What Do Art Dealers Do, and How Do You Work with One?
Jan 5, 2022
Art dealers buy and sell artwork. That was easy, but as you might expect, there is more to it than that.
The art market can get complicated. It deals in one-of-a-kind works, things that can’t be replicated. If there is a painting you want, you can’t necessarily go to a store and buy it. If someone else owns it and they aren’t selling, you are out of luck. And while there might be paintings that are similar, there isn’t going to be another painting just like that.
And it isn’t always easy to find where a painting is for sale or know what paintings are available to purchase at any given moment.
To make matters more difficult, art can also cost quite a bit of money, and its value goes up and down over time. And whenever people are putting down a lot of money for something that might change in value, they need to be sure that they are making a smart move.
So to get the art you want, you need to know what art is available. That means needing to have your finger on the pulse of all the many sellers of art at a given time. You need to know people, you need to have connections, and you need to have the expertise to know when a purchase makes sense on the money side and when it doesn’t.
That’s a lot for someone to do well as a hobby or side hustle. It’s the kind of thing that takes an expert. And that’s really what an art dealer is: they are an expert buyer and seller of artwork.
What Does an Art Dealer Do?
So what is the day-to-day of an art dealer like?
- Network and connect with artists and other art sellers and buyers
- Work with clients to buy and sell for them
- Research the market
- Buy and sell artwork
First and foremost, an art dealer networks with others in the art world. Their career is one of making connections with people who might be buying and selling artwork. Artists, gallerists, museums, private collectors, auction houses, and more. Anyone who is buying and selling a lot of art.
They also need to network with clients. An art dealer will often procure work for others, anticipating their needs and the market at the same time.
On top of networking, art dealers need to be on the lookout for art. But that is such an enormous field that they will typically have a specialty. For instance, an art dealer might focus exclusively on a single genre, style, region, or period. This allows them to narrow their search and become experts.
A lot of an art dealer’s time is spent going to art fairs, galleries, auctions and other venues where they can find work and connect with artists, art buyers and other specialists. This element of searching for art is one of the most attractive parts of the art dealer’s lifestyle.
These activities feed into the main one: buying and selling art.
When an art dealer purchases a work, they are looking to sell it later on. They might own a gallery or have clients that they sell directly to. Either way, they are sensitive to making a profit. Unlike other art collectors, an art dealer isn’t trying to put together a great collection. They are trying to make money on the turn around.
An art dealer will typically have a thorough understanding of the work in their field that is available, and they will make decisions on whether or not to buy these pieces based on market demands, likely changes in price, and similar factors.
But art dealers also serve another role in the art world. As major patrons of the arts, they often take a lot of responsibility for fostering the marketplace — promoting new voices, bringing artists together, and connecting people. This ensures that the art world thrives.
Art Dealer Qualifications
There is no official certification you need to become an art dealer, though many have an education in fine art or art history (more rarely, art business). Many are, or have been, artists themselves.
Good places to begin gaining experience are in entry-level jobs at galleries. Here, you can gain a sense of what to look for in paintings, and you can start building relationships with people in the art world.
An art dealer must always be apprised of the current mood in the market and the trends just around the corner.
That means art dealers go through an ongoing education throughout their careers, with their main qualification being their understanding of the market. But this understanding can’t be merely intellectual. They also need a keen eye for art and that intuition to trust a discovery that they make.
When someone can merge that intellectual understanding and intuitive feeling with a web of interpersonal connections in the art market, they have all the makings of a great art dealer.
How Do You Work with an Art Dealer
Artists and art buyers work with art dealers for obvious reasons. A dealer can be the connection an artist needs to get their work into an important exhibition or collection. For a buyer, a dealer means access to an expert’s curated collection that they can purchase from.
You can find art dealers by frequenting galleries and asking for information or visiting membership organization websites like the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA).
This will get you in contact with art dealers who may or may not have space for a new artist or client. They may, they may not — but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Art Dealers: The Facilitators of the Art World
Often, art dealers are working behind the scenes to get galleries new work and help artists reach new heights in their career. Their task is to act as the connective tissue that brings the art world together.
And the great art dealers can be massively influential on the scene. Powerful dealers are capable of setting trends almost single handedly — that’s how important their work is.
Courtney Christensen, Christopher Barnekow, Kathleen Guzman, Alasdair Nichol