Friday Tips: Artists Dying of Exposure II


(Note: I posted this yesterday, but realized it would make a good Friday Tips discussion.  Besides, it’s Friday night and I’m late for a dinner party.  Does this mean I’m cheating?  Yeah, a little, but I did broaden the topic.) 

I was asked to speak before an influential group of retired businessmen and women this past summer. By “influential” I basically mean millionaires.  But listen, not all rich folks are jerks.  Many started with nothing, never forgot where they came from, and are generous beyond description, especially with the underprivileged.  Several of those types were present.

They dug the talk, the relevance of participating in the arts in our region, and helping the region to grow culturally. Nice round of applause. Most came up to thank me afterward, and I knew I’d won a few new clients. But one dude, inevitably, came up to tell me about his son’s practice, how they couldn’t afford art (yeah, right), but would I be willing to loan them works in exchange for the “exposure” the artists would get?

I thought of Louie Copt’s standard response to this kind of presumption: “Man, I know artists who have died of exposure.”

But as the art dealer I have to be diplomatic. So I just gave the dude a card, telling him in a certain tone that I’d think about it. He never called, apparently able to read a tone.  Man, some people. I mean, do you think this guy ever worked for free?

My point?  When you’re an emerging artist, you’ll inevitably have to do these gigs.  We all have.  But here are the rules:

1)  The host insures the work for its retail value.

2)  The exhibition should last no longer than 60 days.

3)  A table will be cleared for your cards, bios, press, etc.

4)  All works will be priced with a title card.

5)  A guest book will be set out where browsers can write their contact info.

6)  Offer a 10% commission to all the office workers, should they facilitate a sale.  Believe me it works, and is better than retaining 100% of nothin.

7)  Offer the host a discount at the end of the exhibit, if it helps to place a piece.

We never sold much doing these exhibits, since it normally takes a sales person to sell anything, including art.  But we did pick up a few clients, the hosts were grateful, and many later became collectors.  However, if the host has no interest in your work personally, I advise you not do it.  It’s important that they feel passion for what you do, so that the passion will become infectious.

6 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Artists Dying of Exposure II

  1. Paul the guidelines in this post are very good, thank you. I have had similar experiences with people asking me to do a painting for them using the same reasoning. If you paint this for me I will show it to all my friends at work and you will get great exposure. The implication is always that I do the painting for free. It gets even more sad when the person is suppossed to be a friend that should appreciate how much work it takes. I guess they assume painting is also fun or relaxing. Thanks again.

  2. Alex: One simple rule we’ve always stood by, even before I had a gallery and worked as a consultant out of my house: never, ever, ever do work for free when dealing with a client who can, and should, pay. It demeans you, your profession, and undermines your market. Now if you want to give work to a lover, or potential lover, that’s another matter. But business is business. I mean, how many lawyers, doctors and architects do you see working for free?

  3. Thanks for a great post, Paul! It needs to be repeated over and over, because I see artists falling into this trap on a regular basis. I really like this list of rules.

    This falls in the “Artist Beware” category along with “donating your art for a good cause.”

  4. I forward your posts about this subject (and the “silent art auction” stuff) to my artists’ list all the time. People who run auctions or want to just hang work for “exposure” look at me cross-eyed when I demand respect for the artists.

    Oh well, it takes time. My friend and I (she’s an art teacher for middle school kids, sainthood awaits her) are doing murals with kids who are disadvantaged, in trouble, etc. Guess what? They pay us and manage to find money when it’s necessary to give kids another way to work off their community service.

    I quote you all the time when these groups want it for free. If it’s important enough, they find the money.

    Thank you Paul.

  5. Jayne: Glad you’re forwarding the information. It’s past time that artists got tough about these issues, and received their due, since until society as a whole recognizes their essential value, they’ll continue to be seen as valueless.

    Great thing you’re doing with the kids. There needs to be more of it.

  6. When I was a wee artist in the world, I fell for a couple of these things. No more! I instantly adopt a “tone” with people who ask these types of things of me…and it usually works very well. I offer people a commission when they make a sale for me…always. It does really help in those types of places. Great post as always Paul…saving artists one blog post at a time! *grins*

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