This is a sore subject for many artists, and The Oatmeal summed up the essence of it all.
(Click the picture!)
The other day I was asked to do a commissioned illustration for a friend. The piece is for an album cover for one of his music projects. He was up-front about there not being much in way of money as payment for this (as it is a bit of a niche-album with a fairly small audience, myself included).
I am – basically – doing this for exposure. And I’m fine with that. Why? Well…
As of right now, about 10 people on the planet are aware of my art. I’m not exposed – at all. I have no exposure to refer people to, other than this website, my facebook page, my instagram and my youtube-channel. I am working on changing that fact, but as it stands – right now – I need all the exposure I can get. If I am ever to sell a piece of art, I need people to be aware of my existence as an artist: I need exposure.
Let me be absolutely crystal clear: My friend did not assume I would do this for free / for exposure – at all.
I did – however – suggest a sort of deal for my commission work. A commission for commission, if you will: I asked my friend to make a snippet of music I could use for my YouTube-videos in exchange for me creating album art. And I made sure to say it would be “as payment” for the commission. My art will get exposure, and his music project will get exposure, as he will be credited wherever and whenever I use the music.
So – why is this whole for exposure business such a sore subject for artists? If you ask an artist – who makes a living through their art – to do something, that artist will charge you for it. It’s their livelihood – it’s what puts food on their table. Be prepared to pay for art, that’s all I’m saying.
The artist can choose to do something for free / for exposure, but it’s the artist’s call – not yours.
What makes an artist? A lot of you would answer that question with something along the lines of “person who creates works of art” – and that is true. Here where I live, however, the term ‘artist’ is somewhat defined as “a person who has undergone minimum three years – ideally five or more – of Fine Art education at University level, and is therefore eligible for Art Project Scholarships and/or funds” – which is, for the most part, true for many artist who do art full-time. It is also, however, limiting in that getting accepted to a Fine Art University program is anything but easy.
My personal definition of what makes an artist is wonderfully vague: Person who creates works of art and have these works of art exposed to the public. Very often I define the “exposed to the public” part of this as having their art shown at a gallery or similar. Whether or not they do art full-time is largely irrelevant.
In spite of this, I (still) struggle with calling myself an artist, because I have not gone to art school (although I have taken a few painting courses, many years ago), and I have not exposed my art to the public by way of exhibition in a gallery. For now, my personal definition of when I get to call myself an artist is the moment I have sold a work of art. I would like to call myself an artist now – but I’m not entirely sure I can.