Yesterday, Ron (who doesn’t want his last name included) wrote, “I’m considering representation by a gallery for the first time and I wondered what your advice might be in setting up a contract to ensure mutual roles and responsibilities. Many of my friends are represented by galleries and don’t have formal contracts. In my work-life I’m a business development officer and this goes completely against my grain. What are your thoughts?”
Thanks, Ron. I’m one of those who doesn’t believe in contracts. They can throw you off your game. If you’re dealing on consignment and have no reason to distrust — just let them have some work. You might get commission percentages and paydays in writing. That’s about it. You only need a contract if the jungle telegraph tells you that there’s been a problem in the past. If you do have to make a contract — give it a time frame. You can live with anything provided you know when you can get out. For the most part gallery owners are decent folks.
The three main bugaboos for artists are slow pay, low pay, and no pay. A trusting togetherness with a few works gives you a chance to test the three. In “low pay,” a dealer may chisel on discounts, framing, or fool with your agreed percentage. You can look the other way or you can kick ’em out. “Slow pay” is tolerable common practice, but with “no pay” you can close them down. Otherwise, don’t interfere. Let them do their job and you do yours.
Even though many galleries might profit from the advice of artists, you should only give it if you’re asked. Those that need it generally don’t ask, and those that do, generally don’t need it. A couple of years ago I was asked by a gallery if there was anything that might improve things. It’s a well run and lively gallery — they know what they’re doing. I suggested that they try paying their artists every week. So every Wednesday the boss tallies up the customer’s receipts for paid-up sales for the previous week and mails out a cheque. If there are no sales for a given artist — there’s no cheque that week. According to the dealer this has the effect of “more and better deliveries from artists, a higher standard of art, and more sales.” Surprisingly, it’s not that we artists always need the money, it’s that we need to be reminded that friends are out there in the front seats, taking the bugs in their teeth.
PS: “The solitary know the full joys of friendship.” (Willa Cather) “I get by with a little help from my friends.” (John Lennon) “A friend is a present you give yourself.” (Robert Louis Stevenson) “I’ll lean on you and you lean on me and we’ll be okay.” (Dave Matthews Band)
Esoterica: The possible downside of the weekly payday is that commercially oriented artists may fire off hasty works in order to fill the void. The entry of poorer quality work into a gallery can gradually and insidiously lower “price points” — the prices that habitual customers will pay in a given gallery. A non-discriminating gallery can see erosion. It’s always been curious to me that some galleries have trouble selling things over $10,000, while others sell little under.
Consignment forms for artists
by Deirdre Fox, Chicago, IL, USA
Unless an artist lives in a US state with a clear consignment law statute, e.g., Illinois, a written contract that makes it clear that the art work belongs to the artist and not to the gallery until sold will help protect him against the gallery’s creditors, etc., making any kind of claim to the work. Consignment agreement forms are online or at local libraries. Also, it’s wise to be sure that the gallery carries insurance for the work that is shown.
(RG note) As I write this, 31 US states have current laws protecting consignors of arts and crafts. The law and consignment information can be seen in this article from Nolo.com: Consigning Your Arts and Crafts by attorney Richard Stim. The form in use for US galleries is called “UCC Form 1” For more information on the UCC as it applies in your state visit: Uniform Commercial Code Locator.
Suggests gallery letter
by Liz Nichols
For the artist who has to have it in writing, how about just an informal letter as an agreement between Artist and Gallery. This would simply clarify some of the things talked about on the phone. List yours and their responsibilities as you understand them. Sign and date the letter. Ask the Gallery to make any corrections or changes before signing the letter and returning to you. An agreement signed by both parties qualifies as a contract.
Paying artists immediately
by Jim Norman
When Michael Kitei and I started Images2Gallery, our philosophy was that the internet was the successor to bricks and mortar, and that problems over money was the biggest gripe artists had about galleries. Our policy, and our written contract with our represented photographers, provides that the artist is paid immediately upon delivery of the print. We understand artists’ financial issues and want to be a gallery that’s considered supportive of our artists.
