I recently posted a Facebook status about artists being asked to use their work for free, with the promise of exposure or promotion. Another artist had directed me to the website of someone who makes a living as a coach for “infusing spirit to transform your life.” Amongst the many items for sale on the site are CDs, which sell for about $22. The cover art on her CDs is quite nice. Psychologists have told us for a long time that people respond to things that are attractive to look at, which accounts for the overwhelming sales of books and recordings with pretty covers and wretched content. The problem here is that this person asks artists to donate their work, promising exposure and promotion. In fact, only two of those offerings provide a credit to the artist (the same artist for both) on the website, where the public could see it.
So this person saw the post, in which I mentioned they had asked another artist friend to donate the use of a piece of artwork, with the promise of “promotion.” (“Oh, it will be great exposure.”) The artist declined, but our conversation made me think about all those times over the 46 years of my creative career that I’ve been asked to donate my graphic design, writing, editing, handmade jewelry or fine art and promised great exposure. As a reasonably successful artist, designer and jewelry maker during that time, I have always been generous, donating at least several times each year, items which sometimes have a retail value in the hundreds of dollars, far more than the cost of materials (which is all the IRS allows artists to deduct from our taxes). Sometimes, I even get a thank-you note. However, in all the years of donating my creative talents, I have yet to get a paying job as a result. Turns out, the paying jobs go to their friends or to high-priced, big name firms, whose work is no better than my own or any of the countless other professionals who are asked to donate.
Let’s just say that exposure doesn’t pay the electric bill, nor does it put food on the table. If you’re really serious about promoting an artist whose work you’d like to adorn your project, pay them for it and commence with the promotion and exposure. Put yourself in our shoes, and imagine this:
Suppose I ask you for a free CD from your website for a workshop that I’m planning to hold over the course of a year or so, for which people will pay to attend, with the promise that I’ll promote you and you’ll get lots of exposure. Now suppose that no one buys your CD as a result of all that exposure over the course of a year, while I’m making money using it. Now suppose that you are asked once a month over the course of a year, every year, for free products, with that same promise of exposure/promotion. How likely would you be to say yes, knowing that you have sold nothing as a result of your previous generosity, that you have bills to pay, and knowing that you will be asked again and again? This is the life of an artist and creative. It just really doesn’t do it for us.
This person to whom I referred contacted me and accused me of posting cryptic messages. There was nothing cryptic about the message, but apparently I hit a nerve. I responded and mentioned the above scenario. The response to my message was about as angry, negative and lacking in spiritual transformation as it could have been. “Your sales or non-sales of your work as an artist has everything to do with your mindset: what’s going on between your ears. Anger, resentment, beliefs that people are taking advantage of you, beliefs that you can’t make a living, beliefs that as an artist you will always be poor, attacking people who have a thriving business as being thieves or whatever you want to see me as, is exactly what keeps you broke, poor and miserables (sic)”, and ended with this gem: “Good day, and go spend time fixing your mind, instead of attacking individuals who promote art.” I laughed out loud, and in my reply, suggested, “You go work on your own. This is one of the most negative, least transformative things I’ve read. PS. I am neither broke nor miserable. Sounds like projection to me.”
P.S. I asked whose artwork formed the banner on this person’s FB page. No response to that, but I have it on good authority that the artist was neither asked, nor did he give permission to use it. That, dear readers, is called theft of intellectual property, also known as stealing. And that is not a very “spiritually transformative” thing to do. And if I’m mistaken, I’ll gladly print a retraction.