Art dealers are entrepreneurs who facilitate the purchase and sale of art, usually through art galleries. They rarely purchase the art themselves, but display it in their showrooms. When paintings sell, art dealers handle the transaction and forward the sale price, minus their commission, to the artist. Art dealers typically take a commission of anywhere from twenty-five to fifty percent of the sale price of a work of art. The more prestigious the gallery, the higher commission they can command, and the more competition there will be to be displayed in their showrooms.
Good art dealers can discover an artist and make them famous. They can almost be considered the artist equivalent of the 'agent'; some popular artists have actual agents to represent them, but most working artists must get similar services from the galleries or art dealers that show their work. Some art dealers will insist on an exclusive arrangement with an artist; that is, that their gallery be the only one allowed to show and sell his or her artwork. Others may require that an artist not display works in a gallery within a certain distance.
Art dealers can prove invaluable to the artist who isn't interested in the business aspect of marketing art. Art dealers are often gregarious, enjoy the social aspects of art sales, and typically are conversant with the market, trends and prices. They know the local collectors and what they like, they enjoy creating events to bring people to their gallery, and they know how to appeal to the media. For artists who have trouble 'tooting their own horn', a relationship with a well-connected, socially-adept art dealer can be the difference between having an art career and dabbling in your spare time while working a 'day job' to pay the bills.
Art dealers usually specialize in a period, a style or a theme, such as 'southwestern art' or 'wildlife art'. Many art dealers are open to works by new artists, since everyone wants to be the one who discovers the Next New Thing. Before signing an agreement with an art gallery, a new artist would be wise to talk to other artists the gallery represents. Because of fluctuations in the market and the general unease in the economy, not all art dealers are as quick to pay artists for their share of sales as they should be. Locking in a contractual relationship to a slow-paying gallery is an aggravation to be avoided if at all possible.