Monday, 31 August 2009

Why Are Artists Poor?

It is becoming increasingly clear that artists need to develop business skills in order to survive. However, one could argue that if the job of the artist is no longer making the art but the promotion of it then practice will suffer and the quality of work will decline. I think it is all about finding a balance by dividing your time between the studio and the office to ensure that both sides of your practice are developed.

The main problem I see is how do artists with no business experience develop the skills they need to promote their work and protect their interests?

A paper on art and commerce

It Is Okay for Artists to Make Money…No, Really, It's Okay
Published: June 3, 2009
Paper Released: May 2009
Authors: Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin

When art and commerce are mentioned in the same sentence, many people become bad tempered or think something needs fixing. This paper argues that more artists ought to make more money more often. HBS professor Robert Austin and theater dramaturg Lee Devin identify and undermine three fallacies about art and commerce, and suggest that it is necessary to carry on a more careful and less emotional conversation about the tensions between art and business and to overcome a general aversion to business common among artists and their patrons. They also stress the need to develop better theories about how art and commerce can achieve integration helpful to both. Key concepts include:

* The interests of art, artists, and business can be best served if more commerce enters into the world of art, not less.
* There are three fallacies, often implicit, about relationships between art and commerce: (1) art is a luxury and an indulgence, (2) art is clearly distinguishable from "non-art," and (3) commerce dominates and corrupts art, and subverts its purpose.
* Good art should achieve appropriate commercial value consistently, not just occasionally. A conversation takes place when art and commerce are in tension, a conversation in which neither artists nor managers should dominate.


In this paper, we examine the apparent conflict between artistic and commercial objectives within creative companies, taking as our point of departure a particularly energetic debate during a symposium at the 2007 Academy of Management meetings. We surface some assumptions that underlie such debates, compare them with findings from our research on creative industries, and identify three "fallacies" that sometimes enter into discussions of art in relation to money. This, in turn, leads us to propose a framework that can support more productive discussion and to describe a direction for management research that might help integrate art and business practices. We conclude that despite an inclination to take offense that often attends the close juxtaposition of art and commerce, which was very much in evidence at that AoM symposium in Philadelphia, the interests of art, artists, and business can be best served if more commerce enters into the world of art, not less. 31 pages.

Full text at:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Press Coverage on My LinkedIn Discussion

Give Up Your Artwork for Free - Are You Kidding Me?
by Victor Pytko

There comes a point in most artist's lives when they are asked to donate a piece of art...for charity or some other cause. When it first happened to me, I felt honored that my work might be worthy of an auction bid. But over the years (yes, I have donated at least 20 paintings) I have come to realize two things:
* I still feel a duty to make a contribution
* I now feel imposed upon

A conflict obviously. Only recently have I begun to see a resolution: donate only when the exposure -- not the sale -- provides a return on investment. In other words, when getting publicity for the donation positions you favorably with a buying public or when a profit can be made, if not now, then in the near term.

Generally, I now explain that despite popular notion, as an artist, I am not allowed to deduct the fair market value of the artwork; only the cost of the materials to make it! While bills have been introduced to change the ruling, nothing has been enacted. In most instances where I was asked, the value of the work had exceeded $300 -- about the price I could sell it --while bids never reached 20 percent of that. Everyone wants a bargain. Many times, I ended up bidding on my own work, in essence donating about $50, and took the painting back to sell elsewhere, leaving me a hole to get out of.

So now, I tell item collectors that while their cause is good, asking a starving artist to donate $300 (the market value of the work) is too much to ask, especially when a dozen similar requests are made each year. And I don't feel badly about it. It's not good business.

A groundswell of sentiment is erupting over on LinkedIn, in an artists' discussion group named Visual Artists and their Advocates. Artist Fran Richardson started the discussion Aug. 18, and so far (Aug. 29) there have nearly 90 comments, most agreeing that enough is enough when it comes to "working for free."

She wrote: "Today I received a second unsolicited email...offering me yet another chance to work for nothing. A small gallery...thinks that it is OK to spam professional artists with a ‘huge opportunity’ to design album covers and other promotional art work for a well-known indie band with no payment for the artist’s time and expertise. The gallery says that the ‘purpose of the competition is not to solicit work for free, but to provide a low cost medium for artists to promote themselves’."

