Last updated on January 5, 2020
Art for free..? Um, no. Where did this perception come from that art is some kind of throw-away?
I have to apologise in advance, because something set me off this week and I’ve been stewing about it ever since. I think I just need to get it out of my head. It’s one of those things that artists coming up behind me won’t complain about outloud and continue to suffer in silence about for fear of jeopardizing their fledgling and tentative recognition in their particular art. I’ve been at this a while, a long while, so fuck it. I’ll say it.
Where do people get off with their self-righteous expectation that artists should give away their art for free? And I don’t just mean writers, I’m talking about everyone – writers, filmmakers, painters, sculptors, dancers, performance artists, actors – everyone. None of their work is ever free to create, so where did this expectation come from? I can’t be the only one who sees this going on or who’s bothered by this.
And no, I don’t mean all people approach myself and other artists with this expectation, not at all. Most people recognise the amount of hours and years of sweat and practice and obscurity and persistence it takes to become proficient in any art and to all of you who get it, you have our collective thanks. We love you.
I’m referring to a very particular segment of humans on this rock who labour under the false belief that they’re entitled to have all art for free. More, and the actual part of it that gets me going, is they’re so bloody vocal and arrogant and in-your-face about it. I don’t understand where this belief came from, that it’s okay to browbeat someone for your own material gain and to their detriment.
Let me tell you about me… I make myself very accountable to upholding the belief that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Even if I don’t agree with it, I will always allow you yours and I expect that you will allow me the same courtesy. Differing points of view challenge us and make us take stock of what we think is important and sometimes even force us to grow.
But you know what, Pumpkin? When you take it upon yourself to get in my face with your uninvited opinion – which, from my perspective is incorrect, yet I still have no issue with you labouring under it if it gets you through the day because you do you and I’ll be over here doing me – then I must say something. Because here’s a news flash. Ready? Learn it, because it may one day allow you to save your life…
Your rights end where mine begin, so step the fuck off.
Maybe I’m slow on the pick-up, but is this art for free thing connected with consumerism being at an all-time high within our now “throw-away” society? Or is there something else going on?
What I do know is this…
Within my circle, I know writers and graphic artists, musicians, painters, filmmakers and a variety of others in the arts, so I’ve seen this happen quite a lot in the past couple of years. I see these artists struggle every day, attempting to balance working a job they hate that pays the bills while juggling their after work free time between being creative, doing self-promotion and family. Why? Because they’re compelled, they can’t “just stop”. They’re artists. They do it, because they have to, it’s who they are, not a “thing they do”. And most of them aren’t making much money at it. They should be, because they’re extremely talented, but that’s another story.
Let me draw you an analogy.
A person who spends all their free time restoring cars or baking fancy cakes around their regular work does it, because they love it. They’re driven, it’s a form of creativity, creating things that not a lot of other people are capable of doing and it takes special skill to do those things. Those people can take those skills and turn them into day jobs and people will pay them for it. Yes, there’s always going to be a segment of people who think they should get everything on earth for free, but for the most part, people don’t have an issue paying for these tangible products.
On the other hand, there’s a person who makes films or writes stories or paints pictures – they’re driven, it’s a form of creativity, creating things that not a lot of other people are capable of doing and it takes special skills that they possess and others do not. Those people attempt to take those skills and turn them into day jobs and they’re continually asked to hand over things they worked equally hard to create for free.
Excuse me? How does that even make any sense? It’s the same bloody thing!
Maybe it has something to do with the Internet. Readily available content and art for free abounds and has, based on recent evidence, apparently convinced people that none of it has any real value, that it takes nothing to create and so the creators should get nothing in return.
Is it because a car or a cake is a tangible thing and is composed of tangible, consumable ingredients and a book or a painting or a film is created out of the nothing, from an intangible, from an idea? But the outcome is still something tangible. I don’t get it.
Have we become a society where we think ideas are now… worthless? Sorry, but the more I think about it and see it happen, the more I’m compelled to rant.
