Sharing thoughts and ideas about art, be it my own art or in general -- Sharing my own work and experiences as a professional artist/illustrator/graphic designer, as well as answering any questions of same.... Is the general purpose here. Whether you are a fellow artist, an art appreciator, or a friend -- All are welcome.

My Gallery Website is --- http://www.wonderments.com/

About Me

College: * The prestigious Art Center College of Design'73 * BFA, Towards work in Art Direction, Illustration, Graphic Design, Fine Art. I pursued free-lance illustration for many years in the SF Bay Area, where my work was used by publishers and in advertising. During that time, I was asked to teach illustration at the SF Academy of Art, which I did part-time for five years. I was a member of the SF Society of Illustrators, participated on the board of directors, was a show juror, and a contributor to The US Air Force Art program where three of my resulting paintings were inducted into the Air Force Art Collection in Washington D.C. Throughout my years as an illustrator, I pursued my fine art painting as well, and in the late 80's began my switch fairly completely over into that field. I made my living exclusively as an artist for many years in both the commercial and fine art ends of it. Art, design, and the creative fields have been my passion in life with regards to work and study. My paintings have been sold to individuals both in the USA and some overseas.

*Note -- A busy-busy world, and where many people hesitate in reading much anymore. Yes… in order to offer more than just short generalizations on some of the topics, I’ve taken the time to delve into things more deeply than just doing “sound bites”.

Whether you are a pro, beginning artist, one who does it as a hobby, or simply a person who likes art even if you are just starting to learn about it -- Feel free to comment and/or ask questions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Artist to Gallery/Middleman Relationship

The Artist to Gallery/Middleman Relationship

                              (This article is fairly long.  If you don't like to read, and unless you
                         have some in depth interest in such topics, you may not want to go on)
                         THE GREAT HIDDEN SCANDAL...


Let me say first --To all those in the art business who sell the work of artists, be it originals or prints, including art show owners/promoters, and art associations… If you are of the few who genuinely treat artists fairly in business, and respectfully -- You have my utmost of respect, and I applaud you!  You are an example of how things in the art business should be done, and with particular regard to how the primary players… The Artists, should be treated, without whose work and accomplished skills no one would have anything to show, sell and make a living from.

The words from most of those who are gallery owners, dealers, art show promoters, art publishers, and any other art middlemen, as well as the stage props and costumes (the fancy brick and mortar galleries, the costumes and demeanor of any of the middlemen/salesmen, anything… to purvey the illusion that they are (or must be…) knowledgeable, legitimate, and representatives of the highest order and professionalism for the Artists and their works) is largely what forms almost all of what so many people in society know concerning the workings of artists to gallery/middlemen business relationships.  This, like so many things, is and has been by careful design.  As an artist who like so many others, and for so long, has felt the sting of many incredibly unjust situations in the process of making a living in a business controlled so greatly by others, as well as hearing my fellow artists experiencing the same -- I will go to offer here a much different picture, to those interested in knowing the truth, quite different than what would ever be given or admitted to by most all of The Middlemen.

First, I think it’s important to say that as the title mentions, there is a great scandal existing within the subject.  It has in fact been going on for a long time, maybe to one degree or another, since the concept of such a working relationship between the players was invented.  It is my purpose though, to speak primarily about the here and now, and within context to my own lifetime of accumulated knowledge and experience with the subject.  Besides saying that there is a scandal, I should say also that it is a hugely covered up scandal.  But before going into details of it, let me first go about explaining whom the players are:

             The Art Middlemen as a group in general; 
Are people who aside from the more sophisticated names they commonly refer to themselves as - i.e., Art gallery owners/directors, art publishers, art show directors/promoters etc.–These would really be more accurately defined as – Middlemen, agents, retailers, and salesmen.  Their role in the art business is as their true occupational names suggest – They market and sell art.  Expertise in what they do has been established for most, by their education and/or work lives having been focused on their subject, selling and marketing.  Some are very good at what they do, others are not, but what they have in common is that their focus is, more than anything else, (including away from art) the practices and thinking common to selling, and salesmen.  As they’re chosen particular product to sell is art / creative works, people would (and do, unfortunately) naturally think that they’re knowledge of the subject must be very extensive.  The truth is, it most often is not.  A very, very few may know a lot having considerable and legitimate expertise, some may know some, but most only know enough to disguise the fact from the majority of the public, who generally themselves are not knowledgeable enough to know the difference. 

Lack of general awareness to that fact is the first tool, within a toolbox of many others, to which the middlemen/salesmen utilize towards they're ends (and only their ends) in the art business.  Knowing 'enough', to camouflage the fact that they actually know very little and are by no means experts, to the general public walking into their gallery etc., could be learned/memorized in a day or two, and by anyone from a former used car or shoe salesman, to a retired doctor or corporate big-wig.  Of which there are some of those as gallery owners/collector/dealers, as well.  And where to their particular usefulness, they further hoodwink the public into believing what must be their great expertise on art, since the accolades of their prior professions and wealth say… 'Well, they must be very knowledgeable'.  Wrong. 

