What is an Art Gallery

What Is an Art Gallery? – Types of Art Galleries vs. Museums

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What is an art gallery? These well-known places around the world have not actually been around all that long in terms of human history, so let’s have a look at them. In this article, we will look at what art galleries are in the first place, their short history, the difference between a gallery and a museum, some concerns about art galleries, how to get into an art gallery, and the way in which the internet has changed the art world. Let’s dive straight into it and discuss art galleries!



What Is an Art Gallery?

A question such as this may seem like a rather obvious thing, but it’s worth looking into some of what may seem to be obvious to learn more about what it, because it often isn’t as obvious as it initially appears. However, let’s start with the basics. What is an art gallery in simple terms? An art gallery is essentially a location that could be a single room or an entire building that is dedicated to visual artworks. We will look at the history of art galleries in some depth below, but it is worth quickly stating that the earliest galleries were the property of the monarchy or aristocracy, and they were not intended for public display.

Things started to change with the advent of public museums and then the commercial art gallery.

In the contemporary era, an art gallery is a business. It is specifically for profit, and it allows for the display and sale of art. If you have asked a question like: how do art galleries make money? They make it by taking commissions. They receive a percentage of every single artwork that they sell. They are not there to produce art, but to advertise artworks and to lend them the prestige that comes with an art gallery.

Difference Between Gallery and Museum

Art galleries maintain a certain relationship between artists and art collectors, and they can often be the locations from which the value of art is determined. They are, in many ways, the trendsetters in terms of which artworks fetch the highest prices from various artists. However, not all art galleries are the same, and there are actually many different types of art galleries as we will discuss below. So, let’s have a look.


Different Types of Art Galleries

There are a number of different types of art galleries. All of them essentially fulfill the same function, which is the exhibition of artworks, but they all do so for different reasons. So, let’s have a look at some of the most common types:

Art Galleries

  • Commercial art galleries. These galleries are likely the most common and they are focused on the marketing and sale of artworks for profit. These are for-profit businesses, and they generally operate by taking a cut of every sale. They serve as the middleman between the artist and the collector, and they typically form relationships between each of them and attempt to set trends in art purchasing.
  • Non-profit art galleries. These galleries are not focused on profit and are instead intended to highlight artists. Many of these galleries are geared towards underrepresented artists in the world, and they typically survive through donations and memberships. Many are also able to receive grants because of their purpose being geared toward celebrating art rather than profiting from it.
  • Artist-run art galleries. These galleries are run and operated by the artists themselves, and so there is usually no middleman between the collector and the artist. Many of them are self-funded or run through cooperative systems. These art galleries also allow artists to network with one another to form stronger artistic communities.
  • Vanity art galleries. These galleries should be avoided. These kinds of vanity artistic companies operate in every medium, such as vanity presses in book publishing. These locations typically ask for money upfront to be allowed to showcase art. This means that they do not make money by selling art, but by taking money from artists. They have no incentive to sell and are generally considered to be low quality, as they will exhibit anyone who can pay, and they are also often seen as predatory by artists.

These are the main types of art galleries. It is not a comprehensive list, but rather a general array of those that one is most likely to find. The commercial art gallery is likely the one that most associate the term “art gallery” with though.


A Brief History of Art Galleries

In the earliest days of human art, all art was generally exhibited for public consumption. Art would later become a more formalized career, and it became the purview of the wealthy. This can be seen in the way in which much of the art from periods such as the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods was directly commissioned. However, the Renaissance period led to the beginnings of an individualist philosophy in Europe. This would lead to the wealthy becoming patrons of artists so as to build up large collections of artworks. These art collections were often seen as a sign of prestige.

Many palaces were resplendently decorated in these kinds of artworks.

Things started to change during the 18th century. The beginnings of museums and public art galleries would begin, and many of these early versions were either donated by or confiscated from the aristocratic class. For instance, the Louvre in Paris became a museum in 1793 after it was taken from the monarchy. This period led to art museums and galleries being places in which the public could experience and enjoy art.

Commercial Art Gallery

By the 20th century, new changes had occurred. The commercial art gallery had come into full swing and various galleries catered to specific tastes. The wealthy were no longer only aristocrats, and it became possible for middle-class people to take part in certain parts of the art world. Many art galleries are still geared towards the wealthy, but there has, especially in recent decades, been a move towards more affordable artworks that can be purchased by more than just the extremely wealthy.


The Difference Between a Gallery and a Museum

The difference between a gallery and a museum is both rather simple and rather complicated. These terms can be used interchangeably, as many art museums have the word “gallery” in their name, but the same cannot be applied the other way (or at least not usually). Museums are galleries but galleries are not museums.

Art museum’s exhibit art for public consumption.

These locations can be for-profit companies, but they are often supplemented with donations or public grants. They serve the role of exhibiting artworks that are not meant to be sold. However, there can be a relationship between commercial art galleries and art museums, as art museums can serve as trendsetters that the commercial locations then exploit for profit.

How Do Art Galleries Work

Whereas art galleries are usually there to sell art. They do not all sell art, as has been explained above, but the ones that we generally most associate with the term “art gallery” is the commercial art gallery. These locations, as has been discussed, are there to make money off artworks and they generally do so through commission-based sales. So, that is the main difference between a gallery and a museum.


