It’s an unfortunate fact of life for every artist and freelancer out there, at some point or another you are bound to find yourself at the wrong end of a rip off. Whether it’s someone who fails to pay entirely or being overcharged to submit your work to a fair, here are some ways that artists get ripped off and how to avoid them.
1. Non-payment. While it would be lovely to think that the world is full of people who are true to their word, and that you can go through life as a trusting, carefree person when it comes to your artwork, the reality is that if you are a working artist who depends on the income for your bread and butter, or even as a supplemental income, you need to learn how to think like a businessperson. There are some extremely simple (but not necessarily easy) steps you can take to ensure that you are paid in full for any work you do. Require a deposit on comissions. Before you pick up a brush, move a slab of clay, or film a single frame, make sure that the person you are working for has paid you a reasonable deposit for the anticipated work. A deposit is typically a percentage of the final cost, so it is important that you are able to provide a careful estimate at the outset of every project. Once the deposit is cleared, begin your work. When you are finished, require payment in full before you hand over your completed project. See? Simple. But maybe not easy. It is important to find a way to separate yourself as the artist from yourself as the business person representing your art. These are two very different things, and standing in the shoes of one does not negate the other. They need to exist side by side.
2. A continuation of how to avoid non-payment is to get things in writing. No matter what. Whether you print up a contract, or simply exchange an email thread outlining all of the parameters of the commissioned project, be sure there is something, somewhere, written down outlining cost and expectations. By having everything laid out ahead of time, no one can argue about the original terms of agreement and payment.
3. Art shows can be another way that artists fall victim to financial dishonesty. While some are on the level, others have a reputation for being questionable at best. An example of this is the Florence Biennale. This exhibition is set in the cradle of Renaissance art and its very name seems to link it to venerable, juried art shows like the Venice Biennale. But be wary of this and others like it. Florence Biennale is not a juried show and charges exorbitant fees for artists and galleries who wish to exhibit. The costs very often outweigh the benefits of participation. While it may not be an absolute loss (heck, who doesn’t want a reason to go to Florence?!) buyer be very aware when it comes to art shows that charge hefty fees just for the privilege of being present.
4. On a smaller, less international scale, there is caution to be taken when it comes to any art fair. You are unlikely to find one that will let you in the door for free (unless a gallery is representing you there), but do your research before renting space at any art fair. Decide whether the costs are worth the potential benefits. Choose fairs that you are personally familiar with or that are known to have decent attendance. There is nothing worse than paying a fee for exhibition only to have six people wander past your work in the course of a weekend. Ask around within the art community, find out what the reputable fairs are, and even attend some before entering as an artist. Art fairs can be a fabulous way to get exposure for your work, but as with all things it is up to you to make sure you are making the right decisions when it comes to your resources.
5. Online scams are another way artists are often targeted. In these cases, a bit of general internet common sense can go a long way. First of all, take a hard line when it comes to what sort of payment you will accept. Cashier’s checks are an incredibly risky form of payment and are one of the favorite tools of the online scammer. Often the promise of payment with a cashier’s check will be followed by an overpayment and request that the extra money be returned to the purchaser through a third party. This is a scam. Every time. Do not ever send money to someone who is supposed to be paying you for your work. Other red flags to look for are unlikely stories about time crunches, international relocations, or complicated shipping needs. In general, go with your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, or even if it seems too good to be true, use extreme caution. Stick to your business practices no matter what, do not offer an exception on payment to a stranger who has contacted you out of the blue.
Unfortunately artists, like most freelancers, are vulnerable to all sorts of predation both online and off. But with some common sense, and a little knowledge in your corner, you can avoid some of the common rip-offs that are so upsetting to anyone running their own business.