Artists Die of Exposure Every Day

Image courtesy of Art & Design Posted by GC Gabriela Cimpoaie

Artists? Who cares about those folks – they LOVE what they do and that’s all they need, right?

Consider a more inclusive definition of artist: someone who creates original works using their experience and, not incidentally, their brains. Now, as you can see, an artist can be:

  • writer
  • painter
  • logo designer
  • storyteller
  • sculptor
  • photographer
  • “content creator”

This last designation is the bane of working artists everywhere. The pain is captured well in a NY Times article by Tim Kreider, who says, “I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing.”

Kreider’s worked for 20 years as a writer, after being put through college by his parents. His sister also had college assistance through her medical training, but “as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.” Ouch.

One of the reactions to Kreider’s article was by Melinda Syzmanik (who happens to be a pretty nifty children’s book author, now on my radar!). Her blog post delves into the things she’s seen in her own career.

MY brother (George Feucht) is a photographer and cinematographer in his waking life, a well-trained and ridiculously talented professional. He’s asked to do free work all the time, from print publications to wedding photography for friends (usually not the friends who are also artists – they already get it). Let’s say you’re a pretty darn good exterminator with a fledgling business – you have customers but could use more. One of your acquaintences has a little squirrel problem, so they’re wondering if you could, “just swing by and take a look, thanks!” Most people would never ask this. And I hope that most exterminators, even if asked, would say, “No.” Or, “I charge $xx for new customers.”

Exterminator not enough of an example? How about your local dentist, the one that is more than happy to clean your teeth 3 times per year because they’re always looking for new referrals? Walk in there one day when you know they will be pretty empty, and promise a Yelp review for a cleaning. Try it at a restaurant. Try it with your corner hot-dog vendor, “Hey, dude – I just need one hot dog. I’ll walk back to work and tell my coworkers I got it from you!” Try it at a department store – the one that just posted a 3rd-quarter loss (so you *know* they can use business). You’d be more than willing to wear their store-brand clothing all over town just to give them more exposure.

Now how does it sound?

Depending on YOU, depending on the exact circumstances, doing work for free could be beneficial (see Ann Rea’s post). But those circumstances are pretty rare, if you do the math. If an editor called me up and said, “hey, could you write a piece for Runner’s World / Oprah / Time Magazine?” that’s pretty much a big fat NO. However, what if it were a much more targeted audience that could net me immediate benefits? The New Yorker? The New York Times Sunday Magazine? That would take more careful consideration. I already have books I can plug and link to, so that helps. And, if some publication with excellent eyeballs asked to republish something I’ve already put the time into and been paid for – THAT might not be a waste of time.

Ultimately, Mike Peterson sums it up pretty well in his blog post written with the perspective of getting experience in the world (read: growing up):

At 19, I told a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet that, while I didn’t get paid for my work on the campus humor magazine, it was a chance to see my name in print.

He replied, “When I want to see my name in print, I look in the phone book.”

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