XXX red on black backgroundThe most tal­ented, beau­ti­ful won­der­ful peo­ple I know — artists, dancers, musi­cians, song­writ­ers, sculp­tors, writ­ers, film-makers —  ALL have a very dirty lit­tle secret.

It’s one they refuse to acknowl­edge, even to them­selves. One so heinous and deep as to affect all that choose an artis­tic pro­fes­sion, no mat­ter the dis­ci­pline or genre.

This is a dirty, hor­ri­ble secret that fes­ters and eats away at the very fab­ric of our human exis­tence. One that reaches far into the bow­els of all of soci­ety and kills souls with it’s rank putridity.

It’s a self-mutilating secret of the worst kind. One that cuts silently, deeply in a poi­so­nous, hushed way, killing from the inside out. It’s a sui­ci­dal action with the deep­est hurt to all, yet appear­ing on the sur­face to be a well-meaning act of do-gooding soci­etal servi­tude. It is the most pow­er­ful and worst killer of cre­ativ­ity in any form.

It’s never spo­ken about in pub­lic cir­cles amongst artists for fear that one be seen as non-compliant in the broth­er­hood. Play along, now. There’s a good boy and girl. Have a cookie. Good doggie.

Only the bravest, most con­fi­dent dare utter against it and some­times sing it loud enough to call a cry of bat­tle against this sin.

If it is whis­pered in the dark cor­ners of damp alleys on the back­streets behind wealthy cor­po­ra­tions, pub­lic insti­tutes of edu­ca­tion and gal­leries, it is only whis­pered in the qui­etest of the junkie’s voice, for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion or exor­cism from the Church of Artist and Exhi­bi­tion or worse.….the fear­ful chance of never being con­sid­ered again and get­ting that much needed “hit”.

The Oth­ers .…expect this sin to be acted out and per­formed will­ingly over and over again for their own per­sonal plea­sure. They have come to expect and even demand it of artists In The Form and In The Name of Well-Cloaked, Well-Meaning, Do-Gooding ways.

They tempt with the sweet candy to the baby.

You know it.…you’ve heard that juicy, drip­ping, temptress phrase,

“Come on — it will be GOOD for your rep­u­ta­tion. It will get you more EX-PO-SURE, and it will all be for a good cause.”

I’m not afraid to name it.
I’ll cast the first stone.
I’ll tell you the dirty lit­tle secret.

Artists  vol­un­teer and give them­selves away too much. Artists work for much LESS than col­leagues in an a par­al­lel pro­fes­sional prac­tice or .…WORSE!!!.….for FREE and never even ASK to be paid for their pro­fes­sional services.

Artists STAND for not being paid on time, and maybe not at all!

A vol­un­teer gig and dona­tion once or twice? I’m all for it. My entire artis­tic prac­tice is about com­mu­nity and rela­tion­ship devel­op­ment but any­thing beyond that, you’re doing noth­ing but dis­ser­vice to the pro­fes­sion and your fel­low col­leagues, cre­at­ing flakes and har­lots of us all and mock­ing the incred­i­ble value, pur­pose, insight and pas­sion that artists offer to society.

Have some respect for your­selves. Get off your knees, pull up your panties, get out of the alley and wipe that smeared, cheap red lip­stick from your face.

After all, we’re not LAWYERS or POLITICIANS for heaven’s sake.


Bill at a decent rate. Be pro­fes­sional in every act and demeanour when you rep­re­sent your­self and your work. Join CARFAC or a sim­i­lar artist’s advo­cacy group in your city or coun­try and don’t kneel for it any­more. GET involved. Share this post far and wide. Edu­cate your clients, indus­try, your gal­leries and your local schools and char­i­ta­ble insti­tu­tions and your gov­ern­ment fun­ders. Don’t just SETTLE.

Every ounce of pro­fes­sional respect that you give your­self, your col­leagues and pro­fes­sion will be returned a thou­sand times over.


