Welcome to the Blank Canvas Series – An interview with an Artist. These amazing artists have offered to share their insights with the Master Oil Painting Community. Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the Featured Artist and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Master Oil Painting or Bill Inman.
Today’s Featured Gallery Owner: Jason Horejs
“The art business isn’t easy, but I can’t think of anything I could be doing that would be more rewarding.”– Jason
Q: You’ve worked directly within the gallery business since 1991, and you opened Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2001 – almost 30 years of gallery experience. What are the most significant changes you’ve witnessed that might affect artists today who want to make a living from their art?
A: The biggest and most obvious is the advent of the internet and the increased ability it has given artists to promote themselves. It would be difficult to overstate what a significant change this has made to the art market. In the early days of the internet, some thought that galleries would no longer play a role in the art business as artists could sell directly to collectors. While that hasn’t turned out to be the case, both galleries and artists have had to evolve in order to do business in the internet age. Galleries can no longer passively wait for sales to happen. Artists can now create a broad following for their work that boosts their direct sales and also their gallery sales.
Some galleries haven’t survived the changes, but those who have embraced the web have seen their business increase.
While the internet has given artists additional exposure, the challenge for many artists is to make an impression among the sea of other artists online.
I believe that we’re still in the early days of art marketing on the internet, and I’m excited for the opportunities that lay ahead. Sales from our physical gallery still make up the majority of our business, but online sales are growing and becoming more frequent and are increasing in value.
Q: Your workshop and book, “Starving to Successful”, that coach artists through the challenging and competitive quest for gallery representation are excellent (I had been showing in galleries for 25 years when I took your workshop, and I still came away with many actionable ideas and tips). What 3 do’s or don’ts do you suggest for artists approaching a gallery?
A: The first is easy – be prepared. Many of the artists who approach my gallery feel it’s enough to complete a few paintings, snap some photos on their phone , and head off in search of gallery representation. There’s far more to it than that. An artist should have a body of 20-25 high quality works completed and ready to show, the work should be consistent, and the artist should be ready to show that she or he can produce at a consistent level.
Second, I would encourage artists to move from a physical to a digital portfolio. The days of slides and tear-sheets are gone. A digital portfolio allows you to share your work via email, or on a tablet computer. Even though most artists have a website, I still encourage artists to create a compelling portfolio that will allow them to present their work in a thoughtful, cohesive way.
Third, I would encourage artists who are interested in showing in galleries to be prepared for some rejection and to persist. Many artists will give up after being rejected by three or four galleries. This is far too early in the game. Most of the artists I’ve worked with have had to approach dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of galleries before finding the right fit. Remember, each “no” from a gallery owner puts you that much closer to a “yes!”
Q: You talk about the ‘starving’ years when you were young, the oldest of 9 children, as your dad worked to build an art career, and how you decided that selling art looked a lot more attractive than creating it. Would you recommend artists today develop a separate way of earning a living besides their artwork or do you believe it is possible to earn a living solely from the sale of art in today’s evolving market?
A: Every artist is going to have to answer this question for themselves because every artist has a different set of circumstances and objectives. Do I believe it’s possible to make a living solely from your art? I know it is, because I work with artists who are doing exactly this.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that it’s going to be easy, or that there won’t be sacrifices required. Building a successful career as an artist requires hard work and endurance, but it can be done, and the potential rewards are huge.
Artists who devote themselves to their work and are able to make the leap to being a full time artist derive tremendous satisfaction from their work. We are fortunate to live in a time when there are more potential art buyers out there than there have ever been before. By building a strong collector base, an artist can not only survive, but create a comfortable life for themselves and for their families.
Q: Continuing with the previous question – based on your relationship with so many artists over the years, if an artist is determined to make a living solely from their art, what is in store for that artist? Realistically, how much time does the average professional artist spend in creating and marketing their artwork – does it compare with a typical 9-5 job scenario? Are you acquainted with any artists who sell consistently that devote only a few hours a week to their craft?
