How People Take Advantage of the Dreams of Artists

Are you a customer or a partner?

This issue has come up frequently in my experiences in the art world. It is too easy to take advantage of an artist’s dream to make it big. Creative people are romantics. We can get swept up in the “go big or go home” and “you have to spend money to make money” approaches to being successful as artists. It takes courage and a willingness to take risks to be an artist, which means we are prime candidates for businesses to make money off us and our dreams.

As you navigate the art world, you will come across a lot of opportunities to further your art career. You may find opportunities organically, make your own opportunities, or likely people will seek you out and sell you an opportunity. An opportunity looks different for every artist. Maybe you want exposure, a larger following, art sales, gallery shows, commissioned work, money, etc..

Whatever your goal, there are business that will try to help you reach it. The question is: are you their customer, their partner, or both? Not all opportunities are created equal and the ones easily presented to you might not be in your best interest.

What intentions lie behind an opportunity?

Anytime I get an email, DM, or any sort of correspondence that includes an opportunity for me to make money or gain exposure for my art, I ask two questions: How will this benefit the person presenting the opportunity? And how will this benefit me?

And then I assess the person I’m working with to see which of these three categories they fit into:

  1. People who mainly support the arts and artists.
  2. People who support the arts, but also see an opportunity for themselves.
  3. People who are mainly looking out for their own interests.

I try my best to avoid people in the third group and I want to share with you how you might encounter these people. Naturally, every business is trying to make money. The issue I have is when businesses rely on an artist’s dreams to blind them and push them into making bad financial decisions. Instead of offering a one-to-one exchange of money for goods and services, a lot of business will sell you an intangible hope for future success.

You pay ‘x’ and maybe you get ‘y’.

You work for free and maybe you’ll get money in return in the future.

You create art for free and just get “exposure”.

In these situations, the business you’re working with will always get a benefit from the opportunity they present, and you just might. Here are some of the situations where you can run into this:

1. Art publications That Charge Submission Fees

Online and print art publications are inspiring and wonderful for those who are featured in the content and for readers. Though, when these publications source new content by hosting open calls for art that have a fee attached to it–I get real peeved off.

Yes, businesses need to make money. The people sifting through art submissions need to be paid for their work, but I do not agree with artists paying for opportunities like this. Sure, it’s often just $20-$35 for an entry fee, but that fee does not guarantee you get anything in return. If you are not selected for publication, that money is gone.

If you are okay with seeing that fee as a donation to support the publication you’re applying to, then by all means, submit all you want. Just don’t believe the facade that this publication primarily has your best interest in mind. They are first and foremost, getting a boost in revenue from hundreds of artists submitting material. Second, they are building hype around their brand by running calls for art, which gains them new followers and readers. Third, they are making someone else (you) work to create content for their business and making you pay to submit it.

You are their customer. It’s great exposure for you if you are part of the small percentage of artists chosen for print, but they will always benefit from the system, where you only have a small chance. Some people might say it’s better to just play the game and pay these fees, and that’s fine if you do, but I say put your money towards something that guarantees a return.

2. Group art shows that charge submission or jury fees

This is a very similar situation to the one above. A group art show is a great way to get exposure and mingle with the arts community. An organization creates a group show for artists, advertises a call for art, and charges a jury fee that the artists need to pay for their work to be considered for the show. A jury fee does not guarantee you a spot in the show, and nor should it, but this means that you get no return on your investment if you aren’t chosen for the show. And even if you are chosen to display your work, there is no guarantee that your work will sell, so you might just be paying for exposure.

It’s such a common practice that I don’t even know if most people question it, but fees like this can be a huge obstacle for struggling creators who don’t even have enough money for art supplies. A $20 jury fee might not sound like a lot, but it would be put to better use at Blick.

A lot of the organizations that I have seen do this are local arts boards hosting shows in community spaces. Like county or state run programs that are supposed to help artists thrive. Unfortunately, these programs are publicly funded, and likely underfunded, so they have to get their money somehow–but getting it from artists hoping to find success is not the best option in my opinion. Creativity doesn’t discriminate when it comes to income, and opportunities like this for creative success shouldn’t either.

If these programs want to bring in more cash, they should form relationships with other businesses who are willing to sponsor these events. Being a patron of the arts looks damn good for a business (and it’s probably a tax write off…). For the galleries that engage in this practice, fees on top of commissions don’t give me confidence that the gallery knows their market enough to consistently sell the work they show in their space.

3. Art Contests With Submission Fees

By now, you’re probably sensing that I hate submission fees. If you see an art contest that asks you for money in order to submit, just ignore it. It’s gambling that requires more work. You are the one subsidizing whatever prize is at the end of the rainbow. The organizers are the ones benefiting here. Not the majority of the artists submitting to the contest.

