That’s the joke in the art world. A well meaning charity worker approaches an artist. We’re raising money, she says, and we’d like you donate some of your wonderful artwork to the auction. It will be great exposure!
I’m a photographer. I know quite a lot about exposure. Too little, and nothing can be seen. Too much, and you’re ruined — overblown, blinded.
Exposure must be dead on. Composition and subject matter are nothing if the exposure is wrong.
The same goes for artists: too little exposure and only your mom thinks you’re good (even if she doesn’t quite understand it.) Too much exposure and you’re not special anymore.
It’s become very popular for nonprofit organizations to ask artists to donate work. The attitude seems to be that the group is doing us a favor! All these people will see our work! Baloney! The fact is, all this donated work doesn’t bring the promised exposure — it just devalues the work of the art.
With few exceptions, I prefer not to donate art to auctions because I’m not interested in giving my work away. I respect my work and I truly respect my collectors. Art is valuable and should be treated with respect. So should the artists.
We could debate for hours why art and artists aren’t respected in this country. Really? You thought we were? Ask an artist for a honest opinion. Chances are more people think he or she falls into one of three categories: a trust-funder of independent means, a part-timer who married to someone with a good job, or a hobbyist. Art is still thought of as frivolous or inaccessible or unimportant. If it’s not a “pretty picture,” is it still art?
Art saves lives. Art makes us think. Art moves us beyond ourselves. Art changes the world.
As my dear friend, sculptor Ilene Berman often notes: If it doesn’t, what’s the point?
What’s the point, indeed.
So what are the exceptions for donating art? Lots of art fairs ask for a donation to put in the children’s tent, where children can buy fine art for $5 or $10. I think that’s a great idea. Their parents aren’t allowed in the children’s art tent so the kids get to chose a piece for themselves. To empower a child and educate him or her about art is the best idea to come out of art fairs in long time. Kids often come back to my booth with the piece they chose, so proud and happy. They have learned the excitement of beginning an art collection of their own.
Also, I will donate to a group that I have a strong connection to. Or I might donate a gift certificate. If I don’t know the organization or don’t care about the issue, why should I donate? I won’t. Make your case and change my mind, but don’t expect me to give you work for the “exposure.”
If I don’t value my work, no one else will either. I won’t just give it away.
(Image posted is Icy, (C) 2007 Jeane Vogel Photography)