How to Become a Professional Artist: Art Dealers vs Self Promotion

Photo caption: If you learn how to promote your own art, there’s no need to learn how to find an art dealer. You’re in the driver’s seat. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.

An art dealer is someone (or a company) who buys and sells art. Dealers act as the middleman for artists and collectors. A self-promoting artist is the artist who not only creates the artwork, but also markets and sells it directly to their collectors: In other words, they are in charge of their careers. And thus lies the conundrum—Working with dealers vs. self promotion.

It may seem ideal to hire someone who knows the business and has an enormous amount of connections so that you could be free to just paint. The key word in that sentence is seem. The definition of that word explains it all. It is to give the impression of something. 

Please know that we understand your dream, your dream to become a professional artist. In light of that, we’re not going to waste time on giving you impressions. Let’s look at some facts on both working with dealers and promoting yourself as an artist.

Working with Art Dealers

We’ve defined dealers as being the intermediary between artists and collectors. These are professional people with connections—a LOT of them. They have the ability to connect you, the artist, with clients who would love to purchase (and even collect) your work. 

Dealers and gallery owners know their clientele. It’s their business to know them, to know their likes and dislikes, their preferences of color palette, style, and artist. 

It’s also their business to know you as the artist. They not only know your painting style and voice, they also know why you paint what you paint. They know the story behind your paintings. And they know that your story is what actually sells your paintings. Establishing these connections is a huge plus for working with dealers

When they started their art careers, both Elli and Dimitra Milan worked with a dealer or publisher. Elli and John Milan collaborated as artists for many years producing art that they sold to a Canadian art dealer. He escalated their success by getting their art in galleries all over the world. Dimitra worked with a publisher who helped establish her name in the art world. 

Elli talks about the experience she and John had when they worked with a dealer. That whimsical dream of just doing art is not at all what she describes. Painting was their FULL-TIME JOB. They produced between 60-100 paintings each month averaging about 20 each week. 

As they collaborated on these paintings they developed a type of assembly line producing amazing artwork that became sought after by a growing number of collectors. They saw great success. 

But their success probably didn’t manifest in the way that most people would think. As an example, Elli states that a piece of art may retail for $4,000. However, you as the artist may see only $600 - $1,000 of that sale.

Another thing to remember is that while the dealer handles the majority of the business and marketing end of things, you will still need to work in that arena as well. You’ll have openings to attend, communication to perfect with your dealer, and most of all, connections to make with your own contacts and the dealers you work with. 

So much for the just paint mindset.

The Self-Promoting Artist

As a self-promoting artist, you’ll need to balance both worlds—the artist and the business. If you aren’t familiar with websites and social media, you’ll need to get on top of it all and stay on top because it’s constantly changing. 

You’ll also need to be a copywriter (to market your art), a webmaster (maybe not a web developer or designer, but at least to become familiar with your website and SEO), a social media expert (and keep up with the changes and the various platforms), and a salesperson (ready to sell your work face-to-face and online, to connect directly with your collectors). 

There are pros and cons here as well. It will take balance and work, but you’ll also have full control. You can be the “master of your fate” as the saying goes. 

Also, if you don’t get the business end of things, there are hundreds, if not thousands of tutorials, webinars, podcasts, blogs, etc. that can teach you all about online marketing. If you’re a member of the Milan Art Club, you’ll have access to even more educational videos, podcasts and more about the whole realm of your art world—from painting techniques to being business savvy. 

As Dimitra states, the current trend for artists is to self-promote. Brick and mortar businesses are becoming few and far between. With easy access to so many forms of educating yourself on marketing best practices, the only real limitation is yourself. How much time and effort are you willing to put into not only your artwork, but also your marketing? 

You’re the only one who can answer that question. Just know that we have your back! We would love to help you in any way we can to become the professional artist you’ve dreamed of being.

Becoming a Professional Artist: A Combined Effort

Although Elli and John worked extremely hard when they were working with a dealer, Elli also states that it was a great way to get their names out there and to gain loyal collectors. She and John did just paint...and paint...and paint! It took hard work during that time. 

But the beauty of it all was that when they left their dealer, the success of their paintings was theirs. Elli states that as you gain success when working with a dealer, that success remains with you. She says that  “your name and your style and your body of work is attached to that success.”

So, once you’ve gotten in and started working with a dealer, the success you’ll gain will help empower you to step out and begin self-promoting. You’ll need to promote yourself EVERYWHERE. You’ll need to be consistently promoting yourself as an artist and your artwork. Show it on all social platforms, create a stellar website, and wherever you can to get face-to-face with your collectors. But it will be YOURS! 

Final Thoughts on Art Dealers Vs. Self-Promotion

Our purpose is to educate and most of all inspire and empower artists to become the world changers they were meant to be! Working with dealers vs. self-promotion is something you’ll need to weigh out for yourself. 

There are pros and cons to all things. We know you will dedicate yourself to pursuing your dream and doing all that it takes to make it a reality!

If you’d like to learn more about promoting your art and developing your career, try a FREE membership to MAI Art Club. It’s the only social learning platform designed to teach artists all they need to know to reach their artistic dreams.

Read More About Taking Control of Your Art Career

What I Wish I Knew as a Beginner Artist

5 Things to Know About Elli’s Professional Journey

5 Ways Artists Become Influencers

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