic sales. These are the first steps so I can't say which of these, or a completely other model, will take the place of the old fashioned "we sell square blocks of paper with print on them" mentality, but the publishing company had to acknowledge the shift. The music company had to acknowledge the shift to peer-to-peer, MP3 etc. They asked themselves the same question and determined that they don't sell music (because with the technological changes you can make music and distribute music without using a label at all), but the curation of music.

Likewise, the art industry will change for a number of reasons. 1st is that they stuck to an unsustainable business model that has created a stagnant, incestuous economy. 2nd is that with the change in technology artists CAN represent themselves and make a living if they so choose. Similar to publishing and music, I think they will find that what they really are doing is creating value through perceived stamps of approval and curation. This gets into concepts of the new commodification of attention. (aside, there is a really good podcast of a lecture that was given at the BEA conference last month by Peter Bloom. His presentation style is a little obnoxious but about 60% of his points are right on and it's worth listening to and will be applicable across media, art being considered a media commodity.)

My point is this. The 50% doesn't cover their costs. We all agree on that right? They have to explore alternative business models for making a profit. THEN WHY TAKE THE 50% AT ALL WHEN IT DOESN'T GREATLY CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR BOTTOM LINE AND IS POTENTIALLY SO HARMFUL TO THE ARTIST, THEIR REAL SOURCE OF REVENUE. (not angry, just emphasis). That's why I accuse them of being lazy (in the worst cases) or unawares (in cases of naivety). I find that even though most galleries are beginning to explore alternative business models they refuse to give up the split 50% or whatever because they feel entitled to it. I just think that's wrong when you consider the poverty of most struggling artists. Even in the old model, publishing companies have always paid their authors for their ms.s. They may have taken a huge % if you look at the total revenue of a book, but they paid the author upright and then invest hundreds of thousands in production, distribution, etc. and in truth the final produce (a printed, bound book) would not exists without them (until the advent of POD tehcnology, etc.). Do you know of many galleries that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an artist? Or an artist whose work would not exist in and of itself without the gallery? No, the artist completely creates the work that is sold him/herself.

Does that satisfy your question or would you like me to go into more detail?

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think M. makes very valid points and I don't perceive her words as angry, just frustrated by the complacency with a seemingly failing system. 50/50 is self-destructive for galleries and artists, particularly those working in expensive or time consuming media, ie: sculpture or large framed drawings--In order to recoup costs invested (not to mention time, which usually goes unpaid if the work is expensive to make, say in the case of mold-making/casting or framing)the price of the work becomes over-inflated and too difficult to sell one you double the price you need JUST TO COVER EXPENSES, not to mention time. In most instances locally, the best we can hope for as far as promo is a postcard, or an e-blast, and an opening. For the galleries to walk away with HALF of the money when the artist has invested dozens of hours in each piece and in some cases hundreds of dollars in the work, has always seemed insane to me. But it IS the establisehed system, although there ARE exceptions. And there are great established models for how this CAN work for artist and gallery, but mostly in NY. (athough if I'm not mistaken, Hilberry seems to thrive well as do her artists) I agree with the grants and private funding as an idea for gallery income (although i recognize this is difficult.) Meadowbrook Gallery is a good example of being highly successful without selling any work (although the artwork is not for sale when exhibited there--a great advantage to work which is not geared towards sales, but towards purity of expression or experience, but a disadvantage to more saleable work.) But I do take issue however with you M. in the other suggested modes of alternative income. I think there is a big problem with galleries that have a divided focus, as is the case with CAID. They stay afloat by Funk night and other similar events which are not IN ANY WAY compatible with the housing of artwork. There is a clear emphasis on the need to "get by" and a clear disrespect for the artist, the artwork and the gallery reputation itself as a result. And the cafe model is not usually one of high respect for artists or one that provides ideal space in which to show. There are alternatives for survival that non-profits seem to best employ...providing classes workshops, hosting events that favor the artwork as opposed to disrepect or neglect it. But this is not enough either. What seems clear is that very few are swimming in cash, neither artist or gallery. It is a weak system, and one that needs re-adressing. Particularly with the proliferation (albeit good) of temporal or ephemoral work, which is not sellable, but often great work. The current system can not support these artists. Remaining complacent will only continue to damage artist and gallery. I like your passion, M.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

