Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The End of the Relationship

I've left a long term relationship. It's over. Our goals didn't match anymore. A long term relationship should have mutual respect, a common purpose, and trust, especially trust. I've left the art gallery that has shown my work since 2001. 

Sunday John and I brought all my paintings home.

In September I wrote a blog post about the people from "Detroit 1-8-7" choosing one of my paintings to use on the show. There were a couple things I didn't mention on the post. Like when I signed the release form I asked the gallery owner if we were being paid. Her startled response was something like, "Oh, umm, oh, well, I guess I'll have to ask them".


Well, that bothered me, so I had a conversation about it with Google when I got home. 

Google's response was confirmed a week later when I went to see a show at a gallery in downtown Detroit. I happily told the gallery managers that a tv show was going to use one of my paintings. They told me that movie and tv people had been renting art from them too. RENTING. Renting for 20% of the value of the art for a week. 

It took me several weeks of stewing before going back to the gallery to have a little chat with the gallery owner. I'm a mild mannered Democrat, I don't yell at people, I'm not fond of confrontation. Also I had to decide if I really wanted to leave the gallery. Where would I go? Would I feel rudderless, homeless, lost. 

It turns out that, yes, the gallery owner is making 20% on the art rentals. She asked the tv people if she had to share the money with her artists. They said it was her choice. She's choosing not to. 

I acknowledge here that keeping a gallery open is expensive. 50/50 sharing of sales has always seemed fair to me. She has to make a living too.

And after all, it involved a lot of work for her, she told me she spent two hours on paperwork and packing the selection of art they took (I think it was seven pieces from different artists). I mentioned that my 48" x 48" painting took 30 hours to paint. The painting's value is $3000, 20% of that is $600. So for her 2 hours of packing and paperwork, that's $300 per hour. That's just from my piece. What about the other artists?

She said I get exposure if my work is on the tv show. Hmmm. There isn't a sign over the art saying Lynn did this. There isn't a credit line at the end of the show that says, "Painting in the dining room by Lynn Arbor". Also they may rent art work, place it on the set, but it doesn't necessarily ever show up on screen. The gallery owner still gets paid.

I also found out that no other artist has questioned being paid, or so she said. 

Maybe because I spent 25 years of my life making art for a living, I'm used to getting paid. When I was a graphic designer I did the work, wrote a bill, then someone wrote a check. 

Of course, there was the time that I designed a brochure for a woman who grew orchids. She didn't like the design. Said her son the printer could do a much better, more creative, more professional job. When I got up to leave (taking my design) she said, "You can leave the design." Yeah, right.

It seems that some people think that if you love doing the work you do (especially artists, singers, musicians) that your reward is in the pleasure you get in doing it. You don't really need to get paid. 

If my brain surgeon loves cutting into heads, no one questions that he should be paid. Wait a minute. I don't have a brain surgeon, but you get my point. If someone wants to use your art, you should get paid. It's not brain surgery, but it counts.


  1. Lynn,

    There is a word for the way your dealer behaved: Pimp.

    You did the right thing. I believe it was unconscionable--and possibly even illegal--for the dealer to have a) kept the entire fee and b) possibly even worse, not told you there was rental revenue involved. If the gallery deal is 50/50, this dealer has some coughing up to do. You may even be able to sue in small claims court.

    I'm planning a Marketing Mondays blog post for early 2011 on Burning Bridges. This story may well be the lead. I have a burned bridge of my own--not from a gallery (I love my dealers!) but from an educational institution.

  2. Thank you, Joanne, I have great respect for your professionalism. Your comments mean a lot.

    Burning Bridges, a perfect title. I'll look forward to reading more, and of course you can use my story.

  3. Well expressed. Being used and abused in business and life is never acceptable.
    You handled all of this in a positive way and never sank to her level.

    Ann Amenta

  4. Thanks so much for this information! It was all very insightful and helpful to other artists I'm sure.
    I am proud that you did the right thing and disengage yourself from a less than honest business person. Enough of the huge scams we deal with in the business and political arena!
    All artists should know how the Detroit 187 deal works and about your unfortunate experience.
    Your fellow artist and comrad,
    Linda Mendelson

  5. Hi Anonymous,
    My unfortunate experience was with a gallery owner who's greedy. The tv and movie people are acting responsibly. I'm sure they don't want to dictate the behavior of the gallery, or be in the middle of it. They have other things to do.


  6. Damn, that gallery owner is so unethical it's shocking. It's difficult to imagine how she could have pretended to not know if there was payment involved in the rental agreement when, obviously she already was aware of it. Greedy doesn't begin to describe her lack of ethics. I'd be very tempted to let the other artists involved in the rental know just what's going on.

  7. You experienced a problem that is endemic to the arts.
    Here is a great youtube skit on this:

  8. Lyn that is such a terrible experience. And a gallery should be more aware of not abusing the value of their artists. As we artists are always defending ourselves and justifying the worth of our art. Its hard, you can't cover everything in a contract, nor can you think of everything that could potentially happen in regards to protecting your work and being paid.

  9. You and I spoke about the situation and I've had the good fortune to hook up with a reputable artist/promoter who created a business to present art to set directors and she is doing OK with it so far. She was able to place one of my works in the Harold & Kumar movie and it may or may not make it past editing. The point being, she was upfront about the pay structure and in the selection/leasing arrangements with the filmmakers. She rented out my piece, got a small commission for it, and we both were very happy having our cake (getting revenue) and eating it, too (we got it back along with the cash). Too bad there are rotten eggs that taint the opportunities.

  10. Victor, thanks for adding your comment. I think it's important for people to know that there are good folks out there.


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