Artwork Needed: Scams and the Emerging Artist

by Hannah Dean June 26, 2018

Para leer este artículo en español, por favor vaya aquí. To read this article in Spanish, please go here.

“Hello. My name is John Gracy from Fargo, North Dakota. I have been on the lookout for some artworks lately in regards to I and my wife’s anniversary which is just around the corner. I stormed on some of your works which i found quite impressive and intriguing. I must admit your doing quite an impressive job. You are undoubtedly good at what you do.

With that being said, I would like to purchase some of your works as a surprise gift to my wife in honor of our upcoming wedding anniversary. It would be of help if you could send some pictures of your piece of works, with their respective prices and sizes, which are ready for immediate (or close to immediate) sales. My budget for this is within the price range of USD500 to USD5000.

I look forward to reading from you in a view to knowing more about your pieces of inventory. As a matter of importance, I would also like to know if you accept check as a means of payment.”


I’m a painter, and I have a website. About once a year, I get a real commission from this thing; someone really does like my work, and I get paid. But about once a week I get a fishy e-mail inquiry. Occasionally I’ll get an e-mail that seems more legitimate. How do I tell these things apart, aside from bad grammar and desperate pleas for a routing number?

When you’re a young and hungry artist, the occasional pay-to-play stuff has its appeal. Like a dog, I’ll work hard for affirmation. Once I did pay some money to be in “Art Tour International.” I hope to keep others from making that same kind of mistake. Now, when I get an enticing-but-unconvincing offer, I may reach out to my art-world elders to ask if it looks legit.

Let’s break down the categories of these emails and offers: 

Total Scam:

  1. They ask for banking information.
  2. They ask for commissioned work/images of work immediately (and probably banking information). 
  3. Congrats! You’ve won an award! Plz wire money. 

Feels-Real-But-Is-Probably-A-Scam Scam:

  1. The email trots out offers and associations with, or a biennial or a fair, while offering no concrete representation, compensation, or exhibition.
  2. Offers ad-like exposure in a publication or on a site, but you foot the cost. (Example: British Vogue’s World of Interiors or Studio Visit Magazine. You pay at least $300 to be included.) Save your money.
  3. Same as number 4, but it’s a gallery (or “gallery”) where you pay a lot of money to be included, online or otherwise. 

Completely-Legitimate-Yet-I-Feel-It’s-Still-A-Scam Scam:

  1. Most juried competitions that charge more than $10 per entry. (I’ve got an established artist friend who, after years, stopped applying to Manifest Gallery. She went out with a bang, sending in a joke application that was just a bunch of porn files.) 
  2. New American Paintings is now offering a guaranteed supplementary inclusion for artists who have been in past issues — for the small fee of $299. It just grossed me out. 

In writing this PSA, I can see that my beef isn’t with the Russians (or whoever the hell keeps sending me things with phrases like “kindly please send work for anniversary my wife”). Rather, I’m just left a little depressed that the art market, institutions, and even legitimate exhibitions are driven so much by the artist’s hard work, time, and so often, money — with the promise of something as nebulous as “exposure” in return. Exposure to whom? To what end? People figuring out how to exploit young, struggling artists is nothing new, but technology and changing market structures have opened up some new ways to do it.

I will still chase that carrot, or wait for that big catch (and I encourage you to, as well). I just won’t be engaging with the kind of publication or fair that feels like a pimp at a big-city bus station telling a newcomer that he’ll make her “a star.” Let’s dig our heels in deep, do the work, and pester people to pay for it. 

This article originally appeared in slightly different form on June 15, 2018 in The Bowerbird, an art blog in Lubbock, TX. 


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mel hombre June 26, 2018 - 10:32

Regular exposure of such scams is important, so thanks to Hannah Dean. Please accept just a modest expansion of the demographics. While “figuring out how to exploit young, struggling artists is nothing new…”, these and other mechanisms of exploitation are by no means limited to just artists who are “young” or “struggling” (whatever that might mean…maybe artists trying to gain some firmer foothold in gallery or critical arenas). These scams have wide-open demographics and do not discriminate on the basis of age or place in some art hierarchy. I can assure you of this from first-hand experience.

H June 26, 2018 - 22:16

Thanks! Yes! This applies to anyone with an email address.

A quick google search is helpful, but really I weed out the questionables with a simple “Thank you for your interest! My work is available for sale on a Saatchi Art Online.” (To which I generally never get a response or make a sale.)

Hank Lam November 6, 2022 - 11:20

Exploitation is as old as human history. I write here to remind all that musicians too suffer from these artist related scams, in a different arena. Then there are “Who’s who” books a-plenty. You can see exploitation videos on TV disguised as get-rich-quick schemes, draped in legitimacy. Heck, I get hit with a scam on Ebay weekly. And remember the newer degreed academic fields of web-promotion and digital marketing.
Sometimes its legit business, sometimes self-promotion, and other times a rip-off. Everybody wants a piece of “you”. (this works both ways)
Point is, in my opinion and experience, Barnum was correct. But then, in my Freudian world, so was he (SF) in saying “the artist too creates a new reality with which to replace external reality”, to/for which I thank my stars to be able to find and see sanity in an artist’s personal “clarity” as I wander through life. Long live the arts. They do so help make life worth living… (glass half full).

