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 myself is way too frustrating. Searching online, listing my art on these big art websites, and constantly posting about my work on social media is not only time consuming, but can also get expensive in terms of having to pay fees for certain sites, advertising, or services. What am I really signing up for? Will my images be protected? I'm having trouble getting shows at art galleries. Can you help?

A: That's a full-plate agenda there and one that many artists find themselves in. Selling art is hard enough, even when someone's doing it for you, but artists without representation or agents, as you seem to be looking for, can find the task of selling their art especially difficult. The good news for you and all artists is that everyone now has more online options than ever for presenting and selling their art, especially selling direct on socials like Instagram and Facebook, through storefronts, and on large artist websites.

As for the way you are going about things, randomly contacting people about selling your art for you or looking for agents or other reps, is not the best approach. For one thing, you have to know who your sending too. If you don't know, you can find yourself in all kinds of tricky situations like paying for nothing, getting roped into oppressive contracts, and more. The following suggestions will help you to navigate the art world maze and decide on the best options for selling your art.

But first let's talk about these so-called art agents. I've been in and around the business for forty years now, and after all that time, I'm still not sure such a job title exists. In my experience, an "artist agent" is pretty much the same as an art gallery or dealer except perhaps that someone calling themselves an agent might be doing business privately or not from a permanent location. But then again, these people generally refer to themselves as private dealers or art consultants, and not agents. In fact, I'm not sure I can recall a time when I've heard someone specifically refer to themselves as an artist agent.

Agents exist in other areas of the arts-- literary agents and music agents, for example. But these two fields are very different from the art business. To begin with, literary and music agents act as intermediaries between writers or musicians and publishing or recording companies, not retail book or music buyers. Essentially, they negotiate and secure publishing rights for books and music. The publishing companies take it from there. Art galleries typically sell to retail buyers; agents don't.

Another major difference between art dealers and music or literary agents is that a book or album has the potential to sell thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of copies whereas art is generally sold piece-by-piece. In other words, opportunities for generating significant income from large numbers of sales are much greater in book and music businesses than they are with art.

Regardless, many artists cling to the fantasy that not only do these hypothetical art agents exist, but also that they're entirely different from galleries, are easier to get than gallery shows or representation, and the most ridiculous part-- that they are somehow capable of selling way more art than galleries. None of this is true. Where these ideas come from I have no idea. Whether art agents actually exist or not, the chances of getting shows or other forms of representation with a gallery or anywhere else-- whatever you want to call them-- are basically the same-- low. So keeping that in mind, let's take a look at some other ways to get where you want to go. Or you can read more about artist agents and managers here.

No matter who you decide to call, email, DM or otherwise contact about showing or representing your art-- dealer, agent, consultant, representative or gallery-- three of the most important things to find out in advance are whether they represent artists similar to yourself, have experience selling the types of art you make, and sell that art on a regular basis. Regarding individuals (not galleries) who say they represent artists in various ways, evaluate their qualifications not only by speaking with them and reviewing 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 information from artists who make art similar to yours, sell in our price range, and have comparable resumes.

If you've never had representation-- agent, gallery or otherwise-- and don't have a lot of experience exhibiting, best procedure is to search locally for opportunities in the community or region where you live. Looking for out-of-town representatives or galleries major art markets like New York or Los Angeles or any other faraway location makes little sense if you don't live there, are just starting out, and don't yet have an established reputation. The competition from artists who already live and work in there is way too great. The overwhelming majority of successful artists begin by establishing reputations where they live and then branching out from there.

The other part of the solution is to get active on social media, particularly Instagram and Facebook, and put your art out in front of the public on a regular basis. Hopefully, you have your own website where you can do this as well. Even though increasing numbers of artists think websites are unnecessary, and instead rely entirely on social media to present their art, having your own personal website where you control the show is definitely recommended. Social media platforms can change their formats, algorithms, or rules at anytime, and these changes can sometimes negatively impact artist's profiles or followings.

Read How to Present and Sell Art on Instagram and How to Sell Art on Facebook to learn more about presenting and selling your art on social media. Briefly, if you do a good, consistent convincing job of presenting your art, increasing numbers of people take interest in your work and your following will grow. And don't think for a second that these are just lookers. They also include dealers, galleries, consultants, collectors, writers curators, major art websites, and other art world professionals. They're looking for new and exciting art stars on social media just like everyone else.

A couple of don'ts: First and foremost, be very careful about getting involved with anyone who wants money in advance to show, sell, post, write about, or otherwise represent your art. If you think about it for a minute, paying someone in advance actually gives them LESS incentive to sell your art rather than more. Why? Because they've already been paid. In fact, it may even give them more incentive to sell nothing so they can ask for more money in order to continue representing you (while continuing to sell nothing but telling you that interest is there). The way the conventional art world and conventional galleries work is that if they truly believe in your art (and in their ability to sell it), showing and selling it is how they'll make their money. They don't ask artists for money up front. They sell the art first, take their commissions, and then pay the artists the rest.

On the contractual side, keep initial arrangements or agreements with any new gallery you work with to a maximum of one year, but preferably somewhat less. You don't want to get roped into exclusive long-term agreements with anyone who turns out not to be able to sell your art, and then have to fight or even buy your way out of oppressive agreements. Once someone starts selling for you and selling well, then think about extended contracts. Even then, extend the agreements gradually, not all at once. You want to be sure that you work well together and that sales are likely to continue before going longterm.

Searching for art websites where you can show and sell your art is similar to looking for "agents" or galleries. If you decide to go in that direction, look for websites that sell the type of art you make. Before signing on, ask for sales data in advance showing that if you list with them, your art has a reasonable chance of selling. The large majority of successful art websites charge for posting your art or for setting up galleries or storefronts, so being reasonably confident that they can sell once you pay is important. A number of art sites also offer free galleries, but they're usually pretty minimal in terms of options for presenting and selling your work.

Have any prospective art website provide names and contact information for several of their artists who make and sell art similar to yours. Better yet, locate those artists yourself. Contact them and find out how satisfied they are with the website's performance and how well they're selling. In addition, request data from websites themselves on how much art they sell, what types of art sell best, and what price ranges that art tends to sell in. 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 landscape, seascape, and figure paintings, you're probably not going to sell much.

Another point to keep in mind is that the large 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, one in tens of thousands, or even less. Before contracting with such a website, spend plenty of time on the site looking around, evaluating the quality of art and artists 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 their main pages, and so on. Three websites you might want to check out are Etsy, UGallery, and Saatchi Online, but there are plenty more options than those. If selling at auction is something you've been thinking about, eBay is an additional platform worth considering. You've got to learn the ropes on eBay though because selling at auction is different than selling at fixed prices. Some artists do sell well in the auction arena.

Regarding copyright issues, know that your art is automatically copyrighted and automatically protected against infringement by others. Continually policing the Internet against unauthorized use of your online images is difficult and time consuming, and really not worth the effort unless you hear that someone is clearly copying, reproducing and selling your art for profit without your permission. In most cases, you want your images to be shared and talked about on as many websites and social media platforms as possible (as long as people aren't reproducing them without your permission in order to make money for themselves). That's how new people discover you exist. For additional legal protections, you can always register your copyrights. Find out more by reading Copyright Registration Law and Your Art, Pros and Cons of Registering Your Art.

As long as anyone posting images of your art gives you proper credit, be thrilled and delighted that they think it's worth posting. Letting images of your work circulate freely is a great way to get known, especially when those who post them have good online profiles or large followings. At the same time, there's nothing wrong with doing occasional online searches to make sure images of your art aren't being reproduced without credit or sold without your permission. But never use copyright worries as an excuse to not post your art online or to keep others from posting it. Remember that your art is your business card. The more people who see it, whether in person or online, the greater your chances for ultimately increasing your fan base, getting shows, and making sales. People hardly ever buy art without being able to see plenty of examples of it first, so do whatever you can to maximize the chances of them seeing... and of them buying.


Need to know more about how to approach galleries or get exposure for your art? I work with artists all the time on ways to effectively organize and present their art. I also advise on getting their art in front of the public both online and at physical locations. If you're interested in my consulting services, have any questions or would like to make an appointment, you can reach me at 415.931.7875 or


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 and you're not quite sure how to proceed, read Common Artist Legal Problems and How to Avoid Them.


(sculpture by Peter Alexander)

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