The Artist Market - Predatory Practice in the Visual Arts

“Hello there! Came across your work in curatorial googling. 
We have a couple of call to artist exhibits that your work may be a fit for.
Details at the following link.”

This was an email that I received not long ago. It isn’t dissimilar to many propositions I have heard over the years. The link that was included in the email goes to a gallery website submission page requiring $20 to submit one image. This gallery actually pays someone to fish online and reach out to artists to submit so that they can generate revenue. It is that valuable. Who knows maybe this person gets commission on the submission fees.

The purpose of this is not to lump all galleries together or to villainize everyone who asks for submission fees. The purpose is to take a closer look at the landscape of opportunities for emerging artists with a focus on what to avoid. It is a criticism of what seems like a new norm in the art world where the funding to curate and promote art comes from the collective artists and not from ‘patrons’ (private or public).

I also want to preface by saying that just because you make artwork doesn’t mean you deserve funding. You have to fight for that in the marketplace of ideas. If you are not finding support for your work sometimes the problem lies with the work. With that said, there are bogus and predatory opportunities to be aware of.

We often hear about the art market and almost never hear about the artist market. The artist market is the cumulative money that aspiring and emerging artist pay for exposure. Galleries will host large juried shows with submission fees, art competitions, or just online promotions. Event spaces and businesses will ask artists to exhibit for free. It is a huge market that takes advantage of the abundance of aspiring artist’s hope and naiveté. 

If you want the short version of this do a YouTube search for ‘Message and the Money’ by Immortal Technique.

Time to do some math as an example.

 A gallery or institute puts out a submission for a large group show. Submission fees are $10 for one image and $5 for each additional image. (this is not uncommon and close to the median range)Say the average artist’s submission includes three images. One thousand people apply. 

That is $20,000. I give this example because I find that artists often don’t think of themselves cumulatively. Your submission fees add up. So where does the money go? Surely not all of that goes to curating. A curator would cut the one thousand submissions down to one hundred in a couple days. That is assuming they look at all of them which I’m sure some places do and some don’t. So where does the money go?

My guess is it goes to anything from salaries for administration and directors to paying the light bill. It is a problem if this is a primary means of funding for an organization. If you are a traditional for profit gallery you should be making your money on sales. Nonprofit institutions and museum spaces have a more complicated revenue stream that is a combination of many sources including donations, grants, rental fees, etc. Neither of them should be pulling a significant amount of their funding through submission fees. It hurts the overall art market.

The artists are the product that these galleries and institutions are selling. Without artists there can be no art market. These organizations work for artists not the other way around. The artist should be paid first. If you are doing something for a cause you believe in or to help out a friend than by all means donate your time or work. On the other hand if someone else is getting paid to show your work you should be getting paid too.

Society values art, not enough but there is a market. Artists giving their work away for free undermine that market. If you are a successful artist you should still have a problem with other artists devaluing their work. Encourage artists you know that are coming up to not be taken advantage of and spread the word on predatory services that you encounter and avoid. Keep in mind that not all predatory services are doing it intentionally some of them think they are helping artists or believe this is just the way it is done.

These are some examples I have run into.

LagunaArt.com, SanDiegoArt.com, NYArt.com all of these are subscription based artists networks run by the same people that charge in the ballpark of $40 per month and offer artists links on their webpage and the possibility of exhibiting in one of their sponsored galleries. If a gallery tells you that you need to sign up with a service like this in order to show in their gallery then fuck that gallery! They are predatory.

Events like the San Diego Spirit Festival will coerce artists into setting up their work for free because there will be lots of people there. The coveted eyeballs. The reality is that artists make there event more attractive and help them sell tickets. Expensive tickets. Meanwhile the people are coming for the booze not the art. Artists are helping sell tickets and not getting paid a portion of those sales. Why? Because they will do it for free. Let them go a year or two without any artists and see if they are willing to work them into the budget.

Businesses will contact you. A lawyer’s office asked me to show work in their offices for free and presented it to me as if they were doing me a favor. People do not go to lawyers offices to buy art nor was someone at the offices going to be representing the work. They are asking artists to decorate their offices for free. They should pay a small monthly leasing fee or an installation fee that gets taken off the sale price should the work sell.

These are just a few of the ‘opportunities’ that you will see. Say no to them and spread the word if you are involved in bad opportunities as well as good. It is way short of an artist’s union but it is a start toward reforming the art market and destroying predatory practice.

Post your opinion or some examples good or bad that you have run into.