Typically the percentage for an art agent is lower than the 50% commission that galleries earn, however I know of art agents that also charge 50% commission.
We know that gallery owners and private dealers represent artists and serve as their agents. But the truth is anyone can represent an artist and assume the role of an art agent. It is an unregulated business profession that does not require any special skills or licenses. One doesn’t need to operate a business that is open to the public to work as an art agent.
Most art agents and galleries select their artists on two major factors: talent and marketability. If you sell your art regularly and have had steady price increases every year for at least three years in a row, you are in a strong position to attract professionals who will be willing to invest time and effort in selling your art work.
However, if you are an unrecognized artist with few sales and/or your retail prices are very low no matter how talented you are you may find it hard to find an art agent who is willing to represent you.
That shouldn’t prevent you from developing relationships with professionals who are in positions to buy art for their clients. That includes corporate art consultants, art advisors, interior designers, and new galleries that are more receptive to emerging artists.
Where to Find Art Agents
Many art agents discover talented artists at Open Studio events, alternative exhibition venues, online exhibitions, and through word of mouth. Many agents discover artists while traveling. That’s why, when artists ask me, “How do I find an agent?” my response is usually, “Keep creating the best work you possibly can, get out there and get as much exposure as possible and sooner or later they will find you.”
I recommend that you perceive every art professional and art enthusiast as a potential art agent. Don’t sit around and wait to be approached. I suggest you think outside the box when trying to acquire an art agent.
Don’t ignore your most supportive fans, followers, friends and students. If anyone of them has expressed a serious interest in helping you consider initiating a professional relationship. I caution you, however, don’t consider a business proposal until you have developed a relationship that is based on respect, trust and reputation. And, then, be prepared to offer them a worthwhile commission if they introduce you to buyers or sell your art work directly.
Among the best art agents artists can have are artist friends who are not in direct competition with them. I know several artists who enjoy a mutually beneficial practice of introducing their art buyers to their artist friends.
Consider hiring someone to provide art agent services either on a freelance or part time basis. Don’t under estimate a recent art school or college graduate who has taken courses on art management, arts administration or sales and marketing. A young aspiring person who may even have some gallery employment experience and has a desire to acquire more sales experience may be an excellent ally.
You may also be surprised to learn that some college interns, who will work without payment in order to earn credit and build their resume, will assume some of the services – and more – that you desire from an art agent. Activities may include book keeping, generating art business leads, social media promotion, and website and blog maintenance.
Not surprisingly many spouses and relatives prove to be among the best agents. They have a personal interest in the artist’s success. They can also approach the process of selling without the fear of personal rejection.
Become your own best agent first. Develop business skills that include developing professional relationships, selling, marketing and promoting your art work. Project a confident and enthusiastic attitude about your art in person as well as in social media. Wherever you go carry Photo CDs, USB flash drives or printed brochures with your art work on them and distribute them freely to prospective art agents.
Word of Caution: As with all business relationships you should have written and signed agreements with anyone with whom you engage in artist-agent activities. If you leave any work in their custody, make sure you have a signed artist consignment agreement.
Last note: If your objective is to find gallery representation, keep in mind many galleries prefer to work with artists directly. When they are contacted by an art agent, they may perceive this person as one who will complicate the relationship or with whom they will have to split the profits. So, in most cases it is best for you to approach galleries yourself.
You may also be interested in reading my article “Should You Hire An Artist Rep? 8 Topics to Discuss Before You Choose http://reneephillips.blogspot.com/2010/11/should-you-hire-artist-rep.html
Renée Phillips, is the author of several books. Her publications and articles can be found on Manhattan Arts International (www.ManhattanArts.com), Manhattan-Arts blog (http://Manhattan-Arts.blogspot.com), and Renée Phillips blog (http://reneephillips.blogspot.com). She is also a curator, arts advocate and offers career guidance to artists. She invites you to follow her on Twitter @reneephillipsny, and join her on www.Facebook.com/ReneePhillipsArtCoach and www.linkedin.com/in/reneephillipsartcoach.