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Sarah Maple offers some advice for artists

by Sarah Maple on 10/10/2011 8:33:40 AM

This article is a guest post by UK based artist Sarah Maple for FineArtViews. Sarah Maple, winner of the "4 New Sensations" competition offered by Channel 4 and Saatchi Gallery in 2007, is no stranger to media bombardments and the rollercoaster of mainstream art gallery success. Sarah Maple has exhibited at White Box, Salon Gallery, INCEPTION Gallery -- among other art galleries. In this article she offers some advice for artists based on what she has learned about the mainstream art world in regard to some of the potential negative aspects of art galleries and dealers. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

A few months ago, something remarkable happened in my life. I did a solo exhibition in Amsterdam. When the exhibition finished, the gallery sent me a document indicating how much I had sold and how much I would receive. Then a few days later, they paid the money into my bank account account. Looking at my bank statement. I realised that after 4 solid years of exhibiting internationally, solo and group shows, this was the first time this had ever happened to me. They sold the work, the show ended, they gave the money with no fuss. I have never experienced something so remarkable in my art career. I was in a state of shock.


Sadly, every person I know who works in the arts in some capacity (comedy, music, film) has been ripped off in some way. Early on in your career you sort of allow this to happen, you're just so happy to be given a chance, so grateful, that you'd rip out your own eyeballs to be included in a group show in a pub in the arse-end of nowhere, that no body ever goes in – just so you can say to people that you're in an exhibition. It's easy as a young artist to feel so desperate and do things you would not normally do. Like when you're madly in love with someone and you're so terrified they don't feel the same way that you turn into that nuts person that you never thought you would ever be.


In these four years I have worked professionally as an artist, I have encountered every kind of shit you can imagine. From a dealer saying I could get out of paying expenses I owed him by taking off my pants and sending them to him, to a man trying to claim he was 'so scared' to deal with my work that he couldn't possibly pay me (whilst on the phone to BBC news). I have so many other stories too. I'm 26 and I feel like I've experienced it all.


However, instead of giving up (which I would never do) I can only use this experience for the future and make sure it never happens again. And of course share my advice with others. It's not just visual artists! The arts seem to be the only profession where you work 24/7 and people think it's okay to not pay you for that.


Here's my top advice for young/new/graduate artists


1. Expect everyone you meet in the art world (especially people interested in exhibiting your work) to be either a) a bastard or b) sub-human. This way you will avoid feeling any kind of human emotion towards your dealer and if, for example, they make £100,000 selling your work and don't give you any money, you won't mind asking for some. Also, if they turn out to be nice then that'll be a nice surprise.


2. "We deal in graduate art" translates as "We deal with graduates because they're desperate and it's much easier to swindle them."


3. Contracts. Get a good contract. If they present you with one, get it checked by a lawyer. Because it's definitely going to be shit. Do not just ask your older brother to check it over just because he went to Oxford. Especially don't then ignore him when he points out an important part of it because you don't want to pay a lawyer to sort it out. Get a fucking lawyer. It is definitely worth the cash in the long run.


4. Don't trust anyone who wears tweed.


5. On the contracts note, make sure you double check expenses. Some people will claim expenses from you. This could be anything or any amount, which means you can end up with absolutely NOTHING. Make sure this is not in your contract.


6. If they say "You're an art star", kick them in the balls and run away.


7. Don't appear desperate. Because they can smell that a mile off and it'll create more leeway for them to rip you off. As convincingly as possible, pretend you've had other offers but that you "can't really say" what they are yet. As if something amazing is about to happen but you're not allowed to confirm it yet. Pulling the jinx card is good too "Oh I don't want to say as I don't want to jinx it, ahahahaaaaaa." (that's a personal fave)


8. Don't be fooled by a fancy website. Check out the credentials of their other artists and do research. Contact the other artists if need be, sometimes I get this and I really don't mind offering my advice.


9. Beware of name droppers e.g. I was told "The director of your residency is affiliated with MoMA." And yes it was true. They knew someone who worked in the admin department. Which leads to....


10. Don't trust anyone who bigs themselves up too much and take everything they say with a pinch of salt. It's often all mouth and no trousers.


11. Pretend you know what you're talking about. This is very important. If you don't know what to say, just nod and say "Yeah I get you, I'll have to have a think about that one and get back to you." (then go home and Google)


12. Don't take any shit. From. The. Start. I don't mean be an annoying twat, but if something bothers you, then there's a reason for that and speak up. You're not imagining things. Do not be fobbed off. Remember, they are a) a bastard or b) sub-human. Or both!! I thought playing the "I'm just a stupid artist" card would work. It doesn't. They just think you're a stupid artist.


