Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Once More With Feeling

Seriously, how is this a difficult concept?
Normally I wouldn't really want to litter this particular blog with a lot of cross-posts from Formspring or anywhere else, but I thought this question was relevant and probably worth sticking here for people who don't follow me on other sites. It is art related, after all, and it relates to my previous post about whether or not artists should ever work for free. The following quote is the question and my answer.

What's wrong with letting people use your art for free? I don't see how it's not fair to you if the person isn't trying to make money off it or anything.
How exactly does someone asking to take advantage of a service I offer as part of my living for absolutely zero compensation fail to be unfair to me?
Let’s say you own a sporting goods store and selling running shoes is part of how you make your living. Let’s also say that I really, really love the shoes you sell and come into your shop expressing my enthusiasm in regards to having a pair. However, I also make sure to tell you that I won’t be using the shoes to try and win the Olympics, or become a professional athlete, or anything like that. I only want the shoes for my own personal, non-competitive purposes — walks around the neighborhood or perhaps the occasional jog. 
Because I won’t be attempting to make money or gain prestige for myself in any way using your shoes, I think you should give them to me for free. Don’t worry though. I like your shoes so much that I’ll be telling all of my friends about your shop and maybe even sending them in your direction. Maybe if you’re lucky, some of them will be willing to wear free shoes as well. Imagine all the exposure your store will get with all these people walking around town in your product! Isn’t that exciting? Aren’t you grateful that I happened to wander into your shop today? I think you should be. I just paid you a huge compliment, after all.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Most people would even say such an attitude smacks of entitlement, delusion, and utter disrespect. Nevertheless, this is exactly what people are doing when they approach an artist thinking they should be able to ask for free services, free use of their work for personal purposes, and so forth. I hope this clears the matter up for you.
As I stated in my previous article, most people don't really have too much trouble understanding why it bugs me when people approach me expecting to be given free permission to use my artwork for whatever they like. If you simply don't know how it works and are assuming out of ignorance, that's one thing. I'm really not talking about you. If you're the type of person that simply doesn't want to pay for artwork or can't afford to, I'm not talking about you either. You're under no moral obligation to give two shits about my artwork or anyone else's.

It's the people that take my responding to their inquiry with price quotes on licensing fees or usage rights as some grievous offense and cop a "well, I never" attitude about it that I'm looking at with this type of response. You're not doing an artist some kind of favor by offering to put their work to good use or give them something to do. You're not paying them a compliment either, nor will any professional artist with so much as a lick of self esteem take it as one. I don't tell other people how to run their businesses or make their living, but if I ever tried, I'd thoroughly expect to be verbally spanked for it. I'd deserve it, too. Seriously... shame on you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

When Is It OK to Give Your Art Away for Free?

Balance -- Shannon Hilson

I've been doing my art professionally as part of my living for quite a while now and I've been displaying it via online galleries, blogs, and websites for even longer. Naturally, I get a relatively steady stream of requests from third parties who are interested in using some of my work for one purpose or another by now. Sometimes it's a professional endeavor of their own for which they need imagery. Other times someone just wants to take it and make blinkies or web graphics out of it for their own personal use. 

Either way, they always receive the same response from me -- an expression of willingness to allow use of my work if they're willing to pay a licensing fee. Naturally, I wouldn't charge someone just looking to make a MySpace layout the same amount I would a t-shirt company looking to slap one of my images across the front of their merchandise, but I still expect them to compensate me. It probably goes without saying that I charge appropriate fees for custom graphics, commissions, web design, and anything else along those lines as well. Any artist who considers him or herself to be even a semi-professional does.

Most people find this completely acceptable, even if they're not willing or able to pay my fees. However, there is always the occasional expression of total shock and outrage at the mere idea that I might actually want something in return for my work . Far too many people seem to believe that artists don't need or expect to be treated the same way you'd treat someone else who had something to offer that you wanted. They may even think that a "real" artist would never even consider sullying her art by charging filthy, filthy money for it... and they'd be wrong, too.

I'm personally of the mind that all artists should be charging people for their work. They work just as hard as anyone else at what they do and they deserve compensation for it. Does your next door neighbor or a visitor to your website want something done? Quote them a price. If they don't want to pay it, too bad. It's their loss, not yours. Does someone want your work for their own purposes -- non-profit or otherwise? They should have to pay you a licensing fee for the privilege... period. It's only fair. However, there are a few times when I feel it's perfectly OK to consider doing your art for free. I'm not a money-grubbing Grinch all the time.

It's something you're giving away as a gift.

Personalized pieces of art make the very best gifts in my opinion. I have been known to create the special piece or two for key people in my own life and I love that I'm able to offer something no one else would ever be able to in quite that way. However, when I say gift, that's what I mean. If a relative or a friend wants something custom done, you're within your rights to give them what they want as a favor... but I think that even people close to you should be willing to pay at least a discounted fee for your services. It helps those close to you understand that you're serious about your art and see it as having value as well.

The person asking you really has something to offer when they say "here, have some exposure".

One of the lamest (and most common) alternatives to actual money that people will try to offer you in exchange for use of your artwork is a link back to your website from theirs. You know... for "exposure". Come on now. A link and proper credit to you as the original artist should be included in addition to payment, not instead of. It's also probably not really going to do much for you exposure-wise unless we're talking about an extremely popular website or blog that gets tons of visitors. Normally this isn't the case though. The person asking probably has a shitty Alexa rating and next to no real traffic. They can't even offer you what they're promising. 

The only time I'd be willing to grant use of my artwork for the sake of exposure only is if we're talking about a site or publication that's extremely popular and capable of delivering on that promise. I would also expect the person or establishment asking to present me with concrete examples of how this arrangement is going to be so beneficial for me despite not getting paid in actual money and they had better be damned convincing. Otherwise? No. They need to show me the money or find themselves some other sucker.

It's for charity.

Although you should never feel forced to participate unless you want to, I think donating art for use in a charity auction or giving it away for a cause you really believe in is perfectly fine -- a children's hospital, for example. After all, it's charity. Enough said. There's nothing wrong with being discriminating though and there's nothing wrong with saying "no" if you're not interested. Don't let anyone make you feel bad about it either. It's your artwork. You are ultimately the one who has the right to decide what is and isn't done with it.

I'm sure I'm leaving out at least a few other exceptions, but these are really the main ones I can think of. Every other time, I truly do believe that artists should be charging for their work. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a professional, if people want a piece of what you're putting out there, it's still wise to expect them to value it enough to compensate you for it. Artwork is so much like children to so many of us. Do you really want yours going to a home where it's not really considered to be worth anything? Yeah, me neither.