Artists, empower yourselves [Guest post]

Written on August 5, 2011 by in Business savvy, Guest bloggers
Art inspiration by Yvonne Lozano: I remember my new green shoes

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Yvonne Lozano.

Artists need to empower themselves and not be so much at the mercy of others. It’s a hard position to be in, because a big part about being a successful artist is having the masses approve, like, and want to buy our work, but I think sometimes artists forget (most of the time because we are rarely taught or encouraged) to pursue art as a business.  There is much value in what we do and it doesn’t take our death or fame & glory to be considered a valuable, contributing member of society.

In the early stages of my studies, I always envisioned that when I finally “made it” as an artist I would just be locked away in my studio 24/7 creating masterpieces. I never really stopped to think about the reality of that dream. While I was locked in my studio, who would be doing my accounting for me, or my marketing, or networking etc.? At the time I didn’t realize that all that was up to me. Sure, I may eventually get to the point where I am lucrative enough to pay somebody else to handle the business side for me, but I didn’t realize that until I got there that I had to be the one to do it all in addition to the actual creation process.

The vision that someone will discover our art and make us famous is no different than someone waiting to win the lottery. The ratio to working, “starving” artists compared to successful artists who are “famous” is extremely unbalanced, yet we live in a culture that reaps so many benefits from “starving” artists (including revenue for local businesses, job creation, tax revenue, etc.) but gives very little thought to how to put some of this revenue into the pockets of the artists.

This cycle really arises out of ignorance on both the part of the artist and society. While there are some businesses and people who value art & the artists who create that art, what we mostly encounter are people looking to make money off of us and, in their heart, they truly believe that they are doing us a favor by offering “exposure,” when in reality we are getting ourselves into very bad business decisions and devaluing the very thing we are trying to put a value on.

Some examples include:

Donating too much work to charity auctions where the work usually gets sold for a mere fraction of its actual value, and the artist gets the short end of the stick when claiming a tax write-off because we are only allowed to deduct the value of materials as opposed to the buyer, who can deduct the entire amount paid. (!?) In addition, donating too much leads to breeding a type of collector who doesn’t purchase directly from the artist but instead waits for charity auctions to increase their private art collections.

Often, the artist who turns down giving away their art or asks for certain measures to be put in place to help preserve the value of their art is looked at as greedy or pretentious. There are so many things wrong with this picture that someone could write a book about it. It would be more reasonable for charities to have strict minimum bid requirements in place and, in addition, offer the artist at least 50% commission off the sale and, if the minimum bid is not met, then the piece does not get sold. I know many charities and fundraisers would not like this new take on artist donations because it would greatly eat into their efforts to raise money. It seems that if you wanted to raise money for a good cause, you would ask for donations from wealthy and successful members of a community, instead of going to a sector of a community who struggles to make money from their craft and are often referred to as “starving.”

Another example is business owners who ask you to display your work in their facility for free because there are many important clients (exposure) who will benefit your career. Since the business is not a gallery, there are no qualified curators or art dealers working at the business who know how to handle, protect, or sell your work. So, basically, artists are offering free decorating/interior design to the business at the risk of having our work lost or damaged, after we have already invested all of our time, expense & skill in the creating and presentation of the work with no upfront compensation whatsoever.

By putting our art in the business we have added value to the business, we most likely have helped them bring more clients through their doors, we have made their business more inviting to their current clients, and we have improved the quality of the work environment for their employees, just to name a few, but unless we sell a painting, we get no compensation. And, as we all know, even if we sell one painting, it doesn’t even begin to touch the expense, time, and energy spent to actually put the show together. In situations like this, it would seem appropriate for the business to offer the artist a stipend to help offset some of the expense of the artist in that particular show or at the very least whatever that business sells, offer you a discount, gift card, or free service as payment for your efforts.

Even showing art in galleries, getting commissioned to do art-related projects, or entering art contests requires business knowledge about contracts and copyright laws so that we get compensated fairly and don’t end up in a situation where we give away all our rights to our work.

There are always exceptions to every rule. Sometimes there are situations where a specific business has hired you several times to work on commissions and once a year they ask you to donate a piece of art to their fundraiser. To me that is a legitimate business decision. Or maybe a friend is opening a new restaurant wants to showcase your work and offers compensation in the form of free meals up to a certain dollar amount or a discount on food to patrons who buy some art.

Ignorance generally leads to oppression, and often as artists we don’t know how to be good business people. We often get taken advantage of, exploited, and devalued as a result, and that makes it harder for other artists to maintain the value and integrity of their own work in the market.

As professional artists, these are all things we need to know about, hopefully prior to getting into difficult positions so we can be informed and empowered, and not cheapen ourselves or our art. I believe that business classes should be a mandatory core requirements for any art student and that artists as a whole should not assume that everyone knows what it means to be an artist. It’s important to educate and enlighten the masses.

Guest post by: Yvonne Lozano, a Jacksonville, Florida-based fine artist who works primarily with acrylics on canvas to document her childhood memories and through large-scale murals. Her work has been seen nationally via the Progressive People’s Biennial Exhibit from 2007-2009 and is in corporate art collections, including Baptist Hospital South and Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Jacksonville. She has also been a featured artist on Fine Art America and other sites. Yvonne has a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Jacksonville University in printmaking. Visit her web site or Etsy shop for more.

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One Comment

  1. Jaison
    January 22, 2013

    These are all very goods points and I enjoyed reading this. There are so many traps out there, I’ve fell into a few. Empowering all people to their true worth is the key to opening up their unique co-creator side. And as society becomes aware of things that are truly valuable it will give more respect to those that seek to enrich life in a positive way, like artists.

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