For years now, as a Creativity/Artist Coach, not a week has gone by that I do not get a question from an artist about using Art Agents, Representatives, Managers, Dealers, etc. I get these questions from all types of Artists.  Some Artists (Illustrators, Musicians, Writers, etc.) have utilized these professionals successfully for years while other in other mediums (Visual Artists in particular) it is a less utilized concept.

I have, along the way, heard some horror stories from Artists about their experiences and I have also heard stories about experiences Artists have had with professionals that are the Real Deal and produced marvelous results! I am going to share with you what I know about Art Agents/Representatives and hopefully it will help clear up any confusion you may have about what they do, how they do it and if it is fit for you.

Part of the dilemma about how Artists perceive Art Agents and Art Representatives is the illusion some Artists have about how it all works.  It goes something like this:

I just want to make Art.  That is what I am meant to do.  When I have made enough Art I just need to find an Art Agent/Representative who will love my work and want to sell it for me.  I will find that Agent/Representative by reaching out with emails and Social Media and putting my Art on my website and maybe a few Collective Art websites.  Agents who are hungry to sell my work will respond to me or find me on-line and offer to handle my work.  They will help me handle all of the business details I hate doing, maybe even manage things for me … and at the very least they will get my work out in the world and SELL MY WORK!!!  Then I can keep creating Art and while I am in my Studio money will roll in and my reputation will grow.

Now some of you reading this may giggle at but, trust me, there are lots of people reading this who are kinda’ tilting their heads right now and going, “What do you mean this is an illusion?”  Whether you are giggling or tilting your head, or anything in between, please keep reading because there may be something that will benefit you or someone you know.

Here is a reality check:  Selling Art takes something … no matter if you are an Art Agent, Art Representative, Art Dealer, Gallery owner or YOU trying to sell your work alone.    Sorry, folks … it just does!  Bottom line: If you want to live off your Art, or even partially off your Art, somehow you must sell your work to people who want to buy your work or you must sell it to someone who will sell your work.

Do Art Professionals like Agents/Representatives/Dealers/Gallery Owners know how to do this better than you?  If they are the Real Deal … then YES!  They have learned how to convince people of the value of Art and have buyers want it in their lives/collection. This is key, because no matter how much we want to believe that Art sells itself, it does not.  If you talk to people in the Art business they will mostly confirm this.

Now here is the next dilemma …  even those people who are the Real Deal Art Agents/ Representatives need to know they can make money selling your work.  They need to figure out if your Art fits into the market they have expertise and connections in.  And you need to help them know that!  You need to be able to organize, promote, present, speak about and write about your Art to show those Art Professionals that you and your work are worth them spending their very precious time selling. You need to sell it to them in order for them to want to sell it to others.

More than likely, to get a Real Deal Art Agent or Representative you will need to demonstrate consistent sales, projections for future sales, have a solid Art business and systems and/or processes so they know you can keep delivering your Art.  You will need to prove that you will make a good business partner for them in addition to consistently producing high quality work that he or she can promote or sell it.

So what do these people do?  Let’s get it broken down:

Art Agent – An Artist Agent is an art professional who works on behalf of the artist. The agent will have knowledge, expertise and experience in the selling and pricing of art, the business of art and the promotion of artists. The agent may also act on behalf of the artist to find and secure various venues to display and sell an artist’s work (i.e. art shows, exhibitions and festivals) and/or to find and secure different types of opportunities for juried competitions or commission work.  The term Agent comes from Agency … this means that an Agent may be able to conduct business for the Artist and have money be handled and run through their business (i.e. process payments, negotiate deals, sign purchase orders, sign agreements, etc.)

Art Representative – An Artist Representative is an art professional who works on behalf of the artist. Art Representatives provide services more in the arena of marketing and sales, although they may provide other services also.  They are minus the “Agency” part and as such they do not normally conduct business on behalf of the Artist so transactions run through the Artist’s business vs. the representatives’ business.

There are a few other titles that get bantered about in a confusing way, here is my short definitions to these title:

Art Advisor – An Art Advisor normally helps Artists with career/business development.

Art Consultant – An Art Consultant works for art buyers to find art for the buyers and negotiates the purchase of art on behalf of the buyers.

Art Dealer – An Art Dealer is a person or company that purchases and sells art.  They discover, nurture, advertise, and promote their own collection of artists mostly based on their personal taste.

