How Art is Chosen for Television and the Movies

By Carolyn Edlund


Have you ever wondered how artists get their work onto movie sets and television shows? Here’s one expert who knows the inside story.


Top Design


Mardine Davis has been an art consultant for many years. She has selected and recommended artwork for corporate interiors, law firms, and healthcare environments in major cities such as San Francisco and Chicago. When she moved to Los Angeles, she was approached by a framer. This person referred  Mardine to help a set decorator who needed artwork to place on the set of the pilot of the television series Doogie Houser, MD. That was in 1989, and it made a huge impact on her business.

Set decorators once used prop houses to furnish the sets for TV and movies that were being filmed. This practice has change. As Mardine’s skills became known to the film community, she was referred to quite a few production designers and set decorators. They needed to procure art for sets, and she took advantage of this opportunity.

Mardine opened a gallery near Paramount Studios. She obtained art on consignment from local artists which could easily be viewed, chosen and delivered to the set as needed. The art is often rented, which Mardine points out is a great deal for the artist. They get paid for the use of their work, and then get the artwork back to sell or rent again! Quite often, when a television series has many episodes scheduled, the art is purchased outright.

Do artists get their name in the screen credits? They can, but in that case they are not paid for the rental of their work.

Getting the exposure of having artwork shown in the movies or on television can sometimes lead to sales for artists. Mardine recalls an article that Elle Décor published on art she provided for the television series Top Design.

Today, Mardine lives in the Washington, DC area, and still provides art consulting for set decorators. Digital images are easily sent to her clients, who can choose the work that they need and arrange for shipment to the set. She doesn’t accept submissions from new artists except for those people referred by the group of artists she currently represents.

Copyright is a big concern to entertainment lawyers, who have gotten very strict about possible lawsuits. Therefore, Mardine states that she works with original art only. A contract is signed by the artists, which allows the use of their work in the TV show or movie.

What are some of her favorite finds? She loves the art that she once found in a booth at an art fair at the ECF Art Center in California, made by developmentally disabled artists. Some of these talented people have created an amazing range of work that has been popular with set decorators.

Mardine’s advice for artists looking to work with a consultant is to “Check out the artists who are currently represented by that consultant and find out their experience. Do your research and don’t go blindly into any agreements.


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  1. What an interesting article! I wasn’t fully aware of this type of market (art rental for movies/TV) although I was once approached by a TV set Art Director wanting to use my paintings for a TV series; at that time I didn’t quite know how it all worked. Thanks for posting this 🙂 [img][/img]

  2. This is so interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing.

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