Getting Your Art on TV

Getting Your Art on TV 

getting Your Art on tv beechhouse Media

Each week I write a brand new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at art you may have missed on TV, a little peek behind the scenes and how to get your own art on screen, as always I hope you enjoy the read!

I binge watch a lot…

Okay that’s my secret. I do tend to binge watch TV seasons on Netflix and Amazon but I’m not sure if I am quite up there in the consecutive hours of binge watching that many people put in. This is something that I can only aspire to because life tends to get in the way and there’s that thing we call art. I have friends who can binge through three-seasons in a day, I usually focus on one or two episodes per night but never deviate until the story is complete. Is that still binge watching? I have no idea. Perhaps I am a binge watcher lite.

If there is something that really and I mean really grabs my attention I usually end up watching something into the early hours of the next morning and keep thinking, just five more minutes and I will still get at least 4-hours of quality sleep. Then three, then two, then not too much later the alarm will go off and I feel like I had been out on the town and now have a major hangover. Last night was one such night and my sleep app told me my sleep quality was zero percent, no kidding and it took a lot of coffee to get me in my current state of being dressed. 

I never watch anything twice either, not unless at least a decade has passed since the last time with very few exceptions and it has to be awesome enough to make me come back again. If I’m not sure I’ve seen something before I’m usually six episodes in before I realise and I’m then thinking what a waste of time for at least three more episodes. 

You know what I hate the most? Those times when three years pass between season one and season two or where they only made a pilot and it was really good but you never know if you will get to see the next episode. They’re the biggest gamble, do I waste an hour on some relationship that I can’t be sure will last?

Then I have those evenings in between TV seasons where I think I have watched everything worth watching and I don’t want to commit to something because I know the reviews were bad. At that point I scroll endlessly flipping between Netflix and IMDB and YouTube to get to the trailers and before you know it the alarm goes off to wake me up and I never watched anything at all, and I didn’t get any sleep.

It was the same when Blockbuster was open too. I would go in there at 7pm and come out when it closed because I couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted to watch. In the end I would pick something random up and then be disappointed to find out it was an animated version of something or it had sub-titles or heaven forbid it was an animation with sub-titles. I don’t always want sub-titles, if I did I would read a book. I do often want something that switches my brain off, makes me laugh or shows me some art or makes me fall asleep. 

Why is it that there are thousands and thousands of shows on every streaming platform and every night I scroll through the same half a dozen that Netflix or whoever want me to watch? I can’t think what to search for and I’m reluctant because I hate the disappointment that whatever I search for is only going to be available on Netflix US and Netflix took away the ability to use a VPN.

Ultimately I end up watching some documentary about feeding every guest who visits Sea World or I end up watching a documentary about sharks or World War II. I’ve learned more about how sharks survive and hunt in the past six months that I feel confident enough that if one were to appear in the local pond in my landlocked shire in the UK, I would know exactly how to get away from it. Don’t take a surf board into the water for a start.

I’m sure I would do well in a pub quiz following my Academy of Netflix extended education but as I don’t drink and never visit a pub it’s a bit like having a degree in the arts. You kind of think the knowledge you gain will be useful until you sign up to sell your art through print on demand. How will I ever pay that student loan back?

Then I finally find something worth watching. Netflix says I am 98% likely to love this one, I’m so glad Netflix has that level of confidence in me because I don’t have much in myself when it comes to picking out the next binge-worthy screen fest. 

I can get three episodes deep in a season of whatever it is and decide that there’s no point in carrying on and then the whole process starts over again. I have a back-up plan before I start watching anything which makes the initial finding the TV show process twice as difficult but the results sometimes pay off.

I pick two and sometimes three TV shows and add them to my list as a backup. Binge watching is like going on a date. You start out and the excitement and anticipation builds. Enter the restaurant and you realise that it just isn’t going to turn out the way you expected it to and so you make an excuse and leave. The two shows in reserve are now in with a chance.

My list has at least a hundred TV shows in it but whenever I flick through it I never want to watch anything that is in the list. I spend a few minutes wondering why on earth I added it in the first place and then start the whole process of searching for something entirely new and adding even more random stuff along the way onto my must watch list. What Netflix needs is a might watch some day list so that it takes the responsibility of commitment away from me. 