In case of bankruptcy
by Tony Van Hasselt, East Boothbay, ME, USA
The only thing I’d add in that contract, which I like to call a “letter of agreement” is the clarification that the works of art are on consignment and do not belong to the gallery. A friend of mine had quite a difficult time getting her work back after the gallery went bankrupt. Those in charge of the mess, assumed that all paintings were owned by the gallery. Her signed copy of that letter of agreement enabled her to get her paintings back.
Other considerations in gallery dealings
by Kitty Wallis, Portland, OR, USA
Gallery consignment is a pretty simple thing. But an artist might want to remember to ask about who pays the bill for shipping the work back, or does the gallery intend to double your framing price as well as the painting price? Will there be promotion paid for by the gallery? Who pays for the mailer for a show? But generally it’s ‘Send us work and we will send it back if it doesn’t sell, after a reasonable length of time.’
I like to trust the gallery owner and not ask all those questions. I look for a person who likes my work very much because I know that person can sell it. I want them to feel trusted and respected by me. I want a good clean relationship. Not just because I want them to sell the work but because I take my relationship with the gallery into my studio. Either the state of our relationship supports my work in the studio or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t it’s not worth it no matter how good their sales might be.
Artists by the hour, day, week, etc.
by Maggie Parker, UK
What to get paid is always the bugbear with artists. Here in England we have the Artists Newsletter magazine and a site that goes with it. It’s in conjunction with the University of Newcastle and the Arts Council of Great Britain.
(RG note) The link with examples of pricing charges for UK artists is: The Artists Information Company.
by oliver, Austin, TX, USA
I had a bad experience with one representative (out of many galleries, agents, reps, etc.) that has changed my practices a little. I insist on a good contract signed by the agent, gallery, rep etc., as well as an inventory of the work and insurance on the work. My bad experience was that it wasn’t working with the rep and I wanted my work back. Even though the deal was for her to pay for return, it didn’t come back even after I offered to pay return shipping.
“Put it in writing”
by John Ferrie
As an artist who teaches seminars about marketing and self promotion, I find your sort of advice irresponsible to a young and impressionable artist. I always tell artists that no matter what, get the deal in writing. Just scribble it down in your sketch book, date it, get it signed by both of you and make a copy for the other person. There is a phony around every corner, especially in the art world. What was said and agreed to six months ago can all become a fog of “…he said, she said…” If you want to talk about getting “thrown off your game,” wait to see how you feel once you have been screwed over a few times.
Crooks out there
by Dan Young, Van Nuys, CA, USA
I absolutely do not agree with you about the consignment agreements. Any legitimate art gallery has a contract or will sign your contract. Simple agreements are available from many sources. At least everyone knows what is expected if there is some paperwork.
I also request credit references and a list of artists who I can talk with. If they refuse to provide this I run. The only times I have been screwed have been when I didn’t follow my instincts when the gallery was hesitant to provide this info. Most galleries have these preprinted since they have to provide these to their framers, landlord, etc. Why is the artist a lesser business person since we provide inventory….. free of charge? I agree most gallery owners are great people, but it is better to know upfront if they have poor business practices than to find out six months and missing artwork later. My best galleries have quickly agreed to provide these requests and respect me for being a business person. Another issue you did not cover is if they go out of business or just lock the doors and leave. If you cannot show a consignment agreement their creditors can take your property as payment for debts or the police will not let you pick up your work. The contract should specifically say that the artwork cannot be held to pay for their debts which is frequently back rent.
The artist should also call once per month. It is amazing how that improved payments for me. If they tell you something sold you can expect payment within 30 days. Also, twice I have found out galleries were closing so I could pick up the work before they closed the doors. It was always the manager who alerted me. Galleries come and go for many reasons so you must assume that you will have to replace one of ten galleries every year or two.
