Don’t Offer Artists Exposure. It’s BS.

Don’t Offer Artists Exposure. It’s BS.

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Oct 26, 2020

Art requires labor. It requires years of testing, trying, seeing, asking, peeking, being, and creating. It requires self-critique, global awareness, cultural exposure, daily action and consistent progress.

Art requires seeds, tools, and visions.

Art requires seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and years passed by.

Art costs the artist their lives. Both as a form of compulsion but also in the form of an eternal force, a thread throughout history of humanity expressing its collective self and communicating around what life is and what it means to be a person.

When you pay for a piece of art – you are paying for all of that. 

The creative experiments gone awry, the anguish of perfection, the process of discovery, and the development of an artistic voice. Quite frankly, the fact that any art at all can be purchased for less than a few hundred dollars is totally amazing in such context.

If this is the case, our society needs to drastically shift the way we think about art, the way we compensate artists, the models we build for including art in our world, and the way we redefine the value of art in our culture and communities.

Dispelling and expelling the exposure paradigm in art is essential to that progress.

Instead of exposure pay artists fairly, up front.

Dentists Don’t Clean Teeth for “Exposure”

Am I right? I’m not sure, but I highly doubt if anyone has ever walked into a dentist’s office and said, “I have no money, and I don’t intend to pay you… necessarily, but I know your work will help me, so how about I just tell a few people that you do solid dental work and we call it a deal – cool?”

I mean, it’s asinine. There is no way in hell this exposure paradigm would work or would even be suggested in literally every other industry, product or service in the world. 

What’s really happening here, though? 

What’s happening is, the curator, organizer, or producer of the event wants, and more importantly knows, that they need the artist’s contribution to make the production special, fun, creative, vibrant, alive, engaging, exciting, worth-talking-about, etc etc etc.

In essence, they have no event without the artist.

At IPaintMyMind, we believe that working artists, as in, artists with a track record of sales and professional work should always be compensated for their work, unless the artist feels it right to donate to a cause they believe in or support. This does not mean adding some quasi-cause component on the end of a money-making venture, only to reduce the artist’s compensation package. It’s about having skin in the game and sharing the upside.

Don't offer to pay artists with exposure

The Coffee Shop Model

You can see where coffee shops can be in a bind, but I also think it’s really gotten away from us, to the point where artists are presenting entire gallery shows in coffee shops without any guaranteed compensation. Oftentimes the ‘exposure paradigm’ gets lumped into this model because sans cash, it’s really all they can offer.

I don’t think this trend will cease, but there are a few things well-meaning coffee shops could do to more fully support the artists who display entire collections of finished, oftentimes framed artwork, without pay.

1) Share a % of tips for the duration of the show run with the artist

2) Promote a small % discount for the artists online sales with a special discount code to your customers both in-store and online

3) Purchase 1-2 pieces of art from each artist you invite into your coffee shop and slowly create your own rotating art collection!

4) Free coffee for the artist the entire time their art is on display.

Galleries & Artist Reps Can Be The Worst, But They Can Also Be Great!

As someone who ran a gallery for 4 years without necessarily intending to, it was interesting to survey the landscape and learn more about the business of art galleries. The reality is that they are just higher-rent and more opulent commercial spaces, but the model is exactly as it is at the coffee shops, assuming other revenue streams like printing services are involved.

Gallerists issue calls, build brands, try to represent and sometimes monopolize certain artists’ business opportunities, and are really much more akin to real estate developers or agents than anything else. Many are essentially stock traders, hobnobbers, and bankers. The art is secondary to the hustle.

That said, there are also various gallerists and artist representation outfits that quite frankly, truly advocate for artists, helping them fetch higher commission fees, thus earning their cut, and being beacons of important art and artists.

The system needs to change because it favors those with money, resources, and the time to complete entire collections of work without any promise of pay. Additionally, galleries need to rethink the wheel, because all too often their own survival is placed before the artists, whose contribution is vital to the entire activity in the first place. 

I have a couple ideas:

1) Sponsorship Compensation Packages for Artists: put it on the galleries own shoulders to do proper Artist Relations to garner great artists, as well as build relationships with sponsors so as to guarantee a baseline pay structure for artists, regardless of how much art sells. Galleries and artists incur great costs to produce shows, this would cover that.

2) Pay Incentives Based on Marketing / Promotion: it’s the galleries job to promote the show but the artist should also be spreading the word, period. Through clear promotion guidelines, galleries can ensure that every artist they represent is doing the baseline of work themselves to succeed as well. Ensuring this happens would guarantee buy-in, a more symbiotic relationship between gallery and artist, and better sales.

Don't offer to pay artists with exposure.

What The Internet Did To Artists as Businesspeople 

While every artist still has the right to never show their work, create for themselves, and be generally adverse to selling their art in every single way, there are also clearly way more option for artists to make careers of it due to the internet. There are hundreds of large websites online that serve as platforms to disseminating, marketing, and selling art on behalf of artists.

This has provided amazing tools for artists who also are organized, driven, and excited enough to become their own bosses via internet sales and diversified revenue strategies that increase cash flow through consistent output and marketing.

The internet has opened up artists’ ability to work without gallerists or representatives, hugely expanding the global marketplace for accessible and affordable art, and creating thousands of one-person small businesses driven by the sales of art.

I love that. As an artist, you have the tools to turn you art into a career. As a customer and fan of those artists, you have more ways than ever to put your money where the art is.

Support Independent Artists with Dollars Spent, Not Exposure

Exposure is not an adequate way to pay artists.

It all comes down to Buy Art, Feed an Artist. If we want to see more art in the world, we need to fund it, buy it, support it, advocate for it, purchase it, rent it, and tell everyone we know about the good stuff when we find it. At IPaintMyMind, we always believed that if we were going to succeed, we needed to figure out a way for artists to win at the same time we did, or even before we did, creating a model that could actually work if extrapolated, not just something that could float us along in one situation.

The reason you, your business, your mom, your dad, your uncle, your boss, your friend, and your pet should never offer an artist exposure as a form of compensation for their finished work as a professional artist, is because it devalues them. Plain and simple.

It devalues art, it devalues art education, it devalues art in our world at large, and it devalues the artist in a personal interaction. 

And the reality is, you know it’s of value, that’s why you’re asking for it. 

If you can pay for drinks, and lights, and rent, and snacks, you sure can pay the person who is making the entire thing possible: the artist.

Offer to buy artists’ work. In fact, don’t even offer, just buy it.

But whatever you do, do not offer artists exposure. It’s bullshit.

9 chicago artists you need to follow on instagram

Written by:
Evan La Ruffa
Oct 26, 2020

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