In order to succeed in business, one must invest financially in said business. The business of the freelance artist and/or writer offers no exception to this rule. Overhead and expenses are as much a reality for the freelancer as they are for the retailer. However, retailers aren’t automatically branded as “suckers” and therefore are not solicited several times a day to be separated from their hard-earned cash under the guise of making an “investment” in their future. Case in point: VANITY services. Fee-based publishers, agents, and galleries whose major income is derived by charging the talent rather than promoting the talent. Are these services really worth the exorbitant fees? Will paying for Career Management really push my career to the next level? Will paying for a two-week show in a New York City gallery get me the highly prized “New York artist” credential? Will paying to be listed in an Art Directory really get my name and work known?
As a business owner, I am prepared to invest money in my business ... and have invested quite a lot over the years. Art supplies, promotional materials, postage, advertising, photography, portfolio materials, jury fees, professional associations, business books, seminars, website and a slew of other essentials for doing business as a freelance artist. Not to mention the costs associated with getting the works to clients or to galleries for exhibitions ... matting, glazing, framing, shipping, insurance, etc. All this comes directly out of my pocket. I guess I wouldn’t mind so much paying someone else to “get my career to the next level” if indeed by doing so would defray some of the costs of doing business that I currently absorb myself.
But the vanity services don’t defray costs, they merely add to them. I was approached by a well-known vanity gallery located in NYC a few years ago and was offered to participate in their “Invitational Showcase”. For $2100.00, I could have five to six pieces included in the “salon-style” show featuring a “mixed bag of works” which would run December 6 - 24. The gallery would accept shipment of my work, unpack and hang said work. Return packaging and shipping is the responsibility of the artist (the gallery does not re-package artwork nor arrange for shipping company pickup). Insurance while en route and on premises is the responsibility of the artist. The artist receives from the gallery 100 invitations with his/her name and dates of the show printed on them ... the mailing list and the postage is the responsibility of the artist. The gallery will provide a champagne reception for the artists in connection with their showcase exhibition. Guest list to be provided by the artist. Sounds like a great deal, right?
I was responsible for everything except hanging the works and having someone on-site to “sell” the works. The gallery offered no established collector or critics list and since I didn’t have access to NYC collectors on my own, I would only be able to rely upon “walk-ins” for sales. In addition to having to pay for travel from my home in South Central PA to NYC for the show’s reception, I would also have to travel there to re-package and arrange for shipping of my work (or hire someone to do it for me). As the gallery doesn’t store packing materials, I would have to purchase (or bring) those materials with me. With the show ending on Christmas Eve, I wouldn’t want to be in New York alone for Christmas ... so I would have opted to take my works down early. For which, I would have had to pay a penalty to the gallery. I could have opted to have the works stored in the gallery until after the holiday for a rather steep fee (plus additional insurance). All told, as I figured it at the time, it would cost me close to $10,000 to have my less than two-week showcase in NYC. If I had sent six oil paintings sized 24" x 36" and managed to sell all of them, at full price: I’d only manage to make $8,208 after subtracting the gallery’s 5% commission on each sale. I’d be $1,792 in the hole not factoring in for self-promotion costs. What price, Vanity?!
Sadly, this constant drain of income from artists is not going to cease anytime soon. It’s an accepted myth that art and money don’t mix. That the proper condition of the artist is one of poverty to achieve artistic purity. Artists battle this perception daily when dealing with the general public – those outside the art world. Those who assume that because you are talented and love what you do, you should gladly give the fruits of your labor away. What angers me most about these vanity services is that they are offered by people who are supposedly within the art world. People who claim to know how difficult it is to survive on an artist’s income. People who should know better than to prey on their fellow artists.
As starving artist Vincent van Gogh once remarked, “I see more and more that my work goes infinitely better when I am properly fed.” Art, properly fed, enriches the pocketbook as well as the soul. I read a World Science article on February 13 which stated that recent studies suggest that by placing an image of a painting – almost any painting – onto a product, or into a product pitch, consistently makes viewers rate the items to be more luxurious.
Vanessa M. Patrick, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s business college, who co-authored this research said, “Art has connotations of excellence, luxury, and sophistication that spill over onto the goods with which it’s associated.” She adds, “this so called ‘art infusion effect’ seems to work for everything from silverware to soap dispensers.” The study concluded that even consumers who don’t bother to examine a specific picture still admire the general “quest for excellence” that art represents. People naturally “recognize the creativity and skill involved; it’s a universal phenomenon, and it stands out”.
Visual arts, product packaging and advertising have always been linked in order to persuade consumers to buy products. Art has been used to sell almost everything ... from the abstract like politics and religion to the luxurious like cars and home furnishings to the ordinary like cleaning supplies and food products. Simply put, art is a commodity. Whether its use is to enhance the home of the collector, to further a movement, or to sell products. Vanity services bank on the artist being ignorant of their art’s true commercial value.
Which leads me to my next question: If consumers value art and collectors value art; then why are the artists who create this valuable art constantly being stiffed when it comes time to receive their fair share of any art transaction? But that’s another blog.