I love art and artists. I have a successful background in sales and want to combine art and sales. My idea is to become an artist rep. Can you provide insight?
– email from Terri Flynn
“Insight” can mean almost anything, so let’s start at the beginning.
First, Terri, if you become an effective artist rep, the world is your oyster. Many artists will be knocking at your door. You might find them lining up in the comments here.
And I will want to interview you to see how you made it happen.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m just skeptical.
Here's why: I have never heard of a rep that an artist was pleased with outside of a spouse or BFF. They are as mythological as unicorns.
The few places I know where reps are helpful, if not necessary, are in the portrait world (portrait brokers), licensing, and illustration.
Art Biz Success was birthed after I had given serious consideration to becoming an artist rep. In the world where I came from – fine galleries and art museums – they were unheard of. But every artist I spoke with was looking for one.
The reason reps don't exist at that level is because gallerists and curators want, and expect, to deal directly with artists. Reps are third parties that get in the way of business. Gallerists consider them a threat to their bottom line since their fees must be taken from somewhere.
So if your goal as an artist is gallery representation, you need to learn to represent yourself. Your gallerist will soon be acting as your rep. No third party required or desired.
But Then Again . . .
The way art is sold is rapidly changing. Less art is being sold in the galleries' physical spaces and more art on the floors of the international art fairs in places like Basel, London, and Miami. And, as my readers know, more artists are representing themselves than ever, thanks to the Internet.
Now might be the perfect time to build a business representing artists whose primary goal isn’t gallery representation. I would encourage anyone considering this path to do a lot of homework because I’m going to be on the other end coaching artists to pay attention to the details in their relationships and contracts with reps.
As an aside, it might be worth your while to consider a business model other than representing artists. For example, you could become a virtual business manager for artists and take care of their online activity. (I’m hearing, “YES!” from my readers right now.)
Just an option.
Here's what I would advise artists before they consider working with a rep.
- Ask about a rep's contacts (quality, quantity, frequency engaged). They have to find buyers. Where do they imagine they’ll come from? How will they introduce your art to the world?
- Ask the rep to give you her pitch. What is she going to say when she is promoting you?
- Make sure you have everything in writing in an official contract.
- Ask as many questions as it takes to get the answers you seek. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions. You’re putting plenty of faith into this person in return for payment. You not only deserve to get answers, you’d be putting yourself in jeopardy without them.
- Ask about the rep's plans for building the business. How many artists does she envision representing? What does she consider a maximum number? You want to know how big of a fish you are in that rep's circle.
What else do we need to know about artist reps?
Have you ever had or been a rep? How was the relationship structured?
I see room for more discussion on this topic, so please leave your comments below.