“Working for free? No.”
For a long time I thought I wouldn’t need to write this entry because I believed that with time it will get better with the spread of awareness. Everyone heard stories like this and that’s why I though that will change people’s thinking. I am sad to announce that… there’s no shortage of people asking for ‘work for free’ or 'work for exposure’. Basically wanting your work without paying.
I get theses messages every week and I feel like there needs to be a general response from me to a behavior like that.
Every mail start the same. It’s just plain copy/paste. Though they sometimes try to start like you are the unique and special artist they write to. So beginning is pretty standard:
'Hey! I love your art/ your art is amazing/ I’m your biggest fan.’
The target as much artists as they can because, there is probability that out of 1000 mails few will agree. And it’s a win. Unfortunately I must say that these people prey on the weakest and most vulnerable this kind of scam. Exploiting to work for free.
It can be done by one person or by company. A well known companies even. Yeah. It goes from the bottom to big guys.
I haven’t seen even once a project that brought something good to exploited artist.
I will quote you one of messages I got, to give you as an expample:
Your art is really amazing, I’m a huge fan!
My friends and I are making a board/card game and we’re contacting our favorite artists in the hopes of finding art we can put to our game.
This is a huge opportunity for both of us to get exposure for our work as I make an awesome kickstarter and social media campaign. if we can work together! We have some professional *censored* players on our team and a great game design, so I know we can offer you effective advertising as we promote each other. In just the past 5 days put campaign has reached over 10,000 people and our website is getting hundreds of unique visitors each day, which means lots of traffic seeing links to your artwork and increasing your potential for commissions.
So pretty standard. Someone offers you 'EXPOSURE’ instead of paying you.
Why that should be a valid point? How you will monetize exposure? They can’t even explain you this because they know that’s a hollow slogan. So the logic goes - they will get project done thanks to slave work and that way people using the project will ask you for more possible… free work for them ? Wow! Amazing!
Maybe if exposure would literally everytime translate to money. Then heck yeah. Also I wouldn’t need people like that exploiting me, because my tactic then would be I just care about 'exposure’ to my own sites and social media. If every single view = money, then I would just market myself and following that logic… money would come 😀 Becuause, maybe…probably… there will be someone who will finally be willing to pay for my work. That’s a flawed logic.
The thing is…. the more artists are being victims to exploitative work, the more it becomes normal, the more 'clients’ expects that artists will work for free. And this way vicious circle that bites artists in the backside begins.
There are projects that someone has to make. Every project needs visuals, that’s how it sells. That is our - artists - job. Yeah exactly - job NOT hobby. Probably we love what we are doing, that’s why we’ve chosen art career. But starving artists jokes are no longer funny since it’s just a grim reality.
Why we are the ones that are assumed to work for free? Why are other professionals, like doctors, engineers , plumbers not expected to work for free? How absurd would that be to ask a cook to cook you diner for free. But some people don’t think twice about asking that artist. And not only me, but even way more known and working longer in the industry.
There was a guy that asked me if he can take my work (works you can see in my gallery) and use it in his personal project. You know… potentially commercial product but he didn’t want to pay a cent for visuals provided for the project. Although the most disrespectful was when he mentioned that 'hopefully in the future when I will gather funds to print the project it will be sold in shops’. Whoa! So he just admitted : he will pay EVERYONE, so graphic designers and printers who will edit and print project but… won’t pay artists who provided art for the product itself ? 'Where is the budget for artists’ I asked. 'If you feel like your project will be successful you would take the risk on yourself and actually pay people making project. If you don’t want to take the risk it just looks like you don’t believe in your own project. Don’t expect strangers to be invested in your ideas then.’ I declined of course. He gave me longer reply, but the most horrific was to see that he scammed … 170 artists before me… My jaw was on the floor. So basically what he’s done was exploiting most vulnerable people.
Also. People who want to use your work that you have in your gallery. Just imagine this situation but in traditional gallery. Let’s say some guy walk into Luvre. Picks few paintings , and proceeds to taking them down. He is stopped by security for doing that. When they ask him why did he do it he replies: 'Well, it does not hurt you to share paintings. They are just gathering dust. So what do you say… I can take it to promote my product?’ Is this absurd? I want you think about it like that when you are asked for your work to promote someone’s products.
Personally I can work for free in only 3 cases : pro bono for charity that I support, for someone closest to me when I want to make a gift and lastly on my own projects that I will myself would love to publish one day.
I was exploited myself back when I was just starting. Guess what. It haven’t brought me anything. Slavery work is just slavery work. Brings nothing to artist and a lot of value who are using you. That happened to me so I could become stronger and experienced. And I want to share warning with artists who are clearly still out there who even consider working for free.
There is also another example, not so harmful, but I encounter it a lot. People requesting you working for them to draw their portrait/portrait of their dog/mother/brother/ girlfriend. Again. Just imagine this scene in reality and not done through exchange of emails. Imagine that you are artist who sits on the side of the road, during holiday season, a lot of tourists passing by and you are offering to draw portraits. Those artists sits there because this is how they make extra money. They have their price tag put next to them so you know the rate. Either you pay or not and just don’t take the offer. So how it would look like if a person walked to the artist and demand drawing him/her for free? Of course artist would ignore it and wait for a customer willing to pay.
And if I have to make it even more grim to my fellow artists, just think of this, Even prostitutes get paid. No one expect that it’s their hobby that they do for free.
Somehow artists skills aren’t valued and it becomes the norm. On the internet at least.
There are many project that needs to be made. And artists need to work on them. If every client would pay normally, without trying to have free work for you, there would not be jokes about 'starving artists’. We are all in this together and we are our ultimate shield of protection against exploitative practices.
If you want to work without payment go ahead do it. But consider always the situation. What it is for, with who you work for and why. Is it something you will do with friends, do you really believe in this, do you believe that you will profit and not someone else only? Don’t be shy, you won’t offend anyone by defending yourself.
When I share individual stories with my artists friends we are sure of that we need to work together. Or our industry will never change and we can expect to be flooded by 'working for free’ inquires.
There is so much that I probably didn’t cover. Still. I thought that making statement is important.