Artists in the weaker position
by Lori Woodward Simons, Merrimack, NH, USA
I do need the money and do not appreciate even slow pay because it puts me in limbo as far as paying my bills. I do not have the luxury of slow pay at my end. I expect a check in 30 days from the sale. A few galleries I’ve worked with send the checks out every 15 days. I also know a few galleries who send out checks right away. Collectors ought to know that these particular galleries are paying their artists brilliantly.
I get upset when a painting has sold a while back and I find out either via another artist or the client who bought it. In one case, the client was offered a much higher price than I had stated as the retail price. This disturbs my price scale and causes problems later. I know all about the marriage analogy with a gallery; however, galleries have lots of wives and favorites. The reality is that I am asking the gallery to sell works for me — when they sell, I pay them a commission for the sale. That’s why it’s called a commission. They get money when they do their job. It’s human nature to want to hang onto money that you have in your hand. Artists are in the weaker position.
Portrait project problems
by Jenny Arntzen
I am using a portrait process that produces a collection of paintings of a given subject. I use photography, drawing and painting and the final piece is a collection. I designed the portrait shoot process and use only my own images. In some cases I have been commissioned to do this work and I have asked subjects to sit for me. I’m planning an exhibition of this series and I’m wondering what agreements I should have in place with the subjects. In one case, I have been given permission to exhibit the series as long as the subjects are not identified by name. When I ask someone to sit for me, the arrangement is that they will have first choice if they want to buy any of the work produced, after that I can sell what I want. At this point, all my agreements with subjects, both commission and non-commission, are verbal. I’m wondering if any other portrait artists might have thoughts, suggestions, or resources?
Needs to pay bills
by Brittani Faulkes
A gallery took me on midsummer and promptly sold a $3500 oil painting of which the customer paid for outright upon purchase (not in divided payments). Every time I request payment I get the short shrift and excuses about an accountant coming in Saturdays and whatever else they can come up with, but no firm date. Meanwhile they’ve mounted 2 costly exhibitions, no doubt funded in part by my commission. Small claims court is useless. Even when you win a suit, it is up to the winner to collect, so you are no better off. I realize it has been just short of 3 months, and we have no contract. It only has a receipt which stipulates a 50/50 split, but nothing about payday. I’ve never been treated so shabbily by a gallery. Am I being impatient, or too antsy? I need the money to pay my bills!
(RG note) Brittani has passed on the name of the gallery and we’ll follow up if it goes another month. Sometimes it just takes a call to say that the gallery is on a “watch list.” One of the best things an artist can do is to black ball an errant dealer by spreading the unpleasant word. Another useful tactic is to call the Better Business Bureau and lodge a complaint. Sometimes it’s possible to find out from this source if the problem has been chronic. Borderline dealers fear the day that five artists walk in together and withdraw their work.
Artist needs to take control
by Karen Jacobs, Birmingham, AL, USA
I’ve been through a lot of galleries during my career and they all vary in the way they deal with their artists. Some have contracts, most don’t. Some pay on time, too many let it go way too long. To give myself a degree of consistency with my records, I create my own contract with every inventory sheet which accompanies new work delivered. My data base is on my computer and I print out two copies which includes work “in stock” and “new work.” Not only does this record include all pertinent data re title, price, size and location date, but a note stating how many total pieces they are retaining, and the agreed on commission, discounts and a statement that the artist will be paid within 30 days of any sale. The gallery must sign one copy and return to me. They keep the other copy for their records. Without exception, my reps say they wish all artists had the same approach. Many artists don’t even have titles or prices when they show up with work, much less any sort of record to reference it. These indispensable records go into 3-ring notebooks, one for each gallery.
Publishing the photograph of the nude woman in the last clickback was a big mistake. I usually find your material tasteful, but this time you went too far. And to think that some people want to copy his work. Unsubscribe me and do not use my name.