Artists — Teach Oth­ers How To Treat You

“This Pho­to­graph Is Not Free” — John Mueller

6 Lim­its for Donat­ing Art­work —

Edu­cate Those Who Ask for Dona­tions of Your Art — Fiona Purdy on

The Prob­lem With Donat­ing Art and the Solu­tion — Maria Brophy

The Art News­pa­per — Artists should have the same tax deduc­tions as col­lec­tors when donat­ing works of art

  • Dea Fis­cher

    There are dif­fer­ent sides to this sit­u­a­tion, Jan­ice. Any developing/emerging artist gives their skills or work away for free as they build those skills and their style and rep­u­ta­tion, as with any other pro­fes­sion. We did it in the legal pro­fes­sion too — pro bono work was always done by the arti­cled clerks and newly qual­i­fied as a way of earn­ing your stripes and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity while you could still afford to. In my own prac­tise, I find enor­mous cre­ative energy gen­er­ated by engag­ing com­mu­nity in ran­dom acts of cre­ation just BECAUSE and with­out a price tag. It nour­ishes and empow­ers both them and me, and might­ily inspires and stim­u­lates me for my own (paid) prac­tice. It also gets my name and face known in a way that draws peo­ple to me and makes them famil­iar with my work. I don’t vol­un­teer my time or my skills because I think they have no value. I give them from time to time as a gift to my com­mu­nity because it makes me happy and ful­filled and inspired and ener­gises me for even greater things. I think there is a place for both.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Every­one cer­tainly has their own opin­ion and choice on how they choose to use their time.

      I do point out in the post that I have no issue around vol­un­teer­ing one’s time and work once or twice for selected projects. I actu­ally have a pol­icy estab­lished which helps me to sup­port my craft and my fel­low pro­fes­sional artists by fil­ter­ing how I choose projects to which I vol­un­teer my time and energy. It’s not some­thing new to me, but a pol­icy that I’ve had since 1989, in the early stages of my career.

      I would encour­age every­one to think of HOW their choices also affect the views in their industy and their col­leagues in the pro­fes­sion. Pro­por­tion­ately, artists and cre­ative folk tend to give much more of their time and efforts to vol­un­teer activ­i­ties than oth­ers and are gen­er­ous in this regard. How­ever, it is another thing alto­gether not to con­sider one’s motives for doing so.

      You teach oth­ers how to treat you. Choose well.

      • Sari Grove

        hmm… Lawyers & politi­cians get paid…Artists are giv­ing it away for free…Maybe we should be more like them?

        • Jan­ice Tanton

          Con­sid­er­ing one’s own mea­sure of self-value can be quan­ti­fied many ways. I’d say it’s a good thing to know your­self well, where your lim­its are and what you can and want to give of your­self. Break­ing the stigma attached to any pro­fes­sion when it’s less than ben­e­fi­cial to the human being in the profession…good thing in my sketchbook.

  • Vanessa

    Great posts! For sure, few artists talk about his and even fewer stand up against it. Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to find a bal­ance but often we don’t even find that bal­ance because we’re too buys “falling over”. Though it’s eas­ier said than done for many, it’s some­thing to aim for at all times.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Although it’s true, Vanessa, that it’s easy to fall into, think about estab­lish­ing a pol­icy for your­self and your prac­tice. I have found this immensely help­ful over the years when I am asked over and over again to vol­un­teer time, exper­tise or goods.

      1) Think about what inspires you and what you really want to sup­port in your vol­un­teer capac­ity. Define it. Write it down. Keep it in your stu­dio pol­icy man­ual. Haven’t got one yet? Start one!
      2) Mea­sure and cap the value, whether it is in your time, or cost of goods. You need to know just what that is! Stick to it when you choose to move into the vol­un­teer area.
      3) Revisit the com­mit­ment and your pol­icy once every three months and cel­e­brate your achievements.

      This will help you under­stand where you are at with the time you spend, “on the street” and also help you high­light where you can best use your time to ben­e­fit your com­mu­nity and pas­sions for volunteerism.

  • Eliz­a­beth Marshall

    Jan­ice– you go girl! I see that Dea was a teensy bit defen­sive, but speak­ing from my own per­sonal expe­ri­ence, I could spend all my time soley on char­i­ta­ble work oppor­tu­ni­ties that seem to be thrust in my direc­tion as the “res­i­dent artist.” I don’t have a chip on my shoul­der about the free work that I donate-I’m cur­rently (cheer­fully) mak­ing 20 life­size pan­das for my church’s VBS, and donat­ing time and prod­uct to my kid’s school fun­raiser auc­tion. But You have to draw the line eventually…guilt free. It crosses over from gra­cious dona­tion sta­tus to expec­ta­tion to guilt to yuck. Thanks for the fun arti­cle. I’m gladly repost!

