So far in the first quarter of 2012 I have had to end two business relationships, one with an art gallery and another with a licensing company. Although the art gallery never sold any of my art, and the licensing company only generated one hundred and fifty dollars during the previous year, the lack of revenue was not the reason for ending these affiliations. I’m a patient guy, and I’m used to the ‘deferred gratification’ aspect of the business of art, so I could have waited for ‘potential’ future revenues, but I chose to end these relationships for three other reasons.
If I am to do business with someone, especially ‘someone’ who’s supposed to be working for me, with the mutual goal of earning income I require three things:
These are not outrageous expectations, and after all, this sort of behavior is expected of me so I ought to get it in return. When I don’t, it’s a sign of larger problems over the horizon and if your ‘partners’ can’t be honest, communicate or act professionally it’s time to cut your losses and find someone else to work with or go it alone.
In the case of the art gallery I’d contacted them when our contract term expired and said I was leaving the gallery due to lack of sales. Only then was I informed that my works would be exhibited in a show at the gallery in a few weeks. I figured I’d delay my departure in the unlikely event that the next exhibition generated some sales. Unfortunately it took about two weeks to get a returned email and telephone call back from the gallery director. Once I finally got the guy on the phone I agreed to bring new works to the gallery, properly label all the artworks (the gallery’s job but something they’d been incapable of in the past) and sign a new temporary contract. I printed and framed the new works, printed and mounted the labels and signed a copy of the contract. Once I’d done these things I called the gallery to arrange a time for me to visit (the gallery is about eighty miles from my studio) and drop off the new works and materials. It took another two weeks to get a call back and by that time it was too late for me to get myself to the gallery and do the things they should have done. So the gallery did the exhibition without any new works, without proper labels for the artwork and without my presence because by this time I was completely disgusted with the gallery’s lack of communication and unprofessionalism and did not attend the opening.
As expected the gallery sold none of my artworks. So I went to the gallery and pulled out all my artwork. If they’re not selling, can’t return my phone calls or emails and can’t really do the things a gallery should do then they’re uncommunicative and unprofessional. This poor behavior presents a trust issue which makes me question their honesty. It was time for me to go and I went.
The case of the licensing agency was pretty much the same, with some animosity and name-calling thrown in for fun. It began with poor communication. The agency wanted artworks from me which I had agreed to supply. When I noticed that about a third of the requested artworks were ones the agency already had on file that, naturally, prompted some questions from me. These were very ‘difficult’ questions like, why are you asking for what you already have, and I’m not inclined to re-do work I’ve already done. So I emailed for details. I didn’t receive an answer to my question but I did get a reply that included the sentence, ‘if you are unhappy with my representation then I am quite happy to release you.’
Release me?! If in the normal course of a conversation or negotiation you get the escape clause quote that’s a big red flag! If you’re asking routine questions and just trying to do business and you get a response that basically says, hey you can just go that means you ought to go, because they really don’t want you. I know this from experience. Of the numerous times I’ve tried to ‘work with’ someone only to get the ‘if you’re not happy with us, you can go’ line I discovered that the relationship was already unworkable and I needed to go away. When it gets to this, the relationship is already broken.
I was pretty shocked when I read that line. Previously the agent had been complimentary of my work and very optimistic about its license-ability. Now, suddenly, he says I can go. So I called the office but only got the gatekeeper (receptionist/assistant) who lied and gave me the ‘he’s on a conference-call’ line. Oh, how many times have I heard that lie! So, stupidly, I got into a ten-minute conversation with her only to get an email about ten minutes later from the guy I’d actually called to speak to. Obviously he was too cowardly to talk to me personally so he stood next to his receptionist and prompted her. So now I know that he’s lying about his ‘conference call’ and is so unprofessional he won’t take a call from me, someone he’s supposed to ‘represent.’ I sent one more email, dropped a psychological ‘guilt bomb’ on him and only then did I get a reply of ‘I’ll call on Monday.’ In the space between my telephone call on Thursday and his eventual call (which came on Tuesday and not Monday) I had four days to think about things and I decided it was time for me to go. Had he of taken my initial call, I would not have terminated the contract.
During our Tuesday telephone discussion he dominated the conversation with excuses and rationalizations, gave fake apologies for things that required no apologies and never answered my very basic question of ‘what images do you have?’ When I tried to steer the conversation to express my lack of comfort due to his immediate I can release you [from the contract] statement and asked him if ‘our relationship is irretrievably broken’ he called me an ‘asshole’ and hung up.
OK, I got it. He’s unprofessional and doesn’t like to communicate. I guess from his perspective I’m his ‘boy’ and should just jump when he says jump. That doesn’t work for me.
And he’s dishonest. Aside from the oh-so-typical ‘he’s on a conference call (or in a meeting)’ bullshit lie he’s been less than honest about other things. After a year I checked his website and did not find my artworks on it, as promised. When I emailed and asked, I was told, ‘I’m on the site.’ Which I suddenly was! He’d updated the site with my images before replying to my email! I checked the ‘properties’ and verified his lie. He was also supposed to have been seeking a calendar publisher but claimed that ‘none were interested.’ Of course not, he’d not contacted anyone.
Aside from being a liar and unwilling to communicate he was very unprofessional. One should not wait four days to return a telephone call when a deadline is approaching! And he’s passive-aggressive (to use a pop-psychology term). One moment he’s telling me how inspiring my artwork is and the next he’s calling me an asshole!
I thought, since his email said, ‘if you are unhappy with my representation then I am quite happy to release you’ that that’s what he meant and shouldn’t have had a problem when I took him up on his offer.
I can store my artworks in my studio where no one will buy them and achieve the same thing without the hassle.
I don’t need a gallery that:
· Does not sell artwork.
· Does not tell me when they’re exhibiting my work.
· Takes 2-4 weeks to return telephone calls or emails.
· Can’t properly label an artwork with title, medium and price.
I don’t need a licensing agent that:
· Only generates $150.00 annually.
· Does not take telephone calls.
· Lies and is dishonest.
· Plays passive-aggressive games and resorts to name-calling.
The business of art isn’t especially high paying. Artists are often marginalized and mistreated. And we’re doing this because we love it! Artists eat a lot of crap in the pursuit of art!
If your ‘partners’ are not doing what they’re supposed to (that is make money for you both), if they’re unprofessional, uncommunicative and dishonest you have no reason to do business with them (because they’re really not doing any ‘business’ at all!). If you’re going to deal with this sort of crap there’d damn well be a shitload of money involved, because otherwise it ain’t worth it.
There! I feel so much better now. Aside from ending two nonproductive relationships I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing ---but I have managed to rid myself of two unprofessional jerks, that’s a minor relief.
March 13, 2012