Painting for exposure


Dear Artist,

Recently, I received an email from an Italian contemporary furniture brand. Sandwiched between complimentary remarks about my work, they requested I send some paintings to Venice for an upcoming photo shoot. “We guarantee you a lot of visibility, your credit will be printed on the catalogue and we will share with you the hi res pics. Also we will tag you in every social media platform where your artworks will be.” They signed off by dangling the names of their photographer and stylist and telling me to let them know if I was “in.”

Pasture (1958) cotton, 394 x 356mm by Anni Albers (1899-1994)

Pasture (1958)
cotton, 39.4 x 35.6cm
by Anni Albers (1899-1994)

I thought about writing back to ask them to send over some Italian furniture for my own upcoming shoot. This idea only occurred to me because I was already, this week, flush with positive affirmations. Had the coffers been low, as they’ve been many, many times, I might have jumped at the chance to work for free. It turned out just to be a bad day for the furniture people.

Even if I feel a little bit guilty admitting this out loud, just between you and me, I’m currently in the business of selling my ideas. This job requires a diligence to decline the multitude of offers to paint for exposure. After 27 years of working only in art, I still encounter the daily task of saying, “No, thank you.” So deep are the beliefs of many of us regarding the nebulous value of what we do, saying “no” remains a bit of an effort. Enhancing, at my own expense, the look and feel of someone else’s advertising campaign would sound absurd to the average bean counter but to an artist, at times, this kind of perverted applause can be enough to keep us working for free.

Open Letter (1958) cotton, 57.8 x 60 cm by Anni Albers

Open Letter (1958)
cotton, 57.8 x 60 cm
by Anni Albers



PS: “I paid too much for it, but it’s worth it.” (Samuel Goldwyn)

“No one can figure out your worth but you.” (Pearl Bailey)

Esoterica: Matt Dowling, Chief Executive of the Freelancer Club in the United Kingdom, says that the culture of offering to pay creative people in experience, prestige and exposure is so endemic it has its own acronym (PIE – Payment In Exposure) and Twitter handle (@forexposure_txt). When asked about whether working for exposure leads to paid work, Matt says it directly leads to nothing. In my own experience, I’ve noticed that people value what they pay for, especially in the passion-driven world of creativity where exploitation is easy. Matt warns that young artists assume working for exposure is a rite of passage in getting established, but seasoned artists will attest to these requests never going away. “Only take unpaid work,” says Matt, “if it’s for your mum.”

“The only way to maintain, much less increase, the value of your services, time and genius is to insist on their value whenever it is in question.” (CEO and Forbes contributor Liz Ryan)

Anni Albers in her weaving studio at the Black Mountain College (1937)The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“There’s no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love. There is only a scarcity of resolve to make it happen.” (Dr. Wayne Dyer)