Missy Finger June 26, 2018 - 10:56

This is not just happening to artists, it is also the same for galleries. I received one type very often saying the “…buyer likes our art, please send information. Do you accept credit card payment? I can contact my shipper to pick up at your gallery.”

Another one they send to galleries is a snail mail letter giving you an opportunity to advertise in a catalogue that lists all the art fairs around the world. You sign it and return. Next thing you know, you receive a bill for $700 because you did not look at the fine print! And they are in another country.

Beware, there are new frauds all the time. My philosophy is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not. Hold on to your money!

Natalie Palmer August 17, 2018 - 14:05

I actually got that same John Gracy email this morning. I was excited since I am a younger artist and am always looking for new customers, but something just seemed a little off about it so I knew I had to do some googling. The thing that really tipped me off was that I was obviously not the only one receiving the email. It showed my name in the bcc section, but said “undisclosed-recipients:;” in the to: section. I also thought it was very strange that he did not mention where he saw my work or which works he particularly liked. Most people that are actually looking for work will mention a particular work they’re looking for or ask for something similar.

J Waddle January 23, 2019 - 18:55

There are also galleries that will rent you wall space by the square foot, usually expensive with no guarantees that they will do anything to help you sell your work. Basically you are just paying their rent of mortgage payment while they engage in other activities that produce valid income for them. They often use and exploit interns that are not paid to get free labor. Auction houses are another source of gross deceit and outright thievery. Auction houses will take your piece that has value and guarantee that if it doesn’t sell they will buy it at the previously “agreed on” opening price after deducting their “fees”. They then place it in an auction where they know it will not sell and watch it with a shill to bid if it does receive any bids. After that they buy it at the opening or low bid price and then place it in a proper auction where it will sell at a much higher price. and since they now own it they get ALL of the auction proceeds.

Michelle Noah May 9, 2019 - 09:12

What are your thoughts on shows that charge the artist for a bundle of tickets to participate. Conception and Raw Artist events. I also got an email from Chocolate and Art 3 day show in Dallas. You pay for wall space to participate 25.00-35.00 per painting.
Is it an opportunity to show art and sell art or is it a scam.

Allison Acosta June 20, 2022 - 04:28

Thanks for posting about this! I just got an email from Art Show International Gallery (affiliated with I didn’t think it was legit but wanted to check anyways because you never know if some old school gallery just doesn’t know how to present themselves online. Thanks again!

Eva Thomas July 25, 2022 - 02:45

Allison, I have visited Art Show International Gallery’s site and found many beautiful works. I think it’s legit. Also, they present themselves amazingly online. Thanks!

DM August 7, 2022 - 07:51

Right…. So you have to pay over $1000 just to ‘accept’ an award. They send out blank emails and anyone willing to pay the fee thinks they have been ‘chosen.’ What an absolute crock of shit. Most of the art is terrible. They profit and pray on artists.

bhavesh August 7, 2022 - 05:04

I also received email from Art Show International and then i did some research which resulted that they are a legit platform for all forms of artwork. I also talked to some of the artists and they gave me a good feedback!

rongrint August 3, 2022 - 00:19

I took part in one of the competition of art show international as i came to know about it through internet and it was a good experience for me. It is a good platform to make a career as an artist.

Cook August 4, 2022 - 23:50

I also received an email from Art Show International Gallery, it is a legit website. Also, i have heard about it before from some artists and they gave me a nice feedback.

Steven August 6, 2022 - 04:57

Yes it is important to know about the scams and the real ones or you can be in a trouble, but I went through the comments and I will say that Art Show International is not a scam. There are many artists I know that are in contact with Art Show International and are using their platform.

Dm August 7, 2022 - 07:54

YET YOU GIVE THEM RIDICULOUS AMOUNTS OF MONEY TO EVEN HAVE A PAGE IN A LITTLE MAGAZINE ETC. and receive an ‘award’ – basically they send out blanket emails and anyone willing to pay them is ‘chosen’. These fake positive reviews are almost as bad as ATI.

Ben August 8, 2022 - 11:01

I have to agree with “DM” These “positive comments” about Art Show International feel incredibly fake… I have been searching for answers after receiving a fishy email from them that went straight to my spam. I think one huge red flag is any “gallery” that promotes themselves as representing some of the top contemporary artists and yet is reaching out trying to find artists.. That doesn’t add up. Among other things about this gallery…

Cindy D August 8, 2022 - 17:06

Thanks for the info! I do agree, though, that The Art Show International comments seem very fake. I came here after searching for them because I just got an email. The chances that I would receive a random email from a legitimate gallery or opportunity, are extremely low. Does there really have to be a scam industry for everyone? Ugh.


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