Support The Arts, Just Don’t Pay The Artist

I think by now people know how I feel about artists being treated as a personal cookie jar to be called upon to donate work anytime an organization needs money. Tax laws are unfair for artists, and I always resent the “exposure” line these organizations use while acting like you should be so grateful to be donating to this or that cause. Besides, what artists do is a hobby and “fun” so it isn’t like it costs us time or money to give away our work, right?


Benefit auctions are not attended by true art collectors for the most part; they are attended by drive-by well wishers,  those looking for a deal, or something nice to match their couch perhaps while they socialize. I have never had a work go to someone at an auction who would later buy direct from me, let alone attend my art receptions. Why would they? With the exception of a few events, the times I have donated art were thankless; I was treated shoddy, and I got nothing out of it except people getting a super deal and low balling the prices of my work. There are some causes I give to — in cash money terms — and I’d like to keep it that way rather than watch my hard work and expense of my materials go for 80% less that what it is worth just to break even — if that. Some organizations give a % back to the artist, but very few. It causes the artist to then donate their less than stellar works; stuff they would have thrown out if they didn’t care to have it hanging around the studio.

In recent years I thought that Cleveland (the land of nonprofits) was the only city who myself and other artists felt was constantly asking us to donate work and all that jazz for the sake of exposure — acting as thought it were our duty for the “community” and so forth. Almost none would offer a % back, free tickets to the benefit in question, or any means of making it worth our while where we might at least be able to say to ourselves, “well at least I broke even on the framing and 12+ hours of work put into my piece by getting these free appetizers, drinks, dinner etc”. But my friends, it seems NYC galleries who are not even in the 501c category are now asking artists to “donate” works to keep them in business! I am not kidding. This is such an awful trend, and all it says to me is that the gallery is really crappy at doing sales. I hope this doesn’t become an acceptable trend in other parts of the country.

I remember a gallery in San Diego hadn’t paid me in a long while, the owner even wrote me, “I’m just really bad with money”. After 5 months I was finally paid, but do you know what this gallery owner did? They had a benefit to make up the artists share of money they had spent!  That money wasn’t theirs to spend (what it was spent on I have no idea), and after getting angry emails and calls from artists, this was the solution — a freakin’ benefit. It seems these galleries are following this logic; if you are bad at business, beg for money from collectors and artists to make up the costs — you know, instead of actually selling the artwork like a normal person. Disgusting, I say.

In response to the Affordable Art Fair, the Unaffordable Art Fair was this past weekend. I wanted to highlight how the idea came about, I think this statement says it quite beautifully,

The arts are a major economic driver, for everyone except artists. Artists are increasingly being called upon to support the economy by lowballing our work or with outright contributions for which we cannot claim fair market value. The benefit of exposure that is said to accompany these sacrifices is a myth; unique objects are not good products with which to generate buzz and, quite frankly, most professional artists refuse to participate in all but the most worthy causes due to unfavorable tax laws. We, the artists of the Unaffordable Art Fair, ask- How do you value art? Remember: you get what you pay for.

Please visit the site and scroll down to the Facts section for sure. Read it and think about that the next time you are willing to pay for a new ipod, or a round of overpriced martinis, and yet think the price tag on an artwork is too expensive.

This reminds me of the time someone told me $250 seemed too expensive for my 5×7″ paintings that were hanging in a gallery. They wanted a discount for a commission, they didn’t understand that those little paintings can take me between 12-15 hours to make. This person wouldn’t go two seconds without getting paid for what they do, and yet they were trying to low ball me?! It is a situation that happens more often than you know with artists.


Don’t ever low ball an artist, or tell them their work seems pricey. It is insulting and it just shows that you are not serious about buying art and are not a culture aficionado in any way — it reveals you as a poseur. Be sure to never ask an artist to donate work to your cause without offering something in return; a painting that took 12 hours to make that gets a whopping $70 for your cause is a poor exchange for everyone involved. If you want to have an arts benefit, get some inexpensive later Picasso lithographs and auction those, your cause might actually get decent money from them vs. a few hundred bucks from a living artist who actually needs to pay their rent. Living artists can’t live on mere applause or faux socialites thinking to themselves, “well isn’t that nice, good for them”.

To those of you who are actually appreciative, are not cheap bastards, enjoy collecting, the arts, and buy things because you love them: disregard everything said above. It doesn’t apply to you because you aren’t jerks. Jerks make me mad.

6 thoughts on “Support The Arts, Just Don’t Pay The Artist”

  1. I have cut the amount of festivals I do this year for the low-balling reason. I’m sick of having to sell my work for less than its value and explaining my prices to people who normally only buy ceramics from IKEA. Its frustrating to put so much time, energy and creativity into something for such little return. I work 4 jobs just to make ends meet and then I’m supposed to come down on my prices? I don’t think so.

  2. The other thing that really gets me is competitions that ask for $$ as an “application fee” just to review your work, many of these are from commercial galleries. No guarantee you will get into the show but you must pay for the “privilege” of someone saying your work is worthy or not.
    I have donated work for a very few “causes” I felt were worthy but don’t make it a habit.
    I very much agree with what you say here.

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