Imagine something you really love to do. Imagine it as being the job you’ve always wanted, the job you’d love to spend the rest of your life doing, something you’d absolutely kill to be paid for. Maybe you like music, maybe you love writing (well, I’d wager a lot of you do, given what kind of site this is), maybe you’re really great at accounting, or maybe you’re very passionate about politics, social work, immigration issues, you name it.
Now imagine being asked to put in about 8-12 hours every time you go into this job…for free. Pouring your effort and passion into making a product you can be proud of for absolutely nothing. No tangible reward. Imagine being told that your labor is wanted, and you should do it without pay because it’s “good practice”, or “is a good portfolio builder”, or simply because someone is too cheap to pay for your time, labor, and love.
Sound crazy? Sound unreasonable? It should. Most people work jobs that have a certain value assigned to them, wages, and an expectation that they will be compensated for the work they put in. Often times, the average worker cares little for the tasks they do at their job, and yet it is absurd to think of doing those menial things for free.
So why, then, should someone who is passionate about good results, loves what they do, and pours themselves into their work be asked to do favors and give handouts “just because”?
This has a point. All too often I see in my job search so-called “professionals” and start-up companies looking for graphic designers to design logos, websites, you name it, all for the low, low pay of zero dollars. Because it will be “good practice”. Because it will help “build a portfolio”. Perhaps you recall from one of my previous blogs, but I shall remind you anyway: art is not magic.
It is work that requires a great investment of time and effort, much like any other. If you’re a professional company, you should realize that setting aside part of your budget for creative works is necessary, not an optional side-expense. If you want professional results for your professional business, then treat artists like professionals. But that’s not all. No, this goes even smaller than the business realm. This extends to you.
Bear in mind that when you are asking for freebies, especially in terms of art, you are asking someone you may not know for hours of their time, for a hefty sum of their attention, their labor, and their love for that time. Art is work. It requires study, it requires practice, it requires focus. I have spent the majority of my life devoting my time to art, but within that comes a multitude of disciplines to make it all work. I have studied anatomy, I have had to learn how the body works, how muscles and bone pull and twist, how joints work, the subtle ways the muscles in the face move to create recognizable expressions. I’ve had to dip into mathematics to learn about the ratios that make up the proportions of the body and for perspective practices. I study whatever is required of me to make a picture – I’ve gone anthropological and studied cultures to understand their style of dress, the patterns on their clothing, the material it’s made of. I’ve studied history to learn about various periods, their trends, their movements. The first gun I ever drew, I studied accounts of how to fire one, the mechanics of what each part is and what it does, how it moves, how it’s held. When I’m asked to put my time into creating something for nothing, it’s asking for a lot more than just my technical skills.
Show your appreciation. Give an artist your time and appreciation in exchange for theirs. Give them feedback; feedback is so, so valuable. But let’s not lie to ourselves here, what I really mean to say is PAY YOUR ARTIST. You pay your dentist, you pay your grocery cashier, you pay to have your car fixed, you pay for your clothing, your electricity…Why would art be exempt? If you appreciate an artist, if you like what you see, show your support the same as you would, perhaps, for a band you really love, or a movie you want to see. The best part? When you buy a CD or go see a movie, you pay for something pre-created, a duplicate; you pay for a creation you had no part of. When you pay for art, you pay for something that is uniquely yours. Tell me that has no value; go on, I challenge you to try.
Are you still with me? Okay, good.
All of this is NOT to say that freebies don’t happen, and it's not to say that if you can't afford or don't wish to pay for art, that you have no value and no place. It’s not to say that sometimes artists don’t pick up those non-paying jobs because they DO want the practice; I know, I’ve done it. However, before asking for a slice of their passion, why not try to get to know them? Make it worth it for them to give you their time, learn what makes them tick, pay attention to what they say, help advertise their art (this is HUGE – publicity is EVERYTHING); you hardly even have to ask most artists to link to their page and credit them. I’m not saying to kiss their ass or become friends just for a chance at free art, but to treat artists as human; give your time in exchange for theirs. Be conscientious of how you’d like to be treated in their place; how would you like to be compensated for YOUR hard work? Show your support with your attention, your words, your actions. Everybody needs encouragement now and then to feel like what they're doing is worth the time they put in.
Oh yes, and just so this isn’t text-only, a WIP: