Fundamental Enquiries

A fundamental problem artists continually bring to Artlaw is the need for basic information and advice on how to set up and maintain a ‘business’ as an artist; it’s a question of survival.

It has been the aim of this column during the past two years to try and meet this need by dealing with basic problems of survival, on a monthly basis; each month adding one more ingredient to a recipe for survival. As a first step towards the obviously needed Artlaw handbook, a collected version of Art Monthly articles appearing over the past two years has been produced, and is available from Artlaw Services, at the address below (66p, including p&p).

As an increasing number of artists are in need of a basic survival recipe, it seems apposite to set out and review the basic ingredients here. Whatever media or methods of work an artist may use, there are invariably the following basic requirements; capital and income, work-space, exhibition-space, publicity and public relations, insurance, plus the ability
to administer these matters.

Capital and income
Most businesses need an initial injection of capital, e.g. to buy basic materials, to pay rent on a studio lease, perhaps to pay for food and domestic accommodation for a while, until income is received to pay for such items. This inevitably raises questions of taxation and National Insurance which must be dealt with sooner or later; be prepared. Basic tips: keep records of all expenditure and income throughout the year and, if possible, open a separate bank account for business matters; stamp your national insurance card (obtainable from DHSS) in one of three ways,

  1. buy self-employed stamps from the Post Office each week
  2. find employment so that the employer does it each week
  3. sign on at the Department of Employment so that they do it each week.

If there is not enough income to justify buying stamps, then consideration should be given to producing other income-generating work, finding employment, or registering as unemployed (Art Monthly No.16).

For those whose aim is to generate income by selling their work, their skill and labour, and/or both, it is likely they will need to enter into Contracts of Sale and Commission Agreements (Art Monthly Nos. 8,9,10).

Whether working at home or in outside accommodation, the artist is likely to be regarded as a ‘business user’ of the space. This can mean fighting with other ‘businesses’ for the acquisition of such space at competitive commercial rents; liability to pay commercial rates; loss of domestic security of tenure and the need to acquire planning permission for business user, if working at home.

If, however, the status of business tenant is achieved, this can bring with it commercial security of tenure and a right to negotiate for a new lease at commercial rates at the end of the business tenancy. Before taking on, occupying or converting any workspace, legal advice should be sought (Art Monthly No.17).

Whether for purposes of sale, exposition, and/or both, whenever it is proposed to leave work for exhibition purposes, some form of written Exhibition Agreement should be used to record the detailed arrangements. (Art Monthly No.12).

Publicity and PR
Galleries often act as artist’s agents for the purposes of selling, arranging exhibitions, publishing work, or generally promoting the artist’s name and reputation. Whatever the nature of the relationship and its terms and conditions, some form of written agreement should be used. (Art Monthly Nos.11 and 15).

All work, whether at home, in studio, gallery, collection or in transit, should be insured against theft, loss, damage or destruction. (Art Monthly No.19).

Other Matters
Knowledge and information on copyright law is continually relevant and of great economic and aesthetic importance (Art Monthly Nos 3 and 4); and on matters of similar, but future, importance, such as artist’s re-sale royalties (Art Monthly No.5) and artist’s public exhibition payments (Art Monthly No.14). Furthermore, artists and administrators always need information and advice on the formation of self-help groups and organisations (Art Monthly No. 20).

Just like any other recipe, its successful use depends on the skill and care exercised by the hand of its user; so it is a matter for individual artists to decide how they might use such a recipe and to exercise their own judgement and control over the use of its basic ingredients.

© Henry Lydiate 1978

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.