Art is Not Play

So don’t ask your artist friend to just “whip something up” for free

And never tell them how great their life is because they get to draw all day. Just no.

I’ve seen this time and time again, using this mentality as a reason why you should get free or discounted art. As though the skills that are developed and honed are somehow less skill than the ones a lawyer or plumber has.

Different but not less.

There’s this idea that artists spend all day long happily slapping paint on canvases, cheerfully carving figures into stone or joyfully (and always perfectly) forming pots on a pottery wheel while you, the non artist, trudge your way through a miserable and boring existence.

And yes, we artists have more fun than you but we also don’t.

Art is work. When you go pro, this thing you can’t live without doing, making, creating becomes your job. And while an artist’s job can be far more satisfying than yours, it’s also harder.

See, we need to develop and grow our skills all the time or risk becoming a robot. There’s a constant growth and depth that needs to be in place or our work becomes stale.

But we also need to know how to use our tools, not only for the best effect but also for safety reasons. Art supplies can and do kill or injure artists. Exposure to heavy metals in paints and pigments, exposure to dusts and solvents, not to mention power tools can cause all sorts of problems.

My own uncle, an amazing and sought after artist, died from Parkinson’s brought on by decades of exposure to heavy metals through his use of powdered pigments. He worked in an era where safety wasn’t considered and stressed.

When it comes to selling work, an artist needs to know how to market themselves either to a buying audience or to galleries and agents. That means making sure they schedule in those activities that aren’t glamorous and paint-filled.

Some would call them pain-filled.

Then there’s inventory to manage, customer service work to do, shipping and photography. Not to mention making sure that the studio is stocked with the necessary items to be able to do the work in the first place.

Oh and of course, being on top of scams whether they are people trying to “buy” art but end of bouncing cheques, or companies that are out there to take advantage of artists who don’t know better (I’m looking at you, all the print on demand BS sites that give artists one dollar or two for every item they sell). You have to be pretty savvy to navigate this minefield and keep both wallet, and reputation in check.

Then there’s the marketing. Since so many artists are introverts, marketing becomes particularly hard because it requires stepping up and out of one’s comfort zone on a daily basis. Whether it’s online or offline, the requirement to show up, share and sell art is a non negotiable. And so many artists dream of handing this work off to someone, but the reality is that there are few businesses that offer this service specifically for artists and those that do can be prohibitively expensive, or worse still, totally inept.

There are so many parts to an artist’s business and day to day world. So many demands on an artist physically, emotionally and financially. Bet you didn’t realize how complicated it was.

Here’s the one you maybe didn’t think of — the time you suck from them. I can’t count how many times friends, well meaning friends, came to just hang out in my studio or want to do lunch or whatever because I’m just painting anyway. And while my ability to say NO back then wasn’t in place, so I own my role in allowing it, it is a huge distraction. Not to mention disrespectful.

You can’t focus when someone is fucking around with your $50 a pop tube of paint, or messing up the gold leaf. Or hell, even just talking while you’re trying to figure out if a certain approach will work.

So when you ask your artist friend to whip you up something for free, I want you to know what it actually costs:

  • time away from paid work.
  • time away from marketing.
  • materials, and professional grade materials are not cheap. Don’t just tell them to use the cheap stuff because odds are they don’t have them on hand, and the cheap stuff won’t do the job.
  • energy because all art making, even if it involves sitting at a desk, requires focus, concentration and some kind of precise movement. Two hours of making a painting can feel as draining as running a race, minus the sweat and stinky feet.
  • emotional energy, because I guarantee that your artist friend is probably annoyed both at you and at themselves for this freebie even if they’re smiling to your face.
  • self esteem, because so many people assume art is a joke or “fun” so there’s one more hit on the artist’s own self worth and what the world thinks of their chosen career.
  • their friendship. This one is a friend killer. It may not be immediate but if you’re one of those people, I promise you that your artist friend will soon become too busy to see you.

Pay for the art you want. Pay full price. Respect your artist friend’s schedule. Don’t over step boundaries and make extra demands.

And for fuck’s sake, stop taking art and artists in general for granted.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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