There are all kinds of opportunities for you to show and to sell your art.
It's thrilling when a new opportunity comes your way. You want to jump on it. But then the doubts creep in. There's no reason to get cynical.
My advice is to approach each opportunity from a place of trust because you never know what will come of it.
Then you must back up that trust by verifying it with research and securing written agreements.
Here’s how you do that.
For any organization, exhibition or venue, a little googling can answer a lot of questions.
- What’s the website like?
- How long have they been in business?
- Do you like the work you see? Would you be proud to have your art shown alongside it?
- Is the quality of the photography and videography good?
- Are all works credited to the artists?
- Are they active on social media?
- Do you see their calendar listings in local publications?
- Are their shows reviewed by publications?
- Do they advertise?
- If it's an online gallery, do they make it easy for customers to purchase?
Visit the Better Business Bureau site and enter the business name to see if any complaints have been filed against it.
Visit brick-and-mortar spaces to check out cleanliness, professionalism, and staff manners. Look for red dots on the walls, keeping in mind that not all galleries mark artworks as Sold.
Inquire from all angles.
After thanking the sheik from Qatar for his interest in your art, ask how he found your site and what he liked most about the artwork he’s interested in. (This is too much work for the phonies.)
Ask organizers of juried exhibitions how many years they have been operating, and what the traffic and sales volume have been in the past.
Ask everyone for references from happy artists or clients.
Ask artists associated with the venue or organization what their sales have been like.
- Have they been paid in a timely manner?
- Has communication been good?
- Has the other party lived up to their promises?
Yes! You can ask these questions. Better to ask them now rather than hit yourself later for not taking the initiative.
Now that you've done your homework, you can begin to finalize the deal.
Make it official by getting it in writing.
Many people brag about doing business on a handshake, but getting a signature on a piece of paper will save you all kinds of grief.
And, yes, you should get it in writing even if the person on the other end is your best friend. Scratch that. You should get it in writing especially if the person on the other end is your best friend.
Written agreements will save your relationships.
Let me say that again: written agreements will save your relationships. We often think that they are unnecessary and can come between two people, when they actually do just the opposite. They ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows their individual roles.
It would be tragic for you to lose a longtime friendship because you each had different expectations of a transaction. This is why you have written agreements not just with new people in your life, but also with those with whom you are closest.
On a related note, and a lesson I learned the hard way, keep all correspondence related to a potential transaction.
Get everything in writing and organized in a single spot. You want a solid paper, or digital paper, trail.
You will need agreements for the following situations.
- Gallery consignments
- Commissioned artwork
- Loans of artwork (for whenever you leave your artwork anywhere)
- Donated artwork
- Teaching commitments
- Speaking engagements
If the venue or organization doesn’t have a standard agreement, you must create one. If you’re the initiator of the transaction (such as loaning your art or leading a workshop), it’s best if you write the contract.
Don’t ship anything until everything is in writing and the money, if it’s included in the transaction, has cleared the bank.
Protect yourself and your future.
As the CEO of your art business, it's your responsibility to do the research, ask questions, and close deals with a written contract. Nobody will ever care about your well being as much as you do.
Looking for written agreement resources?
You will find contracts for exhibition loans and consigning your art in Harriete Estel Berman's Professional Guidelines. Created in consultation with experts in the field, they are a true gift to artists everywhere.
This post was originally published on July 31, 2014 and has been expanded and updated with original comments intact.