A: In my experience, an artist who is going to build a successful career is going to act more like an entrepreneur than an employee. This makes sense, because in a very real way, the artist is running a small business. So forget 9-5 – an artist who wants to succeed should expect to put 60-90 hours into a work week. You rightly point out that this will include creation time, but it will also include a significant amount of marketing and relationship building time.
Certainly there are artists who are selling their work consistently and only spending a few hours a week in the studio, but their level of sales is going to be dramatically limited by their low level of output.
Q: I loved your discussion about the distinction between ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ art (http://reddotblog.com/ask-a-gallery-owner-fine-art-vs-decorative-art/). Since you are not concerned about the possible future museum-value of art, what are the qualities that you or your collectors are most appreciative of in an artist’s work?
A: Quality, consistency and creativity are the elements that I pay the most attention to when considering whether or not to show an artist in my gallery. These elements play a big part in a collector’s interest in an artist’s work as well, but most of my clients aren’t consciously thinking about these things. Most art buyers go by instinct. We spend a lot of effort working to educate our collectors, but in the end, it is largely an emotional connection the buyers make to artwork before purchasing.
Q: Affluent buyers’ loyalty to clothing, jewelry and retail brands has decreased as much as 50% since 2008 because they are increasingly interested in intrinsic benefits over brand popularity. Do you see carryover of this trend with art? Traditionally, artists focused on building a robust brand and a loyal following of collectors. How do artists brand themselves in such a seemingly splintered and crowded market – or is branding even a valid pursuit?
A: We still have many collectors who follow particular artists. I haven’t noted a decrease in interest among our buyers to become collectors. I find that the artists who are most likely to encourage collecting are those who are doing something that is uniquely creative, and who are consistent.
Collectors want to know more about the artwork and the artist. They want to have experiences. They want to build relationships. Artists who cater to these desires, and the galleries that facilitate these processes are more likely to create collector followings.
Q: As owner and founder of Xanadu Gallery, you have a vested interest in the successful continuation of brick and mortar sales. You were also one of the early adopters of providing online purchasing which now accounts for a smaller, yet profitable percentage of sales – I remember listening to one of your podcasts a few years ago, where you talked about your initial reluctance until one of your assistants put some work up on the site and you quickly sold a sizable piece. Are galleries still the best way for artists to sell their art, or do you see venues like Fine Art – Amazon eventually replacing brick and mortar galleries? Are you familiar with any artists thriving entirely from online sales?
A: I don’t believe it’s an “either, or” question. I see online marketplaces for art growing and expanding, and we are participating in that growth. However, I also see a strong desire among my buyers to visit galleries, see the art in person and purchase from real-life human beings.
Make no mistake, I’m not implying that every buyer needs to see the work in person to buy. We have many buyers who have only seen the art online. The internet is a powerful tool for its ability to share art quickly to a broad audience.
However, affluent buyers are still vacationing and traveling, often to art destinations. They don’t want to eliminate those experiences and do all of their buying online. It’s not always about convenience – many buyers still crave the adventure of discovering new artists as they visit galleries.
I hear of artists who are selling online only, but I admit that I’m not personally familiar with any. It’s hard to generate enough interest and sales online to support a career amidst all of the other artists vying for attention. This is especially true for artists new to the market.
Q: Xanadu Gallery has weathered several major U.S. economic slumps since 2001 and even had a record year of sales in 2016, while 57% of galleries in your poll were either the same or lower with sales in 2016 compared with 2015. Then again, 57% of individual artists said their sales were up in 2016. What are your expectations for 2017 and beyond, and why do you think your gallery is succeeding while many others have closed their doors for the last time?
A: 2017 is on track to be even better for us than 2016 was. As the economy continues to recover, we are seeing a broader range of buyers coming back into the marketplace. I feel we also have the advantage of being able to build on the momentum we have created with our buyers and artists.
I don’t know that there’s anything magical about what we are doing. We are mostly sticking to the basics of good business. My staff and I strive to create strong relationships with both our buyers and our collectors. We work hard to provide superior customer service and to follow up when clients express interest in an artist. We act with integrity.
The art business isn’t easy, but I can’t think of anything I could be doing that would be more rewarding. Every day brings something new!