Several times in the past week this subject has come up so I thought I would put some thoughts down on it. As an artist, we are constantly being asked to work for free, work for exposure, or donate for nothing in return. In fact, I get hit up several times a month. I should preface this with the fact that I do indeed donate my time and paintings. However, I don’t do it for exposure. I do it because I want to. And I’m extremely choosy about my causes.
The reason: I have bills like everyone else. Artist is my job title. Starving artist is not. Painting is my job. I have worked corporate, I have worked management. I have chosen a career as an artist. My time is no more less valuable than anyone elses. In fact, I have a child that I have supported for 6 years on my own.
As an emerging artist, I made the same mistakes I see of many other artists. I worked for exposure. I donated piece after piece out of my own pocket. I will tell you, I haven’t met any artists who made big commissions or gotten jobs from an art auction they donated to and all the exposure they were promised. Eventually I realized that every piece I donated took food out of my own sons mouth. I was looking at it all wrong. The cost of materials, the hours I spend painting (sometimes more than 12 hours on a piece), I was giving no value to. I believe the idea that my work wasn’t important, that it wasn’t worth anything; that my time wasn’t worth anything.
When you’re a single mom and not sure when you’re next check is coming, it’s extremely hard not to let people talk you down on price and give a lot for very little. However, looking at my art from a business stand point rather than a “Hobby” (which it is not), the numbers became a lot clearer. I don’t go ask my doctor to give me treatment in exchange for me telling everyone about him/her. My mechanic really has no desire to work for exposure. His/her time if valuable, and so is mine.
This week someone gave me the worst insult. I’ve gotten it before but it always leaves me in disbelief. They contacted me about buying a commissioned painting. A 4′ x 4′ painting that took me almost a month to finish on a similar one. When I quoted a price they were shocked. Their response was, I can just go get a piece from Hobby Lobby for a $100. At this point, I’m not sure I would even sell to this person. Did you just compare an original painting with a month worth of work and time in it to a $100 mass produced print at Hobby Lobby? I felt the need to explain (though I don’t know why). I can’t even buy the canvas for that price. Let alone the hours of work (which I’m taking from other money making endeavors and my son) to create it. I know exactly what my time is worth. It’s my job.
I’m told by many I don’t charge enough. Again, it’s my business. I know what I have put into it. I know that I spend half of my time marketing, networking, and handling the business side. I would never insult someone by asking them to come over and do their profession for free.
At the end of the day, I have bills like everyone else. I work to pay those bills. I paint, I market, I network, I use gas to go to events and meetings, I buy materials, and I spend time researching. My time is valuable. I wouldn’t insult you assuming yours isn’t. Please be aware of that the next time you ask an artist or a creative to do something for “exposure”. And to artists, I say, please stop giving your valuable time away for free. Only we can change the perspective that art has value and behind the art is a professional trying to pay their bills.
On that note, I just read another blog about an artist who was asked by Oprah Winfrey herself to work an event for free. I thought it was well written and wanted to share it here.