Artists’ Rough Guide to Contracts

Contracts play a major role in the administrative side of the world of art. They are highly useful for quite a number of reasons, including acting as vital proof of mutual agreements between different parties that are also enforceable by law. Despite this, however, there are quite a large number of artists who tend to shy away from taking advantage of them entirely, either by not asking for them in the first place or by not creating or reviewing them at all.

Why is a contract necessary?

There are a rather large number of different types of contracts that are necessary for professional artists, including contracts in the context of commissions, selling individual works, loaning art works on a temporary basis for the purpose of exhibitions, receiving funding, and gallery representation. Artists might be reluctant to create a contract because of the perceived effort that they assume it requires, or simply because of the confusion that they feel towards the process of establishing one. One might also feel as though a contract is unnecessary because of the level of trust that they feel towards the other individuals in their working relationship.

Ultimately, however, deciding to forgo doing so could cause the artist to experience some especially disastrous consequences in the future. These could occur either due to circumstances outside of their control or due to a change of heart, a misunderstanding or a disagreement on the part of the opposite party. Miscommunication occurs more often than not, and it is therefore highly recommended that an artist should make sure that a written contract is established prior to the finalization of any deal that he or she might make.

What does a contract entail?

A contract will clearly outline the exact requirements that are needed from the artists, or the specific items that will be obtained from them. These could include receiving commissions, selling works, or handing over a licence that would enable the other party to implement the artists’ work according to their particular specifications. A contract will also, in the case of the provision of services, establish the duration of the agreement in question. If, on the other hand, works are being sold, no term will be specified. Here, it is important for the artist to read the fine print, and to pay close attention to the requirements that might be outlined.

The date when and the way in which the artist will be paid will also be clearly expressed in the contract, and the termination clause of the contract will also be established. This clause might be absent from certain contracts, and in this case it is vital that the artist makes sure that he or she understands how it would be possible to terminate the contractshould the need for it occur.

Important things to look for in a contract

  • Goods or Service

  • Copyright & Ownership

  • Hidden Costs

  • Roles & Duties

  • Termination rules

  • Governing Law

Different types of contracts

1. Consignment Agreements

Consignment agreements involve a deal between an artist and a gallery. Upon signing the contract, the gallery would then obtain the artist’s artwork and sell it to a third party. Once the work is sold, the artist would then receive a profit whilst the gallery would receive a commission.

2. Licence Agreements

Licence agreements enable artists to receive compensation for their works without having to sell them. By licencing their work and giving that licence to a company or a manufacturer, artists are able to allow them to use their work on their products in exchange for payment. This usually takes place for a specific period of time that is dictated in the contract.

3. Commission Agreements

Commission agreements are ones that take place when, as opposed to selling work that is already completed, an artist creates an original artwork intended specifically for their client and according to their exact specifications.

Contracts tend to be favoured because they can easily aid one in protecting themselves and the parties involved; they can enable one to avoid certain careless disagreements that might potentially come up in a working relationship. Having a contract ready and presenting it to the other party that the artist wishes to make a deal with, as well as having a consistent policy regarding contracts, are vital because these will not only protect the artist in the future but will also enable him or her to be viewed as a professional artist.

 If you ever feel insecure about renegotiating terms on a contract, please don’t. The contract is supposed to be there to protect you. Both you and your client or organisation you are dealing with should be comfortable with it. It doesn’t matter if you are a young artist or small business you are totally allowed to negotiate and demand terms and rights.

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