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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 ďartist's agentĒ 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 artistís sales.

However, I must hasten to add that just because I have never delt directly with a worthwhile agent, doesnít mean that good ones donít 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 Ė 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 agentís expense (to be reimbursed upon sale of the piece)

4. Handle shipping of the artists pieces and rotating pieces through the artistís dealers.

5. Ensure that artistís 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 hasnít 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 ďsecret shopperĒ audits of the galleries to be sure artistís 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 artistís 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 canít 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 donít think an agent would have to do all of this to be considered ďworthĒ it. It just depends on the arrangement. In my experience, agents really didnít 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 isnít an agent. A person who just does that should be paid a finderís fee at most.

Sincerely,

Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic



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Topics: Gallery/Artist Relationship | Newsletter 

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 15 Comments

Judith Reidy
via web
It seems that everything you listed that an agent should be doing to market artwork, needs to be done to effectively market artwork. Yet you are suggesting that agents you have been acquainted with have not done those marketing tasks. Yet how does an artist who must produce artwork manage to do the marketing tasks as well. How can an artist manage his time to complete both producing his artwork as well as complete the necessary marketing tasks to effectively sell his work. Realistic time management must be in order. Do you have a typical work week or month senario?

Judith

Keith
via web
When I read your article on what an agent should do I could not help but laugh. This kind of creature does not exist. This has been such an aweful year for me. My art is not selling, and if I do get a sale some of my galleries are not paying me. I have been mislead about shows and the promotion of my work. And the list goes on.
I feel that there are so few galleries, a limited market, and so many artists that galleries don't care because if you don't like it they'll just say go and we can easily
fill the walls with other artists who will put up with the abuse.
I feel that getting a website was the best thing I have done for my career. The galleries hate it because they have the mentality that you are trying to undercut them. One of my galleries even goes so far as to black out my web address from the back of my paintings and if I protest they will probably tell me to get out.
Is there a law that says we have the right to the names of our collectors? I heard there was but no one can tell me for sure. I asked one gallery for names and they would not provide it.
Anyway, back to the positive note, I have sold work from my website and it was so nice not dealing with those damn galleries. I didn't pay half in commissions and I got my money right away instead of 2 months later.
I blame the slow market on George W. Bush!
I had to blow off steam to someone so sorry if I seem hostile. Keep up the fight for us artists and know that it is appreciated.
Thank you for your valuable time.

Susan
via web
Thanks for your thoughts on artist agents. It would be heaven to have someone else doing all that stuff. What we all need (regardless of gender) is a "wife".

Thanks,
Susan

Fil
via web
I still think that the artist's best agent is the artist himself!

Janet
via web
It would be really great if it were possible for artists to have agents that would do all the things on your list. Dealing with the marketing and selling of our work is probably a strain for most of us - I know it is for me. Artists want to create, and just about anything else for us is tedium - including framing. Ah, well, in a perfect world....

Jessica
via web
I have met an agent.... unfortunately he is no longer with us, he died not too long ago... he was my fathers agent. His name was Jim clark.... I use to travel with him to Texas and various states where he did shows and met with various clients.... He had clients that he would meet with, and always traveled with a van full of paintings... he started a group of American impressionists that he held shows for in different states...He sold living as well as deceased artists paintings... ' I would go with him in to homes that had original Monet paintings that were more beautiful than the ones in the museums. He always said" Museums do not have the budget to always buy the best from the artist, but the private buyer does. " He loved art from his soul.. he lived it, breathed it, and felt alive because it was in the back of his van. Unfortunately... he said before he died, that the gallery business and the boom of galleries on the market that have happened in the last 30 years helped put many an agent like him out of business.. as to the intricate workings of how this affected the market place he operated in... that is a whole different story.

I have more info if you want the details of how he operated... but I should say, I dearly miss him. And because I have seen how he operated, and how the market place operates now.... I do think it is very difficult to make a decent living as an agent without having to sell quite a bit of deceased artists work to help pay the bills while you have a stable full of up and coming artists, and a few well developed ones too.
Jessica

Joyce
via web
Great article. You gave some great points that an agent should do for the artist. I am struggling with the question if connecting with an agent will help my career. I am leaning towards representing myself and using my gallery representation.

