When I attended Pratt Institute in the late 1980s, I was intimidated by shows at art galleries. I went to lots of them, but I always had the impression that gallery owners weren’t happy to see young students like me wander through the door. I’ve never been very eloquent about discussing art; I feel like I’m shoveling out a lot of BS. So when I graduated with a bachelor’s in Painting, I was deeply intimated by the process of asking gallery owners to represent me.
That was decades ago. I still paint, my art continues to develop, but I don’t bother trying to get shows. I replaced that desire with the goal of snagging a literary agent. By the time I’d written my first book, I no longer lived in New York City. I’ve often thought that my Omaha, Neb address was part of the reason I couldn’t get the literary agents to read my books (most live in NYC). But thanks to Amazon, it now no longer matters that I don't have an agent. Epublishing has served me well; I've sold well over 50,000 copies of my self-published books in just a couple of years. So I'm a fan of online sales.
Today I read art critic Jerry Saltz’s article, “The Death of the Gallery Show,” in New York Magazine where he laments the rise of online art auctions because the public never gets the chance to wander through an exhibition of that artist, to see the artist’s works juxtaposed together. Mr. Saltz says he goes to 1,560 NYC gallery shows a year. A year. That is incredible.
Reading his article brought me back to my school days, and to the research I did while writing my second mystery novel, which begins with a death in a Williamsburg art gallery (Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries)). And as I read Saltz’s defense of art galleries, in spite of the fact that poor artists might not get to NYC to see the art, I started to think the art world was following in the footsteps of the publishing world: both had NYC as their center and a small tribe of New Yorkers decided who was in and who was out.
But after mulling over his argument for a few hours, I’ve decided that what’s lost by art galleries disappearing from Chelsea is what’s gained for Indie writers like me. In online art galleries, even non-represented artists get to sell their art, so it sounds like the democratization of the art world. But only for the artists. For art lovers, the opposite is happening. As Saltz points out, auctions keep art away from everyone except the collector. Even though I felt intimidated going to art galleries as a young student, I still went. I got to see some amazing art. I couldn’t buy the art, but I could still be influenced by what I saw on those walls. Jerry Saltz goes to 1,560 shows a year, but he's not buying something at each show (at least, I assume he's not, on an art critic's salary.) He's just looking and enjoying.
There’s no doubt that Amazon, for all its many flaws, has democratized the publishing world for writers like me. But readers, too, get to read more books. Books that literary agents didn't think they would like. I may not make my living off my books (yet), but I'm still a success. Without an agent or publisher and with a marketing budget of less than $200, the first book in my mystery series (Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)) sold 20,000 copies last year. Murder with Art sales are steady, too.Living outside the city has its disadvantages for agent-less novelists. Besides the obvious one, (not living in the city), some bookstores only carry consignment books for local authors, and though I’m from New York I no longer count as local. An art gallery would let me show from afar, but of course they have years of experience working with out-of-town artists. I imagine bookstores will get there eventually. More than anything, Saltz’s article made me feel my absence from my favorite city in the world. He made me miss living on campus at Pratt. He made me want to gallery hop. He made me worry that one of the defining traits of the city, art galleries, might be an endangered species. Let’s hope he’s wrong.