Many artists experience enormous frustration when it comes to advertising themselves and selling their work. The business side of the art world can be an intimidating place, even for experienced and marketing savvy artists, so more often than not, artists everywhere are wishing for someone that’d handle the branding, promotion, and sale of their art for them.
In this article, we’re going to explore the subject of an Artist Agent, touching on the reasons to have or not to have one, how to find an artist agent and select the one that’s right for you, and offer some tips on how to work with an artist agent.
What is an artist agent?
An artist agent is any professional who works on behalf of an artist to represent, promote, and sell their work. In many ways, they represent the business interests of the artist, whether by pursuing individual sales, licensing deals, publicity, or opportunities like teaching, events, or commissions for artists.
An artist agent might be a private art dealer, an art consultant, a gallery, or even just a professional with the right connections, like a publicist or marketing consultant.
Do you need an agent?
This is a debate that artists have been having for as long as the idea of agents has existed. Certainly, having an artist agent has its pros and cons.
Reasons to have an art agent:
- For their connections. Artist agents professionally sell art and represent artists, so they will be bound to have more connections with collectors, event organizers, press, and other art professionals than the average artist.
- For sales, publicity, and event opportunities. Well, this is the point of an artist agent. Ideally, an agent will get you all of these and more. A good agent with the right connections might also help you secure financing for future projects, introduce you to potential sponsors and important people in other industries, opening up a world of opportunity.
- To save time. When an artist agent is working on your behalf, you can spend your time focusing on creating art. And, let’s face it, isn’t that why you really became an artist?
- If your business skills are lacking. If you are not comfortable networking or connection-building, then an agent may be worth the cost. Artists are often known for being introverts, and there’s no shame in it.
Agents are particularly beneficial for well-established artists who have consistent sales and high profit. If this is the case for you, your priority should be creating more artwork; you can afford to, and should, shoulder up the commission to have somebody else deal with the business end of things.
Reasons not to have an artist agent:
- It can cost a lot. As you know, selling artwork can be hard and time-consuming. For this reason, fine art agents will make their money by either charging a commission or an upfront salary for representation. For some artists who are just starting out, the prices of their artwork cannot bear this burden.
- To make your own connections. If an agent is working on your behalf, then he or she is the one dealing with collectors, reporters, or other art professionals. You might end up missing out on the benefit of making these connections for yourself, as these people may help you later on in your art career.
- Agents may be stretched too thin. Unless you are your agent’s only client, they are working just as hard to promote other artists as well as yourself. While a professional agent wouldn’t stretch his or herself too thin, there’s always that chance that, when talking to a collector, your agent might mention another of their artists and not you.
If, after reading this, you’ve decided that you want an agent, read on to learn how to find, select, and work with the right agent.
If you’ve decided that you would be better off without an agent and would rather represent yourself, check out our other articles on promoting your own art:
- Our Art Marketing category contains a few helpful articles on the essentials of self-promotion.
- Our Social Media category will go over the important how-tos of social media exposure.
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How to Find an Artist Agent
So you’re interested in finding an agent to represent your art. Well, fortunately, agents are as interested in finding new clients as artists are in finding agents. They often attend art events, like exhibitions, fairs, and open studios. They also look for artists by searching the internet – so be sure that your website is attractive, up to date, and is strong in SEO.
Still, you can’t just have a nice website and expect the agent to do all the work. There aren’t many artist agents out there, so if you are looking for somebody to help with your business you have to be active about it.
Find agents through buyers. A great way to find a reputable agent is to ask former or potential collectors if they ever work with any agents. This way, not only are you getting the name of an agent, you’re also aware that this particular agent does work with art collectors – and, particularly, the kind of collectors who have interest in your work!
Find agents through other artists. Sharing information with other artists is a great way to learn about new opportunities while also learning about new trends in the art world and getting exposed to amazing art. Fellow artists at events and exhibition may be able to offer you some great recommendations for potential agents.
Search the web. Just like some agents are finding artists on the web, you can find your next agent through a simple online search. Start local, looking for artist agents in your area. You can search “artist representative,” “private art dealer,” or “fine art representation” with your city or zip code to get some great results.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Important! Be vigilant when searching the web and remember to approach things with a cool head. If something sounds too good to be true or, on the flip side of the coin, looks shady, then it probably is. Be careful not to sign up with the wrong website or take a too-good-to-be-true offer, you can end up wasting a lot of time and money on an unproductive relationship. [/pullquote]
Friends and family. Many of the artists that Agora Gallery works with were first introduced to us by their spouses, parents, children, or friends. You don’t need a fancy degree to be an agent, and many artists have a support network full of people who are happy to help them out. Just don’t impose on your loved ones; wait for them to offer their help before demanding it of them.
Galleries as agents. Some galleries, like Agora Gallery, operate like agents for artists. You can research ‘representational galleries’ – just be sure to keep an eye out for vanity galleries. Unlike Agora Gallery, these are galleries that simply charge for the opportunity to hang your artwork on their walls. They do not offer any services, and may often hide your art away in some corner, essentially stealing your money. Be sure to do your research, inquire about sales, look at the other artists they represent, and, when possible, visit them in person to make sure they are legitimate.
How to Select an Artist Agent
Artist agents do not require any license to represent artists. Additionally, agents who charge an up-front fee may end up costing you more than they make for you. Before hiring an agent, make sure to do your research, particularly when it comes to the results that you want. You’ll want to be sure that they have experience selling the type of art that you create and, just as important, they sell it consistently.
Find reviews from other artists. You can ask the agent what other artists they represent and seek out their advice. Not only should you be looking into the success rate of the agent, you also want to see what type of art they typically deal in. For example, a landscape photography specialist might not have the resources to sell figurative sculptures.
Meet them in person. One of the best ways to tell if this particular artist agent is right for you is to see them face-to-face. A nice, long conversation about your expectations and values is sure to make clear whether you can have a working relationship with this person or not. This will also help you avoid online scams or disreputable agents.
Find out what, if any, exclusivity policies the agent has. Certain agents’ contracts may specify that they are entitled to a commission regardless of how the work sells, or they might limit you from selling artwork on your own. Make sure that your potential agent’s policies are something you can live with for the term of their employment.
Other Tips for Working with Artist Agents:
Don’t commit yourself immediately. If you are just starting a relationship with an agent, limit the contract to one year or even 6 months. That way, if things aren’t working out with this agent, you won’t be set back too much. The term will end, and you can look elsewhere.
Communicate regularly. Don’t leave them alone for months without checking in, and don’t hover too closely. Make a point of checking in once every few weeks. You can let them know about new developments in your art, or simply just ask if they have any updates. However – if you check in too often, you can end up distracting your agent, annoying them, and creating a negative relationship.
Be clear about your goals. Are you more interested in exhibiting your work? Selling to private buyers? Getting publicity? Your agent isn’t a mind-reader, so be sure to explain exactly what you are looking for.
Be open. Tell your agent what they need to know in order to sell your work. Be willing to talk about your work, your process, and your background. If your agent has questions, answer them clearly, so they can become a you-expert and sell your art.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”blue” class=”” size=””]Looking for gallery representation? Agora Gallery connects artists with New York audiences while offering amazing PR services. Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.[/pullquote]
Have you worked with agents before? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Be sure to share your comments and questions in the comments below.
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