An artist wrote to ask if he needed a contract. “Just trying to get my act together and be professional as I try to work with more galleries,” he said. While an agreement sounds obvious, it’s not always the case for a gallery to push a piece of paper across the desk when offering to take you on. Like us, dealers are often dreamers, constructing a mystery and magic in a business sometimes still joyfully held up by a parcel of paintings, enthusiasm and a handshake.
My only possible explanation for this is that ours is a special venture — part business, part collaboration, part symbiosis. There will always be interlopers spoiling the fun, but my experience has been that most of the apple carts are handled by sweethearts. In over two dozen years, I can think of only one who was a bit of a downer. She had many wonderful qualities; just settling her accounts wasn’t one of them and we had to part ways.
Perhaps watching my dad form long-lasting and intimate friendships with most of his dealers has created in me a kind of trust and appreciation for them and their special skills. “They’re each unique and individual,” he’d say. “Let them do it in their own style; they know their wheelhouse, and they’re sticking their neck out for you every day.” Taking their input and encouragement on board has spurred me to try for better and better work myself.
With the idea of setting an intention, knowing your own business and honouring theirs, here are a few ideas:
Set a commission structure for consigned work.
Consign individual paintings to one gallery at a time. (In other words, avoid sending images of already consigned work to new galleries, exhibitions or competitions.)
Provide professional digital images, written support material and a signed list of consigned works upon each delivery. Keep your own records.
Standardize pricing across all galleries and review it annually.
Give the gallery at least a year to sell consigned work.
Agree with the gallery on a fair geographical territory.
Decide who’s responsible for framing. Galleries that frame offer their clientele an added service and supplement their business with a second retail arm, but not all galleries are set up for it or are interested.
Generally, the artist is responsible for the delivery of consigned work. The gallery is responsible for returning unsold work.
The gallery should have adequate and insured storage.
Generally, the gallery is responsible for marketing and promotional costs, though artists and galleries can get together at times on extra efforts if they choose.
Each gallery owner and artist is an individual sharing a unique venture and a common goal. We’re in it together and there’s plenty of creative room to reinvent and advance our partnerships. “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration,” wrote director, producer, writer and actor Amy Poehler. “Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
PS: “I lost my job as an art salesman. It was the customer’s fault. He wanted to buy the wrong paintings.” (Vincent van Gogh)
Esoterica: “One of the things I like about our contract is that you have relieved me of a great deal of personal interviewing and corresponding, among other things, which allows me a lot more time for painting,” wrote artist E. J. Hughes from his home on Vancouver Island to his dealer Max Stern in Montreal. For E.J. and Max, their alliance worked intimately, with Max steering E.J. in the creative and technical direction of joint professional achievement. Artist-gallery relationships run the gamut from almost totally hands-off to an in-each-other’s-pockets love affair. We’re all unique in this way and if we’re lucky, we find our match, based on our creative and professional needs. “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” (Epictetus)
“All my dealers are the best of people… They earn every dollar of their commissions as they are in full partnership with their artists. I can sit in my studio and do nothing but paint pictures.” (Harley Brown)
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Capturing the beauty of nature and expressing those impressions in oil paint is a joy. Every hour of the day presents new possibilities and keeps even the same landscape location, same composition, an ongoing and beckoning challenge. For this reason, I love painting series: it is exploration made visual.