By Aletta de Wal, Guest Blogger - “Can’t I just hire an agent who will sell whatever I paint and handle the negotiations, details, and paperwork?” In a word, no.
You are always in charge of your art business so you can hire anyone you want to but you, not they, are ultimately responsible for your art sales results.
There are people who can provide help for artists who want to sell their work and collectors who want to buy art, but they do not “take over,” nor should you want them to do so. Some of their services overlap but most have special talents and distinct specialties. Do your research on the person before you make the first contact to find out if they would be a good fit for you.
To assemble your dream sales team, begin by building a stellar career that indicates that you and your work are worth promoting. You cannot usually “hire” arts professionals; if they notice you enough, they make “take you on.” After all, they only make money if you have saleable art that people want to buy.
Titles can be confusing so here is a brief description of several different types of art sales professionals, as well as explanations of how they typically work and for whom.
Art advisors, also known as art consultants or art appraisers have in-depth knowledge of art, art history, and the art world.
Corporate Art Consultants
Some art consultants purchase or lease art for government departments, financial institutions, healthcare facilities and other business organizations in the public and private sectors.
Art curators advise private collectors, museums and sometimes galleries on acquisitions and loans of art. Art curators are similar to art advisors, but (like art appraisers) tend to have formal training and longer résumés.
Note: Art Advisors, Corporate Art Consultants, and Art Curators perform services for art collectors, corporate client, collectors, dealers and museum clients, not for artists, but they are always looking for artists and art that might fit their client base.
Art Licensing Agents
Art licensing agents represent artists whose work is leased by manufacturers for use on products. Art licensing agents may do some or all of the following tasks:
Select work that is appropriate for licensing.
Identify the appropriate retail channels.
Create a sales and marketing plan to promote the artwork.
Promote the art of their contacts in the market.
Negotiate licensing contracts and royalty payments.
Administer contracts for licenses.
Keep up to date on current licensing trends and themes.
Artist representatives are private dealers who represent artists (similar to how a music agent would represent a popular singer) by creating opportunities to sell artwork in exchange for a commission from the artist for each sale.
Artist representatives provide the following services for their artist clients and collector base:
Promote the artist to individual collectors and set up meetings where the artist can meet their collectors.
Advise collectors on the suitability of the artist’s work for their collection and on the value (and potential value) of the artist’s work.
Arrange and produce exhibits for the artist.
Work with the artist to place their art in galleries and museums.
Develop relationships with other art professionals, gallery managers, and owners, and use these relationships to promote the artist.
Work with big names in the art industry to sponsor and hold significant events.
Advise the artist on public relations, coordinate public relations for events and ensure that the artist participates in public relations as part of their marketing strategy.
Provide marketing services for the artist, issuing press releases or writing about the artist and their work.
Arrange promotional support and put together promotional materials that feature the artist and their work.
Gallery dealers are retailers who present quality works of art while guaranteeing its authenticity and archival quality. Dealers cultivate collections usually for a particular type of art. Their connections and relationships are as important as the art they collect. Dealers vary widely in how active a role they take in promoting individual artists and helping to develop their careers.
Gallery dealers and their staff provide the following services to their collector clients:
Share their expert knowledge with collectors.
Exhibit and store an inventory of specific artists or art periods.
Seek out and exhibit the work of artists whose art fits a specific niche audience.
Use a fixed exhibit space or a “pop up” temporary space to demonstrate their expertise and exhibit their art inventory in exchange for a commission percentage of each sale (typically 50%).
Promote selected artists’ work in order to attract new collectors to the gallery and increase sales.
Art Agents and Retailers
Be careful of offers to represent your work for a fee. There are many enterprising “vanity representatives” who charge an upfront fee for exhibits, online galleries and collector publications. This is certainly a valid retail business model but is not always guided by an experienced art professional. The value you receive from such an agreement may vary, but remember that most legitimate art professionals make their money through commissions on work sold, not shown.
And, while it is sometimes difficult to hold back (especially when you are enthusiastic about building your art career) next develop a relationship and get to know people you’d like to work with on a personal basis.
"If an artist is really ambitious, they have to ask themselves 'What is going to make me stand out?' The answer is always the same: great work.
The Internet hasn't changed everything. To have a real career as an artist you still need to find your way into the very intense hierarchy of the art world, and critics, curators, and collectors are still the gatekeepers of that world. They are going to find you if your work is outstanding.”
~John Seed, art explainer
So, show up at their events, but do not approach them as an artist who wants representation or introductions to their clients. Be part of the audience so you can understand whom they serve and whether their audience would be a fit for your art.
Aletta de Wal is the author of “My Real Job is Being an Artist”, she is a successful Artist Advisor and a Certified Visual Coach. Aletta de Wal inspires fine artists to make a better living making art in any economy.
Aletta works with part-time, emerging and full-time artists who are serious about a career in fine arts. Aletta makes make art marketing easier and the business of art simpler. Equal parts artist, educator, and entrepreneur, Aletta has worked with over 4000 artists in groups and 400+ individually.
Through her coaching, seminars, and books, artists in the vibrant online community learn to be focused, organized and confident in all art business matters. Her clients agree that she inspires them to do the work to be successful, provides the detail to take specific action and supports them through the ups and downs of life as a working artist. Her website is www.comistcareertraining.com.