I feel doing the "agent" work myself is important to the evolution of my work. When I do the "agent's work", I am forced to keep up on the progress of my career. It is an overview of the direction I am going as an artist. I worry about losing touch with the realities of being an artist. I do want to create great work AND be able to maintain a livable life style. This is just my opinion...I know I still have so much to learn. The day I stop learning is the day I will hang up my art supplies.

Anne
via web
Thank you for putting this together. My wife (the aritist) and I (her number one fan) found this very worthwhile. Thank you.

Evelyn
via web
Clint, I am absolutely with you....this is what an agent should do....it would be a dream come true. It would free-up the artist to paint more and have a lot more work available. The added publicity would probably promote a lot more sales etc. Therefore this agent would definitely be worth his/her percentage. This dream come true is called having a great wife......or at best ....a great clone.

Jackie
via web
This artist's agent (Diane) is my idea of the perfect agent.(She is also Armand's significant other)
This is an artist that a friend and I went to Hilton Head Island, S.C. to take a workshop from several years ago. It was a really good workshop and I expect Armand to really go places. I see his name a lot in "Art Of The West" and "Southwest Art" magazines.
I would love to have an agent like Diane, but I am not prolific enough to pay one, and my Husband is not cut out to be one.
Ah, well, I enjoy teaching and making art at my slow pace. ( Am one of those ladies who complains about cooking and doing laundry and the worst-washing dishes) I get a little publicity- www.rcvfd-richard-schmid-art-auction . They have invited me back to participate in the auction this year for the third year. My riverscape last year brought $2,200.
Thanks for all your help and information.
Best Regards,
Jackie Ivey-Weaver

----- Original Message -----
From: Diane Burket
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:;
Sent: Sunday, February 13, 2005 4:13 PM
Subject: Armand Cabrera Workshop in Dawsonville, GA


Hello!

Armand Cabrera will be giving two, 5-day workshops in Dawsonville, Georgia---about 1 hour North of Atlanta.
The 1st week is already full and the 2nd week has 10 registered students.
We will take a maximum of 20 students each week.
The dates are October 31 - November 4.

I have secured the Bowen Center for the Arts in Dawsonville for our workshop site.

Bowen Center provides us with a lovely classroom and wonderful painting sites nearby.

Dru Stower has offered to let us paint at her farm---a painterís paradise.

We will also paint at Pooleís Mill - a park with a covered bridge.

http://www.dot.state.ga.us/specialsubjects/specialinterest/covered/poole.shtml

We will look for a painting site on nearby Lake Lanier as well.



This time of year should provide some nice fall color, warm temperatures.



Armand is planning one day of painting at the Bowen Center, no matter what the weather, to focus on painting from your own pictures.



The cost of the workshop will be $475.00 for the week.

A $100.00 non-refundable deposit will secure your place.

You can see the Registration Form, Information, Cancellation Policy, etc. on Armandís website:

www.armandcabrera.com/dawsonville.html



In advance of the workshop, I will be providing maps to painting sites, a schedule of events and other information.



Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks!



Diane







Diane Burket
Agent for Armand Cabrera
2825 Sacramento Street, Studio B
San Francisco, California 94115
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Telephone: (415) 776-1436
Cellular: (415) 518-7766
Fax: (415) 441-2232
Pager: (888) 638-9009
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
www.armandcabrera.com
diane@armandcabrera.com




