Once you become an artist– in any capacity– I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere is going to ask you to work for free. It might be a doodle, a drawing, a “quick” design, a piece that comes along with “tons of exposure for you,” or a “great addition to your portfolio,” and the person asking for it would like to use it without paying for it. For every artist who gets roped into doing unpaid work at one point or another, there is an online rant about why you shouldn’t be working for free; and for every online rant about why artist’s shouldn’t work for free, there’s a post or snippet about how artists have become “money obsessed” and have forgotten how to make art for the love of making art. And every once in a while, some huge company will have to deal with a bunch of angry creatives for trying to offer the “opportunity” for artists to let them use their work, again, without having to pay for it. It happened to Google in 2009, when the mega-company offered dozens of prominent and up-and-coming artists the chance to contribute their work to their newest web project and be paid in “exposure to millions.”
The artists were unimpressed, and even insulted, by Google’s offer. Thousands rallied, albeit digitally, against the company, who reported profits in the range of 1.5 billion that year and still refused to compensate the artists it was asking to participate. Still, despite the artists who refused the offer on principle, Google still found those who were willing to work for exposure alone. You can read the NY Times article here.
So where does the line exist for we creatives? Should we do work without getting paid for it? I would like to suggest that the answer is yes… and no.
First and foremost, as a creative, you are providing a service to society. You are exploring and answering questions of imagination, boundaries, and culture. You are making a visual record of the time and place in which you live. This service that you are providing– whether you are a painter, and illustrator, a graphic designer, a photographer, etc.– is immensely important. As such, you time, your talent, and your services are valuable. That means they’re worth something, and in this day and age, “something” is most often monetary compensation. At the same time, I am not of the belief that a a lack of active payment, clients, or commissions should stop anyone from creating and producing art. There is something to be said for creating for the sake of creating and for the love of what you do. Only by practicing our craft do we get better, and if you are a creative and you do not create, you open yourself up to experiencing great frustration and dissatisfaction in life. I don’t think that the argument of whether a creative should work for free is really asking- “Should you do work unless it is paid for by someone else;” and to approach it as if there is any suggestion that one should not create for the pure love of their craft or for their own sake is to misinterpret the issue.
Inevitably, though, you will be asked by someone to do something for free. Whether or not you choose to take the job without any compensation is entirely up to you and your own professional guidelines, however, here are some general suggestions I would like to offer as a result of my experience over the years… Continue reading