Understanding the Role of the Art Buyer

Today, an art buyer often has to straddle what was traditionally two separate roles and be equally steeped in the culture of production and know which vendors are the best fit for a project.

When faced with the impossible, an experienced art buyer can make the magic happen just by pulling out their little black book (aka iPhone) — but what do they really do?

Traditionally, an art buyer searched for creative talent for photoshoots, finding talent, negotiating fees, coordinating pre-production planning, and then handed the project over to a project manager for production. Their role was to ensure that artwork — be it photography, illustration, animation — not only meets a client’s needs but is also of the highest quality and value.

But today, the lines have gotten a little blurred. There’s less and less significance placed on fine photography and art in the ever-burgeoning world of digital media. While some feel the role of an art buyer specialist should be even more critical in our ever-saturated visual landscape, the roles of producer and art buyer have begun to merge.

Today, an art buyer often has to straddle what was traditionally two separate roles and be equally steeped in the culture of production and know which vendors are the best fit for a project. The role of art buyer has blended with art producer in today’s agency world, and in many shops, the two are synonymous.


An art buyer produces commercial advertising projects, maintaining creative integrity within a budget. Amen. They understand all of the project needs, source all the appropriate vendors, and shepherd the creative vision to create the best value for the end client. An art buyer’s special sauce is knowing the right people for the job — you need an extensive familiarity of industry talent worldwide, from photographers, illustrators, animators, CGI shops, retouching resources, and more. You have to know how to write contracts, with a deep understanding of all language surrounding usage and deliverables to realize the creative vision. It’s your job to recognize legal pitfalls (especially copyright issues) and safeguard both the agency and client against them.


  • Art buyers/producers must be consummate networkers and relationship builders. It’s critical to work with people you trust. Art buyers/producers need to know and understand how to navigate personalities (and we know there’s a lot of personality in the agency world!).
  • Budget, budget, budget. Did we mention that art producers must be good at budgeting and negotiation? Art buyers and art producers need to be nimble with numbers and know the cost and value of things. It’s key to be able to move numbers around in your head as project scope increases or a client asks for something last-minute. Money matters — art buyers have to know how to talk dollars (or £, ¥, €) with teams, clients, and vendors.
  • You need to know how to say no because sometimes, no is the right answer. Not everything can be done. Cheap clients can burn bridges and jeopardize good work. An ace art buyer or producer protects both clients and vendors alike, strutting the ambassadorial catwalk like a champ.


  • Work with creative teams from concept to completion of final artwork
  • Oversee art origination and asset output from the initial creative development phase through production to deliverable
  • Ensure creative and brand needs are both being met
  • Contribute to the creative process and offer workable solutions
  • Maintain a pulse on emerging artists and trends to elevate agency and brands
  • Build relationships and creative, collaborative work environments
  • Be the steward providing governance over image use


You’ll likely need to have a Bachelor’s degree, particularly with a focus on Digital Art or Photography. In terms of personality, this is a role for people who like people — the name of the art buying game is collaboration. You’ll need a strong visual sensibility and be able to problem-solve like a champ.


An art producer typically makes $60,000 to $100,000 but depends on the city and level of experience.

About the author.
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist — Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms — including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.