Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's All About Relationships

In my "business of art", art consultants are notoriously protective of their clients identity. There is an obvious inclination for designers to go directly to the artist and leave out the agent in the middle. Having worked as both an art consultant and an artist I understand the delicate balance of the relationships.

So I never was surprised when I would create a mockup or artwork concept for a project, deliver them to the art consultant, and some days later would hear back with comments from the designer. As in the transfer of any information between people, the comments were influenced by the agents' ideas. Over the years (many!) I have apparently finally earned the trust of my clients, and they now allow me to interact directly with the designers (both with and without them being present). This has resulted in a much more efficient process. Case in point, meeting yesterday with my agent, and a hotel designer on two very different projects. We had done some preliminary culling of ideas, so I was able to print and bring the designs that showed the most promise.

The three of us mixed and matched the artwork by holding it up to the fabrics and other samples of finishes in the room, and put together two different schemes for each room. The designer gave me fabrics to take home, so that now I can tone the paintings and photography to the colors in the room. Truly "match the sofa"! We accomplished all this in less than an hour. The old way of leaving me out of the face to face would have taken a week at least.

I am convinced that one of the reasons that my work is chosen so often for projects is that I am willing to adjust any artwork to fit the project. What you see is NOT what you get from me. Too many artists find their work so precious that they refuse to change it. That's fine if you have another source of income. For me, the process is more important than the finished product. I am in love with the process.


Annette Bush said...

You have a gift which many of us do not -- some of us simply can't 'see' what is needed and wish we had the ability to adjust the artwork.

I, too, am often surprised at the lack of trust which comes from galleries and agents while they expect the artist to offer complete trust to them. Do people think that artists don't have a brain? I was involved in a city project once where staff met for three hours trying to figure out a problem and then said it couldn't be resolved. I said why didn't you ask me how it's done from an artist's standpoint? There was a simple solution and the project moved forward, but they just didn't think an artist would know that end of things!

Then again, maybe most of us don't do anything to earn that trust and acknowledgement. Hum.

Mary Richmond said...

Unfortunately way too many artists try to circumvent the gallery or agent to get directly to the client, apparently forgetting that without the gallery or agent there would be no client in the first place. I have worked as a tile designer and manufacturer for many years and have watched a number of tile artists self destruct when they tried to work with a client privately that found them through a tile shop. Tile shop owners, like galleries, frown upon such deception and greed and will often not only refuse to work with that artist again but send word through the grapevine that that artist is dishonest. I have been fortunate to nurture good relationships with great tile stores and for many years my tiles were found in some of the finest design stores (I have since stepped way back from the business but still have maintained good relations with these folks and often still get some very nice jobs from them!) I knew better than to work privately with designers and clients who found me through various outlets (and many clients and designers will try to circumvent the middle person--it's not just the artists!)I also send checks or restaurant gift certificates to people who recommend me, such as kitchen designers, etc. and it has been an unbelievable response of appreciation for such a small gesture! I also get a lot of repeat business. The way I see it, the gallery, agent, tile store owner, kitchen designer, whomever, is doing a lot of footwork for me. They carry all the overhead of the space, they woo the client, they pay for the advertising and they take care of the financial details and paperwork, freeing me to do my work. Yes, they get 50% and if I had to have my own shop, do all the above listed work, etc. I would actually make less than that 50% by a long shot. So for those of us who are working and willing to work with folks who represent us well--cheers and continued good luck with your work! (sorry this is long!)

Martha Marshall said...

Robin, I'm glad you brought up this subject of trust, which is a huge factor in all relationships that artists must develop in order to succeed.

I'm not sure why it is, but I find that artists constantly need to go the extra mile to prove they are trustworthy. Maybe it's because the business side of our work is sometimes invisible to the rest of the business world. Another reason is probably the general impression of artists as non-business people.

Galleries don't share a lot of information, and I'll bet designers and consultants don't either. So it's like we are starting from scratch with our relationships every time.

CMC said...

I can certainly agree with these comments from this post. Some artists should think of their own integrity when it comes to business relationships.

On the front of process vs. product. There are times I'm willing to change a little. But once I have a painting done to the size and color choices of the client, and I think it is a really good painting, I will not change it over and over to risk the painting. This happened to me just recently. I did all asked of me and then suddenly someone said...they weren't sure it was working for them. I felt strongly about that painting so I said I wouldn't change it. Someone else will come along who will feel the same way I do, it just may take a while.

Walker said...

Annette -- Actually I do think that most people see "artist" and "intelligent" as incompatible concepts. Sad, really.

Walker said...

Mary, you are so right! I just did a big job on my own with no agent in the middle. Even though I raised my prices, I still netted out less money than if I paid the agent 50%. It's a lot of work to complete a project, and I'm happy to do the art and let someone else handle all the rest.

Walker said...

Martha, yes, I agree. That's one reason why I have so few clients. Building the relationship is difficult, so sustaining it is important.

Walker said...

Cheryl -- It's much easier to change a painting digitally for approval, then paint it. Of course I found that out the hard way, but it sure works for me now.

CMC said...

Changing BEFORE painting OR "in process" is one thing, changing after it is completed to your own artistic satisfaction taking into consideration what they need is another.

I still remember several years back, one of your pieces (or a group) that the designer kept getting you to change and then, of all things, the client liked the initial one best.....SO, then how to get back to the original one's freshness. Just can't win sometimes.

And, I don't do digital other than to put my work up on the internet or send to clients/galleries, etc. I'm still hung up on the "feel" of the paint.

Anonymous said...

you gotta jump when they say jump if you wanna get paid.