negotiation for artists


Negotiation is something we do every day, whether formally or informally. It is how we go about getting a raise or setting a commission fee, divvying up exhibition tasks with a curator, extending the deadline for turning in a paper, or figuring out when you can fit in dinner with a friend. When you negotiate, you want to come to terms that are beneficial for all parties involved. Negotiation is a collaborative problem-solving process, which can cultivate long term relationships based on mutual trust. Good negotiation skills can help you avoid misunderstandings, hard feelings, and miscommunication with others.

There are a variety of negotiation methods, but the following are some good ways to consider the problem or issue you are working to resolve. A negotiation does not mean that it is divisive or negative, it is just a way of identifying and agreeing upon what works best for everyone involved.

1. Separate the people from the problem or issue. Negotiation is not a place for emotions, but for a cool and collected interchange.

2. Look at the problem objectively. Presenting the issue to an uninvolved colleague may help you see the situation from a variety of perspectives rather than your own.

3. Be very clear in your discussions. Ask the other party to explain anything that is unclear or confusing. Do not assume you know what they are talking about, as it could create a misunderstanding. It doesn’t matter how many questions it takes to clarify the details, it matters that you do just that: clarify!

4. Focus on interests and not positions. You might have the same interest, but not the same position on how to get there. Let everyone voice ideas to avoid making any assumptions or hasty decisions. Once you have heard from all positions in the negotiation, you are in a better place to make a calculated decision that will be mutually beneficial. 

5. Clarify positions and points of view that might be different. A gallery might see the sale of your work in one way, and you might see it in another. For example, the gallery might not be able to pay you the same day it is paid for a work, and it may have good reasons. (These issues should always be discussed before you enter into a gallery relationship.)

6. Put yourself in the other party’s shoes and look at things through their perspective. Understanding what is important to the person(s) you are negotiating with will help you reach a mutually-beneficial agreement.

7. Get the information you need to make an intelligent decision. When in doubt, research. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, NEVER assume. Always seek out the desired information so that you KNOW.

8. Brainstorm different options before making a decision. The first solution you think of may not be the best solution. 

9. Insist on using objective criteria for making all decisions. Are there standards or procedures that are used in the field? How do other organizations, artists, and galleries deal with the issues being addressed?  

10. When negotiating a fee, know what others get paid for similar work. If you are asking for more, make sure that you have a reason to back it up.

11. Look at other contracts and agreements. Do any of the examples work in your situation?

12. Never yield to pressure from another party. Do not agree to something because you are desperate or feel bullied. A solution that does not work for all parties involved and leaves one of you feeling bad about the situation, or worse really pissed off, is not a good solution.

13. Be civil in your negotiations. You want to cultivate long-term business relationships, and even if you do not reach an agreement this time, you may find yourself in negotiation with the same parties in the future.

14.  Never negotiate under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This may sound a bit extreme but many art-related events, exhibitions, and meetings have alcohol present. This is not the time nor the place to do business. Being well-rested and alert keeps you on your feet when negotiating important business decisions.


You can also get our popular book for artists which includes all of this information and more here.