13. If it sounds dodgy, it IS dodgy.


I really hope this helps. And I also hope it doesn't give a depressing view of life as an artist, because I have met as many amazing people as I have met morons. I suppose I wouldn't change the experiences I had, I have to be grateful that I realized this early on and can share my experiences with others.


-- Sarah Maple


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Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | Instruction | advice for artists 

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Christopher Reiger
A lot of people get burned in the art world, just as a lot of people operating in other luxury markets do. It's a sad fact of the contemporary business. That art is a business (and a dodgy one at that), though, doesn't change the fact that a great many of the individuals participating -- artists, curators, dealers, and critics -- and neither "a) a bastard or b) sub-human."

Ms. Maple's piece is a fun critique of the unattractive facets of the art world, but I feel it's worth stating that there are many more.

The problem is that the business of art is unregulated. Musicians under a record label in the music industry have way more rights than the artist represented by a gallery in the "art industry". They are kind of the same beast if you think about it. Maybe it is time for the art industry to be more organized? Look at music, acting and literature. All have massive guilds. People watching each others back and warning about the slime. You just don't see that with art.

The art dealers are more organized than the artists. Look at NADA. What would happen if there was a New Artist Alliance? Artists pulling resources together to have their own art fairs and exhibits minus the market middlemen. That would be a game changer. It would be doable as long as influential artists join.

Maybe she should read up on the "law of attraction," which basically says in this case: the vibe you send out is what's going to come back to you. She's very negative and it doesn't surprise me that she's on the receiving end of so much negativity.

Sarah Maple
Yes I do write a bit of negative stuff here, but I hoped from the tone it would be understood I am being tongue-in-cheek!!
Art is a business now and you have to be business like about it. And a lot of artists aren't business like because all we care about is following our dream.
Of course there are absolutely amazing, honest people in the art world, I am working with them right now. When I said a) Bastard b) Sub-human is because of my positive attitude that everything is honest and wonderful and sadly at times it is not and that is where you start to feel let down.
I hope the piece does come across in a fun way but also reminds people to keep their wits about them xx

Bob Ragland
Hey Sarah,
Interesting observations about the art wars.
I know in time you'll develop tactics to deal with
the art illiterate. You're young and will have time to get a handle on the art game. I know this because I have been in this discipline for quite awhile. Just art on.
See me

Laurie Lipton
I have been in the Art Game for over 40 years now and I wish someone had warned me (we didn't have the internet back then, only homing pigeons and smoke signals). I have been ripped off by many sub-human bastards over the years... not because I sent out "negative vibes", but because I trusted people and thought they had my best Interest at heart. After all: they professed to love my work! I agree with Taz. Artists need to Organize like writers and performers. We are divided and easily conquered. As long as we remain desperate and isolated, we are easy victims.

Meanwhile... water-tight contracts drawn-up by lawyers. Yes indeedy!!!

Sarah, I love your article and I want you to write many more! Maybe this is because I am English living in America...

Your article made me laugh out loud and it's a rare thing for me to snort coke (the sort in a can) all over my keyboard at an internet article.

My years in the States have shown me that the old saying 'two countries divided by a common language' is sort of true but even more true is 'two countries divided by completely different senses of humour' (note the 'u' - that says it all - BBC America has a slogan which is 'humour is funnier with a 'u' in it'.')

You wouldn't believe some of the things I've heard in this country 'Oh I get British humor, I lurve Monty Python' or even worse 'British humor is so funny. I lurve Benny Hill'. What???

All artists need to be business people. Years ago I was married to a jazz musician and heard real horror stories about musicians being very badly ripped off. Or you can read about Rothko and see what happened to him.

In any industry from bio-chemicals to breweries there are going to be people who have their heads screwed on and those who don't. We know who is going to win. I don't think the art industry needs to be more organised but artists need to realise that this IS a business. Everything is. Yesterday I watched the British Grand Prix on TV. Most of those racing drivers are your age or younger but they realise that motorsport isn't really a sport, it's a business. So is art, so is music. Your advice is good.

By the way, you're spot on about people who wear tweed.

Oh dear. I'd better apologise to Americans now. I'm not saying you don't have a sense of humo(u)r - you do! It's just different, that's all.

Emily Newman

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