Concerns About Art Galleries

There are many issues when it comes to art galleries. Some of the most common of these are the exact problems that many tend to expect from them. Art galleries serve as gatekeepers, and if they do not want to work with an unknown artist, it can mean that they will simply block someone new from attempting to enter the art scene. Furthermore, art galleries often reward existing prestige from already famous artists, or they will directly engage in nepotism by working with the friends or relatives of those already in the scene. Other concerns can be in a more capitalistic direction. Commercial art galleries are there to make money off of artists, and they often take a large percentage of the total price of the artwork they are selling.

This does mean that they are incentivized to sell, but they are also incentivized to take as much as they can from artists. There are many other concerns, but these are some of the most common ones.


How to Get into an Art Gallery

Getting into an art gallery is not a particularly simple feat. Art galleries, especially commercial art galleries, are often focused on a certain type of art and a certain type of buyer. These concerns have already been noted above, but they are worth reiterating. So, an artist who wishes to try to get into an art gallery should remember that reality. However, if you were to decide to try it, you need to make sure that your artworks are completely ready before you submit. Never submit something with the promise that “it will be finished later”. It needs to be ready for sale now.

It is also best to have something unique that you can pitch to a gallery because freshness is usually rewarded over simply following the trends set by others.

In addition, it is often considered best to have a strong online presence, attend gallery events, become a patron of a gallery, and generally attempt to network as best as possible with fellow artists as well as collectors and the operators of galleries. One can also attempt to organize one’s own shows or get into smaller local galleries that will likely be easier to get into (and while this may seem like a downgrade from a large national gallery, the art world is relatively small, and word can travel very fast).

Types of Art Galleries

Once you’re then ready, submit your work, always make sure to follow up with the gallery, but be ready for rejection. Rejection is part of being an artist. Just don’t go for a vanity art gallery. They will take anyone, but they offer no prestige, and they will simply take your money because their business model does not revolve around selling to collectors but instead revolves around selling gallery space to artists. They’re the art equivalent of landlords. Do not engage!


The Internet: The New Art Gallery

Art galleries have been in operation for a very long time, but one of the technologies that has most upset the traditional way of doing things has been the internet. There are many issues with art galleries and many people do not particularly care for them, especially the more traditional commercial art gallery scene. This is why many contemporary artists have instead turned towards being their own art gallery. The internet, unlike a physical gallery, and regardless of what certain people (such as NFT advocates) claim, is a place with infinite space and no natural scarcity. All online scarcity is entirely artificial and there is no upward limit on how much can be published and replicated. An image, or a print of an image, could theoretically be sold a million times whereas a physical painting can only be sold to one person at a time.

The internet is now full of places or artists to create an online gallery. There are websites/platforms such as DeviantArt, Instagram, ArtStation, and even Twitter.

In addition, many artists maintain their own websites or Patreon pages from which they can directly sell to the consumer while only losing money from transaction fees. Galleries take a percentage of the actual sale, whereas PayPal takes a far smaller percentage of the amount (and that amount will not arbitrarily change because of how famous you are as an artist).

How Do Art Galleries Make Money

In addition to this, the internet lacks the kind of gatekeeping that one may find at a standard art gallery, but this does also lead to its own issues. For instance, art galleries serve as curated spaces, and if anyone can post to Instagram, then there is no actual curation. As a buyer, you may find it harder to find something good. On the flip side, the internet caters to specific tastes, such as Newgrounds being oriented around nerd culture, FurAffinity for furry-based artworks, and even places like Tumblr can allow for very specific sub-cultures to exhibit their specific wares. It certainly isn’t perfect, but neither are art galleries.


We can now put away the paintbrushes because we are finished with our look at art galleries. In this article, we examined a number of different aspects of art galleries and answered a few questions along the way. What is an art gallery? How do art galleries work? How do art galleries make money? These questions, and more, have been elaborated alongside a history of art galleries and some of the concerns and future areas of these long-standing locales. Hopefully, you learned a good deal about art galleries today, but there is always much more to learn.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is an Art Gallery?

An art gallery is a location in which visual artworks can be both displayed to the public and then sold. While there are art galleries that allow for digital artworks, it is far more common for galleries to sell physical artworks, such as paintings, sculptures, and drawings.


What Are the Different Types of Art Galleries?

There are a variety of different types of art galleries. The most common is likely the commercial art gallery, which takes a percentage of everything sold. However, there are also non-profit galleries, and artist-run galleries, like collectives and cooperatives, and then there are vanity galleries. These last ones should be avoided.


How Do Art Galleries Work?

Practically every art gallery operates in the same way. They are locations in which artworks can be exhibited to the public, generally with a specific customer base. These galleries then, typically, sell these artworks to those who want to buy them. Art galleries are often curated spaces, but not necessarily. Their main function is to showcase art.


How Do Art Galleries Make Money?

Art galleries, depending on the type of art gallery, generally make their money by exhibiting artworks and then collecting a percentage of the total sale. This is the most common variety and can be seen in every commercial art gallery. However, some may operate differently. For instance, artist cooperatives may pool the resources of all the artists so that everyone pays for the space together but then retains all the money from their sales.


How to Get into an Art Gallery?

There are many different ways to get into an art gallery, but it can be a difficult thing to accomplish. Getting into a gallery typically means already having an audience of some description, and so an online presence is generally necessary. In addition, one needs to actually research art galleries to find the ones that align with your art. You need to submit artwork to the gallery, follow up with them, and be ready for rejection, because art galleries tend to have both limited space and a particular taste.

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