Find the Right Agent or Website for Your Art
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Q: Where can I find a list of art agents who represent artists? Trying to create art and market myself is far too frustrating. Searching online and website after website is not only time consuming but can also get expensive in terms of signing on and being asked to pay fees. What are we really signing up for? Will our images be protected? We can't all get shows at art galleries. Can you help 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, as you put it, can find the task of selling their art especially difficult. The good news is that artists now numerous online options for presenting and selling art that never before existed, especially selling direct on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. As for the way you are going about things-- searching for someone to sell your art for you-- is that if you ally yourself with the wrong platform, website or offer, you can waste time, waste money, or end up in unproductive contractual arrangements. The following suggestions will help you to navigate the art world jungle and locate the best prospects 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 I'm not even sure such a job title exists. In my experience, an "artist agent" is pretty much the same as an art dealer or art gallery 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 can recall very few times when I've heard someone specifically refer to themselves as an artist agent. Perhaps the best way to put it is that a gallery or dealer essentially acts as agent for the artists they represent. In other words, the gallery is the agent. And that's traditionally how artists get exposure; they show their art at galleries.
Agents do exist in other areas of the arts-- literary agents and music agents to name two, but there are huge differences between the art business and the writing and music businesses. 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 sell publishing rights, not physical books. Art galleries and others who sell art deal directly with individual retail buyers.
Another major difference 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 sales are much greater in these fields than with art. Additionally, the expertise involved in representing a musician or writer involves skills like dealing with corporations, contract and agreement negotiations, determining royalties, cash advances and payment schedules, and so on. Business is very different in the art world.
Regardless, many artists cling to the fantasy that not only do these hypothetical agents exist and are entirely different from galleries, but they also seem to believe that agents are easier to get than gallery shows or other forms of representation. Whether agents actually exist or not, the chances of getting shows or other forms of representation with any entity-- whatever you want to call them-- are basically the same. So let's take a look at what you have to do to get where you want to go.
No matter whether you decide to call, email, DM or otherwise contact anyone about showing or representing your art-- dealer, agent, consultant, representative or gallery-- three of the most important things to find out 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 assessments of how much they can do for you by directly contacting artists who make art similar to yours 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 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 representative or gallery in a major art market like New York or Los Angeles makes little sense if you're are just starting out, don't live in either of those cities, and don't make art that directly relates in some way to the people who live there. This is especially true IF YOU HAVE TO PAY TO SHOW OR EXHIBIT YOUR WORK (there's little incentive for anyone to sell your art if you pay them up front). The competition from New York or Los Angeles artists who are much more on top of those art scenes is too great while the chances for your success as a complete "foreigner" are slim. The overwhelming majority of successful artists begin by establishing reputations where they live and then branching out from there.
The other part of this puzzle is to get active on social media, particularly Instagram and Facebook, and start getting your art out in front of the public. Hopefully, you maintain your own website as well. While increasing numbers of artists are relying entirely on social media to present their art, having a place online where you control the show is definitely recommended aka your own website. Social media platforms can change their formats or rules at anytime, and these changes can sometimes seriously 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, you'll grow your following as increasing numbers of people take interest in your work. The best part? Those people include dealers, galleries, consultants, collectors and other art world professionals. They look for new art and artists on social media just like everyone else.
A couple of don'ts: First and foremost, and to repeat-- DO NOT PAY a representative (or agent), dealer or gallery money in advance to show, sell or otherwise represent your art. Paying someone in advance actually gives them LESS incentive to sell your art rather than more, 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 saying interest is there). Plus if they truly believe in your art (and in their ability to sell it), selling that is how they'll make their money, not charging you to sell it.
On the contractual side, keep initial arrangements or agreements with any new gallery you work with to a maximum of one year, but preferably six months. 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-- but extending representation time periods gradually, not all at once.
Locating a website where you can show and sell your art is similar to locating an "agent" or gallery. If you decide to go in that direction, as with choosing bricks & mortar options, 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 large 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. A number of those sites also offer free galleries, but they're usually pretty minimal in terms of options for presenting 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 on your own. Contact them and find out how satisfied they are with the website's performance and see what they have to say about how well they're selling. In addition, request data from websites themselves on how many pieces of 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 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 websites you might want to check out are Etsy, UGallery, and Saatchi Online. If selling at auction is something you've been thinking about, eBay is an additional option 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 in America and many other parts of the world your art is automatically copyrighted and automatically protected against infringement by others. Policing the Internet against unauthorized use of your online images is difficult and time consuming, and really not worth the effort unless you discover that someone is clearly copying, reproducing and selling your art for profit without your permission. In fact, 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). 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 you're given proper credit, allowing your images to circulate freely is a great way to get known, especially when those who are circulating them have large followings themselves. Periodically exercise a certain amount of due diligence to make sure your art isn't being reproduced and sold 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 communicating and advertising. 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 seeing it first, so do whatever you can to maximize the chances of them seeing... and sales happening.
Need consulting about how to approach galleries or get exposure for your art? I work with artists all the time on organizing and presenting their art, and make recommendations according to the types of art they make on how to approach the marketplace and on what types of venues or platforms would be appropriate for their work. If you're interested in my services, have any questions or would like to make an appointment, you can reach me at 415.931.7875 or email@example.com.
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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