For some reason, I keep bumping into this question today. For example, on the Art Biz blog, the following questions were  asked of the art readership:

  • Is there such a thing as a fine art representative or agent (not gallerist) that can do all the work for you?
  • How are they paid?
  • How do you find them?

There were 7 responses, the last time I looked. All with interesting perspectives on the whole thing. One of the contributors Maria brophy, an artist agent herself (now just for her husband) advocates representing yourself.

I am not necessarily talking about agents herein this post though, as my experience is with managers, so it is important for me to define what I mean by an artist manager/representative and an agent. An agent deals with sales, chasing prospects, negotiating and closing deals. A manager can do many things ranging from helping to organize you and manage your time, helping to come up with and implement business ideas, negotiating, coaching and support. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably which can be somewhat confusing.

My perspective: 

Is there such a thing as a fine art representative or agent (not gallerist) that can do all the work for you?

Why the hell would anyone want somebody to do ALL of the work for them?  If you give someone that much power over you, over your life, your career, well you are just asking for TROUBLE! Even if such a person existed, I for one would never want to hand over that much power. Apart from the obvious, there is something so satisfying about doing things for yourself, learning and growing, and the satisfaction of knowing that when you achieve a set goal, knowing that you did it YOURSELF.

Someone like Hazel Dooney does a fine job of representing herself. According to Barney Davey’s article on her in his blog “Art Print Issues”, (which kind of struck me as an ode to Miss Dooney, although who can blame him, I am becoming a bit obsessed with her myself…) she manages all of the sales and marketing side of her art, and she approaches the whole thing with an admirable passion and zeal that almost makes her destined to be super successful. She is widely respected and her work is very collectible. But not everyone has the kind of drive, tenacity and skill set required to do ALL of that. So what to do if you do not have all of those skills but you still want to make it alone? LEARN! Or get someone to help you or coach you, the Art Biz coach blog is an excellent source of information. Learn everything there is to learn about art BUSINESS (no its not a dirty word!), learn about sales and the marketing of art. I am learning new things every day and it is all adding up. I will post as I go and pass on information and resources…. Ask Maria Brophy about hiring an art consultant to get you past the hard bits if you think it would help. Apparently, it is cheaper than hiring a manager..

My background is in biology, business and sales, so I understand sales and marketing. I rather like the business side of things, it excites me (there is nothing like the feeling of selling a painting seeing your baby turned into cold hard cash), although, when you are in the early stages of your career like I am (almost 4 years in whoop whoop!), trust me, it is one thing selling other peoples products and another thing entirely selling your own work that you have put your heart and soul into.

I started out with a business manager, lost him, kept going and building with the help of close friends and family and have now come full circle back to having a manager, my very own version of  Frank Dunphy! I do not feel like I MUST HAVE A MANAGER. I certainly do not rely on him to do everything. I deal with sales invoices from my art prints, getting them printed, stamped, signed and posted is all down to me. I do the internet marketing myself from home and WE work as a team, WE brainstorm marketing and sales ideas. He is (his words!) my bull dog in meetings and he makes sure that no one takes advantage of me. As an artist who just wants to sell work, it can be tempting to just take what is offered even when that may not make the most sense from a business point of view and may not be in your best interests. The manager is able to look at things with a cold sharp eye, without the emotional attachment, make smart judgments and pick up on things that you might otherwise miss.

Communication and team work is key. Also, if you think that having a manager would make things easy, think again! I am working so much harder now than I was before (and I thought I used to work hard then), and more efficiently thanks to my manager. I work at least 13 hours EVERY DAY (a little less on the weekends admittedly). It is brilliant and satisfying to wake up and be so focused on the goals for that day, and even better that I have someone there cheering me on and giving input. I speak to my manager EVERY DAY. WE are on our way to something bigger and better than where WE are now and I simply would not want to be without him, he has accelerated my progress exponentially! We are building every day. Although if I had to, I know that I could go it alone, as I have done it before.

My conclusion to that question is that it is my opinion that to have a manager by your side to help, assist and advise, to back you up with extra knowledge like copywrite law etc is good. It is a bonus though, not a necessity. Hazel Dooney is living proof that you can do it alone if you have the guts, the determination, the contacts, the networking skills, and so on… It is not easy, but it is not impossible.

How are they paid? 
Our agreement is a percentage of sales. Mr Hirst and many other artists do the same thing. According to Maria Brophy, you can end up paying up to 50% of sales (that would be an agent who is involved in selling and closing deals also. You would have to define the nature of the position of your agent/manager before signing anything)! 50%!! Well what happens when you sell through a gallery and they take 30 -70% on top of that, then you end up with peanuts?? Hell no! Not necessary. Take control. Salaried managers/agents can charge up tp $5000!! Crazy money unless you are doing really really well.