So what about others who are gallery owners?  The nation is full of art galleries, coming and going (most going), and most are single location businesses and owned by individuals, not corporations.  One of the reasons there are so many, is because of the fact that opening an art gallery is far less expensive than opening most other retail stores/businesses.  One big reason for that is -- Because almost all galleries obtain their inventories, the art, at no --- Zero cost.  All on Consignment from the artists whose works they show.  That is a story in itself, and in how that comes to hugely impact artists.  But back on the point at hand… What about gallery owners such as artist owned galleries… wouldn't they have some viable knowledge about art, as well as be more inclined to deal with other artists (assuming they show other artists works as well as their own) more fairly?  The answer to both questions is…. Sometimes, but certainly not always, and perhaps better put… Only rarely.  A person who owns a gallery who has gotten into art at some point (often times these are retirees) and has done it as a Hobby on weekends, sometimes even in that, for a few months to a few years -- Will likely have more real knowledge about art itself than the others mentioned, but it is highly unlikely that they will have any complete and depth oriented real knowledge about art (although there are exceptions, so I do not mean to slight any of those).  It's not that they are not interested in it, and they may aspire to get to that point, including with their own art.  And that's commendable.  They may even be more inclined to dealing with other artists whose works they might show, with much fairer terms and conditions.  But the bottom line is, when they are gallery owners and selling their art and/or the art of other artists -- Are they helping or hindering the public's awareness, understanding and ongoing learning about art and what artists in the art business in general have been pressed to work and live under?  Because whether they are a hobbyist or other artist/gallery owner, or a person 'who just likes art' who used to be a cashier at the hardware store, or a retired doctor or lawyer, or a wealthy man's wife who "just adores art" and needs something to do…. any of whom might now own-run a gallery -- I can guarantee you that most would be putting their need/desire of selling art in their gallery, and their own profits, above and beyond anything or anyone else. Including if the gallery owner is an artist him or herself (or self proclaimed), in most cases they're self-interests will always go to precluding others, even including they're fellow artists whose work they hang on the walls of their gallery.  And making even the slightest efforts to educate anyone in the public about the scandal that has been going on, is rare indeed.  It's a further kind of catch-22 situation, because the truth is that many if not most in this vein of gallery owners would not know exceptional quality art and how it comes to be, any more than they would know how many fence posts there are in Siberia.

Sadly, when it gets right down to it, most could care less about such things, including most of the "artist" owned galleries, of which on the scale of things, there are actually not that many.  They can run parallel with the other types of gallery owners, who are only interested in -- Selling the art in their gallery, at the greatest profit to themselves, using whatever illusions might be necessary to sell the public that they are a good, knowledgeable and reputable place/person to buy from -- Be it a small and very austere gallery in a small town owned by a hobbyist oriented artist/owner, or a retired bakery worker or marketing person, or… a swanky 'high-end' gallery in New York or within some 'beautiful people' resort, either of such galleries likely owned and/or staffed by some 'very sophisticated' looking (and talking) costumed salesmen, or mucky-mucks of one sort or another.  Illusions-illusions, delusions-delusions. 

Finally, in defining many in the group, it should be noted regarding those to whom it would pertain, that as a part of their interest and proficiency in their profession (present or prior) as salesmen, they are people very active with all endeavors pursuant to the psychology of controlling and channeling other human beings.  It's much of what they do, and how they do it.  As I build a structure of facts towards the point of the issue, in order to avoid any reader making a seriously mistaken judgment, I would like to say that I have no inherent disrespect or dislike for salesmen or middlemen what-so-ever.  In fact I admire some of them in what they do as experts in their chosen field, although regretfully not as many that sell art, as those selling other things in other endeavors.

                                   The Artists;
Are in general of course, those who are creative people who produce artworks. While all artists including those who do their work more as a hobby or avocation are also impacted from the topic issue, I will go into discussion here more in reference to those artists who are professionals, such as I have been for most of my working life.  I will also not go into the bottomless pits of discussion and opinion about what is and should deserve to be titled as art, and what isn’t/shouldn't - What is good and/or exceptional art, and what isn't - Who is and should have a legitimate claim on being noted as an artist, and who is not and should not be.  For purposes here at least:  A professional artist is one who has or does make his/her primary or sole source of living through the production and sales of his/her art.  Interestingly, there are many in the general public who don’t realize that there actually are artists of this professional definition.  Then there are others who would not recognize the endeavor as a legitimate working profession in any case.  Many of these believe that whatever art they see on display and for sale, is the work of hobbyists or those who make their primary living in some other field.  Others can look at a piece of art, such as a painting hanging for sale in any sort of venue, and not even go so far as thinking about that it was produced by anyone, or understand that perhaps what they are looking at is the work of a person who has spent much or all of his/her life developing the ability/talent to be able to produce what they're seeing.  These kinds of things could be cited as major Fallacy #1, which ultimately goes itself to causing harsh consequences to those who are in fact professional artists, most of whom are in continual struggle to put the food on the table, and as they continue to pursue their passion and offer their very best to the buying public.  

