Free the Artist, Not the Art



(originally posted on on 9/29/14)


Show of hands – how many of you out there are willing to pay for art? How many of you believe that an artist should be paid for her output, whether it be a musical performance, an essay, a graphic design, or a painting of your dog?

Alright, another show of hands – how many of you have gotten these things for free? Have you attended a free concert in the park, or gotten free tickets to a show, or shared a music download with someone for free, or asked a friend for a favor to create a little logo for your blog?

I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of free art. But I’ve also been a giver of free art. For far, far too long. I daresay our culture has given us a sense that art should be given for free.

As I struggle to embrace the idea that I deserve to be paid for what I create, I’m surrounded by messages that it has little value. That art is a hobby, not a vocation.

If art is a hobby, why did I spend over $100,000 for my education? Why did I earn an advanced degree? Why do I continue honing my craft in endless classes? So that I could get a job as an administrative assistant and pursue art on the side? Fuck that.

I’m so tired of working for free. I’m tired of being expected to work for free, even from my own peers. I’m sick that our culture allows us to perpetuate this myth that it costs nothing to produce art, and that it is easy – anybody could do it at an expert level. How many plays have I been in where I haven’t gotten a dime? Or if I did get the union stipend of $15 per performance, I was expected to give it back to the theater, just so they would survive? How is my time of no value?

As artists, we’re encouraged to work for free, in the beginning. It’s a way to establish contacts and gain some experience. But I’m almost 40 – when does that stop? When will I actually be able to start paying on my student loans? Is it only when I give up what it is I trained to do? What I’m good at, and what makes my heart happy? The thing I feel I was put on this earth to do?

I’ve been told, time and again, that I undervalue myself. But how do I find value in myself if other people don’t think there is value in what I offer?

I’m making a promise to myself today. If you are an artist that is struggling as I am, I hope you will join me in this. I refuse to keep working for less than what I am worth. I refuse to “give up” because society thinks that is the responsible thing to do. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is the work I am meant for, and I will no longer undervalue myself. If someone doesn’t want to pay for what I have to offer, then I will move on and look for someone who does. They are out there, somewhere. I won’t find them if I continue to settle for less.

I am taking back my life today.