Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motley as a Pup, and the Trouble with Free Art

Motley at Rest, 11 x 11" mixed media on cotton rag paper
So, yeah. It's been a busy, busy few weeks! And now I'm gearing up for Fall Art Crawl at JA Geiger Studio, (note that, as of my writing this, the site hasn't been updated; Fall Crawl is October 12 - 14 and the hours and address are all the same as for Spring).

Meanwhile, there's a discussion I'm following about a well-known musician, Amanda Palmer, who has landed in the middle of a controversy for asking professional musicians to come play in her band, on her tour, for free. Except, she's going to pay the ones in NYC because the show there has to be top-notch.  Some musicians (and visual artists like myself) are deeply bothered by this.

Here's Amanda's blog post defending herself, and another person's take on the situation.

When and why to work for free is a constant question in the lives of professional artists. My experience is that if everything's about the money, about survival, it kills me; and so I do give out of my art to support causes I believe in. I have donated art to:

Enchanted Makeovers
Northern Lights Greyhound Adoption
Arts for ACT
The Bridge for Youth
Home for Life

and there are more, but you get the gist.

But Amanda Palmer is not a charity, and work donated by artists is not "free" for the artists. It is time, materials, and study. It is an opportunity cost.

I've lost track of how many people I have shocked by telling them I had to work for my gift. An innate aptitude for art was only the beginning, and the rest has been decades of study and practice, a constant quest to gain new skills. This shocks people who assume that if you have talent, it all comes easily.

Amanda Palmer, an artist herself, knows how hard it is for artists. She of all people ought to be finding ways to make it better, instead of perpetuating the same old toxic ideas we already have. I totally understand the reasons people will play for her for free, but it breaks my heart that she'd ask them to.


  1. Replies
    1. I don't talk about this much because I love my life and wouldn't trade it, and I don't want to come off as if I'm complaining. But if artists don't talk openly about what we do, how we do it, and why it has the same value as any other professional work, who will?

      What's so disappointing about Palmer is that she is in a position to make positive changes and yet chose not to, and not from the usual position of people who aren't in creative fields and don't understand what they're asking. She does. She deserves the flack she is getting, IMO.

  2. It's especially hard, I would guess, for generous hearts like yours, to have to make such decisions, wondering if the asker realizes the position they're putting you in and if they take that lightly.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Sunshine. I'm not particularly special; most people I know are pretty generous. What gets missed in our culture is the fact that art is work; people who want it for free are more often uninformed than intentionally trying to exploit, I think.

  4. very, very well said! bravo!
    and thanks for the reminder to update the website ;-)

    1. No problem! Now I need to find a moment to, you know, update my OWN site.