Galleries : Behind The Scenes : A gallery owner's perspective
I always ask people who come in to the gallery if they paint. I want to know how to approach a person. Someone who works in a museum or gallery or who studies art understands a lot more than the average person coming in from the street. I want to feel as comfortable with them as they feel with me.
There is really no single way to look at art. My background and what the Willoughby Fine Art gallery represents is traditional realism. It's what I am comfortable with, but that is not an evaluation; it is just a preference.
But the first thing people should look for when they come into a gallery is the initial impact - what affects them, what they can identify with. It's subjective. If you can recognize something, if you're moved by it, that's the first thing you react to.
After the initial reaction, there are some guidelines to determine the quality of a piece of art. In traditional realism, compositional elements are very important. The painting should adhere to certain principles of design and drawing. The perspective should be convincingly represented. The artist should be using quality materials. But as far as how long a painting takes to complete, a successful painting can take place in a matter of minutes, and a failure can take place in months.
Traditional art is timeless. And there's a range within that; every blade of grass doesn't have to be painted, the brushwork, which isn't usually apparent, can sometimes be seen. I have to hang lots of artists together, so I don't prefer the work of an artist who uses color so powerfully that it dominates.
When you enter a gallery, another consideration is the presentation of the artwork. That encompasses a lot. You can see two similar landscapes you like, but if one is in a homemade frame and the other is in a gilded frame by a noted framer, the finer galleries will prefer the latter. Some artists feel that the frame is unimportant, that they don't want their work upstaged. And I always challenge that attitude. The frame lets the viewer know they are dealing with professionals, that certain standards of presentation and quality are being observed.
Our gallery only uses conservation framing for works under glass, such as watercolors or pastels - materials that reduce the damaging effects of the environment. We only use UV protective glass, museum board and rag mat (cotton fiber). We don't use paper mats at all. How can someone tell? They ask. It is appropriate to ask.
Photo by Jon Ollwerther
People can learn things by asking how long the dealer has been in business. Look around at who is represented in the gallery. Notice how are you being treated. Are the gallery representatives excited about the art they sell? It's much easier to sell what you enjoy. We never represent artists whose work we don't enjoy, no matter how successful they are.
And then, once again, it's subjective. Any gallery owner will tell you: Buy what you love.
Willoughby Fine Art, 12 North Water St., Edgartown. Open 11 am-5 pm, seven days a week. In July, open 10 am-10 pm. 508-627-3369.