4.16.2012

Marketing Mondays: The Artist's Agent

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Recently I got several emails asking about artists' agents, a topic with which I am unfamiliar.  One was from a Midwest artist who was represented by local and regional galleries but who, being unfamiliar with New York City, felt she needed an agent to get her work seen by gallerists here. I've edited her query to its essence:

 "How do I find an agent to sell my work?"

I remembered that Ed Winkleman had written a post in 2007 on the topic (Double Agents and Secret Tools of the Trade) so I recommended it to her. Ed's take: "I've never once encountered any gallerist who was even remotely interested in talking with an emerging artist's "agent." This is primarily because the gallerist sees it as their job to serve as the person or business authorized to act on the artist's behalf (or in other words, the "agent") . . ."

I know of one artist who is very pleased to be represented by an agent. He's had shows in Europe as a result of his agent's efforts, but I couldn't vouch for the quality of the venues. Here, for instance, the agent has booked him into showrooms, hotel lobbies and cultural institutions rather than in conventional art world venues. And I heard anecdotally about another such agent who arranges art exhibitions for the hospitality industry--i.e. hotel lobbies, cruise lines, even yachts. None of these venues has anything to do with the New York City art scene as we know it, though I understand sales were made.

Based on my limited knowledge, it would seem that having an agent and being gallery represented are two entirely, and not particularly compatible, scenarios. So I wonder if we might do a little crowd sourcing today.

. Is anyone represented by an agent?
. Is anyone represented by an agent and a gallery?
. If so, what does an agent do for you that a gallery doesn't?
. Does having an agent interfere with finding a gallery?
. How does the commission work? What percentage does the agent take versus the gallery?
. Do you get the artist's 50 percent, or  is the pie sliced up differently?
. Does anyone use an agent for non-gallery sales such as print designs, or licensing images?
. If you're a dealer, have you worked with an artist's agent in showing the work of an artist?
. If you're an agent, would you tell us how you work with galleries on behlf of your artist client?

As always, anonymous comments are welcome if they add to the discussion, but I won't empower hit-and-run attackers.

19 comments:

annell said...

Interesting post, but I know nothing of agents....

Philip Koch said...

I notice there haven't been many comments posted on this artist agent question. My suspicion is they're more mythological creatures than anything else. Can't blame artists for wishing there were such people who could sweep in and help with the daunting challenges of making art AND having a career. If I ever meet an actual artist agent I'll let you know.

Carolyn Edlund said...

Joanne, this is a really interesting subject. From what I have heard, most "agents" are actually the spouse or business partner of the artist.

Other agents work for companies, such as Agency Access, which represents illustrators and photographers and freelancers.

As far as fine art, I do know of one artist's agent, Samantha Levin, whom I interviewed here. http://www.artsyshark.com/2010/05/18/interview-with-artists-agent-samantha-levin/

Otherwise, I agree that the idea of an agent may well me a myth, as Philip mentioned.That doesn't stop artists from mentioning them frequently as alternatives to representing oneself.

jannell said...

I am an "Artist's Agent" I am a mother of three young boys and am fortunate enough to be able to work from home as a marketing consulting for a local artist in town, with other artists on the edge of coming on board with hiring me. I understand the need for artists to create their work and not have to 'bother' with the marketing aspect of getting their art out there for people to enjoy. I'm happy to answer any questions or consult for you! Albeit I am located in VT, branding an artist's work can be done virtually from anywhere!

Susan Schwalb said...

I think it is a dream imagining that someone else will to do all the hard work of having a career. No self respecting artist I know in New York would consider this. The best people to "help" you find a gallery besides your own feet pounding the pavements are other artists who you might network with. It is a myth that an artist is so lost in creative thoughts that they just can't do the business part of a career.

Kim Matthews said...

I've wondered about how to get a rep or an agent also-not to try to get me into galleries but to just sell my work: to collectors, interior designers or architects, etc., outside the conventional gallery scene in my city. And the value of such a person would be her or his connections. It's got less to do with wanting to lighten my load than it does finding someone who's a mover and a shaker.

Anonymous said...

I was approached by an agent. I declined to commit to a long term contract based on fee and commiission but I did tell her that if she had a show that she thought was a good match for my work I would sign a limited one time exhibit contract for a higher commission amount (but less than 50%) and no fee.
Things weren't perfect with the venue but sales were made and publicity was good. I was pleased with the results. But I believe that you are right about non traditional venues, which is fine with me...I'm a non traditional venue type. I like getting art out of containment and into lives. I would consider working with her again.

Diane said...

I can't imagine why one couldn't be self-respecting and also have an agent! Writers do, why not visual artists? But, given how much artists already give up to venues that show their work, an agent's fee would leave next to nothing. I'm guessing there just isn't a market for this service as a result.

Janine Whitling said...

