This topic has two dominant sides, but I would like to focus primarily only on one, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll mention both, in the hopes of not being misunderstood by anyone and offending their 8th chakra.
The value art has for society is absolutely not what I’d like to talk about; it is an enormous topic and no amount of cheese and wine infused conversations could truly get to the bottom of this, well, bottomless pit of semantics.
As far as my hippy side is concerned: Art is a miracle, that has allowed the human experience to grow well above its immediate physical needs and given us the ability to build this magnificent wonder that we call society.
But the value of art is also something that, since the invention of money around 500 billion years ago (give or take), has become increasingly important and evermore so in today’s capitalist society.
The question therefore is: How can assessing our value help us get a gallery or agent?
Getting signed by a gallery is a form of transaction that goes both ways, both parties need to clearly benefit from it — otherwise there’s no point in doing it. And exactly this balance is imperative when we actually get our chance to talk to a curator or owner.
The problem is: Most of us focus too much on unimportant things and have absolutely no idea about what our value proposition is.
To recycle yesterdays blog a bit, they have: 1) a network, 2) sales funnels, 3) marketing and advertising, 4) legal assistance and 5) a brick and mortar shop to exhibit art with technical assistance and insurance. That’s their value proposition, what they bring to the table for any artist that gets signed and represented.
What then can we provide for them?
The problem with being an artist is simple: There is absolutely no barrier to entry anymore for our profession. Like photographers, that bicker about how now everybody with a phone is a photographer (and yes, they can be), anyone with a few hours of spare time can be an artist, too.
This creates a big quality issue for the other side — the gallery or agent — where the barrier to entry is enormous (rent, connections, reputation, financial backing, education …). So no wonder they never call back 99% of all applications they receive on a daily basis — it just wouldn’t make sense for them to take the risk.
A good value proposition for me is my ability to provide them with an assurance of my ability to deliver; I am on time, I am easy to work with, I am consistent in my work, but understand supply and demand and never over or underproduce because “I didn’t feel like it” and I have various control systems put in place to assure a constant quality of my work (fancy talk for being sober and present when checking your finished work).
The most important part of the artist’s value proposition is proof. I can say and write whatever I want to, because the words on paper do not give a damn whether anything is actually true or not, but if I leave my agent hanging and don’t deliver on the deal, they can loose a lot of their investment and more importantly their pride and reputation.
And the only real thing that gives them this proof and the accompanying peace of mind is absolutely not the contract that one signs, but everything that comes before it — contracts are just formal tools that we can try to use for correcting or enforcing any sudden misunderstanding, distrust or even deception, but for the contract to be created in the first place, we need trust.
This is why many artists don’t get to a really successful place until later in their life — a lot of them do not understand how important their reputation of being able to deliver on their promises actually is.
Each of us should figure out our own value proposition and compare it to whoever is already signed by the gallery or to other, similar but maybe 10% more successful artists. If we are able to figure out what their proposition has that we lack and can then reverse-engineer it so that we know what to do to get it, we’ll be well on our way of taking the next step in our careers.
Don’t forget, different galleries have different needs and their demands of what a good artist’s value proposition is can vary a lot, so the trick is to be really specific. The more detail you can get, the more you will understand what makes them tick.