Penny Anderson: Artists need to take a stand and refuse to work for free

Penny Anderson: Artists need to take a stand and refuse to work for free

People who refuse to pay artists are 'deluded and full of contempt for hard-won skills'

I have this crazy friend with some wild ideas, including (can you believe it?) refusing to work for nothing. I know! Who the hell does he think he is? Admittedly, he’s a respected virtuoso trumpeter noted for sublime, soaring solos, but surely he’ll do you a favour and play for free? Unlikely. He’s been stung many times before by ‘that awkward moment when someone expects you to work for nothing’. So he doesn’t.

Creatives of all kinds are commonly assumed by everyone to be so willing, even grateful, to work for no pay or delayed, speculative remuneration, that they will crawl over used syringes to reach the studio. Writers, artists and designers are frequently expected (by their own kind, not just ‘outsiders’) to donate time, expertise, labour and even teach others how to use their skills, all for no pay, but ‘for exposure’.

Which coincidentally is the name of an amusing twitter account taking hilarious, righteous aim at the chancers who post ads such as: ‘Travel photographer wanted for trip to India. You would be paying your own expenses, but it would be a relatively inexpensive trip.’ These people are not just cheeky, they’re deluded and full of contempt for hard-won skills.

Mind you, these non-paying patrons are still extremely demanding. They lord it over those desperate enough to assist them, expecting unpaid helpers to obey orders and endure obsessive micro-management. Or, as one dictatorial graphic-novel supremo puts it: ‘I may suggest certain ways I wish for you to draw: you must listen.’ Others insist that not paying contributors is morally superior, as if only corporate hacks need money: ‘I don’t want a mindless art drone who soullessly jumps through whatever hoops I put before them for a paycheck.’

Whenever an over-entitled idiot insists: ‘This isn’t a job, you will not receive money,’ which they do, I take issue with them because it is a job. The status of creative work as unpaid hobby-fodder for affluent dilettantes is worsened by the social class of many art students: they’re more often to come from wealthier homes so can possibly afford to work for nothing. The notion of wage-free, mandatory ‘work experience’ for the unemployed has further undermined the bargaining power of those who need actual money, not experience or ‘exposure’.

We all need a favour sometimes, such as occasional help with a photograph (thanks @AlanCampbellArt!) because friends help each other out, and mutual support nurtures a circle of talent. But exploiters who place risibly demanding ads on professional sites should be ashamed.

The answer is mass refusal. Or if you genuinely need more ‘exposure’ then write into your contract how much you expect to be paid when, or if, your patron decides benevolently to share the riches. Stress that paying you must be a priority – no nonsense about profits hoovered up by the next project.

Remember: artists are skilled and trained, and should not subsidise deluded chancers with whimsical dreams of Oscars or hit graphic novels. So don’t abuse creative goodwill. I know it’s inconvenient, but even creatives need to eat. Just like you.

Penny Anderson is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. Read more of her writing at Follow @forexposure_txt on Twitter.

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