Now just occasionally I stumble across something that catches my eye and keeps me hooked. This is dangerous because it also means that I have to lower my expectations that I will get any sleep until the series ends and all the characters have been killed off so there’s no chance of another season being released next week. 

The hook is usually that there is a piece of art hanging on the wall of someone’s home or office that I recognise. Who knew serial killers had such good taste in art? The art in the homes of TV drug kingpins is often worth more than the whole collection of the local museum, or at least that’s what film makers want you to believe.

For years TV and film makers have included pieces of art in films and programs and often the central focus of the plot is around a particular piece of artwork. Other times it is in the scene to provide some authenticity in a world of make believe.

But have you ever stopped to wonder just how that art turns up on scene or gets chosen to get some screen time?

This is something I have had a little experience of in the past but all production companies do things a little differently. Production buyers are usually tasked with obtaining not just the artwork but also the rights to use that artwork too. 

At one time it wasn’t unheard of to hear that production teams had commissioned a piece of artwork to look like a specific piece of artwork and then when the artist or representatives of the artist found out, legal challenges were often raised and in some cases the challenges would have made for better TV than the original production!

Most of the work used in sets these days tends to be hired for the duration of filming and occasionally I see a piece of work in a TV show and immediately recognise the artist who produced it. 

Art has to be cleared for use in TV and film and there are a number of companies who carry out the clearing process. Many of those companies will offer artwork for rental or purchase and they usually have dedicated teams of art specialists who carry out research. 

Some of these companies will work with artists in the local area where the studios and companies are based so that art can usually be provided on set very quickly. If a producer or director needs an artwork on set for a shoot tomorrow then not having access to that artwork and more importantly artwork that has been cleared to be used can be a huge problem and delay the filming. When that happens it can cost a lot of money as people hang around on set waiting for artwork to either be delivered or cleared. 

And it is not just the TV and film industry who call on the services of these companies to provide art. When homes need staging for sales much of the art being used will have come through some of these organisations too, as will art that advertisers use and art which needs to be reproduced in print.

Many of these companies will also offer to sell the pieces used in TV and film and some will also offset the cost of any rental or at least a percentage of the cost of any rental against the purchase price of the art. This is useful when we consider things like continuity in the film business, it looks strange when that Matisse that hung on the wall in season one is suddenly replaced by a local artists work in season two without any explanation.

For the most part the art used on set will be original work from local artists which has either come through one of the clearing companies or through the artists gallery representation, but a growing number of production companies will also be using Giclee prints which will have been procured along with licensing rights and in some cases the work featured will be sent to the studio as a high-resolution image so that the production crew and set designers can print off the work on set or in the back offices of the productions art department.

It’s not just the artwork of adults that film sets look out for either. Many productions especially where family scenes are involved will have artwork on the fridge door or on the walls that appears that it was created by the child in the show, but that’s not always the case!

Sometimes the art featured will have been created by children and a number of these clearing companies keep a selection of child-produced art on their books, but in some cases it will have been an adult or even a professional adult artist who created the work!

art as seen on TV

What does cleared mean?

Production companies are restricted to only using art that has been cleared and is licensed for use. Where the artist is still alive then he or she will have usually given permission up front and some will provide permission with certain exceptions.

Perhaps the artist doesn’t want their work to appear in certain genres of film or alongside particular issues, so any of these details are ironed out and conditions will be set within the licence to the production company.

If you notice that art is blurred out in the background of a TV show that is probably because the art hasn’t been cleared for transmission or filming. Sometimes you will see this in reality TV shows. 

Most of the clearing companies will only use the art for hiring or selling to productions and will not own any other rights to the art. Essentially those rights continue to belong to the artist and they are able to sell the original or prints of the original in the future if this hasn’t been precluded in any agreement. What you might not be able to do as an artist is promote a piece of work and say “as seen on TV” or “as seen on the recent series of”, without having this included in your contract with the production company and the clearing house too. 

Is it just artwork that is hung on a wall?

Many of the clearing companies will also provide access to a library of professional photos and some will ask for photos that can be altered later, perhaps adding family members into a scene. So whilst you might predominantly notice that Cézanne on the wall, that photo on the lawyer’s desk might just have been supplied by a clearing company too. 