Art Broker – Art brokers are usually specialists in a particular field. They may advise auction houses, help museums organize exhibits assembling work, validate authenticity of pieces, advise on current interest work for investment purposes and/or locate additional pieces for large private collections.

Art Manager – Much the same as an “Artists’ Agent”, except more typically an individual that is an employee of the artist.  I have also seen the title used for an employee of a management services firm that serves a clientele of artists.

Gallery Owner – A Gallery Owner represents a gallery first, and then an artist second.  Sometimes called a Gallerist … they may also call themselves Art Dealers, Art Consultants, Art Agents and Art Representatives.  Many people with these other titles are also former Gallery Owners or employees.

Now here is the catch:  Someone may wear several hats and no two wear an identical hat it seems. There is NO professional licensing, certifications or formal degrees required for any of these roles. That means the definitions vary and depends only on your unique agreement. There is also no regulatory agency that binds or enforces any compliance. So, don’t make any assumptions.

Here are some of the various services that an Art Agent or Representative may handle:

  • Sales Representation, Negotiation and Support
  • Marketing, Promotion and Marketing/Promotion Support
    • Social Media
    • Print Media
    • Business and Social Networking
    • Press Releases
  • Searching, Identifying, Negotiating and Supporting Opportunities
    • Venues
    • Awards
    • Galleries
  • Finding and Coordinating Art Support Services
  • Performing Business Operations
  • “Agency” Services

Need more?  Some Art Agents may offer more.  There are also currently full-service Artist Management companies and individual Artist Managers/Consultants and Coaches that will handle a full array of other services like: Full Administrative Support, Technology Services / Online Presence, Corporate Art Sales strategy, Licensing, Design and Print, Publishing, Insurance, Lectures / Education, Research, Ongoing Consultations, Contract Reviews and Negotiations, Career Planning (i.e. Goals, Strategies, Tracking).

When considering these services and trying to assess the value of these services to you it is important to look at the likelihood of increasing your sales/profits/value, productivity, exposure, and business operations efficiency and profitability.

As far as costs, some of the common fees you may encounter are:  Start up fees, Monthly Service fees and Commissions (ranging from 20% on up to 50% but rarely more).  If the Art Agent or Representative does not charge extra for extra services, in addition to sales, then you can count on a higher sales commission or a monthly fee in addition to the commissions to cover their time.

Many artists, particularly at the beginning of their careers, can’t afford to hire Real Deal Agents or Representatives.  This works perfectly since, until you have produced significant sales, the Real Deals will not want to represent you anyway – remember, they are in this business to make money!  They want to see a track record already established to guarantee that.  They need to know they can sell your art now or that you at least have enough of a track record that they think that hopefully soon, they can sell it.

Beginning artists simply have to do whatever they can on their own to get their art out into the public, develop followings, and generate sales unless they have a family member, friend or colleague that they can trust, who will begin to take on being an Art Agent or Representative for them. Once you start selling consistently, you’ll attract Art Agents, Representatives, Galleries and Dealers to help you show or sell even more art. But until you’ve proven that you can produce income for you and for others, you frankly still need to do it yourself.

Also, if you are only interested in beginning to get your work in Galleries then the Art Agent or Representative is not the way to go.  Galleries want to deal directly with Artists and the middle man/woman often gets in the way and cuts into their or your profits. If you get into a Gallery then the Gallery will be acting as your representative.

Perhaps, if you are not ready for an Art Agent or Representative then what will make sense, and that you can perhaps afford, is to hire qualified professionals for certain things such as: consultations relating to career and/or business decisions, business opportunities, contract arrangements, negotiations, legal advice for contracts, possible commissions, etc.

If you are not ready for an Agent or Representative yet then spend your time technically advancing your Art, creating a recognizable style, building a cohesive body of work to display, selling your work at shows, out of your studio, on-line and other venues.  Build a process for yourself that will allow you to fulfill larger and larger demands for your work.  Create a great website/blog that represents you well including your portfolio, bio, resume and artists statement.

