There is “free” art everywhere. And lately, I’m aware that a lot of art gets stolen & it is profiting people that didn’t make it. Paintings don’t get stolen from walls as much as images get taken from digital sources, websites and such.
Recently I listened to a podcast that describes how an artist was making a significant income from crooks stealing his work (“Adventures in Design” episode 41 featuring Jeral Tidwell July 1, 2014). This artist and his friends would discover work that he had done, printed on t-shirts in national retailers. He now has a system in place for making the litigation process easy for himself. And he makes money from his work albeit not in the way you would hope.
I know a photographer whose work gets stolen all of the time. She recently “caught” one of her thieves and made less than half of what the litigation recovered from the thief. She was paid 40% of what could have been a decent paycheck for her talents.
Creativity is worth money. Unfortunately, because creative work is easily seen without paying, creative work, on a whole, is devalued in the minds of the public. And most creative people don’t sell their work for what it is worth because we don’t operate as businessmen; we don’t understand all of the costs of doing that “business.” Certainly, some creative work is paid for, and well paid for. But that is often because that work lines the pockets of larger companies or entire industries. I’m thinking of the creative work done at design firms or movie/television studios.
For most creative people though, we don’t have the infrastructure for turning our work into reasonable paychecks. We don’t have the instant connection to an audience that knows the value of our work.
One of our options is the old system of gallery representation. This system also takes from the artist; somewhere around 50% of any sale and often requires some sort of free labor in the form of “volunteering” at the gallery. I don’t think this system raises the value of all creative people, but instead accidentally creates art rock stars (those who make a lot of money) and a lot of artists that make enough money to stay in a broken system that does not help the “industry of creativity.”
I’ve spent the past 10 years working for myself as a handy-man. I’ve learned that I can teach my clients the value of what they are asking for. Most people don’t know the value of a bathroom remodel for example, because they may have seen that job devalued on a dozen home shows.
A lot of the time I will create an estimate for a construction project and never hear back from the client. I don’t see this as a loss. I see this as me dodging a bullet; if I sell a job so cheap that I don’t cover the costs of doing business and make a profit, I’ve devalued myself, my work and give credence to the idea that projects should be “cheap”. My hope is that the client with sticker shock will treat the next guy they approach with a deeper respect that is based on the value that contractor brings.
Art should be priced in the same way because creativity is worth money. Creators can create value for their work (& respect for their abilities) by putting a price tag on it that is correct for the work. If it is priced too cheaply we create an environment where it is easily taken because there is a lack of respect for the work.
There is a great need for creators to find ways to create value for ourselves and for our peers. There is a great need for creators to educate the public about the value of their work. There is a need to recognize that creativity is worth getting paid for. Being an underpaid sage is only romantic in the movies.
Collectively, creative people can raise the bar and ask for more money for our work. It’s o.k.. The public doesn’t understand the value of what they are getting unless we tell them accurately, what it is worth. The artist knows how much time is put into a piece of art, and how much quality supplies or tools cost. After all, art is not free.