As artists we will take almost any opportunity to get our work out into the world so the greater population can come to love us and covet what we create. This can often be a fun experience where we go out of our comfort zones and grow from the experience. We enter our work in juried shows, charity shows, donate them to our kids schools for auction, and more. In its purest positive form these events show the public what we can do, add to our mailing list of potential clients and give us the boost we need to continue our solo practice of creating art. The flip side is the part where we artists get taken advantage of and used by the bigger world for their own gains.
To take advantage of an artist and her art is shameless and cruel. We are often poor in funds and resources and unable to help ourselves when we see the abuse begin. The power holders know this and use our weaknesses against us and even worse turn the artists against each other. The promise of a potential sale, amazing public exposure, and even, the holy grail, prize money, are far too much for us to turn away from. It is akin to holding a sandwich in front of a starving man. He doesn’t care what is in the sandwich until his basic need for survival is satiated.
I have had such an experience recently that has left a bad taste in my mouth and curse words on my lips. There was a promise of the largest prize package in the cities history and exposure for the artists. To the credit of the sponsor they did supply both the prize money and public exposure. Perhaps you would say the sour taste in my mouth comes from not winning, and that could be part of it but the handling of all the artist was cruel and neglectful. At the final event of the competition we were shown our work hung on the gallery wall. As we walked in there were 5 paintings, of the 15 entered, hung on black cloth and beautifully light around the sponsors logo. The rest of the artists work was hung on poorly light walls with little or no lighting on it. The results of the contest were obvious immediately but we were made to wait over an hour to hear the results. I conceded immediately that I had not won as my painting was off in the corner with the light not focused on my work. C’est la vie and move on. The sponsor knew what he wanted and had chosen. That is the chance we take. However….
It went from bad to worse as the night went on. We were made to stand in front of everyone and the camera, we were being recorded not realizing that we would be, as he called our names. I thought, oh perhaps the obvious hanging of work is just random and I do have a chance! Oh no, He had 4 of us stand there and in popular TV fashion had a long painful pause as he told two of us to sit down as we had not been chosen. That was horrific! Not because I had not won but because we were being made a spectacle of against our wills. This BS had not been discussed and agreed to ahead of time. We did not sign up to be publicly shamed on camera. We had done it for the art and he had used us for his own amusement and profit. I was fuming and trying not to show it on my face. We had to stay and take photos and watch as he tortured everyone up to the 1st place winner. It was cruel to everyone, even the winners.
Then to add the last insult to a dying man, the owner came up to me and said he would not have understood my piece of art at all had I not written up the meaning for him. What! No understanding of art at all! But of course he would be happy to sell my piece for me in his gallery. I asked what his commission was and he said ” fiftee percent” I clarified “15%” , ” he said ” no 50%” I thanked him and left.
At least now I have the choice to be taken advantage of by his gallery. I have forewarning of the financial abuse I will have to survive to sell in the space. 50%! are they kidding. He already used our faces, names and art work in 3 different public events to promote his business and will continue to use us in his advertising for his advantage and now he wants to take half of our earnings! GRRRR! Again, its back to the staving man analogy, and I have to decide if I can survive longer without eating or eating a bitter pill sandwich.