Artist Amarachi Okafor. Photo by Fisayo Soyombo


Art school curriculum could use an update, and we are here to help fill in some gaps. 

Artists are entrepreneurs, but art schools rarely include basic business training like accounting or marketing. As art students return to campus this month, we gathered feedback from working artists on the things they wished they learned in school—with links to additional resources and tips on how Artwork Archive can help artists achieve their goals, at every stage of their careers.  

Welcome back students! The following information will not be on the exam (but it should). 


Basic financial literacy.

It’s sad but true—art schools get an F when it comes to teaching students the basics of financial literacy. Tracking expenses like materials and studio rent, creating invoices, preparing for tax season and other accounting knowledge is generally absent from art school curriculums. And that’s a shame. 

How are students supposed to build a successful art career—essentially a sole proprietorship or small business—without this information? (Trick question: they can’t.) 

With the rise of student debt, credit scores, insane health care costs, and other financial obstacles that few tenured art professors likely had to contend with during their early years, financial literacy should be a foundational class for all fine art students. 

Emerging artists need to create some type of retirement plan and begin securing their long-term financial health as early in their careers as possible, while also keeping an eye on their day-to-day costs and incoming revenue. It may seem unrelated to making art, but financial literacy is the cornerstone of any sustainable art practice. 

Artwork Archive makes it simple for artists to manage their finances, track expenses, generate invoices, and get paid immediately through the web. 
 

What should be included in a consignment agreement.

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork: the unfortunate byproduct of an art career on the rise. Consignment agreements rarely factor into art school education since, at that point, few art students are in a place where they are exhibiting in commercial galleries. 

A consignment agreement should include the following terms:

  • The consignor/artist’s contact details.
     
  • The consignee/gallery’s contact details.
     
  • The duration of the consignment—often 3-6 months with the option to renew.
     
  • A list of all artworks are being consigned and their full details: image, title, year, medium, dimensions, and insurance values.
     
  • The sales price of each work and the maximum discount that the gallery can offer VIPs—usually 20%.
     
  • The commission is split for each artwork—usually 50/50 with the gallery.
     
  • The payment timeline for artist commissions—usually within 30 days from the gallery’s receipt of payment, depending on the gallery.
     
  • Who pays for shipping— some galleries may ask artists to split shipping costs, but usually it’s a cost borne by the gallery.
     
  • Who pays for insurance, both while in transit and while in the gallery’s possession—generally the gallery should cover this and provide the artist a Certificate of Insurance, or COI, to verify coverage.
     
  • What the gallery will offer in terms of marketing efforts, such as professional photography, producing an exhibition catalog, etc.

Normally, the gallery will provide the consignment agreement, to be signed by the artist. That’s standard procedure. Some agreements might only be a page or two long—a list of terms and then a list of artworks. However, some agreements might use “legalese" (like the term “exploitation rights”) which can be more difficult to understand. If you need some clarity, don’t be afraid to ask the gallery to go over the terms with you in more detail.

It is also very important to read all the fine print in a consignment agreement. Red flags in a consignment agreement include statements like, “Gallery will take ownership of the artwork if it is not picked up by the artist within 30 days.” A signature on a consignment agreement makes it a binding legal contract, so never sign anything before carefully reading it first. 

Don’t be afraid to go back to the gallery and politely ask for certain language in the consignment agreement to be revised or removed prior to signing. Negotiations are a part of all business partnerships and the art world is no exception, so make sure to speak up if a consignment agreement includes terms that make you uncomfortable. 

Finally, always keep copies of your consignment agreements for quick reference. With Artwork Archive, artists can generate their own consignment forms with just a few clicks. Artists can also upload scans of signed agreements as additional documents into their account—either in a contact record, exhibition record, or individual artwork record—so everything is hyperlinked, centralized, and always accessible. 

 

How to price your work appropriately.

There are many different ways to price your work, but it’s critical to set your prices in a consistent and appropriate manner. Prices depend on several factors such as an artist’s age and exhibition history, the scale of the artwork, and the materials used. 

Many emerging artists use a “factor” system when pricing their work, which essentially means assigning a value to a square inch as a base methodology and then applying an inverse sliding scale to that same value in relation to an artwork’s size. That sounds complicated, but it’s not, really!

Here is an example breakdown as explained by curator and artist coach Rose Fredrick.

  • 8 x 10 inches = 80 x $10/sq in = $800
  • 16 x 20 inches = 320 x $7/sq in = $2,240
  • 30 x 40 inches = 1200 x $5/sq in = $6,000

In this example, the average value per square inch is $7. That number is slightly increased for smaller works ($10), and slightly decreased for larger works ($5). To learn more about Rose's advice on proper pricing, read this article

 

Where you live can affect the resources—and opportunities—available to you.

