Sunday, March 31, 2013


"Work harder! there's a 100 people that want your job." said the corporate fat cat to the proleteriat.

I'm starting to think I should join a union. An artist union.

Seriously, why is it the arts that any graduate or amateur holds an expectation that they won't earn any money unless they are the best of the best of the best. That the job itself is reward enough and that they'd gladly 'do it for free'

my friend Leah illustrates this cognitive dissonance here, which really kicked this post off.

my friend Harvard, also a photographer linked today to this article. Which follows on from one of the concluding statements Leah made about amatuer photographers being willing to work for free/$50.

And then one of the artists' whose blogs I follow has been on a spate of posts regarding this issue culminating in this most/more recent videoblog.

I'm increasingly convinced that Stephen is right, there is plenty of work, everybody needs artists. It's just that it has become accepted now on all sides of the market, that you don't get paid.

It's ridiculous. I know it's a scalable profession, a winner-takes-all profession because every artist is differentiated. But it still holds true, there is plenty of work for everyone.

While any time Banksy and I applied for the same gig, Banksy is going to get it, the fact is that Banksy and I will never apply for the same gig. Banksy I suspect doesnt, but also simply can't do all the gigs on offer to him. So while the winner-theoretically-could-take-all, the winner-literally-can't-take-all.

There are still plenty of clients that will have to take the artist they can get.

But here are some disturbing market realities that have arisen that Amatuer artists need to stop capitulating in:

1. crowdsourcing - client opens up for submissions to design album cover, shoot video clip, do poster, design building etc. and offer some nominal prize. These prizes can even be substantial, but the fact is the client is saving huge dollars by getting a 'crowd' of amatuers to produce a lot of work collectively that they can cherry pick off the top of. Crowdsourcing is effectively trying to get a pro-quality job for free playing the law of numbers.

2. foot-in-the-door - a publication offers for you to go to a restaurant, pay for your own meal, write a review and take some photography and they pay you - jack shit, or $20 or whatever pissant amount allows you to produce content for them at a loss to you. Before you the amatuer artist take on such a gig, does the 'employer' actually pay anybody to produce content for them? Are there a hundred other people inline behind you to take the same 'opportunity' the moment you start trying to get compensated for your work? In other words, is the door you are putting your foot in, actually there? or is it just your foot in a desert? If most of those that took the job before you 'graduated' to working for different clients that actually paid, they aren't really an opportunity at all, shoot your own portfolio, publish it on your own blog, don't let a third party ride off your back.

3. landlords - I'm not opposed to gallaries per se, having a gallary scene, and applying for ever increasingly prestigious spaces to show at. I'm opposed to grossly disproportionate market power between artist and gallary. Most artists have little business training, thus if this post applies to you, I'm going to ask you to trust me when I say markets reward risk taking. Thus a gallary can seek compensation in two ays, it can take the reduced risk up charging a high gallary rental up front, where the artist concievably can recover their costs by selling art and keeping the proceeds, here the artist, not the gallary takes the risk. Or if the gallary wishes to express confidence in the artist they are displaying, they can forego or reduce the upfront revenue's of the rental fee and instead opt for a higher commission on sales. Many gallaries though do both. When a gallary has already covered it's costs and made an operating profit on the rent, skimming the cream off your sales is just greedy.
Amatuer artists can capitulate in two ways - the first is by pushing up the rents by applying for gallaries with unsellable art. The recent trend of installation art for example is generally speaking unsellable. People may have some wallspace to purchase art, few have a spare room to install a giant inflated donkey dick. The number of art-school graduates doing installations is just intense at the moment, and while it's understandable that gallaries taking on installation art need to get compensated in the absence of commissions, many just leave their commission policies in place. So the high rents have to be absorbed by artists working in the more sellable mediums of painting, illustration and photography.
The second way is by cutting their own margins so as not to price themselves out of the market. If you are routinely taking a loss at gallary shows, stop showing in gallaries. Go figure out a way to cut your overheads and sell your art at a price your audience can afford.
Displaying in a gallary is a two way transaction, artists need to make sure they are getting something while paying something. In both cases while the gallaries need to be compensated in order to survive as businesses themselves, they can only justify rents and/or commissions if their are people at your shows and buying your art that you didn't bring there.

The unfortunate thing is that there are far more artists in any field than their are clients willing to pay anything at all. Compounding this is that often you are dealing with clients that have a monopoly on the opportunity, gallary spaces, festival organisers, record labels etc. so you have intense competition for opportunities that don't pay at all.

But somebody is paying, either you, the artist, or your parents or something.

It seems like with technology lowering the barriers to new competition, piracy and globalisation intensifying the competition (such that not even the world leaders in art are getting paid for all their work that is used) that things can only get worse.

There was a time though when blue collar jobs faced the same kinds of problems and exploitation. They managed to organise and stop the exploitation and their own willingness to be exploited.

That's why I in my capacity as an artist am thinking of joining a union.

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