(RG note) It was nearly impossible to unsubscribe you without using your name, but as usual Andrew was able to figure out a way. He tells me that running this website is more fun than a busload of Airedales.
In your letter you mentioned non-discriminating galleries. I think I have several of these in my stable. What do you mean by the term?
(RG note) Non-discriminating galleries pretty well hang everything that artists send them. They are essentially rudderless and may have given up trying to understand what’s going on. Collectors often sense this lack of direction. Discriminating galleries have “attitude.” They generally know what they want and feel strongly about who and what they represent.
Copying in another style
by Cindy Ricksgers, Beaver Island, MI, USA
So many opinions about copying! One of my favorite assignments is to copy a work of one artist, in the style of another. Paintings and artists are determined by drawing slips of paper, so the variations are endless. It encourages students to look for the essence of artwork and style, and to do some research into materials and methods. Imagine the Mona Lisa as painted by Van Gogh… Monet’s Water Lilies executed by Whistler… any landscape as Picasso would paint it. This serious delving into others’ work gives students an appreciation of artists and their methods that might otherwise be over-looked. Forced copying also clarifies the line between doing your own work and appropriating someone else’s. I think of it as a valid learning tool that should be set aside when you become a professional, that is when you decide to show or sell your work.
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
What gets interesting is the use of a copyright object as a prop in a painting. Say, for example a painting of a scene with a Coca-Cola sign in it. The fact that the sign is in public grants license to any photographer or painter to place the object in their art. A photographer may not be able to avoid the sign from his desired point of view. Clearly, the copyrights of the design, image or object are not being infringed upon, because one is not reproducing the object or image for profit or misrepresenting the image as one’s own work. So context is everything, e.g. I did a painting titled Wall Street Dog. It’s one in a series of paintings about greed and the ethical breakdown in the financial sector during the 1990s. It includes a recognizable image of The Wall Street Journal. The metaphor is: The dog has stolen the meat and is making off with the goods, and/or the Wall St. dog is a thief.
“It’s okay to steal”
by Sally Pollard, Weiser, ID, USA
I caught an interview with author Harold Evans who wrote a book about innovators called They Made America. He commented on how successful innovators work. He advised wannabees to be persistent and not to make assumptions. “It’s okay to steal,” he said. Learn from mistakes because things never work the first time. I couldn’t help but to identify “artist” with “innovator.” The thing about stealing is that an innovation has to be timely to be viable. The stealing part makes the innovation timely. Leonardo da Vinci had pounds of journal ideas that were brilliantly original, but not timely and are now only curiosities. But then is art related to innovation? Is art timely or timeless?
I’ve learned that truly new, creative stuff can be too radical, too different to be acceptable or even palatable. The audience needs to recognize the theft in an artwork to make the connections to the “aah”. How many threads makes it stealing, how tightly woven the theft to be plagiarism? No idea is completely original, but if it is too divergent then the artist has the bigger job of educating his audience to enjoying the works of true originality.
by David Wayne Wilson
I’m happy that my letter was put into the most recent clickback. I am now certain that my ideals won’t hold water in a court of law. I want to be able to sleep at night. I have changed my website’s contents to only legal images. This way I do not have to see myself as a criminal anymore. I do not agree with the Hitlerian laws about copy “rights,” but since the world at large sustains them, I’m getting out of the business of buying books and responding visually by painting these sleazy productions that essentially say “look but do not touch.” Half my works were copyright liabilities, so far as a non-lawyer can tell, and I ain’t gonna buy me a lawyer to tell me what a law tells him/her. Sadly, now, my URL is different than you’ve got on the links pages of The Painter’s Keys site. We had to change a word to change the site. I would hate for your viewers to keep going to a non-existent location. I don’t know whether you can readily change this, but I do hope so. God bless you all- Bob, Andrew, etc. You are a “fortress of well-being.”
(RG note) Yes we can make changes like this. We do it all the time and we’ve done it for you.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.