How to Become an Art Dealer

By TACP Staff on August 13th, 2019

An art dealer is a highly-specialized business person; an individual with an extensive passion for and knowledge of the multi-dimensional world of art. Typically an art dealer is the liaison between an artist or buyer and their client; and traditionally conduct business through a gallery.

1. Getting Started as an Art Dealer

Learn the Basics of the Industry

Art dealers facilitate the sale of artists’ work to museums, galleries, corporations and collectors by representing artists, displaying their work and negotiating sales; in person or through an auction house.  Art dealers play a major part in the development of an artist’s career.

For individuals interested in becoming an art dealer (or art broker), it is important that you learn to value and evaluate any art you intend to sell. On the whole, most art dealers focus on one particular type of art. For example, modern sculptures from artists like Damian Ortega or contemporary paintings by Damien Hirst or Marina Abramovic.  You may enjoy the Old Masters of the Golden Age or Renaissance art. No matter the area of specialty, it is much easier to focus your efforts on a specific area instead of trying to become an expert on the vastness of artwork that has been produced or is being created today.

Once you choose an area of focus, you should be able to recognize the author of a piece, know what is popular, and have the ability to spot good pieces in other people’s art collections or at auction. You should also have a thorough knowledge of the audience you are working with.

As an art dealer, you will also need to work very closely with art collectors and individual customers who plan on buying art for their homes, restaurants, offices, and other places where art is appreciated. Just like any other sales job, a career as an art dealer is a business about the artists and the client, so you need to be prepared for the ups and downs that may affect the demand and supply of artwork.  These changes could be anything from economic changes to a client’s swaying moods or overnight decisions that weren’t planned. Patience is very important for an art dealer to possess, and the ability to know when to close a deal is also something an art dealer should focus their efforts on developing.

2. Build a Deep Understanding of Art

Knowledge, Originality, & Passion Are Essential Qualifications

While just about anyone can strike up an interest in art, there are several essential skills you must possess in order to make it as a successful art dealer. It is very important to have deep knowledge and understanding of your specific area of art, but it is also vital that you understand the way that people choose to enjoy art as well.  Additionally, art dealers must be great multi-taskers and have a grasp of marketing and business in the art world. Good communication and the ability to mediate between museum, artist and the public is also vital.

Art dealers must also be skilled in public relations and fundraising and have good writing skills.

Although a degree is not necessary to become an art dealer, many businesses and larger corporations prefer individuals with a postsecondary or advanced degree in fine art or in art history. A degree in art history provides individuals with an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of art, from a sculpture created in the early 1800s to contemporary artwork created with photography.  You will learn how pop art and conceptualism changed an era, what minimalism is, and about the Fluxus Movement of the 1960s.   Some programs require an internship which gives students valuable experience while working under the guidance of a professional.  Students will also benefit from taking courses in marketing and business to gain an understanding of the financial aspects of the business.

Whether you plan on working with individuals, companies, or families who have the same level of understanding about art as you do or working with those who may need your guidance, knowledge is key within the industry. You may choose to study independently or perhaps work towards a degree, but either way, continuing education should be something you set aside both time and money to accomplish.

Aside from a thorough knowledge about your chosen area of art, you must be an art lover to be successful in the industry. If you are simply interested in entering this career path to make money, you may want to find another area of expertise. That’s because money may come and go, as you will work in an industry that can be fickle. But with enthusiasm and originality, you can find a way to stand out from the crowd and build your client base.

After all, doing what you love is an ultimate goal for many people across the globe, but as an art dealer, you actually have the opportunity to do just that. While it does take a great deal of time and energy to gain recognition in the art world, with enough passion, perseverance, effort, and backbone you can achieve the respect from industry insiders. By staying focused, patient and maintaining your passion and knowledge of art, you will have the best chance at becoming a successful art dealer.

3. Gain Experience & Build Industry Connections

Getting Your Foot in the Door Can Be Difficult

Getting started as an art dealer requires some participation in the art world. Some individuals intern while in school at art galleries or museums, others apply for a job as an assistant in a gallery upon graduation. Some who are auction house curators may decide to open a gallery of their own after years of experience under the guidance of other like-minded art dealers and artists.  Many will take jobs in the marketing department of a gallery, or as a registrar or archivist in a museum, or selling art books in a bookstore. Some will even sweep floors just to get their foot in the door.  Some artists find they have the marketing and business skills necessary to sell their own art and use their contacts to develop a body of work to represent. No matter what route you take, hard work and staying current with art trends and new artists is a given as the art dealer career field can be very competitive.

The artworld is highly competitive and notoriously difficult to break in to. But that shouldn’t keep you from making industry connections. Whether you choose to apply for an internship to work with other local art dealers or you take a position with a local gallery to gain more experience, networking is key for a successful art dealer. This is the best way to meet collectors, clients and other dealers that you may be working with in the future.

Another way to network is by joining art organizations and associations, or non-profit art centers that provide exhibition space for new or cutting edge art. Government agencies and other art groups also offer opportunities to network and can be found in most states and larger cities.  In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 80 organizations for artists and aspiring art dealers to join or gain contacts through exhibitions and regional art fairs.

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