I wrote this as an entry in my Livejournal, and it became one of my most commented upon pieces. As it was actually about Art, I thought I’d post it here:
When you’re an artist, people try and take advantage of you in ways they wouldn’t necessarily if you had a conservative career (though whenever you’re self-employed, people will generally try and take advantage of your skills).
They don’t know they’re doing it, because in a society that doesn’t value art for the most part; it’s normal not to value artists. And artists often don’t know it’s happening, because they’re part of that society and the trend of devaluing their own work.
This came about because recently a complete stranger who I don’t know from a bar of soap asked me if they could print out one of my pictures for free, and give it to a friend. I started composing a message to them along the lines of ‘sure! fine! wow that’s really sweet of you!’ but something didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right because I thought… I have a DeviantArt store to sell my prints, and I did that for a reason. So that I could survive.
This person doesn’t know me. They’re not a friend. They’re a complete stranger asking for free art on behalf of someone else I also don’t know very well.
And let me tell you now; this happens a lot.
Some family members have said things like ‘I was wondering if Pia could do some art for me if she’s got some spare time?’ with absolutely no offers of remuneration. Nothing. I can assure you right now that if they approached other trades-people in the family, they would not be asking for free work without at least offering something in return. Even if they eventually got it for free, the offer of compensation of some kind would still be there.
These days, I’m much more conscious of what I lose when I sell things ‘for cheap,’ or worse, ‘for free.’ When I devalue my art, I teach other people that it’s okay to devalue my art. If you had a family member who was a surgeon, I doubt you’d say to them ‘hey, my birthday is coming up, will you give me surgery for free?’ And bat your eyelashes. And I really doubt they’d then go ‘oh sure! Free surgery, I do that all the time for friends and family! Free surgery is how I can afford to live!’
But if everyone treated the surgeon like they’re obligated to do free surgery for all friends and family members, eventually the surgeon is going to go ‘sure, I mean that week I could actually be making money to survive, but it’s okay, I’ll do your surgery for free. That’s what surgeons do! I’ll use my other job of flipping burgers to try and make up for the loss of me doing this highly skilled and uncommon service for you; though really I won’t be able to make up for it through flipping burgers.’
That is the culture of art and artists in Western society. People on my friends list are guilty of it. People I meet and hardly know, and people I know very very well are guilty of it. I’M guilty of allowing it (though you can probably tell I’m getting reaaaaaally sick of it now). Friends of mine who are artists participate in this ‘I will sell myself short because I’m an artist and you expect me to sell myself short’ culture.
It’s the expectation that bothers me. It’s not like I don’t freely give my art as gifts, occasional pro-bono book covers, or haven’t sent pictures in the past. I do and have. I genuinely want to.
It’s the expectation that because I’m an artist, I exist to do art for others, for free, or for nothing more than a ‘gee, you’re so talented’ (I know that, that’s why art costs money, because it’s a rare and desirable skill that not everyone can do – even with training). It’s the assumption that I am some bohemian who basically wants to spend her entire life sharing my creativity with others, but never making money off it – because bohemians live on tea and noodles and tuna and don’t want for anything more than that if they have art in their lives. Right? Wrong. Or at least, certainly wrong in my case. Doctor’s appointments, art supplies and a mortgage aint cheap.
I do a style of art which is uncommon, unique, and has taken me well over seven years of diligent application to get the technique to where it’s at today. In that time, I’ve never seen anyone else do anything like it – until the past two years (and the people who do anything like it, know me, or know of my style of art).
My art style is my OWN. So much so, that I’ve had something like five art students through DA do essays on my work (complete with interviews) for their classes (both highschool and university level), and I’ve had other students (and accomplished artists) use techniques I’ve developed, in their own artwork, because they are aesthetically or symbolically pleasing or appropriate.
I am a skilled artist who has sold her artwork around the world. Because I have been doing it for well over five years now – I am considered a professional by Australian standards even without a university degree. I still charge at amateur or sub-amateur rates. Some people still complain about my prices with the expectation that I should charge significantly less. Seriously.
Still, it’s not all like this. There are some people who truly value my artwork, or if not, at least my career as an artist. My mentor, Jennifer Perry, is one of them (and a fantastic artist in her own right). In fact she has been one of the best things to happen to me in regards to my attitudes towards my art, selling my art, and ‘art as a career.’
There are repeat clients on my Livejournal Flist, and at DeviantArt and Etsy and so on, who – despite not having much money – not only support my art, but support my career choice as an artist. I try and pay it forward by supporting artists when I can.
But it shocks me how many people aren’t like this. It shocks me regularly, and due to some events that occurred today; it’s shocked me again.
So hence, this rant. Because I actually think this is rather important.
If you agree with my message, please pimp it out to others.
ETA: I absolutely agree that this can happen to people in other professions, this is focused on artists because I’m an artist. 😉
ETA 2: I’d like to also add that in almost no other profession is it so universally accepted that the worker is devalued over the product, to the point that the cost of the work skyrockets upon death. The successful artist never sees the majority of his or her profits, because the majority of those profits go to galleries and collectors upon the death of the artist. I think it can happen with first edition publications in the writing industry, but not nearly to the same degree.