Artists can also be clearly defined in ways other than as commonly thought of.  They are both innovators and manufacturers of product goods.  They are businessmen/women who own and operate their own small businesses.  They are involved with all of the duties and responsibilities inherent to maintaining a business, just as it is for others in any business.  In addition, a large focus is in the creation of their works and the continuing development of it.  This comes from the root of their greatest interest, but also because the particular goods they produce to make their livings are not necessities and not manufactured on an assembly line (although… some do that, and sell it as otherwise) or by robots, and are a luxury to most people’s definition or circumstances.  Art as a profession is extremely competitive.  Aside from the typical lifelong self-passions of constantly seeking to better their work for their own fulfillment and drive, artists are faced with certain realities.  They must strive to making their work the best it can be at any given time in their working lives, in order to have best chances at survival for their business, and any chance at survival or a decent living for themselves and their families.  Most artists unfortunately do not have much or any latitudes of safety nets, cushions, or ability to absorb losses in unprofitable time spent, materials bought, or anything else costing but not rendering a return.  They are, for all practical purposes, living on the edge and living with far less than most, in comparatives to most other fields (including non-professional jobs) in their returns for true work efforts, and for the skilled expertise they’ve acquired to do the work, which most have paid dearly for, including in economic and standard of living sacrifices over many years.

I believe most artists have at one time or another, in seeing the news of others in society who make a living in things other than art, who themselves are having/have had difficulties and have complaints over returns to them from their own particular work, who then often come to better success and having such concerns rectified in whole or part, through their making vocal note of it to those who might be in control, or even through their unions and public at large -- That Artists, naturally making comparatives with these other folks to their own similar plight of difficulties, -- Have felt absolutely amazed many times, at either their complaints, or… the comparative (to artists) luxury of their gaining positive outcomes for themselves  from their complaints and making their inequities known.  Also, to many Artists, since it would be considered a luxury (since they rarely see it for themselves), it is amazing to see that others in other professions/work who make efforts to protect / better themselves, is a common awareness in society and therefore is allowed as both accepted and legitimate… for them.  But regardless of the amazement and a fair amount of lament in essentially being shut out of such norms, and taken for granted by so many others - Artists go about their business and producing their work, for as long and as well as they can – perhaps over a lifetime -- where they are forced to accept the differences to them, as well as the generally low awareness of that situation from their fellow human beings.  This does not come because artists have some ‘Hollywood’ movie oriented like for suffering, but because -- 1.) It comes with the territory in the business as it is and has been made to be… by those of financial advantage who are largely in control of the business, by lack of societal awareness of it from what they have been misled to believe, or that they simply do not care.  2.) That serious professional Artists are committed to their work, and that as people with a passion for their work, they are not prone to being quitters.  All of the above from the end of fallacy #1 to this point, I will offer as fallacies #2.  It defines much but certainly not all, of what so many people in general are completely unaware of and have in their misunderstandings or flawed definitions/perceptions of artists, and the art profession. 

However, there are some others who are very aware of the above, and put together with their own particular interests and work expertise, have found the situations as a ripe opportunity.  To some degree these are the profit/investor art collectors, but for the most part ---- They are The Art Business Middlemen.