As will the statue in the hallway or the Ming Dynasty style vase, or maybe the propaganda poster in a Soviet spy thriller. Some productions will need a menu for the restaurant and they may need fake brands and logos to appear on screen. Some of those props and items are incredibly valuable if you can get hold of the original that was used on set and include the provenance. 

Maybe it is the schematics to a spaceship or the architectural designs for buildings, there is a good chance that everything you see on screen has involved many people to bring it in front of the camera. Pretty much any art form used in production needs at least some level of approval and clearing for it to be used and this is often a lengthy and complex process. 

Clearing houses may have an inventory at the ready to go out to sets around the world but some of them will use print on demand companies too. Fine Art America have the ABC/Disney program available for their premium members and whilst many artists might never see their work on a hit ABC or Disney show, it is definitely worth signing up for if you pay the premium fees to Fine Art America each year and don’t mind your art being used in this way. 

Fine Art America have pre-defined agreements that can be sent out and returned electronically very quickly, and they also have a wealth of licensing options available too. If you only ever set one type of licensing option then it is probably worth clicking on the box which says for use in TV and film and then set the prices accordingly. 

Expediency is key when it comes to getting the artwork on set. If it is rented then the artwork needs to be on set and then sent back to avoid continuous rental costs and if there is currently no existing agreement in place it could dictate whether or not a work is chosen to go on screen or not.

If the production company needs that piece of art tomorrow and it takes you a week to turn around any agreements and get them signed, that piece of art is unlikely to get any screen time at all unless it is absolutely essential for the production. Scripts have probably been rewritten over the years because of this issue!

Who gets to pick the art?

Usually it is someone from the art department or a set decorator that gets to choose the artwork although sometimes it will be determined by the needs of the script. Set decorators are vital members of a film crew and they will be the ones who are carrying out the major pieces of research. 

If the film or production is set in a specific era then they need to know that the art would fit with that era. They will usually be one of the first groups of people aside from the actors and actresses to read the script (although I know a few who never get sent a script until the last minute, often they might just get a very brief, brief!). 

They will be considering if the medium used in a piece of art was available during the period and they usually have a very keen eye for detail. If a font didn’t appear until 2010, it would look out of place if it was used as the visible font for something like a Cold War poster from the eighties.

They will need to plan and identify what needs to be visible, but they might also need to organise any agreements and often permits and transportation too. Set dressers have my upmost respect and yet are largely the unsung heroes that make a production go from meh to wow and they are usually the ones who control the purse strings when it comes to selecting the art used. 

In the USA there is also a professional network called the Set Decorators Society of America which was founded in 1993 and is the only non-profit organisation dedicated to the support of the past, present, and future of the profession. Membership also includes those who do business within the industry.

You can find out more about the SDSA right here.  

What else do these clearing companies do?

Some clearing companies will not just be focussed on artwork. They will be responsible for supplying all sorts of props. There are also prop companies who will also create bespoke props for use in a particular film.

A 1970’s sit-com might need a TV from the period and that TV might have video playing of a program that would have been broadcast during that period too. So the video will need to be procured and rights to show that video will need to be sorted out. It might also be a retro computer or a games console, toys, gadgets (remember the Palm Pilot), or it could be kitchen appliances and fridges. All have to look as if they belonged to that period. 

Walk into some prop warehouses and you would think that you had been transported back in time sometimes by hundreds or thousands of years. The prop stores love to hoard the old stuff and just taking a stroll through one of the large prop warehouses is like visiting a museum of your childhood. 

CRT TVs, watches and clocks, even retro vehicles all have to be sourced and they all need to look authentic to the period. The video arcade game machines used in the Adam Sandler film Pixels (was I the only one who enjoyed it?) or the pinball tables found in bars of years gone by, all of these items have to be preserved and look as if they are being used in that exact period of time. 

One interesting fact about Pixels. At one point you can see the video game Burger Time being played and the game flyer says July 26th 1982, yet Burger Time was released on August 31st. The character Max Headroom was from 1984 and no way could it have been sent on a probe in 1982 and I can’t be totally certain but I am sure one of the machines used an LCD instead of a CRT screen.  Just saying, I know my retro arcade games and I especially love the side art and marquees used on the game cabinets. More on those another day!

art props used in tv and film

Is it worth getting involved?

