I had an experience this week where an exhibition opportunity fell apart because the gallery owner would not provide me with a contract. After emailing back and forth and finally speaking on the phone, I withdrew my work from the exhibition and I don’t regret it for a second.
When I said I wanted to understand the terms under which we’d be working together, the owner repeatedly replied: “You either trust me or you don’t”. I offered alternatives, such supplying a sample contract myself, but she interrupted repeatedly, raised her voice, and tried to intimidate and guilt me into doing the show on her terms. And by that I mean unknown terms, since I couldn’t get the information from her.
Underneath it all was a confidence on her part that I wouldn’t ever say no, because the myth of artists is that we are so hungry for any opportunity to connect with the outside world that we’ll give up any semblance of professional behavior in order to have a few crumbs thrown our way. But I said no, and I think I shocked the hell out of her!
I hope all artists realize they’re worth more than that. We are entitled to professional dealings with other professionals. That includes following standard business practices–such as getting contracts in writing–and if you’re not being treated professionally, the safest thing you can do is walk away. If that gallery owner was that adamant and supercilious in what’s supposed to be the honeymoon stage, I can only imagine how difficult things could’ve gotten if she’d sold work and owed me money, or when it came time to get the paintings back to me.
Caroll Michels and Jackie Battenfield are two artist-advocates who believe in getting it in writing, so don’t just take my word for it! (How to Survive & Prosper as an Artist is a classic, and The Artist’s Guide is a new favorite, used in many college classes now).
I thanked her at the end of the call, when it was clear there was no room for any professional discussion on this topic, and said goodbye. (Always take the high road; my mother taught me that). And now I’m sleeping like a baby. If I’d trusted my work to her under these terms, I know I couldn’t say that.