The Truth About Art Publishing

What’s in the future for art publishing? Guest blogger Harriet Rinehart of Bentley Global Arts shares her insight.




It’s been exactly two years since I wrote my initial column for Artsy Shark.

A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same in the area of licensing your art for “wall décor.”

Yes, “wall décor” is an awful term, but that is what is used most often in the industry. But, I mention it because we are speaking here about decoration, not emotional catharsis.

Now I’m going to introduce another awful word, gimmick. A nicer way of saying gimmick is to ask an artist what is truly unique about your work. What unifying element appears in all your work which makes it YOU.

Too often I see artists who have not yet figured out what is unique about them. They are painting in lots of different styles and copying lots of people. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. It is a period that all artists must pass through before finding out who they really are. However, artists who are still in this stage are probably not ready for the licensing market.

If you look at major 19-20th Century masters in the museum world (Giacometti, Stella, Warhol, Monet, Degas to name just a few), you will see that they all have a gimmick which unifies their mature work.


Bentley Global Arts Trade Show booth in Las Vegas

Bentley Global Arts booth in Las Vegas


Below are links to several of our more successful artists on Bentley’s website.   You need only look at their work  to see they are immediately recognizable. To use another word from the business community, they have branded themselves.

Aaron Christensen

Irene Suchocki

Diane Romanello

Susanna Anna

Tracey Flickinger

Susanne Etienne

Among the changes in our industry, I need to acknowledge that Bentley, my company, has changed. I believe the changes will help us to compete in the cutthroat world of 21st Century marketing.

Bentley Global Arts Group was created in 2011 by combining Bentley Publishing Group and digital publisher Global Editions, a dominant force in 21st Century color reproduction and marketing skills. In addition to our wholesale business, we are rapidly developing a direct-to-retail business, Global Gallery.

Artists are marketing originals and limited editions directly to the public through their own websites. Retail buyers surf the web looking for artwork which interests them, using tools such as Pinterest, and their friend’s Twitpics to introduce them to new ideas. The position of publisher is evolving into a place where a broad international universe can sample new art they would be unlikely to encounter in their own community. Global Gallery will be one of those sources to which the retail buying public turns for new art ideas.

On a wholesale level, artists continuously ask why publishers need such a wide variety of similar images. The average life span of an image in the marketplace is much shorter than it was in the distant 20th Century. Ten years ago, a successful image selling in Target could expect to be kept in the stores for up to a year. In 2012, no image is kept in the store more than 90 days. The emphasis is always on “new and improved.”  (Remember the TIDE laundry detergents, or those references in Mad Men, “new and improved” still grabs buyers.)   The catch here is that the buyer doesn’t really want anything different. What they really want is a slight but recognizable variation on what sold last quarter. That is why we need artists working in a consistent look.

Looking back at Artsy Shark’s other offerings, I want to commend Todd McPhetridge for his two recent columns. Please read them as soon as you are finished here. He shows our industry from the artist’s point of view, but also recognizes that this is a “business.”

One of my key sticking points is that artists rarely have a business side to them. They really do think that they should be able to “follow their muse” to the total exclusion of the marketplace and still make a living with their art. The most successful artists I have worked with have a spouse, friend, or significant other who “speaks” for them in the marketplace. I’m NOT recommending an artist’s agent, as I find most artists’ agents are not effective. There is absolutely nothing wrong with dedicating one’s life to “following a muse.” The disconnect occurs when artists think they can do both. That is VERY rare..

Artists are often reluctant to look at the competition, something we must all do in business every day. Artists who are interested in the licensing business should be reviewing shelter websites for color and design trends. I recommend Ballard Designs and Crate and Barrel as excellent sources of information.

Hope I haven’t buried you in too much information. Remember, many artists are not suitable for licensing. If you are interested in the licensing industry and the appeal of ongoing royalty income, you must jump on the bandwagon and be a decorative artist. It’s a great ride.


  1. Hi Harriet,

    I have branded myself as an artist who loves Art and knows how he likes it.
    I am a photographer/painter who often photographs the History of Art and sometimes makes art from existing things that were not art but became so by artistic observation. I paint digitally and somewhat automatically on my photographs in what is called Post-Production, achieving a look of my own, easily recognizable and hopefully reluctantly entertaining.
    I think that art is that which entertains, be it an object, a performance or even just a notion; good art being that which entertains reluctantly.

    The context of my work could be observed on this board:
    Please roll down, all the way to Banksy.

    …and some of my work is on ArtsyShark too : )

  2. I’m a very new artist with Bentley, having just released my first selection of photographs summer of 2012, but I’m excited to learn and grow as an artist and business person. This article will be a helpful part of that process — so thank you!

    My Bentley gallery is here if anyone is interested:

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