m. seems to have a very marginal understanding of the gallery business. A degree in Arts Management offers little real perspective on the realities of running a serious gallery. Perhaps her limited experience occurred with a poor business model and she is unaware that many dedicated galleries do work very, very hard and do employ sound business practices.

FYI: not every gallery is a nonprofit organization and grants and donations are not available to private business. Few serious collectors would purchase art from a cafe/gift shop/whatever. Nor would many serious artists consent to show their work in a place where coffee splatters are possible or where their dealer may be distracted by the espresso machine breaking down or if they've run out of artsy thank-you notes or refrigerator magnets. Serious dealers/gallerists spend their time and energy educating the public about artists' work and promoting their artists, as it should be. A reputable dealer works in partnership with his/her artists, helping to guide and build a serious career.

Charge admission? The people most likely to be edited out of the gallery viewing process would be artists--how many shows would you see if you had to pay $5/10 to look? Enough galleries have reps for being unapproachable--how would putting a ticket-collecting gatekeeper at the door help Joe Public feel more comfortable about entering a gallery and expanding his/her horizons? How many potential buyers of an artist's work would be alienated by such a practice?

There are models for the 50/50 split working all over the US and all over the world, not just in NY. If the dealers are sometimes willing to work for no pay or write checks to fill the funding gaps to keep the doors open why should you whine about it? If all these galleries closed tomorrow how would that benefit any artists?

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm for the galleries taking 50/50, always have been. And galleries coming and going is a result of poor planning or sheer lack of interest in sustaining a business, because that's what a gallery is; it's a business.

Asking them not to take 50% for the work they put into selling the art (which is usually how art sells, not by foot-traffic alone)is like asking a salesman to forgo their commission. That commission may not (as m has repeatedly told us) cover their costs, but it sure does make a difference, and I would argue that in many hard working galleries, it is their primary source of income. You'd be a fool to ask them not to take it, just like you'd be a fool to ask m's publisher not to take a cut of her book sales.

As for artists spending lots of money in order to make their art, that's the way it works. Every penny that you spend on art supplies is an investment. You have to invest back into your career in order to make it grow. Too many people want success handed to them, me included, but I'm not going to cease this cyclical routine (work, invest, work, invest, work, invest) and expect it to magically appear.

Hell, I'm late on rent every month just so I can make this happen, and it will! If you want to be an artist then be prepared to dive in head first without knowing what lies ahead. Be prepared to give up 50% because no gallery is going to give that up for you. No matter who you are or what you do, face it, you are not that unique (artists are everywhere). Besides, in most cases the gallery has plans to invest in their futures too.

50/50 is not what makes it a bad business plan.

Art is just not a fast moving commodity. It's a luxury that not everybody can afford no matter how inexpensive it may be. This is the business that you've stumbled into, and in my oppinion, you can't afford to avoid partnering up with a gallery that will push your art to the limits. Now all you need to do is find it.

Oh, and I know people hate this, but you have to look outside of Detroit. There's a whole world of galleries that WILL work with you who ARE worth giving 50% of your sales to.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so old [well, not really] but I can remember when the commission rate was 60/40 around here, in favor of the artist.

I do not begrudge the gallery system for the move to 50/50; in fact, i have made the point to the galleries that I work with that now we are 'equal partners'.

The expectation with equal partners is that each fulfills their part of the bargain. There have been situations where the gallery has taken their part of the monies but did not do enough for me to earn their 50%. I expect from them just as much effort as I put into the creation of the work.