                       THE SCANDAL
Given all of the above as a preface, here are a few question(s); Between the two parties, Artists / The Middlemen, which do you think would be the most prone to developing strategies in business between the two that would bring them profits at the expense and even the potential poverty to the other?  Which of the two would be more likely to have such tendencies, based on their field, it’s inherent practices, and the personality types involved?  Which of the two would therefore
have a vested interest in maintenance of such a scenario, and as a part, doing everything possible to keep it unrecognized or under wraps from the general public?  Which of the two is in a vulnerable position to being exploited and threatened into submission to it, by the other?  I think the answers should be easy for most anyone.  How about Artists in such things?  The way I see it, have seen it; Greed, huge egos, self-centeredness, and a lack of ethics in how one treats and deals with others -- Has no boundary limitations to any one group.  Artists are no exception to being able to be about such things.  But as much as many as the other aforementioned types of people, and within their activities in the art business? No, nowhere close.  None-the-less, there are a fair number of artists who are about such things and conduct themselves in such ways… ohhhhh yes.  I have seen, and been the direct recipient of it on more than one occasion from such 'fellow' artists.  As just one example; Many years ago when I was a free-lance illustrator in the SF Bay Area, I was a member of the SF Society of Illustrators, a fairly noteworthy group of working professionals.  We had a club show one year of member's works, to be hung in the ground floor lobby/entrance to a SF office building, in the heart of the city.  One of the instructions/guidelines to all members was -  'To hang your work on the provided panels in the lobby, come early!  Space on the panels as well as where/which panels, is to be on a first-come first-serve basis'.  OK, so I went early, and driving from across the Bay where I lived, in order to try and assure a good spot for my art.  Hung my allowed several pieces, and went out to get a cup of coffee down the street.  Came back, shocked to find that my art had been removed from the panels I had hung it on, and put on another panel towards the back of the lobby and facing away from the building entrance as well.  Turned out that one of my 'fellow artist'/illustrators, who had come in later and while I was out for coffee, took it upon himself to take my art down, to replace it with his own, moving mine to the back.  I was livid, but I did not want to cause a scene.  My 'fellow' artist and one of his cohorts said "Well, I've/he's been in the club longer than you have, and I've/he is also on the board of directors".  Hmmm…. Never did see that kind of note as part of the instructions or rules about the show (no one would have tolerated it as a rule set before the show), as well as that I was a dues paying member as well, and thinking back now, I believe at the time I was also on the board of directors myself.  Unbelievable pushiness, ego's, and one-upmanship I have seen from time to time by fellow artists, sad to say, but very true.  But nowhere near the extent of such things from artists, as from the other people in the business I have already referred to.  And, I have no doubt that while not all, many of these particular artists who have been about some such things, have probably been driven to it, in their minds anyway -- By way of being faced with trying to make a living -- while faced with the core and brunt of all such things bearing down on them from the middlemen and all the rest, including many buyers who have expectations from artists such that they (artists) may as well be degraded into being sidewalk street merchants from a 3rd world country, where a nickel and dime bargain and negotiation is fair game, and completely apropos.      

For the purpose of explaining details of ‘The Scandal’ in the easiest fashion, I will list below practices common with so many of The Art Middlemen, and the subsequent effects to artists, the art business, and in fact to the public at large.  The list is not necessarily in an order.  Also let me make it clear again, I am not suggesting that all middlemen, be they in the art business or some other, are of the type being described here.  There are some that prescribe to a different standard of ethics in business, are fair-minded people, and who genuinely care about the fair treatment and respectfulness shown to artists.  However, in my experience as well as that of so many other artists, the reality is that those are very few and far between.

1.) In order to sell their work and survive, obviously artists (in the fine arts) must have their works on display to the public.  The Middlemen are in a very powerful position in that endeavor.  They almost entirely control the walls of display – Be it gallery walls, art show and auction walls, and the ‘walls’ in the published art print market.  There are some rare exceptions to that, such as artists who have broken off from the norms of display & marketing by showing in their own galleries/studios, or a very few successful (and exclusive.. they too are very, very protectionist, and where incredible ego's can abound) artist groups being established who self-control the showings of their works.  And now, those of us who have taken advantage of the Internet, showing our work on our own websites.  Most artists however, are consumed with the time and energy needed to producing their work.  They rarely find opportunity or time to take the matters of display & marketing of their works completely into their own hands, and/or, they are largely intimidated into an acceptance of the controlling Middlemen norms.

         The Middlemen dictate the terms and conditions:
A) Galleries and other middlemen charge artists high prices for their work being placed on the walls.  Galleries typically demand anywhere from 40 to 50% commissions on each sale.   I have heard of others requiring even higher, all the way to 70%!  Art show promoters/owners charge significant fees to artists, as well as commissions on show auction sales, and where the terms to artists in show auction venues are typically a total ‘set up’ to the artist’s works being forced into a wheeling and dealing free for all.  Art publishers typically not only give pittances of returns to artists in comparison to their own profits, but they also write/force contract terms and conditions typically putting the artists returns into speculation, and last but not least, the artists freedoms as independent business people into a form of bondage.  

