Marketing Mondays: The Art Network

You know the old saw, It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. The who you know part is certainly true for us. The art world is full of referrals.

“I’ve looked at hundreds, probably thousands of submissions from artists, and only one of my artists came from that pile,” says a dealer I know, waving her hand toward a box full of submissions. “Everyone else came either from referrals or as a result of my own research,” she says.

This social network map above shows the email flows among a large project team.

Other images below show various forms of networks; they're related, but not specifically, to artists' networking. I've used them for their visual appeal

Artists Share Information
As a represented artist, I often get asked by dealers or critics, “What have you seen out there?” Sometimes it’s just conversation on their part, but sometimes its informal research. I often suggest a particular show or website that a dealer might want to check out, and sometimes I'll e-mail a link to a critic friend. I’m not alone in this. It’s part of the dialog. And, of course, artists share information with one another. I’ve learned of exhibitions, grant opportunities and academic opportunities as a result of the artist network. Image from University of Chicago

Dealers Share Information
Dealers are networking, too. Indeed more than one “horse trade” has taken place in the downtime at a fair. Dealers see the work, conversation ensues, and before you know it, an artist from Gallery A is showing in Gallery B and vice versa.

One Bay Area artist got her current Boston dealer as a result of a conversation with a different dealer, who said, “I like this work, but it’s not right for my gallery. Why don’t you contact Gallery X down the street? In fact, I’ll call my friend at that gallery right now.” The dealer did, the artist made a visit on the spot, a painting was sent and then sold, and an artist/dealer relationship began. True story. (Informal conversation also lets dealers know who the difficult artists are, just as we know who the difficult dealers are.) Image from

Collectors and Critics Share Information
Add collectors to the mix. “More than once a collector has come into the gallery raving about a new artist whose work he bought at an Open Studio,” says a dealer I know. “I might be inclined to include that artist in a show or two. If a collector is going to keep acquiring work from that artist, it might as well be through me.”

And critics. Here's Boston critic Shawn Hill: "Get to know people. Go to galleries and shows. Go to openings. Network. I often see shows that I hear are good through word of mouth, or that trusted advisors recommend." Image from

Our Electronic Network
I’ve had a website since 1998, and many good connections have come about at a result of my presence in cyberspace. I show with a small gallery in Northern New England that found me on the internet; I am part of, Julie Karabenick’s curatorial project for abstract geometric art, and recently I was contacted by an artist who curated a show of artists from the Geoform roster. I was contacted by a Midwest dealer for his inaugural show (he Googled “New York artists”); turns out I was the first person he found, and I referred him to several other artists who fit his exhibition parameters. It was a terrific show. Work was sold, a commission resulted for me, and our group of four, while not necessarily BFFs, remains collegial to this day. I tell you my stories not to brag but to illustrate. Anyone with an electronic connection has a story or two (and I’d love to hear them).

Blogs, with their instantaneous links, create electronic networks that unite us over vast distances and cultures. What a great way to see and be seen! (Relatedly, come to the Blogpix panel this Saturday, March 7, when blogosphere denizens will convene at the Platform Project Space in New York to meet and talk in real time; info on the sidebar, right.) Scale-free image of the Internet from

The more you network, the more you share information, the more your work and name get out there, the greater the likelihood that someone will refer you for something. And it works both ways. Call it art karma.

Atlanta Dealer Marcia Wood Sums Things Up

“I really am learning, after all these years, that the network is the key. (It’s as true for dealers as for artists.) . Share information with your artist friends. Develop relationships with people who are active, engaged, showing. Develop relationships with gallery people and curators and writers; all are part of the art world.

“Go to art fairs. Schmooze (discreetly in the case of a working dealer). Don’t be obnoxious; just be engaged, aware, and on the ball.

“Even if you aren’t showing in their galleries or being written about, the act of socializing and being in the loop is priceless. It keeps you tuned in and on the spot when opportunities develop.”



Nancy Natale said...

An excellent post, Joanne. I always pass along exhibition info to artist friends and try to include them in shows if I am curating and their work fits. I'm not so sure that everyone has this attitude. Many artists feel that if they give out info, someone will get a jump on them and/or usurp their place. I think it's all abondanza - spread the wealth and some will come back to you. Even if it doesn't, being generous is good for your soul. (fieringu)

Rob said...

Excellent post. Right on target. Thanks.

Neanderthals Destroyed Atlantis said...

I am glad that you clarified things using a neutral tone. To repeat: tortured misanthropes will fail. It is a self fulfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

Good advice as usual, but this sort of sticks in my craw:

“I might be inclined to include that artist in a show or two. If a collector is going to keep acquiring work from that artist, it might as well be through me.”

This isn't part of your topic, but it brings up a delicate issue, namely how to negotiate different percentage commissions depending on the circumstances. I don't begrudge dealers their 50% (they are paying the gallery overhead and have presumably put time and money into developing the artist's career) but in the situation described here, I'm not sure the gallery should get 50% of the sale.

And similarly, if I, as an artist, bring previous collectors of my own to a gallery, shouldn't the cut on sales to those collectors be more like 60/40 with the artist getting 60? Or something like 50 to the artist, 25 to the gallery and a 25% discount to the collector, who, without that 25% discount, is now paying twice what he used to pay when he bought that work directly from me. I have found that dealers are not very responsive to this idea of scaling the commission according to who brought the collector in. But really, even though in the long run it's important to build relationships, it goes against the artist's best financial interests in the short run to bring a collector to a dealer.

How do you handle this? Have you been able to negotiate percentages other than 50/50?

Joanne Mattera said...

Great question, Oriane.