I've recently began working working with an agent. He works with regional galleries, museums and interior designers. This choice has nothing to do with my lack of marketing skills, but the opportunity arose to work with this man who is well versed in the arts field and so i would be crazy to not take take advantage of this win win scenario. He lives in a different state and is exposed to a very different audience than me. He doesn't charge me a fee until he sells a piece and that works for both of us. To suggest that makes me not self respecting is frankly closed minded and judgmental.

Ken Hill said...

Artist agents do seem to be a bit like the loch ness monster. So many sightings, yet so little proof of their existence. I have read about (never met) artist who swear by the agent system with claims of incredibly frequent sales. The sales allegedly go primarily to hotels and restaurants. Artists who successfully sell their work through an agent probably forfeit some degree of prestige. This might be problematic for artists who also teach and need the exhibition record as a form of peer review. Also, every artist I have encountered (again read about, never met) guards the name of their agent with their life. Very curious myth indeed...

Anonymous said...

Jannell
I am interested in contact you, I want an agent.
Please write to jl.gamband@gmail.com

Eric Hayes said...

Is there such thing, isn't there?
Ahhhhh. It's damn tough out here for artist that's for certain, especially visual arts!
We are human too! We have talent, we work hard, we bring creativity, beauty, bizarre, ideology,controversy,escapism, to the table and so much more.
I don't even sell my art for the expense that only the so-called rich can afford!
My belief is that people as a general rule are close minded. I'm sorry that may sound pessimistic but I see it as realistic.
That is not to say that we should just give up on ourselves or others but rather..... Find new ways to open peoples minds to the concept of having our extraordinary art displayed in their environments!

mountain artist said...

Janell, I too would like to speak with you. Despite the comments against agents, I am willing to try. Please contact me at mountainartist1.drda@gmail.com . Thanks in advance if you do.

Anita Wexler said...

Janine Whitling - Can you message me the name of your agent? I live in Florida and finding extremely challenging to work full time; I have three kids and create art; that leaves very little time to market my artwork. Please email me @ info@anitawexler.com


Anita Wexler said...

Dear Janine Whitling,
I am interested the name of your agent. I am a full-time art teacher, mother of 3 children and create art so that leaves very little time to market and promote my artwork. Please email me @ info@anitawexler.com

Carol Record said...

I don't see anything wrong with using an agent and/or gallery rep. It seems to be that the more representation one can get the better as long as the profits are worthwhile. I'm Actually in the process of setting things up to represent and sell the work of several artist I went to school with. I'm starting off small. I live in a community in which the arts are not very active but there's a lot of artist and some good work being made. Most of us are just starting out so we don't have large bodies of work or even fleshed out exhibitions to show. Art school idiot really prepare us for that and I think we all know that many artists often struggle to stay motivated once out of school and on their own. I'm Still working out details on how to charge enough to support and grow my business so I can provide as much value to those I represent as possible. I'm not planning to require exclusive contracts so I will probably add a clause stating that we can't both sell at the same event. For example if an artist registers for their own booth at a festival I think I will leave their work out of what I show at that event so we are not directly competing. I love being an artist and I love my art friends, but we all have our strengths and I think there's room in the market for all of us we just have to find the right venues be they fine art or commercial.

Anonymous said...

I've done more than my share of pounding the pavement, and galleries won't even look at my work. To suggest that it's laziness on an artist's part is denying the existence of the brick wall confronting artists whom gallerists don't know personally and don't want to know, even when the artist is doing everything correctly. It's exhausting to encounter the indifference and dismissals from gallerists who don't want to give you the time of day much less discover art they might actually love even though it was not recommended by one of their friends.

Fiddle Head said...

Hi Janell,
I would be interested in your services. I hope this reaches you. My email is serenegreendesigns@comcast.net
peace Cheryl

cLauDy Arfaras said...

Interesting!
I decided recently that I would pursue my audience myself. I have been contacted by one person wanting to sale my work and another who referred to himself as an Agent. I tried to find information on the Agent but haven't been able to locate any. I believe Publicity is the key to success. We all have seen many times in media the purchase of scribble on a canvas for millions and millions of dollars. Where are these overly rich people that spend millions of dollars for four colored dots on a canvas?
So I opened an account on social media knowing this is the medium of our times. I picked Twitter because it is alive and the average member is 36 years of age. I currently, after 10 months, have accumulated more than 100,000 Worldwide Followers which includes a real Who's Who of the Art World. I do have a mission in mind in my pursuit of validation. Now when I tell people I have over 100K Followers most all take notice. It has given me Publicity credentials. Now I am preparing my work for a debut showing. I want pictures of groups of people looking at my artwork hanging in a fantastic setting. A setting yet to be decided but soon in the next few months. After my showing and with my daily increasing Followers, I will then market my work. I have never sold any of my work not because there has not been buyers but because I want to receive the best value of my archive. There is a method to the madness...
cLauDy. @ClaudyTheArtist