B) Galleries, dealers, and art show people with very rare exception – Do not buy art from artists to then resell. They take it in on ‘consignment’ with no payment what-so-ever to artists up front.  They have the incredible luxury of stocking their retail stores/venues with inventory, cost free.  The products of this inventory represent major investments of time and labor by the artists.  They also represent many out of pocket costs to the artists.  Art materials, framing, and all other overhead expenses associated to the art having been produced and ready for display, are not free and not cheap.  One of these, framing, is worth mentioning in so much as that -- The Middlemen typically not only expect it to be provided by the artist and that it is of high quality, but that this expense to the artists is something the artist will not likely be allowed to recoup in the price/sale of the art!  On the other hand, the Middleman will be gaining a profit from it at the time of the art selling.  In concert to this, and along with commission rates, The Middlemen typically dictate (either directly or indirectly) to the artists what retail prices will be set on the artist’s works.  This of course renders any possibility of the artist having any ability to controlling his/her end returns being viably profitable, and/or even being able to recoup his/her costs – as nonexistent. 
C.)  As if A and B were not enough, there’s more.  Typically, The Middlemen dictate when the artists will be paid, after when and if one of their works has sold – Usually later than sooner  (Why not use the artist’s assets some more?)  Further, The Middlemen can typically dictate that the artist will not be allowed to sell his/her art themselves, either out of their studios or from other retail outlets in a given area, or sometimes anywhere.  They essentially take over the artist’s freedom and rights/needs as an independent business.  The Middlemen typically require the artists agree to having their art loaned out to potential buyers "on approval" when such requests arise.  Meanwhile, the artists have a significant investment of their work in a holding pattern to their receiving any compensation from it.  If wheeling and dealing bargaining comes up from a buyer, The Middlemen will ask the artist to lower his/her price – They will rarely if ever accommodate the bargain, by way of lowering their commission.  Most of The Middlemen will commit to as little as possible (most often, going too essentially… nothing) to expending time or funds to promoting the artist.  Those that do make any expenditure in promotion of an artist, will do so with such expenses being utilized as legitimization that the artist accept even worse case (to the artists) terms/conditions forced on them by The Middlemen.  In other words, any costs in promotion will ultimately come from a subtraction in the artist’s returns -- which have already been made into a ridiculously low or next to nothing return.  More often than not, The Middlemen will make all decisions as to where on the walls (in whatever venue it may be) the artist works will be displayed, and other things pertinent to the quality of display effecting odds of sales --  To which the artists are in the most dire position, their works being in the consignment scenario, of which the work is not mass produced, and to which they must wait for any possible return.  My Gosh… many of these same Middlemen actually dictate to the artists what they should paint, or, strongly ‘encourage’ what they should paint.. if… they want their work on the walls and promoted! I’m sorry, but that in itself runs totally contrary to the best in art being created, from artists who are creative individuals, and where the best art comes about from their freedom to do create/paint what they want to, including factoring in, yes… their own careful choices/decisions (which, if they are serious artists and/or professionals, they must do at a reasonable level) on how saleable it is or may be. 

Finally, The Middlemen, be they gallery people or art show/auction people, will not share with the artists the names of any buyers of their artwork!  The obvious reason for this is they do not want to risk artists going to buyers directly, cutting The Middlemen out of other sales.  While that could be a legitimate concern, there would be other ways of accomplishing the need.  The method used however, puts the artists into a further loss.  They are cut out of the valuable return in business of the development of buyer’s lists, to which their works and investments have been instrumental in producing.  Additionally, artists are prevented from having a knowledge of where their art works have gone and are existing, which historically in the field, is important to any ability in showing such information of their life's work and careers in publications or retrospective shows.

2.) The Middlemen do not allow any of the above to be put into fair consideration of discussion or negotiations with artists.  Should an artist raise any of these issues, even to attempt to see if they might be negotiated on and with all politeness, The Middlemen have long established lines of rhetoric or tactics (not the least of which is their power of their walls in any case) to sidestep or quickly evaporate an artists attempt to protect his/her interests.  For example, on the issue of overhead expenses -- The Middlemen always speak at great length of this on their end, as legitimization of their terms and conditions.  What they will not speak of, or allow in discussion of an equal fashion, is the artist’s end of this issue.  The artists in fact have much more at stake in a total of overhead costs, investments having been made, and risks inherent in the consignment dictate scenario.  But The Middlemen are very adept at evading, denying or steam rolling the facts. 

3.) The public at large has been, and remains almost entirely unaware of all this.  We are living in an era where the issues of workers rights, fair business practices, and unethical/unfair exploitation of occupational groups, is not uncommon to being raised in public awareness. This of course is a good thing where it is legitimate, and many who have had their plights rectified, have come to finally having their lives bettered and injustices to them attended too.  They may not have had all of their needs and rights repaired, but they have at the very least had their situations become known to the public.  They have at least had their plights reported and become known by society at large, which gives the start of some odds in their problems being focused on to possible remedy.

Artists as people and as an occupational group have unfortunately not come anywhere close to having the same situation finally come to them.  Why? --- Aside from the nature of artists being largely independent people, and from one another, inherent to the sort of work they/we do – and, in context to the business as it exists, and has largely been made to exist by others (The Middlemen) in a dog eat dog scenario  -----   The Middlemen have a vested interest in keeping everything just the way it is --- Including all the details, discussion, or news of it kept out of the public eye.  Should any of it rise even the slightest bit in any rare occasion, The Middlemen have all the tools of their rhetoric, and their power, to quickly camouflage it, deny it, and bury it.

Aside from the ongoing effects of this to the artists, it is a situation having a hugely negative impact on the quality of culture, as art being an element.  As Art and artists are being controlled greatly by The Middlemen, the outcome is something entirely different than if it were otherwise.  The contributions of art coming into cultures enrichment – Which art – How much art -- Is being greatly moderated by the controls and powers of The Middlemen in the business, and over artists.

