Art Consultant, Artist’s Agent, Manager or Representative?

In Fine Art Agents, Fine Art Business, Fine Art Consulting Services, Fine Art Representatives on October 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Art consultant, artists’ agent, artist’s manager or artists’ representative… just what’s the difference?  These are various terms, titles or descriptions of people (or entities) that offer independent services to artists, art buyers, art collectors or others involved in the selling and buying of art.

Because, as far as I know, there is no statutory “title registration” or associated professional licensing requirements for these roles, the definition of each is subject to whatever the consumer and the provider of the services understand and agree to.  For the same reason, there are no education, internship or examination requirements that the service provider must comply with, nor any regulatory agency to check and enforce compliance with such requirements, as there are for licensed professions.

So just what service providers, in general, do these titles apply to?  From my experience, observations and research, they apply as follows:

  1. Art Consultant: someone (person or business entity) that has knowledge, expertise and experience in the art arena about art work in its various forms and media and the proper placement (installation & display), pricing and acquiring of such art.  The knowledge of the art includes knowledge about the artist who created the art, and about the media, style and historical context (as applicable) of the art work.  An art consultant generally consults to the consumer of art, to help the consumer in making an informed purchase, at a reasonable market price, that will meet the consumer’s preferences and art needs.  An art consultant may also help an art owner with the resale of art that the owner has.  The art consultant is usually independent or an employee of a gallery and is paid by the consumer or by the gallery.  If independent, the art consultant usually represents the buyer who is paying for the services, acting as both an advisor and personal shopper for the art buyer.  If an employee of a gallery, the art consultant directly represents the gallery, and indirectly represents the artist.  In such case, the art consultant is paid by the gallery and is part of the services that a gallery provides to art buyers on behalf of the artists that the gallery represents.
  2. Artists’ Agent: An artists’ agent, as it sounds, represents an artist (or usually multiple artists), is normally independent and is either a person or a business entity.  The agent will have knowledge, expertise and experience in the selling and pricing of art, the business of art and promoting of artists.  The artist pays the agent, usually on a commission and/or fee basis, to primarily market and sell the artist’s art work.   The agent may also act on behalf of the artist to find and secure venues for the display and sale of the artist’s work, such as art shows, exhibitions and festivals, or to find and secure opportunities for juried competitions or commission work.  In representing the artist, the agent may have an “agency” relationship with the artist (where the term “agent” comes from), including responsibilities to conduct business, such as processing payments, negotiating deals or signing purchase orders and agreements, on behalf of the artist.  The agent may even receive direct payments (from art buyers) for the artist’s work, much as a gallery receives payment for the artist’s work that it sells.  This is most likely in the case of Internet sales via the agent’s website.  In such cases, the agent assumes the associated legal and fiduciary responsibilities to the artist.  However, unless the agent is also a lawyer, the agent cannot offer legal services for the artist.
  3. Artist’s Manager: Much the same as an “Artists’ Agent”, except more typically an individual employed exclusively by an artist as an employee of the artist.  Again the artist pays the manager, but as an employee of the artist, the manager may have a base salary and benefits, depending on whether the position is full or part-time.  I have also seen the title used for an employee of a management services firm that serves a clientele of artists, much the way the titles “account manager”, “client manager” or “project manager” designate an employee performing a management service for a client of other services firms.  As an employee of such a firm, the firm pays the agent from the fees paid to the firm by the artist client of the firm.
  4. Artists’ Representative: Also much the same as an “Artists’ Agent”, except without the “agency” relationship.  The services are more marketing and sales, less business.  The “artists’ rep” is more of an assistant to, “matchmaker” and advocate for the artist without being a conductor of business for the artist.  The rep will market and sell the artwork, but will not have the transactions run through the rep’s business.  All transactions remain direct between the artist and the art buyer, even if processed by the rep.  The rep will seek venues for the artist, and perhaps prepare applications to those venues for the artist, but the applications, and any resulting agreements, will be directly between, and executed by, the artist and the venue sponsor.  The rep may find promotional or advertising opportunities for the artist, but the artist will directly authorize any related purchase orders and sign any related agreements.  The rep may also help the artist by handling shipping and/or installation of the sold art work on behalf of the artist.

As said in my introduction to this blog, there being no title registration or licensing requirements that I am aware of for the roles described above, the titles are really subjective.  It’s the understanding of the role as agreed between the consumer and provider of the services that really matters.  Don’t assume that a specific set of services is included based on a subjective title.  Assumption is the mother of many problems!

If one of these types of service providers sounds right for you, take the time to find one, to  get acquainted and comfortable with each other, to check background & references, and then communicate openly to set goals, a scope of services and a compensation basis that meet your needs.  Avoid long-term commitments until you have had enough time working together to see how the relationship pans out.  The first months may actually be a growing and learning together period wherein the business relationship evolves to most successfully meet your needs.  This is a good thing!  Services packages that best deliver personalized service are not likely the “one size fits all” kind.

In my research for this blog, I found helpful information at the following websites:

  1. I was hoping for more information on how to literally find art agents and representatives. They aren’t just listed in the phone book or online, certainly (at least not in MY area.) Back to square one…

  2. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking
    back frequently!

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