It’s no secret that if you want to be a movie star, you should probably move to Hollywood. The same goes for the art world. 

Certain cities may have hundreds of galleries, while others have less than a handful. In general, financial capitals often have robust art scenes—New York, London, Hong Kong, etc.—but, these cities are also among the most expensive places to live on earth. 

If the thought of renting a tiny studio apartment for $2k makes you nauseous, fret not! You can still have an active career outside of these cultural centers, but it may require more outreach on your part. 

Investigate artist residencies in those same cultural centers, which can introduce you to the local scene without requiring a long-term commitment. Many artists will begin their careers in these metro areas until they have achieved a certain level of success—then it's possible to create work from anywhere.

It all boils down to the type of art career you want to have. If you have an MFA and can land a teaching position in the fly-over states, that might work best for you since your summers are free to travel to residencies in other places. It’s all a matter of personal preference, but it’s important to realize that where you live can play a large role in how your career progresses, for better or worse. To learn more about best practices for applying to artist residencies, watch this free webinar
 

How much technology your career will require.

When starting a small business, it’s well understood that you will need infrastructure. Computers, accounting systems, marketing budgets, a business bank account, a modern website and dedicated URL—these are just a few of the things that “regular” entrepreneurs need to think about, and so do artists! 

When it comes to technology, costs add up quickly. Laptops and desktop computers, printers, editing software, cameras, HD cards, USB sticks—the list can go on and on.

Luckily, in today’s digitally-connected world, you don’t even need to be “tech-savvy” to set yourself up for success. 

Prioritize the things you need and will use every day and figure out ways to minimize your other technology costs. Some ideas include splitting photography costs with your studio mates and having a professional photographer shoot all your work at once, borrowing equipment from your peers that you may only need for a short time, or arranging a skill-trade with other artists who have digital expertise in the areas you don’t.

There are also a lot of new—and free—online tools available that can help reduce your tech-overhead. And, these days, there’s a YouTube tutorial for practically everything, so, for example, it may be unnecessary to hire a professional web-designer if you can teach yourself how to create your own website. 

Technology is like a car—you need it to get to work; but, as soon as you drive it off the lot, the value plummets. As an artist, your most important digital asset is your database and, with Artwork Archive, your account will become more valuable over time, not less. That’s because Artwork Archive regularly implements upgrades and releases new features, at no extra cost to the subscriber. 

Artwork Archive's Public Profile feature also allows subscribers to publish their artwork to the web, without needing a stand-alone website or hosting account. Minimize your technology costs by choosing systems and platforms that do more—for less. You can use Artwork Archive for invoicing and accounting, marketing and sales, publishing your works to the web, and managing all of your contacts.

If something should happen to your main computer (these things do have a shelf-life, afterall), your Artwork Archive account will remain fully in-tact, with all of your data safe and secure in the cloud, accessible from anywhere through any wifi-connected device, including your smartphone. 
 

The importance of networking.

Academic studies have shown that an artist’s early network can influence their long-term success. The art world is built on relationships, so networking is simply part of the package. Showing up at openings, attending various events, paying for memberships and similar in-person efforts are useful ways to grow your rhetorical rolodex. 

Thankfully, the rolodex has gone digital, making it easier than ever to record a new contact’s details. Artwork Archive has an integrated CRM (contact relationship manager) so you can quickly upload contacts, assign roles, add to groups, and set up reminders to follow up. 

 

Photo courtesy of artist Jenny Grant


Galleries can be hyper-territorial when it comes to collectors.

Some galleries might refuse to tell you who acquired your work, which is unfortunate as tracking provenance of your art is important for your archive. 

If possible, it’s recommended to include a clause in any consignment agreement with a gallery that requires them to disclose buyer’s names. Galleries might be reluctant to share this information because of conflicts they’ve had in the past with other artists, or with certain collectors, trying to cut them out of a sale. 

If that’s the case, it’s understandable, but your archive shouldn’t suffer because of someone else’s bad behavior. That’s not fair to you and your career. 

This can be a delicate situation, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Sometimes it can be solved with a compromise, in writing, that the gallery will disclose only the collector’s name, no contact details, and the artist agrees to never initiate direct contact with any of the gallery’s clients. 

In truth, some collectors might not even realize the etiquette involved in the artist/gallerist relationship. If a collector begs for a studio visit, for example, that’s fine! Just make sure you loop in your gallery representative so they don’t feel cut-out when they hear about it after-the-fact. Remember: the key to a productive and harmonious relationship with your gallerist is transparency and open communication, both ways. 