                         So what is there to do about this?
Artists who are ‘set’ financially, either by other means, or perhaps having attained fortunate greater notoriety/fame in their careers, are of course not as impacted by the whole situation, at least in their own lives.  Although I will say for these, that for the sake of caring about the profession as a whole, they certainly should be concerned about these issues, and actively pursue rectifying them in the ways they can.  To not do so, say with attitudes such as -- “I have mine, so I could care less about this or other artists being affected by it”. Or… “I’m protecting my turf, I could care less about the impact of this to other artists”…… Let me say for these types artists who have this attitude while basking in the fortunate positions that they are -- While I might have great respect for some of them in their work, as far as my opinion of them as human beings I would say… Well, maybe I won’t say, here.

But for all artists who do not have the above advantages, I would offer these thoughts and suggestions which I believe would make a positive difference -- 

1.) Artists themselves need to know the truth and facts of this situation.  Amazingly many do not, or, have not faced up to it for themselves.  Certainly art students do not know, and it's highly unlikely that the powers-that-be in colleges will educate them about it.  Knowledge is power - Ignorance makes you vulnerable, and sets up bad odds for success.  Along with artists already working, certainly beginners and students need to know the facts about these issues.  Artists can go for many years not understanding this situation, ‘spinning their wheels’, and resulting in a huge waste of time, money, and sacrifices to themselves, and perhaps their families, that they might not have had to suffer (or at least as much of) had they known what the real deal is in the art business.  I say 'might not have had', because in this business, the old saying 'there's no guarantees' to success and security, is certainly applicable even if an artist has become 'street wise'.  Art Schools, Instructors / Teachers, be they in institutions or ‘workshops’, should take the high road, and offer some instruction to their students about the subject - at bare minimum, at least when asked or when the topic(s) are/should be raised. 

2.) Artists need to understand and accept the fact that they are in a business - Because they/you are!  They must approach any and all venues/middlemen for selling their art with that in mind - Totally.  If an artist insists on only playing the role of -- “I’m an artist, and therefore I do not have any interest in the business details side of it at all (including his/her own returns)”…. You will pay the price for that ‘movie script’, and you will set yourself up to being fully vulnerable to all those who are more than willing to exploit that mindset and naivety, towards their own profitable returns and off of your talent and work. 

3.) Artists need to stand up and take charge of their own destinies as much as is possible, insisting on maintaining their rights to control their own businesses, and business scenarios which will have a direct impact on their careers and lives as a whole.  There are almost always compromises to be made in doing business with other players.  But the bottom line is, that it has to make sense to an Artists own needs and vested interests, not just the other side.  That is… if you are trying/needing to put the food on your table with sales of your art.  How much an artist is willing to compromise on say, terms and conditions given by a gallery or art show promoter, is going to vary depending on the particular situation of each artist.  But even an artist in the most dire need to show his/her work anywhere, just to get it somewhere to be seen (i.e. the weakest position) -- Should still be very scrutinizing on everything, and everybody connected, in the pure business sense, towards the decision of whether or not to become involved with a particular venue or middleman.  Artists should, and they have a right too, respectfully ask all pertinent questions to the owner/manager of the venue, which will have an effect on their business interests.  And… to get actual answers to the questions, not evasions or hype, or accepting listening to BS intimidation tactics indicating that they are out of line to even ask such things.  I won’t list them all here, perhaps another post at some time. But they should be easy enough to figure out, assuming an artist has taken on the serious mindset of thinking best odds of their interests being served in any arrangement/terms/conditions with an art selling venue.  At the same time, being reasonable and logical enough to realize that the venue owner also has a legitimate need to make decisions and agreements that will allow him/her reasonable odds at reasonable profits.  If an artist becomes faced with bad terms/conditions with a less than reasonable venue owner, all the way to a “It’s all my way, or nothing” type, you will know that’s the case fairly quickly -- assuming you are doing your job of taking a close look, asking the right questions, and not getting mesmerized by your need, or ego driven desire, to just get your work on the walls at any and all costs.  Remember…It’s not going to serve your most important needs to making a living, which would include the expenses of continuing to do your art, if sales of your art from any venue do not return you enough, after the expenses/commissions to the venue, or, the time they’ve taken to sell it etc.  And certainly the same, if they do not have the expertise, commitment, and/or following of customers, to sell it at all!  You cannot go to the grocery store, load up the basket, and go to the store manager saying “I don’t have any money to buy this today, but hey… my art is hanging in a gallery”. Etc. 

