It takes more than a few emails to sell a work of art. It requires building relationships, persistence, a gift of persuasive speech, and a base of knowledge in art history and contemporary art trends. To succeed in this field, you need one foot planted in the world of the creative and abstract and the other rooted in a practical and financial world.
Your Green Period
The best thing you can do to become an artist representative is learn about art. If you’re in high school, take art classes. If you’re an adult, take classes at a community center or college. Research is vital. You must learn to appreciate, understand and describe the art. As an artist representative, you form the bridge between the artist and the buyer by articulating why the artwork merits purchase and how the buyer’s interpretation matches that of the work’s creator. Go to museums, start an art club in your school, and check out books in the library about art history to build up your knowledge base.
A degree can earn you some credibility among artists. About half of artist agents have a college degree, and an additional 25 percent have some college experience, according to O*Net OnLine. Some schools are reputable in art history, such as the Rhode Island School of Design. Others such as Berklee School of Music, offer certificate programs on artist management. These schools employ teachers with a track record in the business who can impart advice and connections to artists and agents. They can also provide internships that can lead to employment in the industry.
In Good Company
Since you’re starting your career at the ground level, you should find artists also at that level. It’s unrealistic to expect to manage artists commanding high prices. At this level, you’ll be able to work on personalizing what the artist has to offer and what you have to offer. This is the most important skill you have to offer an artist: translating what’s on the canvas to what a buyer or gallery owner wants. Be prepared to lecture on your client’s art. Or set up a question and answer session, and school your client on how to sell what she has to offer. You and your client can build her identity together if you’re starting from scratch.
Once you’re ready to start your business, you need to convince artists they need you. Many artists underestimate the financial or legal aspects of the business, and you need to explain why they should trust you to handle these important matters. Art consultant Alan Bamberger, for instance, tells a story about how two artists lost $1.2 million and $400,000 commissions for sculptures because they balked at paying their travel fees to discuss their projects with corporate executives. An agent would have explained that paying these fees is standard practice in the corporate world. You need to explain that -- for a reasonable fee or commission -- your business savvy will help the artist maximize her worth.
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- Berklee Online: Artist Management
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- Photo Credit DanComaniciu/iStock/Getty Images
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