What are Art Dealers?

Art dealers are businesspeople who help people buy and sell art, usually through galleries. They rarely buy the art themselves, preferring instead to display it in their showrooms. When paintings sell, art dealers handle the transaction and pass the proceeds to the artist, minus their commission. A commission of twenty-five to fifty percent of the sale price of a work of art is typical for art dealers. The more prestigious the gallery, the higher the commission they can charge, and the more competition for space in their showrooms.

A good art dealer can help an artist become well-known. They’re almost the artist’s equivalent of an agent; while some well-known artists have their own agents, most working artists must rely on the galleries or art dealers who show their work for similar services. Some art dealers will demand an exclusive deal with an artist, meaning that their gallery will be the only one permitted to show and sell the artist’s work. Others may stipulate that an artist’s work must not be displayed within a certain distance of a gallery.

Art dealers can be extremely useful to artists who aren’t interested in the business side of marketing their work. Art dealers are typically gregarious, enjoy the social aspects of art sales, and are well-versed in market conditions, trends, and prices. They know who the local collectors are and what they like, they enjoy putting on events to attract visitors to their gallery, and they know how to work the media. A relationship with a well-connected, socially adept art dealer can be the difference between having an art career and dabbling in your spare time while working a ‘day job’ to pay the bills for artists who have trouble ‘tooting their own horn.’

‘Southwestern art’ or ‘wildlife art’ are examples of art dealers who specialize in a period, a style, or a theme. Because everyone wants to be the first to discover the Next Big Thing, many art dealers are open to works new artists. Before signing a contract with an art gallery, a new artist should speak with the gallery’s other artists. Because of market fluctuations and general economic uncertainty, not all art dealers pay artists as quickly as they should for their share of sales. Locking yourself into a contract with a slow-paying gallery is a hassle that should be avoided if at all possible.