Without doubt it is a great way to gain some exposure for your work, although you also need to be mindful that quite often your fifteen minutes of fame is usually shortened to one or two on screen seconds. 

Some clearing companies will have very specific requirements for the art that they will take on and use and they can be selective about the artists they use too, but there are others who actively encourage artists to approach them with their portfolios. 

Some of the clearing companies who provide digital downloads might be a great way to start out in the industry. They provide studios and production team’s with access to an online portfolio and then the art is delivered and paid for electronically. 

Others only take art from specific galleries and it has to be original art, and I haven’t come across a clearing company yet who will take on any art that they cannot prove the provenance of. 

Whether it is worth it financially is something that you need to weigh up for yourself. For high-end productions the financial reward can mount up and be quite significant but I have often heard that some galleries who have links with film studios can take as much as 75% of the rental fee for an artwork. You really do have to shop around and know that even if you get picked up as an artist directly, there are no guarantees that your work will be picked or will appear on screen. 

There is also no guarantee that you will be able to promote the art and say that it was featured in a particular show or film and you might be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements and especially if you get to read a script, but when you are able to provide your art and promote it using the TV show or film it can pay dividends and expose your art to an entirely new market.  

If you are an hoarder of things from days gone by then you might also be able to offer some of the items you have collected to use as props too, and this is one of the reasons I tend to hang on to my old technology. One day it will either be valuable or it will be the key prop in a film, or at least that’s what I tell the wife!

The Artists Exchange on Facebook

Did you notice?

So back to my Netflix binge watching habit. I have listed a few of the best films and TV shows that are definitely worth a first time or repeat watch to catch a glimpse of the art that you might have or don’t want to miss. Here is my top ten!

10. I Am Legend starring Will Smith and also starred Van Gogh’s Starry Night hanging on a wall over a television and I caught a glimpse of Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy too. Doubtful these were the originals but if someone knows then let me know!
9. Bond fans will remember Skyfall but art fans will remember William Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire” from 1839 and which is usually more at home in the National Gallery in London. The painting portrays two ships, the HMS Temeraire being towed by a paddle wheel steamboat towards its final berth.
8. I mentioned the artwork owned by fictional serial killers and to see some of their tastes in the arts take a look at American Psycho. Sitting in Batemans apartment is an untitled piece by American painter Robert Longo which is from the painters Men in the Cities series. The work is sombre and looks like a man being cut in half. If you look closely you will notice that much of the art is themed around artificial identities.
7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an all-time epic cult classic that is worthy of a re-watch at least every year. Ferris and his new found friends visit the Art Institute of Chicago and check out some of the works on display. The artworks are said to have been favourites of John Hughes who directed the movie.
6.  Titanic starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio was a feast for the eyes and Rose’s art collection was quite simply one that any art lover would have wanted to own. The collection included paintings by Degas, Monet, and Picasso, and none of their paintings went down with the Titanic at all. Rose’s fiancé Cal (played by Billy Zane) said in the film that Picasso “will not amount to a thing”.
5. Batman the one with Michael Keaton released in 1989 is one of the better efforts of the Batman films and in a scene where the Joker and his henchmen destroy several works of art, the Joker then sits down with Kim Bassinger and says “I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist”.  Figure with Meat is a 1954 work from Irish-born artist Frances Bacon and is the artwork which The Joker stops Bob, one of his henchmen from destroying and says “I kind of like his one Bob, leave it”.
4. Entrapment is one film I admit to liking probably more than I should have done and starred Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones. It also featured one of Roy Lichtenstein’s works, M-Maybe
The work itself is typical of Lichtenstein’s romance comic adaptations and is one of the most iconic pop-art pieces from the artist.
3. The Americans almost made it to the number one spot but then I remembered we’re looking at the art and not the quality of the show! Starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as Russian spies masquerading as a suburban DC family, the entire series is set in the eighties and is filled with props of the time and the key art used to introduce each season has some firm footings in the Cold War.
The colour palette used in the season five promotional poster is the palette that was used in the “We can do it” propaganda poster from World War II which had been rediscovered in the eighties. Take a look at the other key art though and it picks up on what you can expect from watching the show.
The sets used are quite literally a time warp back to the time of the Reagan/Gorbachev era and look a little more closely at the sets next time you watch and you will see many discreet props that identify with the Cold War. You’ll see a lot of documentation created what looks to be in some detail throughout the entire 6 seasons. Why only six seasons, this really could have gone on and on. I absolutely love this show, not only is it set in the period of time I grew up in but Cold War era props really are my thing!
2. The Stendhal Syndrome is a 1996 Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento. Stendhal Syndrome is a real psychosomatic disorder (named after the French 19th Century author who suffered from it), that causes a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion, and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance and especially when viewing art.
This number two spot goes to this film for the most beautiful art gallery sequence shot for a film and the sequence lasts for around ten minutes. Botticelli’s Primavera and Caravaggio's Medusa, are two of the most renowned works within the Uffizi Gallery. If you are an art fan and don’t like horror films then turn it off straight after the gallery sequence because it gets a little more horrific further through.
1. Mad Men the all-time classic drama about life in the world of 1960’s Madison Avenue advertising executives was much more than TV it was also an artistic feast for the eyes. Layers of nostalgia were cleverly portrayed down to the very last detail. 
The production values showed an almost obsessive attention to detail, the colours used, the clothing worn, and the clocks on the office walls, everything just looked as if it had been picked up straight out of the sixties and dropped onto our screens. The producers were not afraid to portray some thorny issues either which were the norm back then. 
The pilot episode used three of Michal Shapiro’s works of art. Close Call, Butternut, and Spoondance and works from Kristian Goddard were also used in seasons six and seven.
The official poster used in season 7 came from graphic designer Milton Glaser and plays on recurring themes from the series. But one of the stand out art moments for me was the Rothko in Bert Cooper’s office, although I expect the reality was this wasn’t a Rothko at all but a prop designed to look like a Rothko.
The Brooklyn Bridge painting in Don Draper’s office is one of the shows least vibrant pieces but its inclusion is interesting amongst so much other art which is abstract.

