The Business End of Art

They’re selling the local art gallery that fought so bravely. It clung to life for as long as it could, but today, the only words on the sign are “For Sale.” The various sculptures that once filled the yard are gone, and there’s no doubt the sign means the building, itself.

We’re not quite big enough–not quite enough traffic, either–to support an art gallery. I suppose you knew that, if you paid enough attention to know that the sculptures on display in the yard were always the same sculptures.

I don’t know how the gallery’s finances worked, exactly. If I had to guess, I’d say something along the lines of a co-op. A group of artists getting together to fund the space, and sell their work together. Now, I’ll have to give it a decent mourning period before I ask.

The closest I ever got to going there was that time I called to see if they knew of a writers’ group in town. I feel just a little guilty about that. Some tremor on the “supporting creative communities” thread.  I honestly don’t even know if they would have taken my help. Maybe. Maybe not.

More and more, I’ve started looking at the business end of things. If you’re going to make a living making art… how do you do that?

I remember being told that what you should do, if you wanted to make money from art, was to make lamps and clocks. Because, look around you. How many people do you know who own paintings? Sculptures? Okay. Now, how many people own lamps?

Of course, that sounded cynical when I was just out of high school. In the first place, I do know a disproportionate number of people who own paintings. And in the second place…Lamps? Really?

And about a week ago, I went out to eat and noticed the paintings were for sale. I asked how much they were renting the wall space for, and after I finally made them understand the question (as opposed to how much the paintings cost) it turns out that they aren’t charging anything for the wall space. I didn’t push further, because I think I’d hit the end of the knowledge train, but if someone with a little more authority had been there, I’d also have asked how they chose which paintings to hang, and so forth. (The waitress informs me that her boss should pay me, because the place is falling apart.)

There’s a range. From the gallery sells my stuff on commission, to I rent the space, to the restaurant gives me the space for free, (I will add, by the way that actually buying one of the paintings seemed like it would be a little bit of a mess, since no one actually had any information beyond the artist’s business card.) to “this is my mother’s business, and she gives me space for free. You are on your own.

Some of them are work space, in addition to sales space.

Quite a few of them also offer classes, and that sounds like a good way to supplement the venue’s income.

And then, there’s the reaching out to other kinds of creatives thing. Letting the writers use space, in exchange for money or copy writing. That kind of thing.

I suppose–as always–the moral of the story is to know your options, and make a well-considered choice.