Free Kittens

5 Sep 2012

It's no wonder artists are starving. People want their art for free. This morning I received yet another plea from a charitable agency, offering us the opportunity to support their ongoing mission by promoting Steve Henderson's oil paintings.

Kittens, auctions, and flowers—harbingers of spring. Garden Gatherings by Steve Henderson, available as a signed limited edition print and note card through the Steve Henderson Fine Art website.
Kittens, auctions, and flowers—harbingers of spring.
Garden Gatherings
by Steve Henderson, available
as a signed limited edition print and note card
through the Steve Henderson Fine Art website
Translation: "Please give us one of your oil paintings to sell, and we will keep all the proceeds."

It's along the lines of free kittens: if you ever make the mistake of letting people know that you're looking for a cat, you will be inundated with "offers." In the same way, if you drop by the grocery with a dab of paint by your right ear, you'll have a message on the answering machine waiting for you when you get back, requesting a donation for a worthy charitable cause, and we all love worthy charitable causes, don't we?

Of course we do. That's why we, along with many individuals and businesses, support them—generally ones of our own choosing. For those who unsolicitedly solicit a contribution, we have come up with a win/win situation:

We provide an oil painting for charitable fundraisers when one of the two following conditions are met:

1)    Fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale go to the oil painting artist or

2)    The charitable organization purchases the oil painting from us at a wholesale value.

Generally, we have found that this ends the conversation.

You will never win by saying no, but this is not saying no; it's counter-offering in an effort to educate people that art is not free, producing it is not done in a vacuum, and artists need-and deserve-compensation for what they do.

If we all join together in promoting this message, some of it just may get through. Where do you stand on the issue? Leave a comment and let me know.--Carolyn

 


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Comments

KatPaints wrote
on 6 Sep 2012 6:52 PM

Carolyn, I recall someone writing the most perfect response to this request. It was so diplomatic and educational. It tactfully asked for the charitable organization to purchase the piece outright. It will have you cheering. I will see if I could hunt it up. I hope I can find it.

I think you bring up an important point. People should not undersell their work. This brings down all artists. Some artists feel as if they are blessed with talent and therefore need to be generous by giving away their work.  Unfortunately, doctors do not think this way, nor does the gas company, telephone company, bank, employers, retail shops, or anyone else. If an artist considers themselves to be a hobbyist and is doing this for fun, if you give away a painting, at least be sure to include an invoice so that the person on the receiving end is aware of the amount of money you are giving them. Also do some research and get an accurate value of your work. Start keeping a copy of your invoices plus all the receipts for supplies, gas mileage, etc. It's bad enough that some people think that a creative work takes no effort, but to have them downplay the value effects more than just yourself.

KatPaints wrote
on 6 Sep 2012 7:01 PM

Actually Carolyn I found a couple good ones.

Type in www before this: (You know how links are here!) artbizblog.com/2011/11/fiona-purdy.html

Here's another: mariabrophy.com/business-of-art/the-problem-with-donating-art-and-the-solution.html

on 6 Sep 2012 7:18 PM

KatPaints:

You are so right -- many artists have difficulty with the concept that they are worth what they're charging! If artists aren't thinking this way, then how can they expect others to do so too?

So often there's the thought, "Oh, but the doctor's necessary. So's the plumber. And the teacher. And the firefighter. And basically anybody but the artist."

If only people would stop a moment and think of a world without Any. Art. At. All.

So maybe a painting can't set a broken arm, but it can go a long way to healing a broken spirit. Art doesn't feed the stomach but it does feed the inner soul. Without it, the world is a cold, heartless place indeed, filled with people muttering mathematical formulas.

Thank you for the links -- I look forward to reading them and getting some more ammunition!

on 6 Sep 2012 8:42 PM

If you really like the charity, you can give to it.  But I can't agree with "you will never win by saying no..."  Aggressive people can smell appeasement and will squash you like a bug.  You can _only_ win by saying no, and you have to be willing to be neither intimidated or interrogated after you say it, even if that means becoming aggressive yourself.

KatPaints wrote
on 6 Sep 2012 8:50 PM

Yep Carolyn and think of the years of education, workshops, traveling to see museums and galleries...Decades of perfecting your craft... I once heard an artist at an outdoor show tell a buyer that it took him three days to paint the scene. The buyer was amazed at how fast he completed the work. I wanted to whisper  "three days and 25 years."

on 6 Sep 2012 10:32 PM

mbstevens4000 -- you are right indeed. My observation that "you can never win by saying no" is along the lines of being a politician -- you'll never get both sides on your side, and whenever you say "A," you will incur the wrath of all the people who believe "B."