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Eliz­a­beth, have a look at the post reply above to Vanessa. It out­lines some­thing I’ve found help­ful in work­ing towards not say­ing “YES!” all the time.

      Estab­lish­ing a pol­icy and mea­sur­ing the time and value of your gifts is important.

    • Anony­mous

      gra­cious dona­tion sta­tus to expec­ta­tion to guilt to yuck” says it all!

  • Wayne

    In an anal­o­gous way, as an edi­tor, I echo these sen­ti­ments. Pro Bono is fine for a non-profit once in awhile, but the prob­lems fac­ing free­lance edi­tors and writ­ers in the dig­i­tal age extend to what they are actu­ally paid when they do charge. From my stand­point, the prob­lems are as follows:

    *many edi­tors under­value them­selves and their work and do not charge enough (typ­i­cally, they are not busi­ness types and low ball esti­mates). Or they are retired profs, teach­ers, etc., and do this as a “hobby” busi­ness. I wish they’d give the rest of us a break and stop dri­ving down prices :-)
    *too many peo­ple mas­quer­ade as edi­tors and writ­ers and work for free as a favour.
    *con­tent is con­sid­ered some­thing that is included in the project (web­sites, offline print mate­r­ial, etc). The prob­lem? Good con­tent takes tal­ent.
    *the gen­eral pub­lic no longer val­ues free­lance edit­ing and writ­ing and the hard work involved (clients who under­stand the amount of labour actu­ally involved in fix­ing their com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems are few).
    *glob­al­iza­tion and the inter­net has dri­ven down prices for writ­ing, proof­read­ing and sub­stan­tive edit­ing to insanely low levels.

    This was some­what tan­gen­tial, but I could not help but see the con­nec­tions between pro­fes­sions. Oh, well, just my 2 cents.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Thanks for your input, Wayne. We are indeed in a chang­ing world and it affects orga­ni­za­tions, artists, arts and cul­tural work­ers of all kinds. There are indeed many con­nec­tions between all gen­res and prac­tices. How we per­ceive our­selves in rela­tion­ship to oth­ers and how we rep­re­sent our pro­fes­sions is important.

  • Sid­ney Peck

    Well, I wanted to com­ment on your intro­duc­tion page because I love the bumper stick that has inspired you. I am going to add it the post it notes on my iMac :) As for this entry, I agree that artists strug­gle with self worth and there­fore ade­quate com­pen­sa­tion. I think it is because if we are adept at our craft, it seems effort­less. Nice to meet you on Twit­ter! I hope you’ll check out my sites as well. Peace to you and yours.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Thanks for the note, Sid­ney and yes.…looking for­ward to more Twit­ter engage­ment with you. :) I think there might be a link with self-worth and ade­quate com­pen­sa­tion. Also, with per­ceived worth by the audi­ence. Ele­vat­ing that, no mat­ter the genre of the work is our respon­si­bil­ity too.

      Glad that I’ve passed along the inspi­ra­tion in the bumper sticker. Just lit­tle things every day can get us to very lofty achievements!

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Hiya Sid­ney. Weird…like CabinArt’s com­ment here, I’m just find­ing that this showed up today on the blog (Feb 2, 2012) but it looks like you posted it 3 months ago. Apolo­gies for not see­ing it.

      I think you hit the nail right on the head where the rela­tion­ship to self-worth cor­re­lates directly to ade­quate compensation.

  • Anony­mous

    Thank you for this, Jan­ice! I got tired of giv­ing away my work and learned to say “I don’t give away my work; you are wel­come to buy it at a dis­count so that you can write off the expense and I can make a lit­tle money”.

    Peo­ple just don’t know what they are ask­ing, that we can’t “write it off”, that it just depletes our inven­tory and that expo­sure is a lousy way to die. Frankly, I’d like to see coupons for gas and gro­ceries and hair­cuts and teeth clean­ing at these auc­tions. THAT’s the stuff we all need dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times. And where I live, “dif­fi­cult times” are the norm.