How do you find them?

Well it could be anyone. Maria Brophy manages her husband who is an artist and they are doing very well from that arrangement. My manager came to me by chance. We have known each other for some time, and he is someone who I have turned to for business advice from time to time over the years. One day, he just suggested that I could probably benefit from having someone help me. We arranged a meeting and agreed on terms and it went from there. That was just this summer and he has been brilliant. He has done artist management  before and has lots of experience with intellectual property and dealing with litigations. He is a brilliant negotiator and is my strongest ally in meetings and a really good friend.

So your future manager (not slave!) could be closer than you think. I would not have a clue where to look for a professional manager who I did not know and why would I want to? Trust is so important just like in any relationship. Its like having a boyfriend but without the sex, it can get that intense.

Enough waffle, my point is this.

  • A manager is NOT a neccessity. 
  • With a lot of hard work and discipline, you CAN do it alone, Just ask Hazel Dooney, it is good to have a support network of friends and family though.
  • Whilst I understand what Maria means in her blog when she states that: ” Unless the agent is super-connected, you may be better off paying a salary to a manager”…I don’t think that a salary to a manager is the only way to go although I accept that she has had far more experience than me in that field, I can only speak from my experience… For me, it is perfectly reasonable to have a percentage agreement in writing as long as everybody knows and understands the terms. There has to be TRUST. We do not all have the kind of money necessary to pay a manager a retainer or salary. Even Damien Hirst pays his manager 10% of profits.

My manager would not be working so hard with me if I were not putting in the effort that I am. Your manager if you have one or are looking for one is not there to wipe your backside. There is so much competition, you have to get good at doing the business side of things, unless of course you have a lucky break and are catapulted into stardom over night- in which case, you can afford to hire minions to do your “dirty work”. Highly unlikely for most of us. So work hard, learn the business side of things, manager or no manager and get to the top on your own terms alternatively, insist that only “men in suits deal with business” (yea, an artist actually said that to me!) and stay penniless painting in your studio where no one knows your name hoping that the golden hand of Saatchi will land upon your forehead and anoint you the new art star of the noughties! My opinion…

So what do you think? Go it alone or have a manager? Would you really want to have someone do everything for you?

Best

Adelaide

5 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Why have a manager?

    I feel compelled to put pen to paper and reply to Adelaide’s blog, because as HER manager, I feel the need to put my perspective on her position.

    Firstly as the ‘suit’ I have to frame my position by informing you that my grandfather was a recognised artist, my niece is an artist, I have friends who are artists or who teach art. I have managed business issues for more than 250 musical artists (the product is still Intellectual Property even if the ‘palette’ is different) and I have family involved in other areas of the ‘art world’.

    I now pick and chose who I work with. I work with Adelaide for a variety of reasons I shall turn to in a moment, but chiefly all artists need a ‘team’ around them. They may be photographers, web designers, PR people, press contacts, gallery owners, agents and of course managers. These people are cultivated over a period of time; understand your work, and other members of your team. All these people work together to crystallise plans, which are put into action over months.

    Do you imagine that Damian Hurst put his auction together less than six months before Sotheby’s hosted it? Do you not think his current exhibition at the Wallace Collection was not organised six or even 12 months before it went live?

    Do you imagine that Mick Jagger or Mick Hucknall do not have a manager. Of course they do, dozens of them, just like Tesco has store managers, these people are all there as agents, publicists, business managers, tour managers and publishing managers to do the bidding of their paymasters. Those ‘artists’ put a team in place to deal with the everyday issues their business face. In the case of Mr Hurst that business turned over more than 100 million in the last year or two.

    But where do you start from, will be your question. You start by putting much of it in place yourself at the outset. Tell me a racing driver who did not build his own cars at the beginning, or a jockey who did not muck out the stables or drive the horsebox to the course. And when you start you work slowly to build your team and your tools around you. A manager can only work with the tools, you as the artist, put in place at the outset.

    That manager should be able to build your business and profile with you, but it is you the artist who should be able to understand the tools available to you, your vision and your business plan. It is your duty as an artist to go out and learn the business principles, so you are able to discuss the strategy with your manager and the tactics they will employ in the execution of your strategy. Those are the business foundations, otherwise you would simply go to Sotheby’s yourself.

