Artwork Needed: Scams and the Emerging Artist


I am a painter, and I have a website. About once a year, I get a real commission from this thing, and someone’s wife or dad really does like my work and I get paid. About once a week I also get a fake e-mail inquiry. Occasionally I’ll get an e-mail that sounds more legitimate. How do I tell these things apart, aside from bad grammar and desperate pleas for a routing number? Young and hungry, the occasional pay-to-play stuff is appealing to me. I guess I’m like a dog and will work hard for affirmation. Once I did pay some money to be in “Art Tour International.” I hope to keep others from making that same kind of mistake. Now, when I get an enticing-but-unsure offer, I reach out to my art world elders. Let’s break it down:

Total Scams:

  1. They ask for banking information.

  2. They ask for commissioned work/images of work immediately (and probably banking information.)

  3. Congrats! You've won an award! Plz wire money.

Feels-Real-Probably-A-Scam Scams:

  1. Associated with, but not actually, something like Art Basel, Artsy.com, or a Biennial.

  2. Offers exposure, but you foot the costs. (Example: British Vogue’s World of Interiors or Studio Visit Magazine. You pay at least $300 to be included.) Save your money.

  3. Same as number 2, but a gallery where you pay a lot for inclusion. Online or otherwise.

Completely-Legitimate-Yet-I-Feel-It’s-Still-A-Scam Scams:

  1. Most juried competitions that charge over $10 per entry. (I’ve got an established-artist friend who, after years, stopped applying to Manifest Gallery. She went out with a bang, sending a joke application that was just a bunch of porn files.)

  2. New American Paintings is now offering a guaranteed supplementary inclusion for artists who have been in past issues--for the small fee of $299. This isn’t a guideline it just grossed me out.

This began as a light-hearted, how-to-read-e-mails PSA. In wrapping up, I see that my beef isn’t with the Russians (or whoever the hell keeps sending me things with phrases like “kindly please send work for anniversary my wife”). I am left a little depressed that the art market, institutions, and legitimate exhibitions are driven so much by the artist’s hard work, time, and so often, money—with just the promise of something as nebulous of “exposure” in return. I will still chase that carrot, wait for that big catch (and encourage you to, as well). I just won’t be engaging with the kind of publication or fair that is equivalent to a nature show host planting dead fish in the water. Let’s dig our heels in deep, do the work, and pester other people to pay for it.

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