    And one more thing — have you ever sat through a live auc­tion wait­ing for some­one to bid on your work? Ages me con­sid­er­ably — it is sort of like a junior high pop­u­lar­ity con­test in its stress level.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      It’s a tough one, but a nec­es­sary one and I really believe we teach oth­ers how to treat us. There is always a com­pas­sion­ate way of deliv­er­ing the message.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      Wow…thanks for your com­ment. You know, I’m just get­ting it today (Feb 2, 2012) — must have been stuck in Cyber­space somewhere.

    • M.K. Hajdin

      Though we dis­agree on the issue I really love the phrase “expo­sure is a lousy way to die”.

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  • M.K. Hajdin

    It’s per­fectly true that artists often get taken advan­tage of by peo­ple who don’t suf­fi­ciently value their time or skill. But some artists enjoy giv­ing their work away — myself included. It’s a way of sub­vert­ing a sys­tem that wants to com­mod­ify every­thing. I give my work away, but not just to any­one. If some ran­dom per­son expected me to give it away for free, that would offend me, because I know they’re either under­es­ti­mat­ing the effort required to make it or they’re plan­ning on turn­ing it over for a profit. No one has the right to EXPECT being given art for free. But I still like to give it — to peo­ple who mean some­thing to me or have done some­thing kind for me. Often these are peo­ple who could never afford to buy a paint­ing and would oth­er­wise live lives deprived of art. They love my work with an inten­sity no rich per­son glut­ted with lux­ury can ever match, and my gift to them makes our friend­ship stronger. Though I starve in a gar­ret for the rest of my life, mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the lives of oth­ers mat­ters far more to me than mak­ing money.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      That’s a noble idea, M.K. However.…I know many artists, includ­ing myself who have lit­er­ally gone through the “starve in a gar­ret for the rest of my life” period of time, with two small chil­dren in tow. I hold the oppo­site posi­tion, and feel that artists need to take more care in valu­ing their work and be VERY mind­ful that they are a part of an eco­nomic sys­tem. No man is an island, really. If you “give away” with­out think­ing about how that hurts oth­ers who do have to make a liv­ing, feed chil­dren and put a roof over heads, then you’ve com­pletely defeated the social sys­tem and care that you hold so dearly.

      Be mind­ful of this, is what I am say­ing. Value it.

  • Ionart Mor­gan

    I don’t give away what I do for a liv­ing! I may donate a print or barter for a ser­vice… But you will need to pay for what pays my bills a puts food on my table… The money that some­one pays for my work shows me how much they love it! If they are will­ing to spend their hard earned money on a piece of my art, I know they love it as much as I do! If I give it away for noth­ing, It’s to my kids who are going to end up with it anyway.

    • Jan­ice Tanton

      I am in com­plete agree­ment. I do not “give it away”. However.…I do have poli­cies for legit­i­mate and spe­cific char­i­ties and orga­ni­za­tions that align with my view of social jus­tice and art. This is def­i­nitely not a dis­cus­sion about what is “kind and right”.…but about how to value your work and your­self in a com­mu­nity that does not nec­es­sar­ily value you. Hold­ing tight to those val­ues is the impor­tant piece for me. I do have kids to feed, rent and bills to pay, and enough is enough. 😉 I value me.

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  • Jan­ice Tanton

    Today? The ulti­mate insult — a local arts orga­ni­za­tion asks artists to donate their work for raffle/auction.….to recover costs from an arts fes­ti­val that in some cases, they charged artists to attend. BAH HA HA.…um.…NO!!!!

  • iHi­jinx

    I have just won the Ver­sa­tile blog­ger Award and Very Inspir­ing Blog­ger Award. As a reg­u­lar reader of your posts I would like to pass them on to you.

    This is what you do:

    Dis­play the Award Cer­tifi­cates on your website.

    Announce your win with a post and link to who­ever pre­sented your award,

    Present 15 awards to deserv­ing bloggers.

    Drop them a com­ment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post.

    Post 7 inter­est­ing things about yourself.

    I under­stand if you choose not to par­tic­i­pate, it might not be the right style for your blog but I wanted to give you both awards.

    Hope this finds you well (bet­ter x)


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