I can tell you that the dealer I quoted has shown new artists with an open mind. If that artist's work sells well, s/he may end up on the gallery's roster. If not, then it would be a brief relationship. For the dealer, it's a chance to try out new talent. For the artist, a chance to see how her/his work floats in a particular gallery. Plus, if the artist is emerging or previously unrepresented, it's a chance to work that connection. As we well know, it usually takes showing in a gallery to show in a gallery.

As for bringing my collectors to a gallery. I always do. I have found that in the long run, it's better when I make the work and the dealer sells it. Period. I want them to make the sales--and to handle sales tax, PR, advertising, etc. So if a dealer doesn't work too hard on one sale, I know that the next time, they will be working it like crazy.

And I am aware that the gallery provides the environment for work to be sold even when I'm not having a show there. Most galleries have a back room where work from the gallery artists is on view. So what happens if a collector comes in to see the current show and ends up buying a work of mine from the back room? Does the exhibiting artist get a commission? Of course not. If you feel your dealer is taking are of you--with good website visibility, art fairs, catalogs, ads, sales and timely payment--then frankly I don't think its work haggling over a one-time 10% of a sale. Ultimately it all evens out. (If you feel you're always on the short end of the stick then, yes, a conversation is surely in order.)

Only one has it happened that I brought a collector in to a gallery that I was "trying out" (and vice versa) on the good faith that the relationshihp would go somewhere. It didn't. The dealer collected a commission and then let the relationship drift. But that was a long time ago.

Joanne Mattera said...

Oops. Bad typing. I said: I don't think its work haggling over a one-time 10% of a sale.

I meant: I don't think it's WORTH haggling . . .

Vikki North said...

Hello Fair Artist Joanne,

We'd love it if you'd come share this info with our artist.

We are artist also. At least that's what they call us. You may even know us. We'd like to invite you to be a member of our very Private Club. We're very selective and only an elite few are welcome. We pick you.

We even have a little 'chit chat' room. It's rightfully called Dante's Pub. But when your enter BEWARE! You are entering the abyss of the artist mind! You may not find your way out.

You're welcome to watch from afar while drinking your brew or pull up a chair and join us for a little chat. Be sure and register and then log in. After all, this is a very private club. We don't allow just any wanderer in our midst.

Don't dilly dally now! It wont cost you a pence. Check out The Artist Challenge and Dante's Pub- that is if your daring?

Farewell...until we hear from you,
Master Mike and the Pub Wench

Artist Challenge-
Dante‘s Pub -

Anonymous said...

Master Mike and the Pub Wench? What is this, the Renaissance Faire?

Anonymous said...

So here is something that maybe some of you who are more experineced can help me (and others, I sure)with. I can be very sociable and professional in other areas of my life but when it comes to developing relationships with dealers and galleries I have a difficult time because it feels like there is an underlining agenda which is: I want something from them, even when I go into the situation without expetations. It's the selling that changes the relationship from one of ease to angst. I become tonge tied and shy all of the sudden. Why is this? Any advice?

Jeffrey Collins said...

Thanks Joanne for another amazing post.

This quote really seems to sum it all up for me, and it's got me wanting to do even more now. I've begun going to our local monthly Gallery Hop and taking pics of everything in my effort to help get to know more people around here. I've got another GH coming up tomorrow which i'm really looking forward to. So thanks again.


"Even if you aren’t showing in their galleries or being written about, the act of socializing and being in the loop is priceless. It keeps you tuned in and on the spot when opportunities develop.”

tony said...

It's taken me time to respond to this post because first off it is reasonable, practical & realistic but underneath I have had a nagging feeling that there is a sense of 'unhealthiness' in networking per se. In the Middle Ages the Guild system in Europe became essential for the protection of skilled workers but after a time it descended into a degenerate form which resulted in nepotism & poor craftsmanship. If one actively participates in a 'network' the essential impulse may be shared interests but in times of financial stringency such motivation can quickly degenerate into 'self-interest'.(witness the 'Artists Union' of Stalinist Russia)whereby one creates a relationship with others, not on the basis of what they do, but rather on who are their connections. In conclusion, 'being in the loop' presupposes that there are those outside & this sort of exclusion sits badly in relationship to the essence of painting in particular and art in general. Networking is fine but if one ignores ethical considerations there is a risk that it can take one the worst aspects of freemasonary.

Joanne Mattera said...

We seem to disagree a lot, Tony, but I like that you're looking under and behind my posts.

From my point of view, networking is what you do online; it's what you do in person when you leave your studio. It's a way to plug into the larger art world and its opportunities. And it can be fun.

Of course a network presupposes that there are people outside it. Not everyone is included in everything. Only so many students can be accepted into a particular grad program, for instance, or only so many artists into a gallery, or only so many galleries into an art fair. And to carry that thought evan farther, only so many works of art will be acquired by only so many collectors. You can't have an inside without an outside.

If we want in, we work hard at what we do and then we network to find a way in.

I do agree with you that networking, sharing, can have its downside. I experienced something of that myself recently, stabbed in the back metaphorically. Does that mean I don't network anymore? No, but I will be more careful with whom I share information, and to what degree.

tony said...

Dear Joan, Bless you for your civility in responding. As I pointed out in the beginning of my post I really found your position on 'networking' very positive & helpful. In a sense I was playing the devil's advocate in suggesting that other elements may come into play or should at least be taken into consideration. For all that I find your site a pleasure to visit & I have a great respect for what you do.

PS I visited the DM Contemporary site & was very impressed by the sheer elegance & quality of the work shown. Best wishes, T.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for another excellent post.
I really must get out of the studio more often and network...

lisa bayne said...

Joanne - What is pretty extraordinary is that this advice could be given - with just slight word substitutions - to an actor. In fact, my sone, a young struggling actor, WAS given this advice, to take it upon himself EVERY DAY to meet someone, talk to someone. The good thing is that we are humans, we make connections, we remember them - so we use them, too.