4.) Among other questions to gallery venues, artists should take a look, and ask, how many sales are made on average a month? And since it is the art business and that can vary widely in any venue, ask for a look at many months.  You don't know if you will be told or shown the truth, but it's still worth inquiring about, if for nothing else to show the middleman in front of you that you are not a na├»ve, easy pushover wet-noodle, an easy target for taking advantage of.  Also, ask the question of how many original works are sold, in comparison to print reproductions (if the gallery sells both)?  Many galleries sell primarily prints, even though they might have originals on their walls.  If you are in more need, or complete need to sell your originals, then obviously a venue/gallery that only or mostly sells prints, is not going to be a good odds venue for you to be involved with.  Just another important business question and decision.

I believe the answers to the topic problems here, ultimately must come from the artists, and in the form of educating the public about the truth of the situation, as a first step.  Because the general public, those with interest in art, and ultimately the Buyers of art, stand to make the most difference to the problems, if they can become widely aware of it, and through that, bring the power of their pocket books down to bare on those in the art business where these problems come from. The problems being solved will probably not come in my lifetime, if they ever really do, because the system and powers-that-be are so deeply entrenched.  But for what it’s worth, while there are those who may be making their own efforts as well and perhaps far better than I can do it, I have made my best effort here.  I would not feel good about going to my end without having tried in at least some small way to make a positive difference.  I'm in the later years of my life, and in all honesty have not been active in the business for a while now, due to 'crossroads' that came up to me some years back.  But the positive in that, is that it gives me a feeling of some additional latitude to discuss this subject, and perhaps with a little more bravado -- Because at this point, I frankly do not give a #*=t  about what anyone would want to argue as contrary and as a challenge, and if I can provide some positive impact through offering what I know is the truth, coming from my own lifetime of experiences as an artist/creative person, as well as that of others I have known, then that is what matters.  I will say, that there is no automatic guarantee to art middlemen, be they galleries or whoever, that they either will make a profitable successful business for themselves.  They do have their own problems to face in the art business, as well as having expenses involved, and the rightful desire to prosper.  I have no lack of understanding or fair reasoning to such things, to the nature of free enterprise, capitalism, and that there are no guarantees in life.  The reader should also understand that neither I nor most any other artists I know who would speak about the issues here do not/would not do so either as ‘whiners’ to norms typical to business, or in the notion that such ill situations are unique only to artists.  And as I noted at the start of this writing -- For those who would by definition here, be they either Art Business Middlemen, or even Art Associations -- If they are of the all-to-few who genuinely treat artists respectfully and fairly in business…I have the utmost of respect for them, and wish them great and continued success.  However, for those of the ‘other sorts’ (they well know… who they are), as for This Artist, and regarding my own work and life -- Take a Hike!

I would give the reader a challenge to proving out the points made herein:  Pertinent to, for example, galleries that have successfully been in business for a period of years --- A question for you --- Between the gallery Middlemen, and the artists whose work hang on their walls; Which of the two most often drives the nicer cars, has a home (or the nicer home), has such things as health and life insurance, can afford brace’s for their kids teeth and can send them to college, and have money in the bank, including retirement savings etc. etc. ??  Check it out, or let me save you some trouble in doing the survey --- The answer is with only rare exception -- The Middlemen / Salesmen, just as it is with middlemen in the art shows/auctions and the art print publishing business.

So what is there to do about this?;  By art enthusiasts/looker’s, from beginners to long-timer’s -- My hope is that with the knowledge you will ----

1.) Try to seek out art galleries or other outlets displaying art, including art shows (and certainly, artists directly in their studios), who deal with artists in a fair and respectful way.  Ask others who might be ‘in the know’, or, ask the gallery/show people questions to get some tips to find out, such as; “What commission percentage do you take from the artists when you sell their work?” They may refuse to answer you, or, frankly lie, but it never hurts to ask such pertinent questions when you are interested in such things… The artist(s), whose work you might be wanting to buy.  If you’re looking for art you like and might want to buy, patronize these art businesses and their artists -- Along with getting a nice piece of art you will enjoy, you will be supporting good and fair art business people, and of course the artists whose work hangs on their walls, and will now hang on one of yours. If you find a piece of art you want to buy in galleries or other places where you do not know how the artists are treated, … Try to find out where the artist him/herself is located, and make the effort to contact them yourself about their art.  Additionally and perhaps even better yet, seek out artists who wisely exercise their rights to sell their works themselves, including through their own galleries, or their “open door” studios, and now with the internet thankfully having come into play, artists who show their work online, such as I do myself. 