If you follow Craigslist, you will see the "work for free for promotional value" is not uncommon among posts in the Gigs. There is reason for this, said LinkedIn commenter Dave Loewenstein:

"Is there anything more arbitrary and arcane than setting a value on art? So once this value is pulled out of thin air based on some mysterious formula the artist uses, the trick becomes trying to convince an 'art lover' that they should buy it. We're trapped by the value assigned into believing that one can actually place a value on something so inherently valueless. Think about it - how does one place a value on a painting or a photograph or a sculpture? Should it be based on an hourly wage of time spent in creating the piece? Should it be in the perceived value (there's that word again) of a piece? Art is so incredibly subjective, what may be priceless to one is worthless to another."

Michele Leivan provided this reference and astute observation::

"In a survey of attitudes toward artists in the U.S., a vast majority of Americans, 96%, said they were greatly inspired by various kinds of art and highly value art in their lives and communities. But the data suggests a strange paradox.

"While Americans value art, the end product, they do not value what artists do. Only 27% of respondents believe that artists contribute "a lot" to the good of society.


"Further interview data from the study reflects a strong sentiment in the cultural community that society does not value art making as legitimate work worthy of compensation. Many perceive the making of art as a frivolous or recreational pursuit.

"Other insights further illuminate the depth of the paradox:

* A majority of parents think that teaching the arts is as important as reading, math, science, history, and geography.
* 95% believe that the arts are important in preparing children for the future.

"But there you have it - it's a cultural thing.... and it doesn't settle well in my stomach. This is why without conscience a person will happily ask you to donate your work without compensation, but they would be quite offended if you asked them to work for you for free...That isn't even a barter, and bartering doesn't buy art materials!"

Now, don't you want to join the discussion?

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Artist Business Terms & Conditions

1. Opportunities for exposure.
Artists are frequently presented with "opportunities" from organisations that are only interested in furthering their own cause rather than creating a win-win. Some artists decide to negotiate better terms by agreeing a fair trade that gives them something more concrete than vague ‘exposure’. Always ensure that you get any agreements in writing.

2. Loaning work.
The lending of work to venues with a commercial objective for free is not respecting your practice as a professional. Giving your art away for free undermines your practice and does a disservice to those businesses that do purchase your art. The loan of art work should be on a rental basis.

3. Working with charities.
Charity loans of art work should only be given to genuine charities and non-profit groups that you want to support, however, giving a donation to that charity might be better than taking part in auctions where you will not receive your artist price for the work. You could try negotiating with the charity and offer the work for sale at market price with 30 percent going to the charity.

4. Publishing your work in books.
Before sending photographs of your work for publication in books negotiate a contract to ensure that you are paid fairly and credited. In the UK the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) help artists and visual creators receive recognition and reward for their work.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Protect yourself

Problematic galleries are a global problem. I decided to ensure that I enter all business relationships with a contract after one of my art school tutors was scammed by a London gallery which closed down owing him £80,000 for work they had sold during his solo show!

Here in the UK I find that most professional commercial galleries will send you a copy of their artist terms and conditions when they ask you to show with them.

For those galleries that don't have one (and this is a warning to you about the sort of person you are dealing with!) I protect myself by writing up a contract detailing responsibilities for the gallery and the artist including: how images of the work are to be used, acceptable discounts, responsibility for insurance in transit and in the gallery, the condition of the work on delivery, the agreed retail price for each work, the commission rate, and my payment terms (eg within x days of the show closing/dealer accepting the buyers money) including my bank account details to encourage direct payments.

I always ask a gallery representative to sign a delivery note for work taken on consignment.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Why are artists expected to work for free?

Today I received a second unsolicited email in my junk email box offering me yet another chance to work for nothing. A small gallery in Oxfordshire thinks that it is OK to spam professional artists with a ‘huge opportunity’ to design album covers and other promotional art work for a well-known indie band with no payment for the artist’s time and expertise.

The gallery says that the ‘purpose of the competition is not to solicit work for free, but to provide a low cost medium for artists to promote themselves’. The design of free promotional material is indeed a low cost medium, but I wonder if any of the professionals from the music industry or their promotional agencies are expected to provide their services to this band for nothing? Is this practice spreading to other industries now or do people just think that it is only artists who are too desperate to say no?

Why is the offer of promotion considered to be a valid trade for time and skill? Promotion is great, but you can't eat it. And what guarantee does the artist have that their name will even be mentioned? While the band and gallery will have their interests protected by contracts written up by law professionals how can an artist working for free afford such advice?

Paintings by the late artist Mati Klarwein were used for the covers of Santana and that did nothing for his artistic career. See

The worst part about this story is that the request for free work is coming from someone who represents artists. Even the Arts Council are supporting artist exploitation by listing unpaid jobs and exhibition ‘opportunities’ that artists are expected to pay for.

I urge every artist reading this to take a stand against exploitation by saying no to providing free services. It is time to demand fair pay for creative work. Together we can stop this madness.