Art Should Be Free

I wish I were kidding, but this is a real attitude

This is an actual attitude an artist experienced recently. Both business owner selling their art on consignment, and customers in that business felt that art should be given away. For free.

I know this is an attitude that artists come across, unfortunately with some regularity. It’s frustrating, makes one wonder why bother at all, and it shows what an unfortunate amount of people think when it comes to art.

Here’s what you do when you encounter those people: walk away.

Seems defeatist, but the thing is, just like politics and religion, people get entrenched in their position and the more you argue with them the less likely you are going to change their opinion. Dare I say it: convert them.

These people are not, and never will be, your ideal collectors. They should never, ever be in charge of selling your work. You work will not only never sell through them, you may find your reputation tarnished because you have no idea what they said about your art and pricing to their customers!

I once had a series of small paintings, sketches really, in a local home decor business for $25 each. Well under priced but I was naive and new. When I went to pick them up, all unsold at the end of three months, the proprietor told me art doesn’t sell. What she should have said was, art doesn’t sell when she has a shitty attitude about it.

And don’t assume it’s just non artists that have this attitude. Oh no. So many artists feel that art and money should never mix. If I treated my rent this way, living in a house and paying rent should never mix, I would be homeless in my car with the dog.

You can’t convert these people either. They see art as too special for money. What’s happened is the elitist establishment has trained artists incredibly well. Suffer for your art. Being poor for your art shows dedication. Refuse good money for your art so you won’t be tempted to live well. And oh, yeah, give it to us for free/cheap because exposure.

So, here you are feeling like shit because you’ve come across this terrible attitude. Maybe more than once. And…maybe they’re right (hint: they are oh so wrong).

Walk away. Run, in fact.

And once you’re back in a place where sanity rules, remember this: it takes skill and training to make good art. You already know you make good art because you’re selling it, right? No false modesty here, own your skills. It doesn’t matter if they’re self taught or formally earned; you have mad skills. And those skills are as valid as someone who does electrical work or plumbing. More so in fact (sorry, not sorry).

Next, I want you to know that art is what separates us from all the other animal species around. Humans tell stories. We build culture. We create music. We create representational works, and non representational works of the world around and in us. It’s the core of what makes us human.

If you Google it, you can see, in fact that we’ve been making art for as long as we have been separate from our primate cousins. Before Homo Sapiens Sapiens walked the earth. There are digs that show art that was created 500,000 years ago. Mind blown, right?

Every time you make a piece of art, regardless of what you make, you add to our collective culture. You build onto our species’ story. We are wired for this otherwise movies, music etc wouldn’t be as popular as it is. You are a part of something huge and amazing and instead of being a jerk and detracting (like the “art should be free” losers) you are adding.

Go you!

Now, moving forward, focus on the people who appreciate art. Who buy it, love it, share it, want it. Those are the people that deserve your attention and they are also the people who need what you make.

Don’t let anyone take you down. Own your power. Acknowledge your skills. You are a magical unicorn doing important work. Go hang out where unicorns are appreciated and revered.

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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