If you have a solid track record of sales and you are ready for the next step then how do you find Art Agents or Representatives?  Remember that in Art just like in most fields, there are professionals and amateurs and even scammers.  Start talking to other artists and get their recommendations!  A solid recommendation is one of the best ways to find the Real Deals.  Social Media is a great way to find those other artists to talk to, if you don’t personally know anyone, who use agents. If you are not exhibiting nationally or globally right now then I suggest you start with someone local to build your reputation before you expand.

It is critical that you do your footwork and research any potential persons you are considering working with! Check reviews from other artists, talk to the clients and buyers they have worked with. What is their reputation in the Art community? How well do they really sell? How professional are they? Find out the genres, styles, etc. they want, are interested in and successful working with.  Find out who else they represent. What is the caliber of the other artists? Would you be 1 out of 10 or 1 out of 100 or 1 out of 1000? Do background and references checks.

Trust me, all of this research and due diligence is important!  I know Artists who got so excited at the prospect of some “Agent” wanting to represent them that they trusted blindly and shipped off their work to someone they did not know or investigate or meet … never to see their work again.

Next narrow down your choices.  Make a list of your expectations. Include details such as what you want your selling prices to be, how much art you would like to sell, how and when you like to be paid, what percentage of retail prices you prefer, and how long you want the business arrangement to last. Make sure you have a real sense of what you Art is worth by doing your research on that too.  Walk in informed.  Talk to other Artists about what they have contracted for and negotiated so you feel both comfortable and realistic.

Now it is time to meet with your short list of Agents and/or Representatives.  Ask them as many questions as it takes for you to feel comfortable.  Find out about their contacts, how they plan on promoting you and getting your work out in the world and how they do their sales pitches.  Talk about your expectations and learn about theirs.

If there are things to negotiate then do so. Walk away understanding exactly what happens when one of your works sells such as how long before your payment, etc. Take a look at their contracts with buyers to make sure you will be protected and are clear about things such as your retention of copyright, your entitlement to resale royalties, etc.

NOTE: If someone guarantees you tangible results such as sales, acceptance or awards, then you might want to think twice about them and make sure you get it in writing since this is almost impossible to guarantee because of outside factors. The most they can promise is to do the appropriate work to increase the probability of results.

When you are certain about the person you want to work with then communicate freely and set goals, a range of services and a payment plan that meets your needs.  Put everything in writing … create a contract!  Agreements that don’t get written down have a VERY high probability of becoming a real problem down the road.  Before you sign or agree to anything have several people or a professional help you overlook the contract (other Artists who have done this kind of contract before, a consultant, a lawyer, etc.).

Avoid engaging in a long-term commitment at first.  Try to get a 6 month or at the most 1 year. You need some time working together to see, in reality, if this arrangement will work. It may take several months to simply discover and learn about how the relationship will work best.  This is the kind of personalized relationship you want vs. a cookie-cutter process.  You will want a “best efforts” provision, which requires the Agent or Representative to use his/her best efforts in marketing, promoting and selling your work.  Make sure that your contract also provides a release clause that you both agree together on completely.

Once you have signed the contract remember that your work is not over.  You need to do what is expected of you just as your new Agent or Representative does.  Keep your promises.  Honor your commitments.  Provide him/her with everything they need to do their job.  Ultimately you are still responsible for your work, your reputation and the business of your Art.  Depending on what you have contracted for … many of the things you may have been wanting to have taken off your hands may still remain in your hands.

Remember there are NO GUARANTEES that you Art will sell. Multiple reasons can keep that from happening even if both of you do everything you have contracted to do. If your Art isn’t selling then work together to figure out why.  The good news is that this is one of the reasons you didn’t sign a long-term contract.  In the worst case, if you find that this is not a good match then utilize your release clause and end the relationship professionally and move on.

I hope this has provided you with some insight into creating an Art Agent/Representative relationship when the time is right for you. I also hope that you can see that, for the most part, you will still need to sell your own work first and that engaging in this kind of a relationship will not allow you to jump quickly past that. Instead it is part of the evolution of the business of your Art.

Have you had a Great Experience with a Real Deal Art Agent or Representative? What had it be Great?

If you are or have been an Art Agent or Representative what advice do you have for Artists in working with an Art Agent or Representative?

As always, I’d love to hear from any of you that have had experiences with Art Agents or Art Representatives that will make a difference for us.   Please feel free to share with us.  I think it is always through us contributing to one another that we all get to expand … so thank you in advance for anything you share with us!



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