Some paintings have appeared in so many different films and shows it would be impossible to list them all, The Mona Lisa has appeared in everything from The Da Vinci Code to documentaries. If there’s one I should have added then leave a comment and please tell me which film or TV show I need to see to find it!

A whole other world…

Art in film has a long history and today you can’t just buy a poster or a print, frame it and then shoot the film, and taking original works from their museum homes carries too much risk that a painting could be damaged or even worse destroyed. 

What you might see more of in films and TV programs are pieces created in a likeness of, and actors who play the roles of artists have to be versed in the handling of a paintbrush to make the appearance of them painting seem real. 

The world of oil matte painting has been more or less replaced with digital matte paintings and 3D imagery but there was a time when plexi-glass, oil paints and pastels would be used to create the backdrops and scenes in films allowing the likes of Frank Ordaz to create the backgrounds which were originally used in Spielberg’s ET.  

Take any TV show or any film and chances are that you will find artwork that has a history or it will have been created by artists who are so very good at replicating the work of the masters. Even if the painting only appears on screen for a few seconds there is a good chance that months upon months of work would have been carried out just to get permission to use it and create it. 

Art in the movies is a fascinating subject and one which many take for granted but next time you watch a film take a little more notice of what’s happening in the background too because that’s a whole other story running in parallel with the action and sometimes it’s  that story which is better than the film itself.

If you want to place your art somewhere that’s not a gallery then the route to creating for the film industry is certainly different. It is another option that artists can add to the list of potential channels to get their work seen and eventually maybe even sold. Of course it will be down to the artist to do the work and find a suitable clearing company unless they are lucky enough to get spotted by a producer or art department who are on the lookout for works to include in their next show but unless you give it a go then you will never know!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger who specialises in abstracts, landscapes, and seascapes. My work is sold in more than 150 retail locations across the USA and Canada including The Great Frame Up, Framing and Art Centre, and Deck the Walls and you can also buy from Fine Art America or my Pixels site here.  

You can also follow me on Facebook at: and on Twitter @beechhouseart

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Next time...

Sleeper art, fakes and forgeries, and how to spot something that might just be worth millions.  We take a look at why art isn’t always what you think it is! 

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