15 Minutes on Emerging Artist Survival


Talk given by at the Presentation Party Night at Bat Haus in Bushwick

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In this post I am going to be talking about survival as an artist in 2014 – Below are five main points that you should have in the back of your mind as you are trying to make your art capable of having a sustainable career.

1. An Emerging Artist Is More Than Just The Work.

I am going to start with the premise that while everything you are doing as an artist may appear like purely play and enjoyable, there’s a lot of significance going on with what you are carrying forward with your work. There are two aspects, two memes here that I want you to bear in mind.

The first thing: both your life and your work are obviously valuable. But for your life and your work to be carried out through situations that could be ambivalent or difficult you’d better be prepared. You’d better have some equipment on and you better know what you’re doing with that equipment in order to carry those things that are really important to you forward.

So what I’m going to try to do here is work in a metaphor, Some minimum knowledge, some minimum capacity, some minimum equipment that you will want to bear in mind before you continue to deal with the process of being an artist in a world that is at times both ambivalent or at best agnostic to your efforts.

2. An Invoice Can Mean A Lot

Here I’m going to go through the notion of ‘an invoice’.  All of you who are artists produce works – works you are going to be giving to other people at some point for money – for less money, for more money, for whatever it is that you want to have for those works in some type of exchange, or some type of compensation – as opposed going into the world of contracts.

Everybody hates contracts, that sounds very legal and very demanding.  I’ll just talk about the notion of always doing something on paper in the form of an invoice. It could be on a serviette or in any form possible. You will want to put a couple of things on that simple piece of paper which will help you as an artist moving forward, which will give you agency, give you the equipment to carry your work forward – carry the things you value forward.

2.1 Title

For example, if you put in an invoice that until you see the money, the title to the work stays with you, that means you have the legal rights over it.  Even if you give the artwork over to somebody until you have received the full amount or whatever you are asking for, you retain title.  You write that on the invoice

An invoice, which is a contract, can be a simple piece of paper on which rests the contingency: the title of the artwork passes after payment. That means that if that is simply there, and it accompanies your artwork, the artwork is still yours officially until you are compensated. It means it’s comparatively easy to get your artwork back if full compensation isn’t made.

Think of it as if you’ve got your baby’s on a leash.  They’re not going anywhere until that money is paid.  Metaphorically, they’re not going to get lost, or run out into traffic.  You got your work on a leash, until you’re compensated or until such time as you decided that you’ve been adequately compensated and you can move forward.

2.2 Copyright

What else can go on the invoice?  Don’t forget, we’re entering a period where a significant amount of visual art will be consumed online, will be consumed in various electronic forms in the future. You produce a visual piece of art today and you give it away to somebody, on the invoice point out the fact that they can have the object, they can enjoy the object, but you enjoy the copyright. Copyright includes all the things related to making reproductions of your work, adapting it, assigning the rights, exploiting the work, Make the work available by technological etc.

So, even a serviette with just these two phrases written on it will facilitate the value of your work and your career.

2.3 Availability

At some point, if you struggle long and hard enough you are going to have a body of work. Interestingly enough, the first works you do even though they may not mean much to you, in the course of time they will to people who want to understand your work. You may have emotionally moved on, but somebody, whether it’s a gallerist, a curator or someone else will really, really, want to know where your first works are, or the first works of significance that you’ve made. Why? Because they provide context, they provide history to your production.

A lot of what you are doing is just what you’re doing in the moment and that may be fantastic and that might work for you, but a lot of cases it won’t be enough for the people who want to support you and be behind you.

So, your invoice should contain at least as much information about the buyer as possible, in order for your gallerist, a curator, a museum – anybody you are professionally dealing with to later be able to find your work.  And also, it this ensures the person you’re giving the work to is made aware of the fact that you may want to get that work back – want it loaned back to you in the future for maybe a retrospective or some kind of contextualization of your work. So you should include these terms in the invoice – that the buyer agrees to make the art available upon reasonable request For exhibition at the artist's studio, galleries and museums. Remember, if all your works gone, the people who care about what you are doing can’t bring the work back, can’t reconstruct your narrative.

2.4 Right First Refusal

So, your work goes out. You’re five years, maybe ten years later in your artistic career now. You may have representation or something similar at this point.

You don’t want works that are meaningful to your body of work, just randomly floating out there in space. This can be very, very disruptive for your gallerist’s or your representation’s ability to work well with your career, Stabilize your career, ensure you have a solid footing beneath you.

Again, metaphorically, do you want your work speeding of along the highway, or do you want it taking the off ramp, perhaps to your current gallerist?

So, if you include another provision in your invoice, again on that serviette with one line, to say something like this:

“For the artwork held by the buyer or any transferee of the buyer may be sold or otherwise transferred, the artist has the right of first refusal.”

What does that mean? It means that the person who has the work comes back to you, and asks you, “do you want to match the price I can get for this or should it go onto the highway of commerce?”

These are the four elements that – if they are included in any type of documentation, which you should for your own interest, will be very helpful for the people who want to help you.

3. Gallery Representation

How do you get representation? Here is the top ten list of where and how you can recruit representation:

1.   Artist recommendation

2.   Curator recommendation

3.   Solo or group show

4.   Art fair

5.   Slide registry or flat file

6.   Submission or open call

7.   Other Recommendation

8.   Social Event

9.   Open Studios

10. Jurying a show.

As you can see, the number one way is to get representation in a gallery is to be recommended by an artist already at the dinner table. So, unless you are going to galleries familiarizing yourself with the people at the table and you have legitimate organic overlap with them, you are most likely not to get representation.

