Ask the Experts: Should I License My Art for Décor?

This month’s letter comes from a reader with a question about licensing their images for a hotel to print and display.

Dear Kat,

I am a fine art photographer and I have been contacted by an art consultant for the hotel industry about my most popular series. He would like to print 100 pieces on canvas for display in the bathrooms and pay me $15 per print for a total of $1,500. This series is represented by a gallery and print prices starts at $400. Is this something that a fine art photographer should do?

Sincerely,

Unlicensed Photography

Dear Unlicensed,

I encourage artists to exhibit in a variety of venues, including unconventional locations. There is nothing inherently wrong with having your work acquired by a hotel for display in their bathrooms. But be aware that this art consultant is not offering to buy your prints. Rather, they are interested in buying a license to reproduce your photographs to be used as décor.

You have committed to printing your photographs in this series as limited editions. I imagine that you have taken great care to produce prints of the highest quality. Allowing the hotel to print your photographs in a manner distinctly different from how you have been presenting them has the effect of a non-art object. This is only problematic because you are simultaneously selling your photographs through your gallery as fine art objects. To alter the edition of your series now would have repercussions. The mass-produced photographs could be viewed by current and prospective collectors as undermining the exclusivity that you and your gallery promised when you first created the limited edition. If they discover that those prints are available elsewhere for considerably less than they paid or in a different form, they may not view your work as fine art. In other words, mass producing these photographs could impact future sales.

Because I advocate for artists saying “yes, but” rather than “no, but” when offered and opportunity, one solution would be to create a new, non-editoned image to be license to this art consultant for their project. This would in essence be a commissioned piece. Should you offer to create new works, $1,500 for 100 prints is an unacceptably low offer for imagery that sells for $400. I suggest involving your gallery with this negotiation.

Sincerely,

Kat Kiernan, Director, Panopticon Gallery

Writing Machine ,  Jefferson Hayman

Writing Machine, Jefferson Hayman

Need some advice? Contact info@donttakepictures.com with “Ask the Experts” in the subject line. Questions about exhibiting, publishing, promoting, collecting, curating, or other industry questions are welcome. If our editors aren’t the right people to answer your question, we will reach out to an expert we trust.