Friday, January 4, 2013

The Artist's life: hard choices

Hi there Everyone,

  This post may not be to everyone's liking, but it feels important to share the story for a variety of reasons.

   A few weeks ago I received an email from a person who was putting together a book on a subject matter that was a perfect match for my work. They had seen my creations somewhere and wanted very much to include me in the book...would I be interested? 
   At first I was so excited. This seemed so perfect in every way. Finally!... the kind of break-thru that an artist dreams of...a publisher's representative knocking on the door wanting to use my work in their book. What could be better? We started a dialog.

   It didn't take long for me to feel that something was not right. The people contacting me were the authors and they knew very little about contracts, licensing, distribution or any of the usual questions an artist needs to ask when someone is wanting to use an artist's photographic work in a publication. After a few more rounds of inquiry it became clear what exactly was being "offered" to me; the chance to line someone elses's pockets with income, but no direct money for the artist.
    There were several more emails in my inbox from other people who were part of the project, all asking me to consider carefully what a wonderful "opportunity" this would be for my work. The book would be in circulation for many years... it will be seen all over the place...enjoyed by thousands! One small catch....the artists who contributed to the book, indeed, who's work made the book desirable at all, would not be paid. Anything. Period. We would have the "joy" of inclusion in their very fine product.
     I asked pointedly if the authors who were under contract were going to be paid for their time. They were. I asked if the person who worked for the company who had written to me specially in the hopes of persuading me to reconsider if she was being paid for her time. She was. I asked if the printers would be paid for their services....and the bookstores that would sell the books....and the delivery people who would deliver the books...and the publisher who published the book.....were they going to get paid for their contributions to this project or were they being asked to work for free as well? The replies that I got back were a bit if I had SOME nerve to even ask such questions....didn't I know what an "honor" this was even to just be invited in the first place?

     The whole thing left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. I called my agent and asked their advice because I did not trust my own gut at this point it was so dislodged from reason and reality. I was encouraged to decline the offer. I wrote to my art coach Alyson B. Stanfield and asked for her advice. She pointed me to a very good blog post she had written on just this kind of situation and her words helped me to continue my dialog and raise my concerns with the publisher. You can read her blog post HERE.

    As I teased out the situation I realized there there were two ways of understanding this situation: If I were a landscape or garden designer, then inclusion in a book like this might make a lot of sense. After all, in cases like that, the artist is paid well for their design skills which are then applied to one scenario after another. Exposure in cases such as this can be a good thing. My work could sometimes be looked at in this way. However, if one makes their income from licensing their IMAGES, then this sort of use ( publication with no compensation) is questionable and should not be supported by either party.  Since much if not most of my income has come from the licensing of my images, I'm pretty sure that I should not let them have my work for free. However, if I see myself as a sculptor who is creating one-of-a-kind custom creations for discerning clientele, well then...perhaps I should think about being in the book and letting them have just ONE example of my work. But why couldn't they just be honest about it and pay the artists a small amount and simply acknowledge that what we do is valuable to the creation of their book?

    The whole thing got me feeling angry...and really disappointed. Why is it that businesses respect the work of artists enough to want it, to recognize how valuable it is, how our work will sell their products and yet, they don't want to pay us for it? They expect we should work for free while they make money off our creativity. What is really sad is that they think all this is perfectly reasonable and normal. I hate this part of the life as a working artist. I hate having to explain and defend myself and my work in situations like this. No one would think of asking an accountant or car mechanic to donate their time because it will be good "exposure" for their profession, yet artists are asked to do it all the time.

    My work SHOULD be in that book. The subject matter could not have been more perfect. My fans would flock to this book and would love it. There could be a lot of sales from my fans alone. It could have been such a joy to help promote it, and I would have done so if I could have been treated fairly as a contributor. If I had been licensed and compensated appropriately, I would have bent over backwards to provide tons of great content and awesome images and stories that would have made the book irresistible to anyone who would pick it up to look at it. The publishers knows this....because they contacted me in the first place and also because I offered to be a very helpful contributor... if only they would make me a part of the business plan and license the work. But they refused. So now I have to decide if I want to make ONE contribution to at least represent myself as a sculptor... and let the rest of my content remain outside this project. It is a very hard decision to make as it goes against my principals... but as my coach wisely asked:  "How am I going to feel if this book comes out and my work is not in it?" Oh that does put a painful spin on things.

So there we are. A cautionary tale for anyone else who may be offered a great-sounding proposal from a company who will profit from your work, but not be willing to pay you for it... this is what an artist has to deal with from time to time. There are times when we do give away our work for various causes and projects, but sometimes we just have to say "No" and walk away.  I'll have another more positive story to relay in a few days to illustrate the kind of scenario where an artist's contribution is respected and the choice is easy. Meanwhile, I wrestle with this dilemma. I'll let you know how it goes.


Scratching at the Window said...

Like you said, hard choices... Is it worthwhile to think of the opportunity as a good way to advertise your work? If you submit 1 image, how many people will visit your website, intrigued enough to see more?

Margaret Golla said...

An artist friend of mine has had a similar experience. She's very vocal about 'opportunities' for others to use her work to 'give her exposure' or 'open another door'.

That's the problem with creating, so many people think creative people are stupid. We aren't. We simply want to be paid for our work. Even if you add all the hours you spend on a project you probably still make far below minimum wage, and there will always be people wanting to screw you out of that small amount of money.

I'm so glad you saw this scam for what it is.

Sally J Smith, Environmental Artist said...

Thank you Scratching at the window, Yes, so often the "good exposure/advertizing" is what is used to get artists to give up the use of their work for free. And there is something to has to be weighed out, certainly. I hope you'll visit my next post to see what I decided. Thank you for your thoughts!

Sally J Smith, Environmental Artist said...

Thank you Margaret, you are exactly right, what seems to be most infuriating is that moment when we notice that we are being treated as if we don't know any better. Yes, I pour hours and days and weeks sometimes into my pieces and rarely make minimum wage. Clearly I'm not doing this work for the income! ;-) But I do it for the love of what I do.And I do sometimes enjoy letting others use the images for a worthy cause...but when others will profit and the artist will not, well, things have to be weighed very carefully. Thank you for your time and I enjoyed reading your articles on your blog...thanks for your wit and lightness of Being!


Welcome to the enchanted world of Environmental art and Faerie Houses sculptures created by Sally J Smith. Here you will find photos of the artist's unique art-forms and hear some of the stories from behind the scenes as she shares with you her creative process.