2.) While any ‘brand’ of artist will surely appreciate your purchasing their work, including hobbyists, don’t forget to seek out and patronize artists who are working professionals.  Remember…they are not doing their work for a little extra pocket change - many if not most of them (excepting those born wealthy, or through some other means have such a tremendous advantage) are literally trying to put the food on their tables along with all else, with sales of their works.  And lastly, Please, for the sake of all serious artists, and the cultural value of art -- Do not patronize outlets and ‘art shows’ such as those that advertise on TV… “Coming to a location in your area” (usually hotels/motels -- and where they used to call themselves ‘Starving Artist Sale’, now changed to something else, no doubt because of flak they received from that degradation to all artists), where the "art" they sell is actually from overseas such as China, where such "art" is often produced assembly-line fashion, such as for example, one person paints the sky and shoves it down the line to the next person who paints the grass… and so on.  If you like it, and want to buy something in venues/outlets such as these, that of course is your right to do so.  Just remember, that the above who and what, is who/what you are patronizing with your dollars, while there are many, many serious artists in this country and others who do wonderful work available to you, many of whom are struggling to make a living.  Assembly line originals (actual ‘paintings’, not prints) are not art… it is assembly line garbage.  That would be the same for prints from/of such ‘originals’, or, from any ‘rubber-stamped’ art produced, done only to manufacture yet another quick and cheap product to get onto the shelf - And all described/defined to the public as “art”. It’s my guess that even the poor assembly line ‘artists’ who are doing it overseas, are being treated/paid by their handlers poorly (and all driven by the marketers/middlemen who buy it from them). 

I hope I have shed a little light onto the real picture for any who within the multitudes, understandably do not know of these things, but who would be interested.  I know not all will care, but perhaps some will, and that will be a worthwhile step in the right direction.

Wayne Snyder  ©1997

Post article note, 2012 ---

In the year 1999, major crossroads came up in my life.  I will not go into specifically what, but they were to such an effect that I was forced to put my entire career as a professional artist on the back shelf.  It was that, or be on the street, literally.  I first searched very hard (and for a year), ultimately even knocking on any door of any business in several cities, driving street to street, looking for a job.  First looking for something related to my career and all my experience, as well as my educational degree many years prior.  Nothing.  No one wanted a 50 year old guy, and who had no backdrop as an employee, regardless of my expertise, the level of my education, and what could have been my value to them in experience.  Then, went to looking for any sort of job, clear down to a clerk at convenience stores, or box stores.  Nothing.  Same problems.  Ultimately came to the conclusion that I must try to do something in another sort of business.  Having done much of it over life for myself and with good skills in the work, as well as others in the family having been in such businesses, I became a home remodeling contractor.  Did that for around 7 years, until the Great Recession hit the whole country in 2007, and collapsing my work/business in that field, as it has so many other millions of people in their work occupations and what-have-you, all over the country.  And… oh yes… there was no shortage of garbage one has to deal with in that business as well, both from really low-life 'big talker' competitors having no code of ethics, to wheeling-dealing customers 'so tight they squeak', wanting for cheap (as in 3rd world prices, or more relevant to prices 30 years ago), my quality of work, dependability, and honesty, having learned from others by word of mouth that's what I provided.  So, long story short, I've had to hang up my tool belt and hammer, as I did having to hang up my brushes and easel previously.  Now at the age of 62, I've begun to think from time to time about all of my art studio equipment, supplies, as well as my existing inventory of original art from when I had to put my career aside, all sitting safely stored out in a storage shed I built here on our property where we have our little cabin/home.  So the thought is, and has also been kindly encouraged to me by a few others --- OK, how about starting to paint again, and get back into the art business?  Hmmmmm……Yes, that's a question all right.  Maybe I will.  The actual doing of the art was always the real joy in the whole past experiences.  The business end of it all, a less than satisfying experience, to say the least.  So if I do break out the brushes, I think I'll completely avoid thinking about doing any business with it, at least in any way even remotely like I had been involved in that before.  Besides, I still have around 60 finished originals stored, most of them framed, all just as saleable as they were when I had to shelve my career 12 years ago.  If someone wants to buy one of my pieces, existing, or if I produce new ones, and with no-nonsense put to me in the mix, sure… I will probably do that.  If someone in the business, middleman or whoever of the sort wants to show my work in a viable venue, with no-nonsense in the proposal of terms and conditions…. I might even do that.  Maybe I should get a guy like that one whose name was Vince, who did the Shamwow product TV commercials some years back, to sell my existing inventory (I'm of course kidding).  He was hilarious in those ads, doing his selling of the product, but in a sort of comedy schtick way doing an entertaining mockery of slick TV fast talking marketers.  One of his lines was something like, "But you need to order now, because you know we can't do this all day". 

At any rate, if I do start doing my art again one thing is for sure -- I will not waste any more of my life's time or go to accommodating in the slightest, either middlemen or potential buyers, who are of the sort I've mentioned in this article.  Sounds like I'm a bit cranky and bitter?  No, I'm not cranky or even really bitter about this, or as a person at all.  I'm just tuned in to the facts of the real-deal, after a lifetime of it, completely fed up with it, and no longer willing to put up with it.  Perhaps, and hopefully, the situation will get better over time, for others.

My best to you!  --  Wayne 2012             

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