Years ago, I was a member of an artist collective gallery, a small storefront in the heart of Philadelphia. I worked there one day a month (open up, talk to clients, process sales and close). My artwork was always on display; I had several solo exhibitions and I sold many pieces. Also, part of the responsibilities included a monthly membership fee of $100, which went towards the rent, electric, heat in the winter and similar. It was an incredible experience and I learned a great deal; I am still friends with a number of the other artists (there were twenty members).
One day, while working at the gallery, an older woman walked in. I greeted her, let her know all the artwork was for sale and to feel free to ask any questions. I stepped away so she could browse without feeling hounded. After roughly five minutes she approached me and mentioned she was an artist; she asked about showing her work in the gallery. I explained the nature of the artist collective, the duties, including the monthly portion of expenses. Her reaction was obtuse; while pointing to the pieces on the wall she said, “So all these artists sold out?” I understood her unspoken point; art should not be done for money. Why was she in my gallery asking for her artwork to be on display? (I did not engage her and she left moments later.)
Galleries are all about money; they pay rent or have a mortgage. They have property taxes, a wide assortment of expenses and other costs. The fantastical movie depiction of an art gallery putting on an exhibition because they are altruistic and want to spread art around the world is not real life; the bottom line is always money (either the art will sell or someone wrote a check to cover the costs). Artists need to care about money too i.e., if no one buys my artwork, I am doing something wrong.
To be blunt: no one gives a rat’s arse if your mommy loves your artwork; it needs to sell. When someone purchases my artwork, they are directly telling me that they love it. I fear this is not taught in a Master of Fine Arts program; universities always love student artwork, I suspect almost as much as the tuition! Some graduate owing over $100,000 in student loans; my education cost was $100 a month plus the one day I had to work; I learned from actual clients. Who truly sold out?