Rick
via web
that is an interesting question. I don't use an agent but I've thought about it on and off
for several reasons.
I have been a professional painter for thirty years and in that time I've only known of one painter
who is or has used an agent. He appears regularly in one man shows I guess arranged by the agent.
I don't particularly see more press on him than anyone else without an agent.
I can't say she does all the "activities" you listed though doing those things would certainly alleviate much of the day to day "drudge" work and artist needs to take care of to succeed.
I also question the idea of an agent for a beginning artist, although at the beginning of a career is when you
would need help. On the other hand when you become successful, an agent would take care of such activities so that the artist could paint without the constraints of "business" with which we all have to deal.
Then there is the percentage point of view. A "new" artist can't pay for an agent or has to make an arrangement for payment when and if the agent manages to generate sales. A successful artist would be in a position to pay and also keep the agent working with no trouble at all.
The last idea I would like to mention is the whole idea of an agent. There are no "super stars" in art today.
By that I mean (and I use these people only as examples) Andy Warhal, Picasso, David Hockney and such.
For good or bad, these people generated "press" - probably brought to us by agents of one kind or another.
Who today generates this kind of press.
Galleries are the closest thing to an agent and they certainly don't accomplish the laundry list of activities you suggest. In California there are a number of artists who get top dollar for there work. I'd venture
they do this without an agent (sometime spouses take on this role and are responsible for exposure) But, they are not agents in the public sense and only work for the benefit of their spouse.
I'm not old enough to know this but in the past I've read galleries took an interest in an artist and helped cultivate him, supported them, gave them space to work, money, all of which was a gamble, but they were in
it together. I've read the likes of Jackson Pollack and others in the fifties had "partnerships" with gallery owners. They acted as the artists' agent.
Interestingly, in a time when art is increasingly being cut from school programs and an interest in art, knowledge of art is limited to a select few and not by the public at large; with so much "dotcom" money
out there; I doubt you could ask an one on the street to name any two contemporary artists working today,
and be hard pressed to come up with answer.
I surround myself with things "art" -i.e. information, books, shows, people, internet, networks of people and things related to art because I am an artist. In essance, I act as my own agent.
Anyone not "in" art can't tell you the name of the artist who created the Pieta. Or the Sistine Chapel or the
painter of "Blue Boy". I'm not sure you could get an agent to answer that question either.
Those who buy art already know who they want to buy without an agent. They seek out, on their own, art they wish to purchase. Agents today seem more like pitchmen. Used car salesmen.
My best advice (to myself, of course) is do the best work you can, stay in the game any way you can and
be open to opportunity. If the art gods smile upon you, you may get your wish. But, as I was told my those wiser than myself - "be careful what you wish for...you may get it."

ELEANOR CARDOZO
via web
Dear dear Clint,
Do you want to be my agent?! I have been looking for you for 20 years!
I am about to embark on my biggest and most challenging exhibition of sculptures and drawings, to tour the world in 2010 (to tie in with my birthday 10:10:10)
I have been my own agent since I was teenager at Art College and not a day goes by without me wishing for the agent you describe, despite numerous galeries representing me and selling my work.
How busy are you?
Do you want to put your advice and beliefs into action and come a 'pave the way' for my 'BODY AND SOUL' exhibition?
Yours very sincerely
Eleanor Cardozo


Teresa Knight
via clintwatson.net
Clint - I, too, would like to have you for my agent! Maybe you could consider a new business?!

See my website: www.teresaknight.com

Thanks!

Teresa

cathleen daly
via faso.com
I am being audited for the year 2011. Although I have worked as a professional artist for the last 40 years, I have never made a profit. I have employed people and I have had international exhibitions, I have a dedicated studio but they are pursueing the Hobby Loss Disallowance. Does anyone have experience with this huge problem?

Dante Rondo
via faso.com
Hey Clint ! Thank you for sharing what you think a really top-notch professional art agent would do for their artist(s) represented. It sounds like a very fine dream ! And one that i wish i could enter into and linger a long time in such professional and ethical hands ! As you are aware , most creative types are not great at self representation ! So, if you are not already famous and command high high prices for your paintings...Where can an experienced artist , who has sold many a painting over decades now, find such an awesome agent as you describe ? Do i need to stay in a constant "Good dream" state to manifest such a creative blessing in my life and art journey ? Cheers ! Dante Rodo










 

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