Plus, it’s not really a fair contest if income excludes talented creators from participating. Just a thought…

4.Poorly run Craft fairs/Art events

Back in Minnesota, I participated in a few craft fairs to try and sell my art and jewelry. A promoter I worked with organized events around central Minnesota almost every weekend of the year. Booth fees started as low as $75, so it was a great entry level event to get into–but I was lucky to make my show fee every time I did one of these events. Mainly, because they were poorly curated and marketed.

Vendor curation is important. When event coordinators let anyone buy a booth at a show, quality suffers and the event attracts a different audience. If you are a handmade vendor sandwiched between Scentsy, Mary Kay, Norwex, and cheap jewelry wholesaler tables–you’re in the wrong place and clearly the event coordinators are not concerned about exposure for the arts. They just want your show fee.

Though, I do not consider event organizers as a whole to be taking advantage of artists. There are many successful art events that have developed a reputation for showing high quality creators and they draw in an audience that appreciates fine art. You may have to pay a huge booth fee, but you are paying for reputation, marketing, and the organization of an entire event that draws a paying crowd. It can be worth it, but do your research before you buy a booth at a show. If it’s a yearly event, attend one of the events before you apply. Ask the vendors how they like the show and how the crowd behaves. Also, if there isn’t a jury process for applications, be wary of the quality of vendors that you’ll be displaying with.

Oh, and I want to touch on a popular world wide event coordinator that makes a profit off of artists by making them sell $400+ in tickets to friends and family in exchange for a booth at their show. I don’t want to say the name, but you know who they are you’ve encountered them. I’ve never been to one, and maybe some people make money–but to me the whole thing seems shady. They promise 1000+ people will attend the event, but if tickets are being sold to friends and family of all of the artists participating–will there really be dedicated buyers attending?

When you think of networking potential, these events can be beneficial for you–but before you ask your friends and family to buy a $22 ticket to see your art I’d suggest just attending one of these shows first to see what it’s all about. If you’ve already participated in this show, please let me know your experience in the comments.

Personally, I feel like investing in a good widely known summer art fair would be more beneficial.

5. Retail spaces that charge you to show your work

Think about any store you visit. Target, a grocery store, H&M, etc.. All of these stores have to pay overhead costs to run the physical location and pay for the products in their store. They don’t make money until customers come in and buy the products. The risk is all on the retailer.

Now, think about consignment stores. They have the overhead costs of keeping the lights on, but they source their products from people like you. They won’t pay you for your products until they sell–but when they make money, you make money. It’s a fair arrangement and it means they will be highly motivated to advertise your work. It’s low risk for you.

Then there are retailers who are really quite savvy business owners, but are clearly not keeping an artist’s interests in mind. These businesses have a physical location and charge an artist to “rent” the space to display their work. Sometimes these locations will let the artist take all of the profit from sales (which means they don’t care if anyone actually buys your work), and sometimes they will take a percentage of the sale as well your “rent” money (which means they are a little more motivated to get bodies in the door.) The arrangement is higher risk for you and low risk for them.

Businesses like this have found a way to 1) not pay for the inventory they stock in their store 2) make money directly from their product creators through rent 3) outsource some of their advertising to all of the creators they are collecting rent from and 4) pay their overhead costs without ever opening their doors. Businesses like this can keep the doors locked and still make money, because you my friend are their customer. As long as there are artists with dreams of succeeding, they will be able to fill their walls with merchandise that doesn’t need to sell to keep the lights on. I’m not saying you should automatically say no. I just want you to be cautious.

Now, I have to admit that this is a really smart business setup. They are still technically providing a service to you, but you are their customer and not their partner. They already have your money and there’s no guarantee your items will sell.

I have gotten a couple of emails from international galleries that work with this model. You pay ‘X’ amount to rent the walls, but keep all the profit if art sells. And that’s a big if. I trust the galleries who will take 50% commission from my sales more than I trust those who just want a fee upfront.

6. businesses whose primary revenue source isn’t art

There are many art friendly businesses that will host artist’s work in their locations. My favorite ones do this for free, because bringing in new artists can only benefit them. Artists bring in friends and family, and rotating art keeps the decor interesting and prevents a business from needing to buy art for their walls.

There are other businesses that will take a commission from the artist. If the location is handling art sales for you and advertising your work, then taking a 10-20% commission isn’t unreasonable, but if a business that doesn’t specialize in selling art tries to take 30% or more from an artist if their work sells, this is where the business is beginning to take advantage of the artist. I have even seen a food and beverage business work a minimum base fee into a contract where if the artist didn’t make any sales, they would still need to pay the location a minimum fee to display on the walls.