Its best to work with gallerists that are trustworthy, upright, passionate about art and artists. These people are around, and artists know who they are. I am fortunate to work with several gallerists and consultants in this area who I trust so much that I will give them carte blanche, in order to make the sale.

The onus is on me, though, to keep track of all of the people I work with. When your business as an artist begins to expand [utilizing more than one vendor] then the artist has to dance pretty fast to not get lost in their [the artist's] paperwork.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A gallery is hard work. Marketing and publicizing artists, especially if they have limited recognition in Detroit, is very tough. That's a gallery's first and most important obstacle.

Unfortunately, that's not the only one. There are many. And they're all really expensive. Running a gallery, even a weekend gallery, is a very pricey affair. It's not just publicizing a show and artist(s). It's the lease, electricity, HVAC, physical maintenance (gallons and gallons of paint), phone, internet, shipping and transportation, and more. Our business model was designed to allow the gallery to support itself with the expenses offset by the commissions from art sales. We never, in almost 4 years of operation, took a salary from the sales we made, or any reimbursement for the thousands of dollars we cumulatively invested. That was built into our business plan by design. Yet still we struggled month after month in this market. Selling art can be as fickle as the weather. You have good shows and bad shows, no matter how good a curator you are. There are so many factors. Sometimes the good selling show has to support the more experimental show that makes no money at all. Economy, artist recognition factors, market trends, even that fickle weather. Detroit is a tough, tough crowd. They're intelligent, passionate, opinionated, and moody, as much as any other market I've learned about.

50/50 is the standard yes. I think it's a worthy system. From any decent, responsible gallery, I think the artists get a fair deal. Sure there are galleries that use the standard as a crutch so they can follow a path to least resistance, but as in any kind of business, let the buyer (or in this case artist) beware. The shady folk aside, everyone deserves a chance at compensation for their hard work. And good galleries do work hard. There may come a time when the standard changes, I can imagine that. Whatever the split, no one deserves a free ride.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon - i wasn't advocating any one alternative, just top-of-mind examples of alternative revenue models. my participation in the gallery system is (and will remain) marginal because I find it distasteful and it's not where my interest lies. But I get paid $$$,$$$ to work this SAME problem out for the publishing industry. As art and writing are related, so are the respective industries. It's uncanny. I see many of the exact same symptoms in gallery failure that I'm addressing in Publishing. All I can say with 100% difinitiveness based on my expertise is that the gallery industry will shortly need to reevaluate it's value offering and explore alternative revenue models. What those alternative revenue models will be: I don't know. I certaintly won't be the one doing that work, thanks! That's up to you guys, the arts community. Does change need to be demanded by the artists or the galleries? The galleries are the ones whose business model is in jeopardy. The artists are the ones in poverty. It's clear that change needs to happen but unclear as to who will lead that arc, with such widespread apathy and adherence to out-dated models. This is the way it's always been done, yes, but we are now knee-deep in a technological revolution that is completely altering distribution, marketing, PR, and valuation. And these are, of course, what galleries DO for artists (distrbution, marketing, PR, valuation). If they don't recognize the changes and adjust they will fail. Incomprehensible, I'm sure, to most because these pillars have 'always' been there and one can not imagine a career without their approval (or withholding of approval) but simple, unfortunate, economical fact.

I think, anon, you are a bit too quick to dismiss the N.Seattle gallery I mentioned earlier. It is catepiller style, that is it is 4 distinctly seperate storefronts along a commercial row. One being a reading venue (which is how I got involved), the 2nd segment being the cafe, and the third/fourth segments being dedicated gallery spaces. Each have street access, as well as horizontal arteries No risk of coffee splatters. Intersting, though, how immediately dismissive you are to any/all alternatives. A stagnent mentality. Hopefully, you are not someone in a place of leadership.

