Get it in Writing

This NYTimes articleabout the legal limbo of some Avedon prints just breaks my heart. Besides the obvious part about the amazing work done by all, including the printers, being stuck in boxes, mostly unseen, the stories about why there are issues now make my downright twitchy.

Artists of all kinds are notorious for being crap at paperwork and many so-called great artists often offer(ed)their favors like Raylan Givens asking “one more time” with a smile, while puttinghis hands on his hips,revealing his badge and sidearm. That combo of sloppy business practices or, worse, intimidation by the Artiste, and fear of the employee/contractor to ask for something more concrete or as filthy as actual paymentwill likelyleadto situations like those described in the article, long after the artist is dead and gone.

It even happens when both sides actually like and respect each other but just don’t bother to putsomethingin writing. The road to hell, and all that.

Don’t let this happen to you and, almost more importantly, don’t put your minions in impossible situations.This means having open communication with the people you work with–interns, employees, vendors, whomever–so that you each can offer solutions about how to make something happen, without any one feeling taken advantage of or stuck in ambiguity about what s/he gets for her/his efforts. Intimidation is not becoming to anyone, even an artist. Having your minions fear you only makes you an ass (and generally makes them poor workers).

When you hire employees or independent contractors, pay them actual money whenever possible. Also, have signed agreements describing the relationship, the duties of each party, and anything else that comes up like “InternBetty gets to keep one set of the prints she makes for PhotoBob as a part of her compensation.” Veryimportantly, those agreements should describe what happens when and if the relationship turns bad and someone wants out.For individual projects with special circumstances, take the time to lay out the relationships involved so that everyone is, quite literally, on the same page.

And, whatever you do, put it in writing. A formal contract is best, but anything that lays out the understanding of the people involved and is signed (and preferably dated) by everyone is better than nothing.

Sure, you (like Avedon) won’t have to deal with whatever happens after you die, but I suspect you don’t want to leave your loved ones with big legal expenses to sort out your messes, either. Besides, it’s better business to treat everyone with respect. An agreement is the documentation of that mutual respect.