Magic Carpet Ride
To pursue a career as an artist is to enter a world of mythology. Some myths are helpful, even critical, to success (as Leo Castelli, the Zeus of gallerists, said himself). But other myths can be harmful to an artist's livelihood. Fatal even. And none among this poison-tongued latter group is more deadly than the myth of dealer representation as magic carpet ride to success.
Whether in the fine arts or another medium, whether of the traditional variety in a gallery or the abbreviated version in an open-access artist emporium (like Saatchi Art), dealer representation tends to be leaned on too heavily by artists themselves. The enduring myth is that it's entirely OK to turn over the burdens of marketing, networking, sales, and all other undesirable business-related tasks to a representative as soon as possible. In fact, freeing oneself of these responsibilities tends to be to be seen as the surest route to paradise. Better to let the professionals handle it, right?
While certainly understandable—almost all artists would prefer to concentrate strictly on creating—this idea is, sadly, false. I say this as someone who has worked directly with artists in a blue-chip gallery context, talked business with them as friends, written about them, and been one myself (as a working writer) for over a decade.
Here's the truth: An artist’s best chance at building and sustaining a career is to be as personally relentless in commerce as in creativity. That means never completely depending on anyone else to do the dirty work for you.
A professional art career is a small business, as I've written before. No savvy entrepreneur would ever hand off the entire operations, marketing, and sales arms of her startup to someone else—least of all a platform like an artist emporium, where one human liaison is theoretically tasked with “representing” thousands of clients day to day. So why should an artist?
Reps can be tremendous allies. They should just never be viewed as complete substitutes, let alone autopilot flights to nirvana. Magic, after all, isn't real. So if you're hoping to reach the promised land through your work, my advice is to start hiking––and keep up the pace no matter who else is with you.