As for me, I'm busy enough dealing with this crisis in publishing, but I can see the opportunity for real change pioneered in Detroit, a de facto revolution of sorts. The rennaissance we keep hearing about. I don't think this is unrealistic. Property values and costs of operation are so incredibly low in Detroit that it offers a great opportunity to experiment with a variety of alternative business models. unfortunately, I haven't seen anything like that coming out of MOCAD et al, just more adherence to the same old strategies. It will take a significant change in mentality to break away from what doesn't work and find something new. anyway, that's what attracted me to Ann's project, RRR, etc. I'm not saying the 50/50 split is the entire problem (far from it) but it's a significant symptom because it keeps the artists in dire financial straights and hinders their ability to create. IMHO. But I don't think that I have anything further of value to add to this discussion as we are just looping around and around the same sentences.

1:49 PM  
Blogger DABNOSE said...

I had a poster artshow at the Book Beat in 1997. Cary Loren asked me how much I wanted to sell the posters for and I said $10.00 each. Cary said "no way--I can sell these for $50.00 and I'm takin' half". So I made $25 each instead of $10. It was great!!! Thanks Cary!!!

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always been a fan of the alternative exhibition space. Cary has been showing photography and graphics in his book store for the longest time; Cass Cafe, Dell Pryor, Next Step Studio, B Gallery, Motor City Brewery, Zeitgeist are some of the spaces that are respected for the art they show but also do double-duty in terms of the business that supports the entire structure.

We have gone beyond the dissing of these spaces as places to see good art. I had a show in the DIA a number of years ago that was very well recieved. A few years later I had a one person show at the Cass Cafe that I was really proud of. There were a few comments to me from people who thought that I was 'slumming', and that showing on the museum level precluded me from a place like the Cass Cafe.

I respectfully disagreed with them. I dont think my 'career' has been harmed one bit; my belief is that I want to share my work with the community as I can.

I draw the line at setting up easels in a gas station, though.

5:29 PM  
Blogger LoL Cool J said...

yeah! i love sharing my creative work with the community.. and in my experience the community loves to see it. 50/50 aside, galleries help make this exchange possible.

i saved a Real Detroit interview with Peter Williams that was printed last fall.. when asked about his success in Detroit, he said he showed everywhere that would have him, that no place was beneath him. it's a great interview! i read it every day for a couple weeks after finding it. he also urged artists to quit whining~ make lots of art and get it out there.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Karen Lillis said...

I appreciate that m. is interested in an "alternate business model" in the arts/publishing, but I've been around the publishing world for a while, and from what I've seen, the publishing world has been "raping its authors" for quite some time.

m. says--"They may have taken a huge % if you look at the total revenue of a book, but they paid the author upright and then invest hundreds of thousands in production, distribution, etc." Why does m. excuse the publishing world for taking a huge percentage of a book that is popular because of the writer's writing? The publisher is usually raping not only the author but the bookstores as well, and distributors, and any other middlemen along the way. The margin of profit is completely leaning in the direction of the big publisher, unless you're Barnes and Noble, which makes money off of sudoku books and passes the rape on to the small publisher, who they can put out of business in one quick mass-return of books.

In my experience, my painter friends made money, my music friends made money, but my literature friends, no. The novelist and poets I know are generally in it as a labor of love, small presses I know make almost nothing, the authors on small presses make almost nothing. I don't mean this that they are morally surperior but that it becomes incresingly evident that even publishing doesn't make you a living, often. Though teaching might.

Yes, one can self-publish. If you're jobless and enthusiastic, you can read your way across the country and sell books out of the trunk of your car, some have done it. But those of us who aren't James Redfield had to go back to work at the end of the tour.

The publishing world still works on the star system as much as anything else.

Here's the New York Press, from an article by Harry Siegel, "EXTREMELY CLOYING & INCREDIBLY FALSE" about Jonathan Safran Foer's second novel: "...the consolidation of publishing houses has nearly wiped out the mid-list author, leaving young authors with just one chance to write that great book before they get dropped, and just a handful of editors deciding who gets that one shot at the brass ring."

3:16 PM  

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