As an artist, you are an asset to businesses. Yes, they are giving you wall space to show your art, but they will always get the better end of the deal. They get increased exposure, foot traffic, and business from your friends and family. As well as free decor for a set time, and positive branding for supporting the arts. When they start taking more money from you, then they are tipping the scales even further in their direction. It’s smart business, but it’s not in your best interest. If you encounter a place like this, try to talk to other artists that have displayed in the same location. If they don’t have a reputation for selling art off the walls, then do not give them money up front.

7. Companies THAT OFFER YOU FREE PRODUCTS With Strings Attached

If you develop a social following online, businesses might reach out to you to form a partnership. Some businesses will send you free products without asking for anything in return, but others will send you products and expect you to give them a plug on your social media platforms. If you are happy with free products, then great! Take all you can get! But when a company asks you to review their product, post and tag them on social media, dedicate a video to their product, or try to control the content you create in any way–this isn’t working in your favor anymore.

Bottom line, if you are doing any sort of marketing for a company, your time is worth more than free product. Don’t be afraid to do what I do. When a company reaches out to me, I tell them they can send me products, but if they want a guarantee that I will post about their products, then we will have to discuss additional compensation. Whether that be money, or more free products, it doesn’t matter. The goal is just to establish your boundaries and avoid them taking advantage of your excitement to be chosen to represent their brand.

Oh, and if a company reaches out to you with a promo code for you to get a percentage off their products and potentially earn a commission off referred sales–just run. These companies want your money and free advertising. You’d need a massive and engaged following to generate meaningful commissions.

8. Art sharing Accounts and Bot Services

Ever get a comment on your Instagram post like “Great work! DM us if you want to be featured!” and then when you message them, they copy and past a price list for post costs? I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen that. I wrote a whole blog post on it.

Art sharing accounts are everywhere. They aren’t all the same, but 95% of the time, I say don’t pay for an account to share your art posts or videos. There are plenty of accounts that will do it for free and get you more exposure.

You may also hear from people trying to help you gain followers by offering bot services that will automatically like and follow other accounts, or you can even buy followers for your accounts. Avoid these services! They don’t care about helping you grow your following to make art sales. They want to collect your money and they will inflate your social accounts with meaningless likes and followers that likely won’t to translate to real sales in return. Having 100k or even 1m followers means nothing if they are all bot accounts that won’t engage with you.

***

This list isn’t complete (I didn’t even touch on overpriced art schools!), but you get the idea. I held off writing this post for a while, because I didn’t want it to sound like everyone is trying to screw over artists, but when you are desperate to reach a dream, it’s easy to make illogical decisions and fall for a sketchy sales pitch.

I’m not saying to avoid all of the situations I outlined above. There’s always potential for exposure, sales, and networking at any event you do or any opportunity that you find. Sometimes you do in fact have to spend money to make money. Sometimes working for free will give you great experience while you are figuring out who you are as an artist. Crappy craft fairs can be great experience for first time sellers and can give you practice interacting with your audience. There’s more to be gained than money from everything you experience in the art world, but when money is precious, I want you to avoid squandering it.

I want you to be aware of how you may not benefit from whatever you’re paying for. I know it feels good when opportunities knock on your door, but sometimes the universe isn’t rewarding you with a gift. Sometimes, that knock at your door is the sound of a paper shredder that you can throw your money into.

My main point is don’t let your dreams blind you. Always evaluate the pros and cons of an opportunity and don’t be afraid to declare your worth. You deserve more than exposure for the work you do, and new opportunities will always present themselves.

Thanks for reading!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly


Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!


Further Reading:

How Artistic Perfection Can Hold You Back

Yesterday, I was randomly thinking about a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes–and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again.

If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming. 

What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?

All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action. 

This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience–and I was laughing at myself when I remembered how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.

What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?

You should want to do your best when you work on your passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when those worries will hold you back. Many many times.

Here are some examples of how how you can be held back:

  • Not moving onto the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
  • Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
  • Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
  • Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
  • Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
  • Not promoting yourself.
  • Not making business cards.
  • Not pricing your work.
  • Not launching an online store or website.
  • Not accepting compliments.

My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.

Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with it’s own barrier–then you might be trapped.

Like this:

“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”

Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–

Perfection is Bullsh*t

Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices–perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because, perfection is subjective. It’s definition is different for everyone.

The best example for the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally add salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.

Redefine Perfection if you are a perfectionist

Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your work? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?

Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.

So if you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smart phone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection–but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.

When you know you can do better, you still need to move onto the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.

When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources?

If yes, it’s perfect–move onto the next project.

No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move onto the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply it to the next. There comes a time where you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.  

Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.

