Saturday, January 15, 2011

A bone (or two or three) to pick

As I'm moving into this adventure that is "being a full time artist", I notice that all sorts of opportunities are coming my way.  Some of them are perfect.  They fit just right.  Like teaching Naked Self Portraiture, or leading workshops or speaking at Women's Groups or painting.  Stuff that feels completely aligned with who I am.

Then I also notice that the Universe is giving me an opportunity to try on other things which don't fit so well.  For example, there was an office in town which was looking for some art to decorate their walls to help cheer up their indigent clients.  I loaned them some of my work but then never heard from them and had difficulty getting the work back, and, when I did, found some of it had been damaged.  That was altogether an unpleasant experience.

Then there was the time a hospital asked me to hang some of my work there - in both cases, this was my color studies and/or fruits - so far corporations haven't asked to hang my nudes. ;-)  I figured I may as well - what the heck?  I'd get some exposure and maybe, just maybe, I might even sell a piece.  Maybe.  Well, you'd have thought I was wanting to display work at Buckingham Palace for all the rigamarole I had to go through.  The second in command was very sweet but said her boss needed to see the work first.  He looked when I brought it in.  He looked down at his assistant and said, "Are they all like this?  I thought they would be landscapes."  I told him that yes, they were all abstracts.  He took one off the wall to see if it would match the decor of the cafeteria.  They're all framed alike in beautiful contemporary maple wood frames, gorgeously matted, etc.  He held it like it had dog shit on it, then finally accepted it by showing me that it was OK because it matched the trim on the round cafe tables they had.  Whew!  Lucky me.  He said they normally only go with silver metal frames.

They've been having difficulty getting local artists to show in that space.  The assistant had asked me to put together a show of my students' work, so that was why I went there in the first place.  She wanted me to meet with her in person so I could sign the agreement and make sure I understood all of their requirements.  It isn't usually so complicated.  Usually places are pretty happy to have people who are willing to hang their work.

The boss asked me about the frames on my students' pieces.  I told him I didn't think I could ask them all to use silver metal frames because they might not match the pieces, and that was most important.  I explained that it is costly to frame a piece, and it didn't seem right to require that they be a certain style just to fit their decor when the chances weren't all that good that they would sell them.  It would have cost me $50 or so/picture to re-frame my 12 pieces for the hanging.  No way!  and they're gorgeously framed already!

I found myself getting incredibly frustrated.  I felt like I was doing him a favor.  I spent 5-6 hours going to and from the hospital, printing up cards and an artist statement and resume, gathering and transporting my pieces, hanging the work, signing the agreement, etc.  And he was acting like he was doing me a favor.  He said artists would be getting their work seen and might sell something.  I asked his assistant how often that happened - about twice a year.  Not a very good chance, really.  So I am taking a risk hanging it there - there's no insurance so I have it out there on faith that nothing will happen to it.  I'm decorating their walls for no fee, nothing.  Where's the advantage to me?

Not that I'm not happy to brighten up a hospital, etc.  I just don't like having my aesthetic judgment questioned and being told I need to re-frame my work just to hang it some place. 

Another one: my eye doctor has been talking about buying my work for 3-4 years now.  He likes the color studies and has talked about purchasing a bunch of them for his office.  Then he decided to build a new office building, and the last time I saw him he said he'd like to offer artists the opportunity to hang there work there for a couple of months for free.  Wow.  Generous.  NOT.  I guess people just don't think about what is involved in it for artists.  I guess they think we're desperate to show our work wherever we can.  And when we're first beginning, that isn't all that far from true.  But I would prefer for artists to have lots of self esteem and to recognize how much work goes into a piece of art and that we deserve to be respected and treated well.

The other thing that's similar to this - people frequently ask artists to donate art to auctions.  I have gotten many calls for this.  Here's the deal: most people who make donations to non-profit auctions get to take the entire value of the donation off their taxes.  That's one of the primary reasons they do it - that, and, of course, to help the cause.  Artists get to take the cost of the materials off.  Period.  That's it.  So my painting that I sell for $3200 - I'd get $150 off my taxes for the canvas and paints and varnish.  Underwhelming.  And then there's the very real possibility that my work won't sell for as much as I would sell it for, thus causing my work to be undervalued.  It's not really all that good a deal for the artists.

Some artists say they just give a piece they've had around the studio for a while and are happy to get rid of - hello??!!  Don't we do auctions partially to get noticed?  How well will that work if we give them crappy second rate work??

What would be good would be the following:  a patron wanting to make a donation to the cause buys a piece of my art then donates it to the auction.  I get paid for my piece.  The patron gets the full value of his donation.  The non-profit gets a piece to auction off and gets money for however much it sells for.  That feels much cleaner and fairer to everyone. 

There are times I do donate my work, but only when I believe deeply in the cause and want to support it whether I get a deduction or not.  Some artists will have a print made of a particularly appealing piece then will donate that to auctions.  That makes sense to me.

So, Universe, thanks for this golden opportunity to get my work out there, but no more hospitals or office buildings or free auctions, OK?  Unless they want to BUY my work!  Please, instead, keep the really fun opportunities coming like teaching really cool classes all over the country or doing portraits of wonderful women or having shows at galleries where the gallery owners hang the work for me!  THOSE are things I can stand behind!

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