If You Give An Artist A Paycheck

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Between trying to get back into freelance work after a several year hiatus, and several friends running into the issue of people literally telling them they should give away their work for free I’ve come to the conclusion that there has to be some sort of serious misconception about how artists work (or that they work, period) and I’m hoping to help clear that up.

See, an artist spends hundreds of hours or more learning their craft before they even begin on the object of your desire. I’ve seen people argue that “anyone can write” or “anyone can paint” and thus the amount an artist wants to charge is seen as outrageous because -anyone- could have done that, right? Including you, then? Here’s the thing, it doesn’t work that way. Sure, anyone can throw words on paper and make them stick, but not everyone can write something fascinating that is worth committing several hours of your life to. Everyone can splatter paint on canvas, but most people can not do it in a way that conjures emotions every time you see. It usually isn’t pure raw talent, either. It is dedication. Getting through the bad, terrible, horrible days. The draft upon draft upon draft until it sounds right. Painting over and over because the hand is wrong, or the eye is crooked, or you don’t know why but it is just a little off.

Imagine going through that and having someone tell you that your book isn’t worth $5-10, so you should just give it away. Or it is easy to paint so you should just give them what you’ve been working on for days so they can hang it up and give people your business card, as though exposure was a currency accepted at the grocery store or utility company. That leather mask is nice but you know it was only $20 worth of materials so you will only pay $25-that is still a profit, right?

Don’t even get me started on $1/1000 word writing jobs. Or ones that don’t pay at all. Just don’t.

But lets move away from that a moment and look at what happens when you -do- pay an artist a fair amount for the work they have put in. I will be using myself as the example because I am readily available and already have my permission to do so.


If You Give An Artist A Paycheck

If you pay an artist, she will pay her bills!
Once she pays her bills, she will want to buy some groceries, too.
After she buys groceries, she will feed her family a decent meal.
As the artist basks in the comfort of a supported family, she will realize this means she doesn’t need another part time job this month. This means she has time to create more art!
The artist will feel validated that this is a productive use of her time and not be distracted by the many other things she could be doing to earn money right now.
She will grow confidence and not feel obligated to take “safe” commissions and instead do what she loves.
When the artist creates new art it will continue to improve. Her art will keep getting better!
When she finished her art she will be so proud she will want to sell it!
When she sells her art, she will be paid again.

For me it is bills. It is 4k for the Kid’s braces. It is glasses. Or even just the eye appointment. I’m not posting or painting as much as I would like because life is expensive and due to unforeseen circumstances I need a summer job -now- and freelance just isn’t cutting it. One commissioned painting (which is being rather temperamental at that) isn’t enough for daycare and the electric bill, let alone replenishing my art supplies for the next piece.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not saying you should just give handfuls of money to every artist you know because they are artists (though what a world that would be if it did work that way! I imagine it would be full of paintings and curiosities!) but I am saying, don’t be rude. Don’t devalue someones work. If you can’t afford it? Say so. Politely. I’ve had to tell many other artisans I’d love their work if I could afford, but kids are spendy. They usually understand, and most will appreciate the compliment. Some will be open to barter. I’ve traded music lessons for a house cleaning and a hot meal before. Some wont- accept it and move on.

Just never. Ever. Ever. Tell and artist that their art isn’t worth it.


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