I had always thought of myself as being pretty security savvy without being anally protective over everything that happens on my laptop. I laugh at emails pouring out a sob story that is supposed to be pulling at my heart strings. I respond smugly at emails and phonecalls as I have already claimed all my PPI paybacks without paying some dodgey company a huge percentage fee. I immediately, report and block the porno queens trying to be my friend on instagram. I instantly hang up the moment the lovely lady on the phone tells me I have a had a recent road accident. If any of my online accounts email me to tell me to verify details etc, rather than following the link I go directly to the site itself to investigate if the claim is real.
So how is it in the 8 months in which I have dared to expose my art to the world that I have almost once and now almost definitely twice have been scammed?
Because, particularly as a 'new on the scene' artist, we relish any positive feedback about our art because this is where our heart strings are. And already they have us!
The first one I was always a little suss about but until I could see how it was a scam I played along with it in the hope that this may actually be my first ever sale.....because what if it was authentic? Susan Riding aka Rise (depending on which pseudonym she is going by) was very flattering of my work and told me she wanted to buy some of my art for her daughters wedding. She selected a few pieces which were actually really old works and agreed a price. Who was I to say which works she liked so was flattered she saw value in them. Small alarm bells rang when she needed me to redirect her to my website shop for prices if she had already seen my work. And, whilst she said her family would be very pleased with the choices there was no quibble over the prices I suggested. It started to become a bit cold, authoritative and pushy but I just thought she may buy many pieces so was just used to cracking on with the deal. At this point, in my mind I had already bought the bottle of champagne and was preparing my public declaration on social media of my first sale. I drove too my parents to collect the requested painting and took photographs of the three images they had chosen to mark my first sale. But I was still feeling a little cautious and would not be handing over any work until I saw the money cleared in my bank.
And then the email came that made my ears prick up with doubt. She had originally stated she would need to pay by bankers draft which initially I thought odd but thought this was just a standard business arrangement for her. But the email came that explained the accountant had made out the cheque wrong but to pay it in to my account anyway and we could arrange either reimbursement of the excess or they would pay another cheque for the difference. This was where the scam was, you pay her back the excess for the cheque to be invalid and her now having my bank details. I googled her again which led straight to a blog with various artists listing similar experiences with the same name. So, I called her bluff. I insisted that I would not bank a cheque until it was for the correct amount....at which I never heard from her again, as with many other artists on the blog. So, finances and art were left intact, but my ego took a hammering. Would it have hurt more if I had been selling my works for years and was just another sale? For me this was a huge deal, my first sale! Only to have it taken away from me!
Now to my second experience of being completely exploited as a vulnerable artist. Following my first exhibit at Parallax international art fair I was approached by various galleries across the globe to join in their next collective show or join their platform. I made the choice to go with Art Platform NYC because 'Juliette' offered what appeared to be a really personal interest in my work. How she described my work seemed to resonate with how I saw my work (It turns out this has been plagiarised and all artists have had very similar, word for word, descriptions used to lure them in also). I felt hugely honoured and flattered that supposedly many people apply to be in their publications and she has chosen me specifically because it resonated so well with the project. So I paid the money and answered all the questions for the editorial from 'Charlie' after much eagerness and positivity from Juliette. And then there was silence. Because I was busy with other things I did not pick up on the delay until a couple of months ago, but then justified it to myself that the book wasn't due out until 2016/2107. I didn't want to pester them so gently probed them for more info.
It was then I received an email from another artist in the platform informing the whole thing was a scam. Since then I have had a daily stream of emails from artists all around the world all having been caught out in similar ways. Fortunately for me my sensible head meant I had paid them via bank transfer not by giving them my bank details. Others have had a number of payments taken out of their account since the initial payment. Others have got as far as sending art work to be exhibited in the big expo's, only to have returned many months later (if at all) and heavily damaged. Again I would never have got this far, I was planning my trip to NY in person if and when it was requested so I had full control of my art (plus an excuse to visit NY). The company is very clever in elongating the process so that as such there is nothing anybody can actually take them to court for and by delaying it with excuses of emails not getting through, staffing changes etc, they know artists will just give up and let them keep their money.
Some artist have made reports to Ripoff, Network 7 and the FBI but we have been told we each as individuals have to make our own attempts as far as we can to claim back our money before it can be made as a joint claim. I have been very doubtful about doing this myself because it is hard to prove it is actually a scam. It could just be a highly unprofessional and completely disorganised organisation who have bitten off more than they can chew, with only 1 or 2 players playing different roles behind what appears to be a large organisation. So, I continue to play by the book with them, knowing the game they are playing, whilst accumulating as much evidence that they are in breach of contract and therefore can demand a refund. I doubt very much I will get my money back. But having accepted this and that I will ever get the promised trip to NY I may aswell keep trying.
So, back to the question of why it is easy to scam an artist....because the one commodity that people can exploit us financially with is the one thing that is most dearest to our hearts. We have become immune to the starving child stories, the battered pets stories...they no longer shock us enough to give away our money unless we have a personal experience of it ourselves. When somebody acknowledges and gives praise for something that is extremely personal, the thing that gives us our whole sense of being a purpose and meaning through creating art, we expose our vulnerable side to the public for the scammers to see. Our art is us, praise our art you praise us as a being....and there...you've got us!
But no more for me. My art is my soul to be exploited, but I still have a savvy head on me to protect myself. After my first fair I had decided that, rather than bash my ego up against a brick wall by approaching and being rejected by gallery after gallery, I would only follow up leads from those that have approached me personally. I still believe this but I also need to upgrade my internal antivirus and anti-malware programs and be more sceptical and ruthless in my explorations in who I get involved with. And to remember that whilst the creation of art is personal, the selling of it comes down to ruthless business of sales and marketing. It is here I can keep my head.