    And finally, why did I choose to work with Adelaide? Was it that she challenged the ‘magnolia’ of convention with her series Black Brits? She did. Was her interpretation of her sexuality in the Black Lipstick collection compelling, erotic, sensual and provocative? She was. Does she challenge the mediocre thinking that might otherwise allow her to acquiesce in the control of her work? She does not. For those of you who may want to simply paint, I have a back bedroom that needs another coat of cream white.

    John Murray-Smith

  2. Belinda Hak
    Belinda Hak says:

    Hi Adelaide,

    As I wrote to you on Twitter, I’m starting my own small business in art management. That is, I don’t know what ‘art management’ exactly means, I’m trying to find out. I just graduated from art & culture management studies at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (where I live and work). I’m also trained as an artist and I work as an art educator in the contemporary art field. I’ve been working with a lot of artists – art students, upcoming/young artists, midcareer artists etc. Especially in my job as an educator I come across (young) artists who could use a little help with their ideas and projects, particularly with money, structure and marketing.

    Anyway, that’s where I come from.

    My business will focus on services for artists, artist’s initiatives and art institutions. For the first group, I think I’ll mainly help them out with grants and finding funding sources and writing applications for their projects (which is a big thing in The Netherlands, more than in other countries I believe). I’m not going to earn a lot of money with it. I’m working on my first assignment now and I expect to earn around 15€ per hour. Obviously I can’t make a living off that, which is no problem right now, since it’s a part-time business. Without my help, this project will never make it to production. I believe it’s a good project and the people who hire me have a lot of other qualities and an excellent network. I just bring in my skills in writing, project structuring and money management.

    I don’t have any experience with being an agent or a manager for a particular artist for a longer period. My focus lies on short-term assignments, like the improvement of projects. I do agree with the idea of working as a team, simply because people are better together. Also, a good working relationship makes the time spent on an undertaking all the more enjoyable, satisfying and effective.

    What I’m trying to say is, when you (as an artist) can improve your work by getting professional help, get help. There are some good, experienced people out there. Don’t be scared to involve other people in your project or practice, especially when you believe they are actually very good. Work out the terms and conditions and you’ll be fine. But, also think about what you can do yourself or should do yourself. Find that balance. I constantly strive to deliver custom made solutions, to specifically cater to every artist’s personal needs, and adapt my services to meet those needs. That’s also why I work together with him/her as a team. I always aim to create an environment, where he/she can expand his/her ideas, capacities and, perhaps even, personality. My job is to change problems into challenges and opportunities.

    About the money part… Although making money is not my prime motivation, I am not a non-profit organisation. Hopefully, in the future, I will earn more money with other services like professionalization of artist’s initiatives and art institutions, or conflict management and organization development in the field of art and culture… For now, I’m happy using my skills to make a personal contribution to artist’s development and their practice.

    Does that make any sense?

    All my best,
    Belinda

    (btw Sorry for my English, I’m not a native speaker)

  3. GrubbsArtist
    GrubbsArtist says:

    As John notes, there are a number of reasons related to operational efficacy that can justify the need for an artist to expand their team to include management and agents.

    Another valid reason for pursuing an agent/manager to help represent one’s art is the desire to expand brand awareness of the work in a new geographical market.

    If an artist practicing in London were interested in expanding the awareness of their work in Los Angeles, for instance, it can make sense to find a professional who is familiar with the local market, knows the right people, galleries, etc., and can capitalize on their relationships to place the artist and the artwork in the best position to maximize the appreciation of both the artist and the work (therefore increasing the value, which ultimately equates to price).

    This person or entity can act as a bridge to help the artist connect to the market, as well as profit from it.

    John, if you’re working out of London, I’d be interested in hearing from you 😉

    Glenn in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. (http://grubbsartist.blogspot.com/)

  4. Sian Lindemann
    Sian Lindemann says:

    Good Morning Adelaide ~
    Great question ! I have been involved in the arts both as gallery owner/agent and as artist for over 30 years.
    Its a great question that you pose and I would ask of you to ponder an additional question…

    What is your definition of success? In 30 years, I’ve yet to meet an artist who doesn’t wish to have their name and their work known nationally or internationally…unless of course one is simply a hobbiest in the industry.

    Secondly, how does the artist view the comprehensive overview of his or her life’s work ? As a business and as a brand, it is essential to build “team” around what one is doing…and this of course requires finance, as it relates to “revenue” or income.

    I agree with you, it is timely for artists to consider self – promotion, and to adopt the understanding of HOW business works…and I’ve been advocating this all of my professional career… And certainly there is more than enough education available to all of us to discover how better to operate in business…and it is extremely rare to meet an artist who understands the value of understanding the elementary nature of business… The Business of the arts is a unique proposition, however.

    To be continued …..

    Part ONE

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