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Don't shoot the messenger

A recent advert run by Sainsburys caused an outcry among artists.

Ronnie and Claude (sounding suspiciously like Bonnie and Clyde!!) from the Camden branch had a brainstorming session in which they thought about ways to cheer up their work canteen. Enlisting the help of an artist (for free) was clearly the winner, given the advert they placed in a newspaper.

For those of you who haven’t seen this advert go here to see why so many artists were upset.

Personally, although not a Christian, I am of the

‘Let he who has never made a mistake, cast the first stone' brigade.

I’d be very keen to do a survey of all the artists up in arms over this, asking them three simple questions:

1. Have you ever done an art gig for free?

2. For exposure?

3. Or for very little pay?

I'd be the first to put up my hand and say...I have....

This is my story.

Years ago I was approached by a local school to make a book for a prominent news reader who was going to be acting as the MC for their school fundraiser. The brief was:

Please make this person a book with the children’s art work. We’ll present it to him at the end of the night. Because of who he is, it will give your work exposure at TVNZ.

Oh. And we’ll pay you $95.

It was too good to be true! $95 AND exposure. So I hastily set to work and changed the brief to a more complex book idea - after all this was going to Mr X, well known in TV land - not to mention I was being paid $95.

So I made a book to look like a TV. It took approximately TWO weeks and TWO trips into the school, as my other idea was to get the children to draw pictures of this well known TV celebrity. They also had to write on their pictures: If I was Mr X I’d…….

The pictures and sayings were gorgeous. So I set to work and made this amazing book that really did look like an old fashioned TV. It was handed over, I got my $95 and watched eagerly the next time he was on TV after the school fund raiser. And there he was WITH MY TV BOOK IN HIS HANDS. ON TV. The real tv not one made to look like a book. And do you know what he said? He said (as he waved it around looking so pleased and excited):…..

“Look what the children at [name of school] made for me!! “

WHAT?!! I nearly FELL OFF MY CHAIR. It made it sound like the children had made the book.

Did I get a mention? NO

Did it result in any further work? NO (unless you count the school contacting me a year later and asking me to do it again).

Would I ever do that again NO NO NO.

But can I blame the school for my choice? ABSOLUTELY not.

There is always a system and to take one side of it without considering the other is both unfair and unreasonable.

I do know what it’s like to be a starving, desperate artist. In some ways, it’s almost like a right of passage. NOT that I’m advocating it. But here’s what I learnt from it:

  1. It made me creative as I had to create from things found on the road, given to me, rubbish, and make do with what I had.

  2. As a consequence of the lesson gained from the TV book, I got to feel what it felt like to devalue MYSELF. I have since been in many situations where I’ve valued myself and my work and man the difference is un-be-liev-able but I had to be the one to take that step.

  3. Exposure does not pay your rent. Exposure does not pay for your food. Exposure does not pay for you to put petrol in your car. In short. Exposure does not allow for you to live.

  4. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to taking on jobs that make me resent myself.

  5. I have the power to say yes and to say no to jobs. And I’m better at saying no these days for all the times I said yes then realised the consquences.

So I would say to Connie and Claude, you opened a can of worms. Indeed. But, it wasn’t out of spite, it wasn’t intentional to devalue an artist. It was naive and at the end of the day you said you wanted to create a space that cheered everyone up so your hearts were clearly in the right place. And in a cack handed way you raised an issue that most artists face at some time in their career, giving them the opportunity to address it for themselves. I know what's it's like to feel desperate and when you do you make poor choices.

I want to finish up by giving a shout out to Cory Huff who is a champion at helping artists leave behind the starving artist persona and aspire to be an abundant artist. He’s written a book about it, provides lots of free information and runs excellent paid courses for artists wanting to raise the bar. He knows his stuff - so my point is this: in this day and age with people like Cory around there’s no need for us to devalue ourselves as artists. We just need to be creative about how to find our ideal customers, present ourselves as professionals and produce quality art work. We need to learn how to support ourselves respectfully while we build our art practices and there is a tonne of information available on how to do this.

If you have a story where you devalued yourself and your art - I’d love to hear what you to learnt from it!!

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