Ideas may be invisible, but they have great power. The pen is mightier than the sword. Ring any bells? Does anyone even remember what that really means? It’s about ideas, people. Ideas create laws, keep order, correct injustices and right wrongs. Ideologies of entire nations are built on these intangible ideas and no one sneers at those.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t presume to equate words written in a novel or the script of a film with shaping the ideologies of nations. But it doesn’t take much brain power to see that society as a whole does, in fact, attribute great power to even these kinds of ideas. And fear them. How do we know that? A lot of people in history thought the words in a book or spoken in a film or ideas translated into an image in art were terrifying and powerful enough to ban, censor or burn. That’s a pretty loud statement if you ask me. That’s not even old news – it’s still going on today.
Ideas move people, hit them in the emotional centre, have the power to compel people to act despite that the ideas themselves are vaporous and ethereal in nature. Ideas are powerful things, no question.
If this is the case, and I think most people would agree with that, then why the lack of respect for art? Has our rampant consumerism now made people blind to the intrinsic value in the power that ideas hold, because they can’t buy it at the mall or on Ebay?
Or am I way off the mark?
Could it be there’s simply a general air of self-entitlement where this segment of humanity suddenly expects things to be bestowed upon them without payment? Or worse, the associated expectation that everyone else will do or give them things no matter they’re not deserved?
If I have one more person seriously look me in the face or send me a message self-righteously expounding upon their expectation that I give them, for free, what took a piece of my soul to conjure out of thin air, that in addition, they’re vehement that I should expect that I have to do that and it’s my obligation, and more, that I should feel privileged to be asked and be thrilled to do it, because “don’t you know it’s free promotion”, I’m going to lose my shit.
Art for free..? Um, no.
Give you my art for free, because you think you’re doing me some sort of favour? Fuck off. In my experience, when I’ve given it away for free, I’ve received nothing in return – no reviews, no shout-outs, no link-backs, no mentions, no referrals to friends who then do make a purchase, no nothing. I don’t think that’s an uncommon experience among artists as a whole.
I don’t need your dangled carrot of free promotion that I know will never happen. Dude, I’m already on the Internet and capable of procuring free promotion all by my onesie. Which, fyi, really isn’t free, because here in Canada and pretty much everywhere else on earth? Internet access isn’t free. I don’t know where you live, but maybe you could give me your home address and I’ll move in there and come work at your house.
Here’s another newsflash, Brainiac. While some free promotion is very nice and extremely appreciated, eventually, an artist is going to need cash to live. Shocking I know. Free PR doesn’t pay the rent, buy milk and bread or send the kids to university. Also not free here, just fyi. The “starving artist” caricature is an analogy for artists, any artist, paying their dues. Don’t worry, we all know and are fully prepared for that reality. We’re under no illusions about money bags falling out of the sky and don’t mind putting in the work to get there, even when it takes years or decades.
But remember this – every drop of sweat has a price.
I would not expect you to do your job for free forever nor would I dump all over you regularly, without invitation, my pseudo-erudite and unprovoked lectures about what you should be happy to settle for in your life.
If you were an apprentice, I would expect you to live pretty congruently with how I’ve lived, on not much money, without expectations of making much money during the time you honed your skills and learned from those more skilled than you are. But once you’d paid your dues and mastered your craft, I would then expect you should be able to take those honed skills and turn them into a living you could sustain yourself through for the rest of your life. I think that’s fair and in no way unreasonable. I expect that for everyone else beyond myself, so I fail to understand why others don’t have the same expectation for people in the arts.
We want to make a living, just like everyone else. You may be surprised to know that most serious artists don’t even dream about getting rich – we dream about not having to do anything else except use the talents we were born with to buy groceries. You know why? When we force ourselves to do other things for extended periods of time, we die a little more inside the longer we do them. Art both comes from the soul and feeds it in return and we need nothing else to be recharged in that way.
So, for all those who have their wires crossed, no, you cannot have our art for free! It’s not your right and we don’t feel at all privileged handing it over to you, because you think you’re deserving. Quite the opposite. If we choose to gift you some art, it’s because we were moved to do so. That we were compelled by something inside you, that we recognised you could be uplifted by our art or that there was some congruent energy there that would allow us to make a connection on that gut level beyond the rest of the world and something that you and I alone would share. Art is intimate and without judgement and a thing of shared human experience.
And outside of it being gifted to you? Expect to pay for it.