What’s a Contemporary Artist to Do?

By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin, freelance writer and art enthusiast

Art, it’s everywhere, and yet how often do we really pay attention to it? The industry behind the thought-provoking pretties is a $66 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) behemoth that is traditionally a very exclusive, relationship- driven, face-to-face business. Pieces range in price from a few dollars, to a few hundred million dollars and can be difficult to sell, regulate or even understand. Much like the music and publishing industries before it, the future of fine art may be changing.

Divided into categories, art is what you hang on the refrigerator, buy at an art fair and purchase at Hobby Lobby, to differentiate your first apartment from your old college dorm room. Then there’s the gallery-find known as “fine art.” Smart fine painters and sculptors are turning to the internet to boost gallery business or bypass galleries altogether. Just like iTunes and book self publishing, artists can now erase the gate keeper AKA the broker and break the gallery mold by posting directly online.

“Most gallery owners [and artists] only know the old model,” according to artist and author, Kris Gebhardt. Gebhardt has been immersed in the art industry for the last ten years or so. As an avid painter, he needed somewhere to display — and maybe sell — his large format pieces. Following that archaic system, he and his wife, fellow artist Angela Gebhardt, opened a gallery in the NuLu district of downtown Louisville, Kentucky. For the Gebhardts it is not just about the sale, but “it’s about getting the art to the right person.” Online art means better service for the aficionado and a much wider audience to appreciate, connect with and admire pieces.

The Gebhardts found gallery ownership came with a high overhead. Many are little more than a tourist attraction. Urban areas and trendy downtown districts have been known to subsidize galleries as a destination to bring people for art trolley trots and something to do on a Friday night. But few galleries have this arrangement and even fewer visitors make purchases, being more interested in the free canapés and a moment of Zin.

So what’s a contemporary fine artist to do? Websites like Saatchi Art, Artsy, artnet, Artspace and others have come on the scene and showcase high end art for sale. When asked why he posts online he said, “We just needed to get [our] work to a broader audience.” Internet art sites, Gebhardt says, “… are more international — urban even.” It no longer made sense to operate a gallery in NuLu when he could post to the Saatchi site and reach people all over the world, 24 hours a day. In addition to digital displays, the Gebhardts have increased their social media presence, as well. Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn have all proven to be successful means of sharing their art. “We have 7,260 connections on LinkedIn alone,” said Gebhardt.

The art sites by themselves may not sell paintings. The artist must be marketer, publicist and social media strategist all wrapped up in one. It doesn’t hurt to be a bit of a salesperson, too. There’s still a need to take the product where the buyers are. That’s why the Gebhardts also display in prestigious shows like Spectrum, Red Dot, Art Miami and Pulse. It’s not a cheap endeavor, but a potential buyer will hear angels begin to sing when standing five to seven feet away from a painting that “gets” them. While the art enthusiast might have a moment with your masterpiece on the five inch screen of an iPhone — if the fruit of your labor stands over five feet tall — like many of the pieces by both Gebhardts — nothing beats seeing a powerful piece in person for it to be truly appreciated.

As far as Kris and Angela are concerned, the future of the art industry for painters and sculptors who want to build a brand that they control and build a following at the same time includes digital and traditional exhibition. All roads that put their work in front of potential collectors are fair game. Like the music industry and publishing, the art world’s time-tested avenues aren’t always the best route, but new paths can be forged to create awareness and maybe even sell a piece or two.

Don’t Curse The Fool Thats Willing

By Kris Gebhardt

Mixed media 37″ by 41″

On Exhibit SPECTRUM Miami — Nov. 30 — Dec 4 — During Art Basel Week 2016