If you feel that your gallery is being unreasonably opaque with you about who is buying your work, it could also be a clue that they are not necessarily the best gallery for you and your art career.
 

Discounts are pretty much always expected.

Even though asking for a discount for work by an emerging artist is frowned upon by art world insiders, it still happens a lot—especially when selling through galleries. 

Many collectors expect at least a 10% discount, which should always be shared equally between the artist and gallery. 

Most museums and VIP collectors expect a 20% discount, which should also be shared equally between the artist and gallery.

Some more aggressive collectors will push for even higher discounts than 20%, but those types of deals should be discussed between the gallery and artist. In those cases,  the gallery should offer to absorb any discount in excess of 20%.
 

Loneliness happens.

Being an artist can be a solitary existence. Some artists are surprised when loneliness creeps in, especially when they are preparing for an exhibition and totally focused on their work. Relationships can suffer when priorities shift, and not everyone can understand the demands—physically and psychically—of the creative process. 

People in “traditional” jobs often have a social network built into their day-to-day, but artists might spend days on end alone in the studio. Additionally, the rejection that most artists will inevitably experience at least once in their careers can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to more isolation. 

Artists, therefore, need to anticipate these challenges and establish healthy coping skills. For tips on how artists can protect their mental health, read this article. 

 

Photo courtesy of Brian Buckrell

Social media is your best marketing vehicle.

Like it or not, most art these days is experienced online rather than in person. Enterprising artists see this as an opportunity and rightly so. The internet is basically the biggest art gallery ever created, making right now the best time in history to be an artist.

That being said, social media is also constantly evolving and can feel like a full-time job. The key is to optimize your social media efforts and expand your reach as much as possible—without letting it dominate your life and detract from your studio process. 

Leveraging social media to grow your art audience will only help you in the long run. It can help you find gallery representation, sell directly to buyers, or catch the eye of a museum curator. You don’t have to only post finished artworks—share process shots, studio views, and anything that helps tell the story of your art

Give yourself a goal of posting once a day for a month, with specific hashtags, and you’ll likely be pleased with the results. For more best practices and advice on how to level up your Instagram game, read this article.
 

How small the art world truly is.

Your career will be long and you will run into the same people over and over (and over) again. Don’t burn bridges and be kind to everyone. 
 

The after-opening adrenaline crash is real.

You’ve spent months working twelve-hour days in your studio, pulled an all-nighter to finish before the shippers arrived, attended your opening—dressed to impress—and turbo-socialized with your galleries’ VIPs … and now it’s over. Brace yourself, a crash is coming. 

When your adrenaline is pumping for days (or weeks) on end and then suddenly stops, the effect can be disorienting. Some artists report feeling depressed, while others experience intense fatigue. 

One strategy is to take a well-deserved trip immediately following an opening, which can stave off the after-opening crash and allow for a more gradual come-down. But, even just devoting a few days post-opening to self-care can make a huge difference.
 

Your ethics will likely be tested at some point.

The art world is full of characters and, to put it diplomatically, some are more ethical than others, and some are not ethical at all. 

As an artist, you may face pressure from many sides; collectors might pressure you to sell works out-of-the-studio, galleries might pressure you to show at museums with controversial board members—there are many different scenarios that could require difficult decisions. 

The art world is also a place where conmen have been known to thrive, so choose your business partners wisely.
 

How to find a mentor and why you need one.

A mentor will help you navigate all the points listed above. Your mentor should be someone who has experience in the same type of art career that you ultimately want—with a relevant professional network. 

Some arts organizations offer grants that pair artists with mentors, or you can seek out artists you admire and approach them directly. Don’t expect mentorship to be a one-way street, though. You should offer some services in exchange, like helping out in the studio or coordinating their social media. 

Ultimately, having a mentor will make the art world less intimidating. Personal introductions are the best way to grow your own network in a meaningful way, so mentorship can have the added benefit of introducing you to an entire community that can further help your career. 
 

Success will look different for everyone.

Being a professional artist requires sacrifice. On the way to success, an artist might have to postpone having children or trying to adopt. Depending on their work history, they might have more trouble securing a mortgage and buying a house. Once success arrives, however, artists might feel alienated from their artist-friends. They might also find it difficult to scale up their studio practices to accommodate demand, while still finding time to actually make the art.

Some of the most successful artists today have dozens of employees on the studio payroll. Scaling-up requires a huge amount of overhead and, when the market contracts, the potential need for lay-offs. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, that’s okay. 

Success means different things to different artists. Define what success looks like for your individual aspirations and calibrate your efforts accordingly. 


Ready to launch your art career? Artwork Archive is the inventory solution trusted by artists at every stage of their careers. Try it free.