I Can’t Eat Exposure

I don’t know why this is but there is this persistent assumption that artists of all stripes are happily willing to provide their artistic services for close to nothing, for exposure or just flat out free. So I’m not sure if people are aware of this but artists don’t have special abilities that allow us to make art supplies, food, housing and clothing magically appear. We have to obtain them through the same means that everyone else does; by acquiring money. Now I’m not going to sit here and go into a long spiel about the abuses many artists encounter while trying to make a living from their craft, all I really want to say is if you wouldn’t expect a painter to paint your house for free then please don’t expect an artist to paint the family dog for free or a designer to design your family reunion t-shirts for free. Artistry is a service. It may not be on par with caregivers, lawn maintenance or auto repair but it’s still a service and a quietly but often overlooked or taken for granted valuable service. 

I’ve lost count of how many times someone has asked me if I could draw or design something for them only to have the conversation end once I mention that I charge. 

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37 thoughts on “I Can’t Eat Exposure

        1. That’s fine. You’re not the first person to think that. Actually I like the ambiguity of just going by my first initial. It’s interesting to see what people think when you’re name doesn’t clearly determine your sex/gender. 😊

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  1. I’m a writer. You would not believe the number of rich corporation who want you to write for them free. You give us content, we make lots of money selling advertising because of our great content. What does the write get? People read your work and you get a byline. I am way over being excited by seeing my name in print or on a well-known website. Pay me! Same with contests. But not to many writing contests retain the rights of enterants. The winners yes. That is plain wrong.

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    1. If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that sites like Huffington Post don’t pay their writers. I could be wrong but if that is indeed true it’s an unbelievable sham, it infuriates me as a creator and for my fellow creators.

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  2. Truth spoken! Artists need to charge a fairwage. People don’t seem to have a problem asking for a 50% discount on art but would they ask their plumber or even their new lawn guy for the same break?

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  3. This is so accurate it’s scary! I’m an art student who also studies architecture, photography and graphic design. This happens all the time! Everyone wants stuff for free but they don’t realize it takes work and energy from us.

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      1. Only if they win. That’s the problem–people create original work without getting compensated. There’s actually a company that posts jobs online as ‘contests’ and contractually retains all rights to every entry posted. The winner gets paid, and everyone else gets squat.

        Anyway, sorry. This got a bit off of the topic of your blog post but it seems like every day I come across some new way artists are exploited, and I want to cry sometimes…. πŸ™‚

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        1. Wow! I didn’t know that they can retain all rights. I never entered contests or exhibits because I couldn’t justify paying a fee just to apply for something I may or may not win or where my work may or may not be bought. That is so disturbing to hear but I’m glad that you mentioned it.

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          1. The way this company works is artists/designers sign up to enter these contests and by doing so they agree to the company’s terms which includes ownership of rights. The company is a middleman. The company then charges a fee to the people who post the jobs and what these clients get is access to creative talent. They can select someone they like or post their job as a contest. Basically we artists and other creatives are offering our services for nothing but the hope of winning the client’s fee. The middleman company makes money without having to invest in the creative talent they offer to their clients, and, to add insult, during a contest, the client can ask ‘contestants’ for revisions and they rate you whether they select you or not. If you’re a creative freelancer, the depressing race to the bottom never seems to end….

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          2. As an artist it seems as though you would be better off traveling the rough road of promoting, marketing your own skills and work in ways where you get at least 80% of the payout for what you or your work is truly worth, rather than going through a “middleman”.

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  4. I agree with you. My friends think that it’s my honour to draw portraits of theirs and I don’t mind drawing one as long as I want to do it for free. If they want me to draw one for them, I have the right to ask for money but they make me feel like an obnoxious person if I speak up about it.

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  5. You’re absolutely right but sometimes it’s artists who collude with this. I often find myself arguing with artists who have some independent income – a pension, a working spouse, an inheritance – who will happily work for nothing and can’t see that they are undercutting other artists and devaluing art.

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    1. I was not aware that there were artists who did this. I know that there are some who are eager to get their work out in front of people, unwittingly agree to do work for free in hopes of getting more work for pay. But artists with independent income doing work for free is new to me. That can definitely be a problem for those of us trying to make a living. Such people only further perpetuate this idea. But I’m glad that you speak up and try to help them see how they are only making the problem worse.

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  6. What you say is so true. I think sometimes we also have to take the time to explain to people about the cost of creating and showing our work. Framing alone can be back breakingly expensive.

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    1. That is so true about framing. And then people don’t understand about the cost in time. The technique that I use in drawing takes hours depending on the size. It may take me 60-80 hours to finish a 9×12 portrait drawing. Now if I were to put a minimal hourly rate to that, say like $6 an hour, you’re looking at over $300 for a drawing and that’s not even minimum wage yet people scoff when I say $150 for a commissioned 8×10. This is why I mostly do ACEO drawings. They’re the size of a baseball card. I can get them done in lesser time and sell them at a decent price that people seem to be okay with without feeling like I’m undercutting myself too much.

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        1. Honestly, you’re right it is cheap but I was trying to be “reasonable” with people. Even with that, it was too much. That’s when I realized that maybe it was better to work on smaller pieces for a more affordable price rather than work on larger pieces that end up taking up space in my house because people don’t want to pay me for the actual worth of my skill. Another artist once informed me that people who aren’t artist tend to expect art to be sold at Walmart prices. What makes this issue worse is when they see paintings of something like a stripe on a blue canvas sell for millions, which they often claim their 5 yr old could paint, only makes art appear frivolous. Unfortunately in those case what’s really being sold isn’t the painting but the name on the painting. When you’re unknown, you’re work can be exquisite but until you name is known you have to make some compromises to make a living. I compromised on size. I sale far more of my ACEO artist card drawings but having sold one of my larger pieces. Maybe I’m doing something wrong but for the moment this is working for me.

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          1. Oh, no! I think your idea of doing the smaller cards is brilliant. When you do a commissioned work do you have a contract? Do the buyers know what the final cost will be? And do you take a down payment?

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          2. Usually once I explain to them my stipulations it doesn’t get to me needing to write a contract. I’ve only done two commissioned pieces in the past 6 years. And yes, I require a 50% down payment.

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