The Art of the Sale: A Few Tips For Artists
Artists are not naturally business people generally, nor are they legally savvy. But they need to have some skills in these areas to progress in their careers. Here are a few tips:
Know who you are dealing with
If you are dealing with a gallery, whether physical or online, or a dealer, or whoever it is that will help you sell your art, make sure you know who you are dealing with!
For instance you might be dealing with ‘The Bees Knees Gallery’. But who are the Bees Knees? Is it a limited company (‘Bees Knees Limited’ – it should say on the website or documentation, if only in the small print at the bottom)?
Or is a trading partnership, e.g. George Beesworthy and Linda Neasden trading as ‘The Bees Knees Gallery’. Or is it George trading on his own, with Linda doing the talking for him? It matters greatly so that you know who is ultimately responsible for the relationship, including paying you if a sale is made. It also allows you to check them out (remember Galleries can change hands). If you are dealing with a limited company, remember that the individuals behind it cannot usually be held personally responsible for paying you. If a company hasn’t been around for long, or even if it has sometimes, this could be a risk.
Don’t give away ownership of your work
Related to the above, don’t sign anything or agree anything which will transfer ownership of your work to a gallery, or indeed a purchaser through a gallery where the gallery is in effect an agent , until you have been paid. It might be different if you have a trusted relationship in place.
Where the gallery is an agent, and the purchaser is not known and trusted by you, you would not even want your work to be delivered until you are paid, in most circumstances.
Think about pricing
Working out how much your art should be priced at is difficult to do. If you have not sold much – if any – before, however good you are, your ‘saleability’ may be a lot less than more established artists.
You may be more concerned to be ‘better known’ at that stage. Take advice from the gallery obviously, but also from fellow artists (especially ones in a similar position to you). Listen, also, to people who appreciate and buy art. If your art is too expensive it won’t sell; but equally if it is too cheap people may underestimate its worth.
Your price could be out of kilter with other artists in the same gallery, which might not be good for relationships!
Be good to work with
Don’t be a prima donna with your art, how it should be hung, etc. At least not until you are famous! (Perhaps not even then!). Turn up for opening events and bring people along who are interested in buying art, even though they may buy someone else’s on the night, not yours. Remember the gallery’s success is your success. Don’t drink too much of the free wine at the opening event!
A word about reproduction rights. When Glasgow City Council bought Dali’s ‘Christ of St John on the Cross’ 50 years ago for £8,000, there was criticism of the expense at the time (in so far as local Scottish artists should have taken precedence in the purchase stakes when there were limited funds). But it was a great deal in more ways than one because the Council got all the reproduction rights too, which they now jealously guard.
Unless you are being paid something reasonable for them, keep the reproduction rights to yourself, whilst of course agreeing that the gallery may use a good photo of your work in all its present and future publicity.
Should all this be in writing?
Ideally yes, but when you are starting out, you may not get it, nor really can expect it, when galleries are doing their best to promote talent. But there will be general terms that a gallery may publish (even if only on website or social media page) which you can agree to and even sometimes negotiate around a bit individually (but don’t push your luck!). Even an exchange of emails can amount to a contract, or evidence of one. But remember this can cut both ways!
If you are an artist, I hope you find these tips useful.