Should You Have an Artist's Agent?
by Clint Watson on 7/14/2006
Artists fairly often ask me whether or not I think having an artist's agent is a good idea. I don't really have a simple answer to that question. The short answer is maybe, which I realize is no help at all.
I have never personally met an “artist's agent” who I felt really helped the artist at all. In a sense, the art galleries themselves are your agents. So you end up with two agents trying to make decisions on your career without your direct involvement anymore. It seemed to me that the agents I delt with were little more than message carriers between me and the artist. That was, frankly, annoying. I would rather just talk directly with the artist. I never could see what the agent did to justify a percentage of the artist’s sales.
However, I must hasten to add that just because I have never delt directly with a worthwhile agent, doesn’t mean that good ones don’t exist.
Here is an incomplete list of a few of my thoughts regarding what a good artist's agent would do (that I almost never saw them doing).
1. Prepare professionally written biographical material and resume info about the artist and keep that material ULTRA current, even if that means being proactive about calling and extracting updated information via phone from the artist on a regular basis.
2. Prepare professionally written press releases and send to appropriate media contacts about ALL relevant news surrounding this artist. I would anticipate that this would be at least 6 – 10 press releases a year. Copies of these press pieces should also go to the artists galleries and be posted on the artist's web site.
3. Handle framing of the artist pieces, possibly at the agent’s expense (to be reimbursed upon sale of the piece)
4. Handle shipping of the artists pieces and rotating pieces through the artist’s dealers.
5. Ensure that artist’s galleries receive new works on a regular basis, ideally monthly (some due to rotation of works)
6. Know at all times what has sold and what hasn’t sold.
7. Know when the artist will be paid for sold works and ensure that galleries are paying on a timely basis.
8. Conduct regular “secret shopper” audits of the galleries to be sure artist’s works are displayed properly and that salesmanship is professional.
9. Prepare professional quality photographs of every single artwork the artist completes and store in an organized catalogued fashion.
10. Maintain a professional, current and complete web site for the artist.
11. Update the web site EVERY time there is new work, new information or something has sold. Updates should be immediate.
12. Make life easier for the artist AND the artist’s galleries.
13. Hunt for new galleries and or exhibits, shows, organizations that the artist should pursue entering.
14. Prepare applications, slides, etc for shows the artist wishes to enter.
15. Prepare media kits and pitches for articles in art publications.
16. Prepare professional advertising for the artist, with or without galleries depending on the arrangments.
17. Open doors the artist can’t get on his or her own.
These are just off the top of my head and there may be many other things an agent could/should do. I don’t think an agent would have to do all of this to be considered “worth” it. It just depends on the arrangement. In my experience, agents really didn’t do any of this, at least not on an ongoing basis. They simply introduced the gallery to the artist and then wanted a commission for life. That isn’t an agent. A person who just does that should be paid a finder’s fee at most.
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