The scourge of art scams - from fake buyers to inflated submission fees & dodgy residencies
Being an artist is not an easy path: most creatives find it difficult to make ends meet, especially if they are based in a big, expensive metropolis like London. Trying to stand out and carve a name for ourselves usually means seeking opportunities to increase the visibility of our work and a a good way to do this is navigate the choppy waters of residencies, art prizes, open call exhibitions and try to lure galleries and art buyers our way. Unfortunately there seems to be an awful lot of individuals and organisations who are trying to take advantage of artists and find ways to relieve them of their hard-earned cash while promising the Holy Grail of sales and increased exposure.
The fake buyers - If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is...
Some art scams are easy to spot. I am talking about the type of badly spelt and barely literate emails that claim that someone wants to buy several artworks for their beloved wife's birthday. A quick Google search is usually all that is needed to reveal that several artists are complaining they have also recently been recipients of the same suspicious email.
Some are not so obvious. I regularly receive messages from 'buyers' who express an interest in my work and initially are able to hold a sensible and believable conversation. The red flag is that they soon ask whether they can bypass the Saatchiart website, the online gallery I use to promote and sell my work, to purchase a painting. For me this is usually a no no as using the gallery is safeguard in term of processing and receiving payment before dispatch abroad and making sure work is securely delivered to a buyer, preventing fake claims of loss in transit or damaged goods. I never agree to sell a work directly to a buyer I don't know unless:
- I have met them face to face, at an exhibition for example, and had a chance to assess their credibility
- I can see with a bit of research that they are a known and respected art collector
- they come recommended by someone I know.
Scammers are not the only problem. Time wasters abound in the great art game. I receive a significant number of emails from people who claim to be potential buyers and who send me repeat messages but never go ahead with an actual purchase. Although I am always very happy to talk about my work and to give people all the necessary additional information, I am also a professional with limited time who does not like to have that precious time wasted.
Avoiding inflated submission fees and obscure residencies - the artist as cash cow
Something that drives me to distraction is the ubiquitous 'submission fee' that artists are expected to pay these days every time they want to submit work to an art competition, residency opportunity or open-call exhibition.
I can understand that some organisations might need to charge a small fee to cover basic administrative costs, but this has got completely out of control...
One of my pet-hates is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Every year it makes a a big song and dance of allowing unknown artists to exhibit at the prestigious venue but it charges a whopping £35 per submitted work (to put this in perspective let's remind ourselves that in the UK the average unemployment benefit for someone under 24 is only up to £57.90 a week....). When you see the show, you also realise that the majority of the artists on display will be Royal Academicians and artists who are invited to submit work, rather than pieces by artists who that have submitted through the open submission process. In addition, it seems to me that most of these open-submission pieces are crammed in the less spacious rooms with little breathing space, like unfortunate cattle on the way to slaughter, to a point where it becomes hard to appreciate individual works and the display becomes more jumble sale than carefully curated art Behemoth. All in all a much less democratic proposition when carefully examined.
Instagram also has a lot of 'opportunities' lurking in its depths these days with artists being asked to pay to have their work featured on random accounts or highlighted in obscure podcasts. Is this really worth anything?
There is no doubt that many high profile art prizes and open submission opportunities are genuinely motivated by a love of art and the will to broaden access and that they will be valuable to an artist's career. But It is important to carefully check first whether they do offer a respected platform and whether they have a realistic fee in place or if they are just a convenient way to fund someone's lifestyle and fancy gallery space...
As for residencies, they should either offer artists substantial support in kind (accommodation, mentoring, free studio) or pay the artist an actual fee, not expect them to be out of pocket or work for free for the promise of much needed exposure.
And don't get me started on galleries and other art institutions who think that young people are so desperate to be part of the glamorous art world that it is OK to exploit them as unpaid intern or as cheap labour.
There is a lot of noise being made about the acting profession becoming the privilege of the wealthy and the privately educated, but somehow the art world, with all its beloved talk of inclusivity and widening participation, seems to me no better at trying to offer real opportunities for all.
Saying nay to pay to play
Being an artist is tough enough and we don't need to be seen as cash cows or easy target for scammers. It is up to us to be vigilant but also to put our foot down and stop accepting the 'pay to play' mentality that seems to poison so many so-called art opportunities at the moment.
Fabienne Jenny Jacquet