Who's got it toughest in the arts? Visual artists are strong contenders. Writers and musicians (file sharing notwithstanding) receive royalties for each sale. Musicians, actors, comedians and dancers perform, and get paid for each performance. Visual artists make an original object, sell it, and that's the last income they see from it. Ever. Even if it's resold for a zillion dollars.
CARFAC (Canadian Artists' Representation/Le Front des Artistes Canadiens) is looking to change that (in Canada). The Artist Resale Right (ARR) entitles artists to receive a percentage of the sale price from all commercial resales of their work.
The ARR originated in France in 1920. Painter Francois Millet and his wife died in poverty, leaving their children to beg in the streets, not far from the auction house where his works were soon sold for great sums. A public outcry led to the passing of a law paying royalties for secondary sales. The ARR has since been adopted by 59 countries, including Australia, Russia, Iraq, Laos, Chile, Croatia, Madagascar, Norway, Mali, and every country in the EU. California too.
CARFAC found that even Governor General Award winning artists find it difficult if not impossible to make a living from their art. The average income for a Canadian artist is a staggering $13 976, a figure which has sunk significantly since 2001.
The ARR would necessitate a payment of five percent of any commercial resale of a work (galleries, auctions, art dealers) priced at $1000 or more.
This would particularly help senior artists, who earn an average of $5000 a year for their work, and aboriginal artists, many of whom live in isolation and poverty despite their growing cachet in the international market.
How would this impact art sales? Hardly at all to not at all. This is what British art dealers have said has been their experience, in a country where the ARR has resulted in 10.7 million pounds being paid to nearly 2000 artists since 2006. The UK art market is growing at a rate of 23% a year, with ARR payments making up a whopping 0.04% of monies exchanged.
Eighty-seven percent of art market professionals have said that ARR hasn't damaged their business. Stephen Ranger, Vice President of Business Development of the Toronto auction house Waddington's, said that independent studies on the subject found no negative effects on sales, only positive, even for buyers and sellers.
Dealers commonly charge a commission, often 20%, sometimes higher. Auction houses charge a hammer fee for every work sold. All of these people are getting a cut. Why not the artist who created the work in the first place?
Why isn't this a law already? Isn't it obvious that this should be in place? Why shouldn't a system be in place to help visual artists be able to eat?