Monday, November 9, 2015


Dear Gallerist:

Thank you for the email announcing the ‘X’ Galleries’ second location & the Call For Art.  Since 10 of my artworks are already on the ‘X’ gallery website and one of my artworks was featured on the cover of one of the ‘X’ Gallery Art Catalogs last year I was excited to submit for the new gallery.

That is until I saw the $24.00 fee merely to LOOK at my work.

Then I stopped the upload process & left the website because it’s a PAY TO DISPLAY SCHEME. 

Seriously!?  I was going to quote back to you your own words about this from your book but a quick re-read shows you didn’t address pay-to-display schemes.  Obviously you left that bit out because you can’t call-out the very thing you do!  I thought you were different from the other gallerists. 

When ‘X’ Gallery started its online gallery you charged me fees to be on your website.  I paid those fees because I believed ‘X’ Gallery was a different & better gallery.

I also PAID to be in one of ‘X’ Galleries’ Art Catalogs.  My artwork was even featured on the cover.  I could have bought an ad in Art Business News for about the same cost but I believed I had a shot at [your market] via your catalog.  It didn’t do anything for me, but you got your catalog paid for by artists.

I’ve paid you enough already.

After reading your book I tried to put myself in the position of the gallerist & better understand YOUR point of view.  Here’s a little something from the artists’ point of view YOU need to know:

Paying a gallery to LOOK at our artwork is insulting.  It’s really galling. 
And here’s how it usually works:
1.       Pay the fee.
2.       Submit the artworks.
3.       Wait.
4.       Wait some more.
5.       Assume you were rejected because you never heard back from the gallery…
6.       …because the gallery never even looked at the artwork because…
7.       All they wanted was your money.

You could search YOUR OWN WEBSITE & find plenty of artwork for your new space but that would eliminate an income stream of essentially, Free Money.

So, as much as I like your gallery, good business-sense tells me that paying you to view the artworks of mine you already have online is a waste of money.  Seriously, if you want to be just a little bit better than the other galleries, DO NOT charge artists merely to “consider” their artworks – that’s what scammers do, and you really don’t want to come off like that.

Ironically, while writing this email, I received an email announcement from your gallery bragging about the “first sale” in the new space.  So, since the gallery is up & running, what are artists submitting for?  And why to you need $24.00 for a look-see when you’re already selling art?  Do you understand that this really reeks of just another pay to (not) display art-scam?

Good luck with the new space.  I was really excited to read about it, but I won’t pay you more than 50% of an art sale to be a part of it.


I know this blog has very few readers but less than 24 hours after posting the above, I received a personal email response from the actual owner of ‘X Gallery.’  (I think BD or DN ratted me out!)  Here’s the email I received, with minor editing to protect the gallerist’s privacy.

A friend alerted me to your blog post and I wanted to take a moment to respond. First, let me say that I understand where you are coming from with the post and you make very valid points. I do wish you would have actually sent your letter to me so that I would have a chance to respond, but I'll take that opportunity now.

There are several reasons I ask for a submission fee. The submission system we use that helps streamline the process of reviewing comes at a cost, fees help offset that cost. More importantly, however, my outreach to the artist community has put me in touch with tens of thousands of artists. Several years ago I asked for submissions with no entry fee and was overwhelmed with over 13,000 submissions. Many of the submissions weren't appropriate for our gallery, but artists from all over the world submitted because they easily could. I have found that asking for a submission fee greatly reduces the number of submissions and encourages artists to think about whether or not their work is appropriate for my gallery. I tend to get much better submissions because those who are paying a fee to submit are serious about the submission.

I hope that the value I'm providing in my many blog posts and videos at absolutely no cost to artists balances out the submission fee in the long term.

Thanks for your consideration

And my reply to the email:

Thank you for reading my blog.  Obviously I’ve struck a chord which compelled your response.  And I do appreciate your response, despite my absolute disagreement with your pay-to-view policies.  Actually, I had considered emailing you directly but I really didn’t want to start an argument and I figured your response wouldn’t be any different than what you wrote in your email.

Please understand that I have already heard every reason, rationalization and excuse you make for the submission fee, and while you also make some valid points, I still completely and absolutely disagree with the policy.  To elaborate:

First of all I view “streamlining” the review process as a cost of doing business that should not be passed on to the artist. 

Secondly, if your “outreach to the artist community” has really put you in touch with “tens of thousands of artists” why don’t you just contact one of those ten-thousand-plus artists to fill the walls of your new gallery space?  Really, if you have contact with that many artists, simple mathematics indicates you should never, ever need to put out a call for art. 

I completely agree that too many artists submit works to galleries that are inappropriate for the venue.  You covered that succinctly on pp. 131-132 of your book. 

The most common complaint I’ve heard from virtually every gallerist I’ve ever met is the ‘overwhelming’ number of submissions they get.  What do you expect?!  You are in the Gallery Business, don’t act surprised that artists come to you seeking exhibition opportunities, it’s what you do.  You guys act like Chefs that are pissed-off that the restaurant is busy during the lunch hour!

You’ve been in the business long enough to know that artists will beat a path to your door to get your eye for a moment.  You are in the unique position to pick and choose, reject or accept, all the while basking in the economic safety of having no investment in the production of the product you sell. 

This is manageable for you.  Many galleries’ websites have ‘submission guidelines’ where the words ‘not accepting new submissions at this time’ can be found.  You could do that to lighten your ‘review workload.’  Or, you could set aside a month in the (traditionally slow) summer season to review portfolios.  These are two “streamlining” suggestions for you.

But galleries count on two things about artists, 1.) That artists make decisions based on emotion and, 2.) Artists can’t do math.  Essentially, a $24.00 ‘review fee’ is the price paid for False Hope.  Here’s the math:

Let’s assume the gallery accepts 2% of new submissions for representation.  If 1000 artists pay $24.00 each to have their work seen, the gallery has made $24,000.00.  With a 2% success rate for artists that gives the gallery 20 new artists which is many more than can be exhibited in a year (unless you’re doing huge group shows).  So, 980 artists have paid you $24.00 each to be REJECTED. 

So, that (theoretical) 24 grand you made, which will meet your rent and payroll obligations for a while, you made on the backs of artists, while you did absolutely nothing and took no risks whatsoever.  24 grand more than compensates you for opening emails.

So yeah, I have both an economic and a moral problem with pay-to-view schemes. 

In conclusion, in my case, I saw your ‘artist call’ as an opportunity.  I like your gallery and much of the art I’ve seen there.  Despite the decline in the [local] arts district The ‘X’ Gallery remains as a beacon in the [local] art scene and is, in my view, a ‘prestigious’ gallery.  Yet I had to reconsider my submission.  You can see my artworks on your own website already, I’ve paid for ads in your catalog, my work was featured on the cover, and none of this has done anything for me except deplete my bank account.  I had to figure that paying you (again) would be little more than a reminder of what you already have online, which you have never exhibited on the gallery walls.  Based on past history I had to rationally conclude that I had ZERO CHANCE of getting my works selected to hang in the new space. 

I understand, but disagree with your position.  I hope you now have a better understanding of the artists’ position.  I didn’t email you directly because I didn’t want this to come off as personally confrontational.  I simply reject the concept.  In the unlikely event I ever get the opportunity to exhibit in ‘X’ Gallery, we at least know where each other is coming from.

Thank you for your consideration.

I waited a full week after sending my reply email but the gallerist never responded.  I suspect his lack of response is because his position is fundamentally indefensible based on the math I presented.  I am grateful that my original blog, my reply and the gallerists’ email to me was cordial.  Often these ‘debates’ deteriorate to name calling quickly and that accomplishes nothing.  Neither of us has swayed the others’ opinion and I’m sure he won’t change his policies.  He doesn’t have to.  There are always artists who will pay to be rejected so he’s got a perfectly legal free-income stream at his disposal.  He’s not running a scam, but this sort of thing is often used to extract easy money-for-nothing from willing artists by ‘art scammers.’ 

Here’s the easy scam that I fear and everyone should consider when paying someone to ‘review’ their artwork, this also applies to fees charged to submit to juried exhibitions:

1.       The gallery establishes a ‘pay to review,’ ‘pay to enter a juried show,’ or, ‘pay to display’ system.  The verbiage to watch out for which indicates this could be a scam reads something like this:  “…if the gallery is interested in your artworks we will contact you…”
2.       By using the above terminology, or a variation of it, what they are really saying is:  If we don’t like your art, you won’t hear from us OR don’t call us, we’ll call you.  When you never hear back from the gallery you are supposed to assume that you have been rejected by blow-off.  You are supposed to assume that they actually looked at your work and rejected it, but how do you know they actually viewed your submission?  You don’t!  And you may have been scammed – they got your money and you got NOTHING.
3.       A sure way to know you’ve NOT been scammed is to receive a communication indicating they actually saw your work.  A generic rejection doesn’t count, those can be sent automatically; no, you need a rejection that actually references your work.  If you hear nothing back after your submission, it’s possible you’re a victim of a very common art-scam.

Again, mathematics tells the story.  With enough paid submissions a gallery doesn’t even have to sell art or mount a juried exhibition to be profitable!  And here’s the math:

Suppose a ‘gallery’ puts out a call for submissions; this could be for a juried show or a simple ‘opportunity.’  Let’s use an average fee of $30.00 per submission.  Since gallerists always complain of ‘overwhelming’ numbers of submissions let’s use a large-ish figure of 800 submissions per month.

$30.00 x 800 = $24,000.00

Now, if you never received a communication that indicated they actually saw your work it is quite possible they never looked at it.  You may or may not have been the victim of an actual scam but what we are absolutely positive of is they got your money and you got nothing.

Do you see how easy it is to perpetrate a ‘pay-to-view’ or ‘pay-to-display’ scam?  Receiving (I don’t use the word ‘earn’) that kind of money means the ‘gallery’ doesn’t have to do anything to run a profitable business.  They don’t even have to sell art!

I’m not saying that every gallery that charges a ‘review fee’ is a scammer.  I am saying that if you send in money and make your submission and that’s the end of it and you never hear a thing back it’s no different from being scammed, you could accomplish the exact same thing if you never made the submission and just tossed your money in the trash.

If you pay a fee, you should get something.  At the minimum you should get verification that your work was seen.  Sadly, that’s often too much to ask so in your own best interest STOP PAYING PEOPLE TO ‘REVIEW’ YOUR ARTWORK!

Imagine if we created a system where the galleries paid the artist to review their works….

Dear Gallery:
There is a $24.00 fee charged to review my artwork for the possible inclusion in your exhibition.  I charge this fee to defray the cost in streamlining my presentation for you.  More importantly, the fee greatly reduces the number of fruitless presentations I have to make and insures that you are serious about the submission.  Thank you for your consideration.  Before I open the portfolio case I must first check my PayPal account for your payment.

Does that strike you as ridiculous and outrageous?  It is!  Yet artists DO NOT find it ridiculous when they pay ‘submission fees’ to galleries.  STOP PAYING PEOPLE TO ‘REVIEW’ YOUR ARTWORK!

One final thought of a philosophical nature:

Whenever an artist pays someone MONEY merely to look at, consider or review their artwork the artist gives the other party tremendous POWER over them.  The artist is conveying a message that their work requires a bribe to be seen, that, somehow, the artists’ work is isn’t worthy of being seen without some form of remuneration first.  The very word remuneration means ‘to pay for services provided,’ yet artists again and again are content to receive no services in return aside from the hope that some self-proclaimed expert has had a look at their work.  This system is like a RELIGION where the artist must make a tithe to The Church of the Gatekeeper in order to buy a chance to potentially reach the audience for their work!

The gallery is nothing without the artist.  An artist without a gallery is still an artist.  Think about this carefully.  A gallery is a gathering place where art is displayed.  It’s a building with walls.  A gallery can be anywhere; it is not a unique thing.  Art, IS a unique thing, it is the creative expression of one soul.  Art can exist without the gallery, but a gallery cannot exist without art, it’s just an empty room.  Certainly a gallery can be more.  A gallery can be a partner, an advocate, a marketer and a promoter.  These are the services galleries should supply at no charge to the artist.  These things should be a part of the 50% commission the gallery receives for the sale of a piece of art.  This is the cost of doing business the same as an artist absorbs the cost of materials, time and presentation of their artworks.  So long as a gallery can extract money from artists for doing nothing or next-to-nothing then they will remain empowered.  But, alas, there will always be more artists than galleries so this system will remain in place, aided and abetted by dumbass artists who willfully throw money at false hope.  Use your power!  Keep your money!