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If you spend your free hours at the art museum instead of the mall, if you notice the little details in the scenes around you, if a color isn't just red but cerise or cranberry, you might look into a career as an art dealer. Art dealers own or just work at art galleries, the places where the public gets to see and buy the works of up-and-coming artists. They must be able to function in two very different worlds. One is the artistic world, where the dealer must know a lot about art. The other is the business world, where attention to finance, marketing, and communication takes precedence.

Art dealers must keep up with trends. They have to anticipate what the public wants to buy and which artists are going to be in demand. Most dealers specialize in one area of art—contemporary, expressionism, or pop art, for example. Dealers in successful galleries have a clientele to whom they sell artistic works. A dealer with a lot of contacts will be able to sell almost everything that comes into the gallery. Dealers must spend time cultivating these customers, meeting them at parties, auctions, and gallery openings.

Artists approach dealers by meeting them in person or sending the dealer slides of their work. Most dealers want to work with established artists, so they look for artists who have been in shows or exhibits and have had good reviews, or who have a good track record of selling.

Once the art dealer decides to buy, the art must be priced. The artist holds in his or her hand a work that took years of practicing the craft and many hours to produce. The piece may also have emotional significance. The art dealer looks at the piece and thinks about its potential customers. The dealer has to know if the piece represents a trend that is on the rise or one that is falling out of favor. The dealer adds in the cost of running the gallery and the “rent” for the space until the piece is sold. Then the dealer figures in the reputation of the artist.

The dealer and the artist sign a contract, which includes such terms as the amount of the commission, the length of time the art will be displayed, whether the artist can display work in other galleries, what kind of advertising will be done, and at what point the artist will be compensated.

Art galleries are the places where artists meet their prospective buyers. Galleries hold shows, either of a single artist or a group of artists. The public is invited to these showings, and refreshments are usually provided. The artists mingle with the public to talk about their work. This personal touch often leads to sales or commissions.

The art dealer has to run the gallery in a businesslike way. The dealer makes sure that everything is displayed in an attractive manner. Walls may have to be moved and lighting changed with each new display. The dealer hangs art so the pieces complement each other. In addition, the dealer has to handle the paperwork for the artist and for the customer. Computers are necessary for keeping track of the client base.

Art galleries are found all over the country, but the most successful ones are often in big cities, where most of the potential buyers live. Many dealers get their start by working in small galleries, where they learn the rules of the business. With a little training, they are ready to work in big city galleries. Galleries have reputations. Some are known to be better places to display certain types of artwork than others. A dealer will take time to do some investigation in order to become associated with a good gallery.

Education and Training

There are no formal educational requirements to be an art dealer. Many people work their way into this field by starting at the bottom. Your first job in an art gallery may be framing, packaging art to ship, or building display tables. Whatever it is, pay attention as you work and learn all you can about the gallery and about art.

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