***

Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How to Feed Off Your Own Creativity

Creativity doesn’t come from nothing. The creative mind requires input to create output. I’ve written about how to find inspiration to create, as well as how to find your style as an artist, and in both posts I encourage artists to look to the outside world for inspiration. It’s an easy place to get the input you need to kick start your creativity, but today I want to talk about how to find inspiration through your own creative world.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with creating through the inspiration you get from the outside world, but when you are dedicated to finding your true voice as an artist and want to push yourself as far as you can, then learning how to feed off your own creativity is a great practice.

Once you take in enough input from the world around you to get a sense of who you are as a creator, it’s time to let that energy build inside of you and see how you can grow in isolation. Like a closed terrarium; you have everything you need to creatively flourish within. If you have studied the masters, learned basic art techniques and the principles of art and design, and have gotten a sense of your art style, then you may be ready to practice your creativity in isolation.

Here’s how you can do it:

1.Disconnect from other creator’s work.

I did this when I needed an art cleanse for my mental health, but this is beneficial even when you are in a healthy mental state. Mute/unfollow other creators on social media. The reason I want you to do this is because we can’t help be influenced by the work we consume. If you want to see how you can feed off your own creativity, you have to stop “eating” other content.

Stop consuming the work of other creators in your field. It doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe it will be for a few weeks or a couple of months. It all depends on how you’re feeling. The point is to make your artistic voice easier to hear.

2.Use what you have available.

If you feel you have taken in enough input from the outside world, then you likely have a crap ton of art supplies at your disposal by now. I want you to use what you currently have before even thinking about stepping into a store or researching new products. Again, like a terrarium, you have all you need around you.

Use the watercolors you have stashed in a drawer. Flip through half used sketch books and repurpose the paper. Try that acrylic set you got for Christmas that you still haven’t opened. There is a lot of creative potential hidden in what we already have. If you feel uninspired, go through the motions anyway. Or-

3.Create using prompts/step out of your comfort zone.

I don’t want you to spend too much time online when trying to feed off your own creativity, but prompts can be a really helpful catalyst. If you have supplies that don’t inspire you, do a quick Google search for creative prompts. Or make your own. The goal is to do something you don’t usually do. Paint a landscape, sit in your living room and draw your surroundings. Use one color and experiment with shadows and highlights. Take what you have around you and look at it with a new perspective. Explore how you can manipulate your current style using different mediums or colors.

Don’t look at how other artists do it. All you need when working from a prompt is text. An idea. Paint a red banana. Can you picture it? That image in your mind is yours to feed off of.

4.Create often and complete the creative cycle.

The creative process is a cycle. The more you can work through that cycle, the more work you can create. Input–>incubation–>creation–>rest. Do this weekly. Do this every day. Do this multiple times a day with small 15 minute prompts. Do this as much as you can. The hard part in the beginning will be finding input in isolation–but it might not be as hard as you think.

Have you ever tried to remake a piece of your art? Can you replicate it exactly? Probably not, unless you are a perfectionist. Even if we make the same exact piece of art every day, there will be changes from piece to piece. Change is inevitable and this works in your favor when feeding off your own creativity. Start with your current art style, make art inspired by that, do it often, and you will inevitably see evolution.

5.Capture even the roughest of ideas.

This can be as simple as capturing ideas in a journal, doing light sketching, collecting sources of inspiration like color swatches or testing new techniques and saving the practice work. You can’t predict when inspiration will strike. When you capture ideas and put them away for a later date, they can act as a starting point for your next work. You can stash them in a drawer for a dull day, or you can start pinning your ideas to a wall and look at them frequently. Or try both and see what works best for you.

Capture all of your ideas. It doesn’t matter how incomplete or rough they are. They can help you later.

6.Lastly, look back at your older work.

To feed off your own creativity, you need to look back at your older creations. When you create often and capture all of your ideas, you are going to have a butt-ton of stuff you can look through to spark new inspiration. Don’t let judgmental thoughts invade this exercise. I don’t care if the work sucked. Look at the techniques you used, the color palette, the subject matter, and more. Pull ideas from the past. Recreate the work with your current skills. Interpret the work and figure out what you were trying to say. Can you refine the message? Do you have a different perspective to approach the work now?

When you look back at older work, you go through a creative recycling process. Old ideas get transformed into something new. If you keep working through the creative process (input–>incubation–>creation–>rest) by only using your own work and ideas from the past as input, you will start to see your voice and style develop even more.

***

If you try working through this practice of creativity in isolation and you can’t seem to produce anything–then you may simply need more input from the outside world. There is no wrong way to create. Right now, I try to find about 75% of my creative input within isolation, but I can never completely cut myself off from the outside world. That would be no fun.

So what do you think? Are you ready to try and feed off your own creative energy?

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday (…sometimes Wednesday). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading: