Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ethical Dilemma

Here's a true story I heard recently that offers a valuable lesson for all of us artists dealing with galleries.

A woman came in to a gallery and really liked a particular painting by a local artist. But instead of buying it, she went home, googled the artist's name, found her website and contact info, and called the artist to ask if she could purchase the painting directly from the artist. I'm sure she thought she could get the painting for a lower price because they were cutting out the middle man -- the gallery. 

Wisely, the artist very politely thanked the woman for her interest and then equally politely told her that all sales needed to go through the gallery. The potential buyer never returned to the gallery to buy the painting. So in being honest, the artist (and the gallery) lost a sale. But what would the artist have lost if she'd gone the other way?

Obviously, if the gallery had found out about it, she probably would have lost her chances of ever selling in the gallery again. Gallery owners do talk to one another, so she may also have lost her reputation, at least in the general region where she lives. And in gaining the reputation among collectors as someone who is willing to undercut the price of her work, she might have also destroyed the long-term monetary value in her work. That seems like a lot to lose for the price of one painting.

What do you think? Did she make the right call? Have you ever been faced with an ethical dilemma?


  1. I have had other artist friends tell me of similar experiences. Absolutely, the artist made the right decision. An artist makes an honest commitment when they contract with a gallery and must build a reputation as a loyal partner! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Of course she made the right call. Reputation is far more valuable than any single sale in my book.
    Thanks for the reminder Jennifer!

  3. It is a mutual business friendship between the artist and the gallery. Any artists that does not do the honourable and respectful thing by their gallery should reassess the value of being represented. We can't do it all. Galleries are doing it together these days and we should respect them.

  4. What if the artist handled the sale at the same price or one very close to the gallery price and then the artist paid part of the proceeds to the gallery? In other words, the gallery still gets compensated for showing the work that led the sale and neither the artist or the gallery miss out on the sale.

  5. Like any other profession ethics comes into play when there is a clash of interests, but I think the beauty of art, as a humane profession, is to let morality stand on top. I have to concede though that some galleries are contaminated by greed and favoritism.

  6. Artists do not need to be greedy. Sell the painting to the admirer and give the percentage to the gallery. Because the gallery is where the viewer saw the painting.