If you look at where solo or group shows is (position of three). Now, that doesn’t mean that 1 is maybe forty or fifty percent of recommendations lead to representation, but that number 3 does offer a significantly lower chance than you’ll get with number one 1 and so on.

To succeed with your career as a sustainable artist, it is very important not to confuse production of high quality work with the path to representation.  You must understand how the world works in this way and respect it.  It’s not just about being a sycophant and just hanging around and being a pest. It means finding community who are at the table already and seeing whether it’s a good fit, or developing that fit organically

So this is the notion of recruiting. So what don’t we want to do? Don’t send in blind submissions, this is probably not known to a lot of people, but there’s nobody out there wanting to see stuff. If there’s no connect created organically by hard work, nobody wants to see it typically.

Also, don’t to walk into a gallery with your portfolio asking for “just five minutes”, don’t bring your portfolio to someone else’s opening.  Don’t ever approach a gallerist at a fair, don’t interrupt a gallerist while he’s working and don’t harass people

If you can’t build up the relationship organically, don’t try to impose yourself.

4. The Consignment Relationship

When you as an artist give an artwork to a gallerist, that gallerist does not have title (as discussed in ‘invoices’.  As an example, in New York state the artwork is yours, and you only lend it, effectively, to the gallerist for the purpose of sale

That means that you ‘consign’ it.  The artwork itself is what’s called ‘trust property’, and the profits from the sale of the artwork are trust property.  They do not belong to the gallerist, they belong exclusively to you, the artist, without question by law.

It is almost impossible by contract to change that, whether you’re signing in terms contracts or with the verbal agreements that you may or may not make with the gallerist.

Bear in mind the law is not terribly interested in such agreements. Instead, it has imposed a very high standard on that relationship by law. This means you do not give your artwork up. It does not belong to the gallery, does not belong to the gallerist, it belongs to you. You have title. If that person sells that artwork, that money by law has to go to a separate account for your benefit. It cannot be commingled with the gallerists other moneys.

If that money is commingled, it is considered a crime, for example, in New York. It’s a misdemeanor, but is still a crime as of a year or so ago.

4.1 Fiduciary Obligations

There is a big F word in the art word that many of you will never have heard of, ‘fiduciary’ obligations A gallerist is your fiduciary. That means the gallerist owes you a very high standard of care, in terms of accounting to you and transparency.  In the real world, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case; the gallerists choose you. They may in the obstructed of the relationship be making all kinds of decisions.  Ultimately, however, by law, they are obligated to do what you instruct.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s the law.  They are your agents. That is what the law says about that relationship.  So if you if you find yourself in a relationship where you get into a conflict with a gallerist – I’m not saying that you should seek conflict or try and lord over the agency factor against them – you have significant recourse. And if you have the right vocabulary to articulate that, the law is on your side immensely.

Typical things that the fiduciary duties include:  to deal honestly, to disclose information, to account of any profits and to manage the consigned artwork prudently.

This is the consignment relationship. You must distinguish as artists in a representation between consignment, which means a trust – your artwork is trust property to the gallerists, but you are also in a relationship that is often representation.

That means the meme is: The gallerist must sacrifice their best interests to serve your best interests. That is the law.  That means that if a gallerist can be proven to be serving their interests over your interests, they are actually breaking the law.  That’s not going to help you in all instances, because the law is not going to rush in to save you, but you must be aware that the gallerist, as a professional has to have an understanding of these standards of care for which the law will obligate them.

For example, in the case of the liability of the dealer as an agent or the gallerist as an agent, when the gallerist has undertaken in some form to propel your career forward, to shape your career, to decide your career steps, to place you on the marketplace; that person is an agent of you.  Just like when somebody represents you in any other matter.  They are subject to very high standards of accounting and having your best interests, and all of that is capable of being looked at by the court or by the legal system

Again, this is not the goal, but you just have to bear in mind that the de facto power relationship is not the legal relationship

In short, the gallerists’s fiduciary obligations is to act exclusively in the artist’s interests And must scrupulously give up all advantages beyond the contractually defined compensations for his services. That’s imposed by law and it's almost impossible to contract out of.

5. You and Art Fairs

Now, imagine a riot at an Apple Store as a meme for art fairs.  Art fairs are a place – you have probably been to one – where thousands and thousands of artworks are shown, hundreds and hundreds of artists are represented, and collectors from all over the world descend to buy the artworks, to the extent that they are available at the art fair, on the spot.

Art fairs are the new normal.

The point here is – a significant part of turnover for galleries, if not the majority of money earned by galleries is earned at art fairs.  Galleries themselves are loss leaders to prop up the brand  So, you have to keep in mind that if you are not selling at art fairs, whether you like it or not, you can’t possibly be contributing – as a rule – to the galleries bottom line.

So, as much as the art fairs are the scourge, they are the economic savior of most of the galleries out there trying to lord their relationships over you.

Bear that in mind, and don’t think just because you are going to get a solo show in a gallery that that’s going to be your career. Your interest to the galleries will depend, now and moving forward, on how much of your stuff is selling at the art fair.

That’s it.  Questions?


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