Museum or Gallery?

Gallery vs. Museum Some people seem to know everything about the “art world”. You meet them at a friend’s house or at a coffee shop. They joke about Duchamp and his pipe that isn’t a pipe or his fountain that’s really just a urinal. Their offhand familiarity with the world of high art makes you worry there’s a gap in your education.

Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s them.

Some people just get really into art. It’s their thing. The art world is their world.

For most of us however this is not the case.

In the interest of beginning at the beginning with some information about the arts, here’s a little crash course on a basic but important facet of the art world – the difference between an art gallery and an art museum. If you already know the difference, skip down to the bottom of this article for the big, hilarious, better-than-you-can-even-imagine conclusion.

Ok. Nine out of ten people just skipped to the last sentence and they’re irked and/or sadly disappointed that there is no punch-line. Sorry. But, in your face you know-it-alls.

To get down to business…the distinction between a gallery and a museum comes down to one thing. Galleries sell art work. Museums do not. A gallery will offer their space to an artist so that the painter or photographer can reach an audience. That audience will have a chance to view the work while it hangs in the gallery. Every piece of art on the walls of a gallery is for sale.

Museums, on the other hand, buy works from galleries or directly from artists. Generally speaking, artists begin by showing their work in galleries and, if they successfully make a name for themselves, move up into the museum realm. Most artists don’t get that far, so galleries remain the most important art spaces for a majority of painters, photographers, sculptors, and collage artists. The life of an artist is famously difficult, sometimes tragic. Galleries help make this suffering possible. Ahem, I mean, galleries really make the art world possible.

If there were no place to sell paintings, there would be no professional painters. Plain and simple.  

So, next time you visit a museum, remember that the works there are created by people who have already “made it”. And next time you stop into a gallery, remember that the artist showing there is still on her way, or on his way. If you like what you see, find a way to let the artist know – or, go ahead, buy a painting.

In the end, art is about participation. Don’t be afraid to get into it, even if you don’t technically know the difference between Duchamp’s fountain and a urinal.