Find the Right Agent or Website for Your Art
Q: Where can I find a list of art agents who represent artists? Trying to create art and market oneself is far too frustrating. Searching website after website is not only time consuming but can also put us at risk. What are we really signing up for or will the attachment of our image really be protected? Will that "Virtual Art Museum" really protect our work? We cannot all get shows at local art galleries. Can you assist me in my search?
A: Your situation is one that many artists find themselves in. Selling art is hard enough, even when someone's doing it for you, but artists without gallery representation or agents can find the task of selling their art especially difficult. The good news is that the Internet provides opportunities for selling art that never before existed. The not so good news, as you point out, is that if you ally yourself with the wrong website or agent, you can waste time, money, lose art, or end up in bad contractual arrangements. The following suggestions will help you to navigate the art agent and online jungles and locate the best prospects for selling art.
But first, understand that an "artist agent" is not much different from an art dealer or art gallery except perhaps that someone calling themselves an agent might not be doing business out of a permanent location. They're all pretty much interchangeable. Many artists confuse agents and galleries (and possibly even believe that agents are easier to get than gallery shows) when in fact, they're pretty much the same. A gallery essentially acts as agent for the artists they represent.
The two most important qualities of any dealer, agent or gallery you work with are that they have experience selling the types of art you make, and that they sell it on a regular basis. Regarding those who present themselves as an agent, evaluate their qualifications not only by speaking with them and studying their resumes and sales experience, but also by speaking with at least two or three artists who they represent-- just like you would do with a gallery. You'll get the most accurate assessment of how much an agent can do for you by speaking with artists who make art similar to yours and have comparable career accomplishments.
If you've never had representation-- agent or otherwise-- and don't have a lot of experience exhibiting, best procedure is to work with someone locally who'll promote your art in the community or region where you live. For example, working with an out-of-town agent or gallery in a major art market like New York or Los Angeles makes little sense if you don't live in either of those cities and are just starting out-- ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE TO PAY TO SHOW OR EXHIBIT YOUR WORK (there's no incentive for them to sell your art if you pay them up front). The competition from New York or Los Angeles artists is too great and the chances for your success are slim. The great majority of successful artists begin by establishing reputations where they live and then branching out from there.
A couple of don'ts: To repeat-- never pay an agent, dealer or gallery money in advance to represent your art, and keep initial contractual obligations to a maximum of one year, but preferably six months. Paying someone money in advance gives them less incentive to sell your art rather than more, because they've already been paid. In fact, it gives them more incentive to sell nothing and then ask for more money in order to continue representing you (and continuing to sell nothing). Plus if they truly believe in your art (and in their ability to sell it), selling it is how they'll make their money. On the contractual side, you don't want to get roped into an exclusive long-term agreement with anyone who turns out not to be able to sell your art, and then have to buy your way out of your legal obligations. Once an agent, dealer or gallery starts selling for you and selling well, then think about extended contracts.
Locating a website where you can show and sell your art is similar to locating an agent or gallery. As with choosing an agent or gallery, you want a website that sells the type of art you make, and you want proof from the website that once you place your art online, it has a reasonable chance of selling. The great majority of successful art websites charge for showing your art or for setting up a gallery of your art, so making sure that they can sell once you pay is especially important.
Have any prospective art website provide names and contact information for several of their artists who make and sell art similar to yours. Contact those artists and find out how satisfied they are with the website's performance. Also request detailed data from websites themselves on how many pieces of art they sell and what types of art sell best. For example, a website may generate a large number of sales, but if you're an American artist who paints watercolors of flowers, and the bulk of the site's revenues come from selling sculptures by Chinese artists, you're probably not going to sell much art.
Another point to keep in mind is that the larger art websites show thousands of works of art by hundreds of artists, and sometimes much more. Simply calculating the odds, the chances of someone buying a work of yours might be one in thousands, or one in tens of thousands. Before contracting with such a website, spend plenty of time on the site looking around, evaluating the quality of art that you'll be competing against, and realistically assessing your chances of selling successfully. Also find out what options these large websites offer for increasing your online profile such as featuring your gallery, placing images of your art on the home page, and so on. Three major websites serving individual artists and worth checking out are Artspan, Absolutearts, and Saatchi Online. FYI, both Saatchi Online and Absolutearts offer free listing options.
Regarding copyright issues, guarding against unauthorized use of your online images is difficult if not impossible unless you're a huge corporation using highly sophisticated and expensive software. Exercise due diligence and do what you can to make sure your images aren't used without your permission, but never use concerns over copyright infringement as an excuse for not showing your art online, or anywhere else for that matter. Remember that your art is your business card-- your single best means of advertising. The more people who see your art, whether in person or online, the greater your chances for making sales. People rarely buy art without seeing it first.
Is a gallery offering you a show? Does someone want to rep your art? Entering into a business relationship? Signing a contract? If you answered yes to any of those questions, read Common Artist Legal Problems and How to Avoid Them.
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