“I’m old. I don’t care anymore. I just want to see art continue,” gallery owner Karyn Gabaldon said to a crowd of more than 30 artists gathered in her eponymous gallery on Main Avenue across from the Strater Hotel on Oct. 23. It was the first of two lectures.
The audience came to learn how to make a living as an artist, something Gabaldon has been doing for 25 years, first as a potter and now as a painter and gallery owner. Her husband is a jazz musician and artist. They have no trust fund. They don’t live on an inheritance.
“We’ve survived with lots of hard work and trust and by following our intuition,” she said. “You have to be fearless. You have to go for it.”
Gabaldon shared her six rules for living as an artist:
• You have to have passion.
• There is no blame. It’s no one’s fault.
• You must endure.
• Don’t wait for anybody else to discover you.
• Surround yourself with supportive people.
• Be humble.
“The most important thing is actually doing it, doing the work, in the studio,” Gabaldon said.
She realizes that this is sometimes the hardest part, particularly for an artist who owns her own gallery and volunteers her time to share her experience with others. But as a gallery owner, she said that she can tell the difference between someone who paints once a month, once a week or every day. If an artist is only making work periodically, they cannot compete against someone who is making work every day.
Gabaldon shared a story from one of her first studio/gallery locations.
“One dreary February, I made $10 for the entire month. That is when I realized that art is a business,” she said.
She asked the crowd to name the highest-paid living artist. Many names were thrown out, from Jeff Koons to Damien Hirst, but no one mentioned the marketing genius Thomas Kinkade, who Gabaldon said made $40 million last year. According to media reports, Kinkade actually earned $53 million between 1997 and May 2005. Either way, it’s a lot of money compared to the earnings of most of the aspiring artists who sat in Gabaldon’s gallery.
The point Gabaldon made is that artists should be aware of the market, keep up with trends by subscribing to magazines and understand marketing. She then lamented all the changes in the art market locally.
“Ten years ago, there were 18 galleries in Durango. Today there are really only seven,” Gabaldon said. “The rents are more expensive downtown.”
She also said that the Internet has changed the art world. Customers come in and take pictures of the work with their phones and then look up the artists on the Internet. For that reason, Gabaldon will not represent an artist if he or she has his or her own Web site from which he or she sells artwork. She also learned in her first year at her current location that she cannot represent local artists.
“I can’t afford it. I tried to have a local artist in here every month, and I lost money. People would come in and see the work and then go direct to the artist at their studio to buy,” Gabaldon said.
She got down to the nitty gritty this Tuesday, when she continued the workshop. She discussed pricing, the difference between wholesale and retail and how to get into a gallery. She said that one does not approach a gallery by carrying his or her paintings in their arms and saying I just need somewhere to hang my art. Most galleries want to see digital images on a CD.
Gabaldon discussed the consignment agreement, sharing her personal gallery contract with the artists, explaining the standard 50 percent to the artist, 50 percent to the gallery arrangement. She talked about the gallery-artist relationship as a partnership.
“I’ve had artists who bring their work to me, and I never see them again,” she said.
She also shared a wealth of information about grants available to artists locally and regionally. Though by a show of hands, no one in attendance took the plunge to apply for those funds.
“There is an art to selling art,” Gabaldon concluded. “You have to ask. Don’t be afraid.”
firstname.lastname@example.org Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts and a member of the International Art Critics Association.