How Much Art Do You Give Away?

Artists and creative individuals are often asked (or decide) to make their work available for free. ArtSake guest blogger Bren Bataclan, for instance, gives away all of his Smile Boston Project paintings; playwright Charles Mee makes the full texts of his plays available online for other artists to “remake.” Others might choose to not share any work without direct remuneration.

So, where do you draw the line? Do you donate art to good causes? Share excerpts to build interest? In our conversations with artists in numerous disciplines, we’ve asked: How much art do you give away?

Jendi Reiter, poet
Good question! I hardly ever give my poetry books away, because I think it’s important for creative writers to be recognized as professionals, and unfortunately in our society that means getting money for our work. However, since the publisher of my first chapbook is going out of business, and I still care about this work reaching an audience, I plan to ask her for the right to create and distribute an e-book version for free.

Alice Bouvrie, filmmaker
I often donate a DVD to a relevant, non-profit organization to be used as a fundraiser – either as an item in an auction, or for a screening with a paying audience.

Suzanne Strempek Shea, writer
The question once could have been “How much art don’t you give away?” Early on, I used to give away a lot, between stories, talks, classes and book donations. I was grateful for anyone’s interest in my books, and appreciated any opportunity to spread the word. I’m still grateful for anyone’s interest (no readers/audience/students and I don’t get to do this for a living) and the chance to spread that word, but as I’ve been lucky enough to get busier and busier, I’ve had to pick and choose when and where to donate work and time – because I have only so much time. In recent years I’ve become my family’s primary breadwinner, so I’ve actually been soliciting more paying work to fund dog kibble and other household necessities. I do try to donate work when I can, in continued gratitude for that all-important interest from readers.

Lilly Cleveland, painter
I have given away work for worthwhile causes and fundraisers (mostly silent auctions). This always generates another request from the same group each and every year. I still donate original art work but the donation is NOT tax deductible (Ed: in MA, only the cost of materials is tax deductible for the artist). Once, I heard an interesting solution from Kathy Bitetti of the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition. Give a 20% off coupon as your donation so that the art buyer can come to your studio and pick out a painting and receive the discount. Raffle off the coupon or donate to silent auction.

Elizabeth Searle, writer
“A gift;” you are “gifted.” These are the somewhat lofty terms we use to describe any sort of talent. I once heard a poet advise his students, “If you write for money, money is your God.” Or as Jon Stewart put it, talking about show biz: “You don’t go into it for the health benefits.” In the theater world, while the profit motive is strong, I’ve found there is still at heart a playful spirit of: “Let’s do a SHOW! My Dad’s got a BARN!” These days, I enjoy all the outlets – online and elsewhere – that writers can make “free” use of in today’s topsy-turvy literary world. Of course I prefer pay. But I also like jumping into the mix and giving some of my work away, sometimes in connection with a good cause or two. I have spent over a decade working (and playing) within the group PEN/New England, trying to find ways for writers to use our particular gifts to “give back.” Art for art’s sake – wisely, the MCC named this blog for that creed. Whether or not you eventually luck out money-wise, I think that’s what it comes down to, “art-wise.”

Eric Hofbauer, composer and jazz guitarist
When art became monetized it forever changed the public’s relationship to it. For better or for worse, art and especially great art gets much of the attention and respect it deserves by the price tag it wears. This was the status quo for decades and it worked in all artistic disciplines quite well until the internet flooded the world with free “amateur art” of all kinds. Now the artist must be willing to give something away to reach potential buyers, agents, venues, critics, and most importantly audiences. Personally, I give away full recordings to critics, and all other music industry people, including my musician friends and colleagues without hesitation. I also give away “teaser” or sample tracks via online outlets, like my website, soundcloud, spotify, etc. to my fan base and potential audiences. There is still a vivacious audience in the world who respect great art by placing a financial value on their relationship with it. The 21st-century artist must find ways for “free art” to reach these audiences and pique their curiosities and passions without diminishing art’s reputation by being associated with amateur art outlets.

Jendi Reiter’s most recent book is Barbie at 50; Alice Bouvrie’s film “Thy Will Be Done” screens at First Parish of Watertown on Feb. 10, 7 PM; Suzanne Strempek Shea’s most recent book is Sundays in America; Lilly Cleveland teaches watercolor painting at South Shore Art Center; Elizabeth Searle’s most recent book is Girl Held in Home; Eric Hofbauer will perform at the Lily Pad, Feb. 3, 7 PM and at Longy School of Music Pickman Hall (w/Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorers Club), Feb. 4, 8 PM.

Image: Joe Wardwell (Painting Fellow ’12), NEVER BE STRONG (2011), oil on canvas, 18×32 in.

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5 Responses to “How Much Art Do You Give Away?”

  1. Scott Says:

    As someone who has rarely received income for work, I give it away strategically. Since much of my writing is dramatic, that means I give it to theatre professionals to look at. So far, I’ve received a monetary prize and a professional recommendation, but no career as yet.

  2. Betty Lehrman Says:

    Early in my career I was often asked to perform (as a storyteller) for free. “It will give you great exposure,” the sponsor would say. I think it was storyteller Jay O’Callahan (who inspired many of us) who said something like, “Artists can die of exposure.” I often performed for a reduced fee for worthy causes, but I found that performing “for free” unfortunately translated into not being valued by the sponsor – or sometimes the audience. Now, although I don’t perform for free, I often give away my CDs – especially as I perform infrequently these days, and they’re getting very dusty in my basement…

  3. M. A. Lasek Says:

    I have given away plenty of art to support worthy causes, mostly auctions, but it’s unfortunate that tax deductions can only be made for cost of materials. I am more supportive of auctions or fundraisers that give a percentage of the sale back to the artist, 25% is nice! It is wonderful when artists don’t need to rely on sales to exist, however I am not one of them… my studio rent just went up another 5% and bills still need to be paid!

  4. Matt Says:

    I don’t mind giving away the occasional business card or postcard or small prints on certain occasions, but with the work I put into my art, I’d like to see some money sometimes! I recently left on the download option on one of my pieces on my deiviantArt page, and many took advantage of that before I fixed it. Flattering, but is my work not worth paying for?

  5. Ms. Ward Says:

    I’ve loaned paintings to non-profits to free up space and I’ve given small pieces away. Also, I recently drew a CD cover for a song about a little girl who passed away at 3½ yrs old. It was for a fundraising event for a foundation her parents started. The response was rewarding!

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