But as you observe -- in some ways it doesn't matter. The point is to move forward -- graciously and aggressively, honestly, with integrity, verve, and nerve -- and in doing so, you will tick someone off. Oh well.

Some people are still at the being intimidated stage, but with practice, they'll build up those "no" muscles!

KatPaints -- I'm thinking that THREE DAYS  is a long time to be standing in front of an easel dabbing paint around. That in itself made the painting worth its price, and when you add your whispered 25 years, well, the buyer could ask the artist about payments so that he could afford the work. After all, I'm sure if the buyer has kids, he's got a payment plan going with the orthodontist.

kmgd wrote
on 7 Sep 2012 3:50 PM

Excellent point. I have always been amazed at how many organizations have contests for logo designs or ask for free artwork. I doubt if they ask the plumber for free work or their architect for a free building design — or heaven forbid, free legal advice.

Ken Marshall

on 8 Sep 2012 3:29 AM

It is the same with textile art. People think of it as "embroidery", a genteel pastime for ladies of leisure who are more than happy to contribute their pieces to a "worthy cause" without thought of the hours of work and costly materials that have gone into its production.

holland2 wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 4:00 AM

"liked" and "shared" this article on facebook with the following comment.  "These are good guide lines to follow and ciecumvents the issue of the charity and the bidder inadvertently devaluing your art AND still, everyone profits for the endeavor."

Thanks for writing about an issue I think we have (or will have) faced!

holland2 wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 4:00 AM

"liked" and "shared" this article on facebook with the following comment.  "These are good guide lines to follow and ciecumvents the issue of the charity and the bidder inadvertently devaluing your art AND still, everyone profits for the endeavor."

Thanks for writing about an issue I think we have (or will have) faced!

signetrose wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 4:46 AM

Hi Carolyn

I agree entirely with your "Free Kittens" article. As a Visual Art Lecturer, I am constantly coming up against a perception in the wider community of art education as being somehow unimportant as compared to vocational training that is supposed to lead directly to employment. Many people see engaging with art as being a hobby, and therefore not a serious activity. Artists of course know this to be false, but this is exactly what your "free kittens" charities appear to believe. We must do art for fun, and therefore it is valueless. I think your two prepared answers are the perfect antidote, and I will be adopting them myself as well as suggesting my students do the same.

Thank you for articulating what we all feel.

Aussie Steph

susanmurphy wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 5:02 AM

Yeah, local art auctions are having a bad effect on the artist community.  They are proliferating like crazy, so we must be supporting them.  It is hard to say "no" when one of your customers invites you to participate though.  At least we can tactifully try to educate them.   The organizers tend to assume that artists can deduct the full value of the art from their taxes, which is not at all true (only the materials).  The work ends up selling for less than half of its real value.  And the weird irony is that the buyer comes away thinking that HE has made a donation!

pataroosky wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 6:59 AM

Most folks don't know that artists cannot 'write off' the value of their donated work....only the cost of materials used to produce it.  However, if a patron of the organization purchases the artwork and then donates it, they get to write of the purchase amount.  This was the suggestion of the director of one of our large art organizations here in Georgia.

tgsloth wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 6:59 AM

Well, here's a disagreement with Carolyn and apparently everyone else who has commented.  First, in the instance where the artist doesn't particularly want to help the charity, giving a painting can, never the less, help the artist.  Many artists have excess inventory which can't be sold in today's economy.  It is more beneficial to have that art on someone's wall than piling up in the artist's basement.  The buyer becomes familiar with the donating artist and may appreciate the fact that the artist has supported the charity.  This type of promotion can lead to other sales opportunities whereas art in the basement never does.  And the idea which has been echoed by other commenters that, for example, doctors never donate their services is so wrong that it's rediculous.  Ever heard of Medecines san Frontieres?  Hundreds of thousand of doctors offer care to the poor for free all around the world.  The idea that artists are above doing this lest they "devalue" their art is nuts and even offensive.

tbarts wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 7:34 AM

I have a quota that I give, one painting a year, and once that's gone, I simply tell them that my donation quota has been filled for this year.

Another thing I've done is put my art in charity auctions online. That way I get to call the shots. I name the price of the art, and if it sells, I give howsoever much of the proceeds to the charity. Also, if the artwork doesn't sell, I get to keep it. I've sold two paintings in this way. After the painting sold and I got a letter of thanks from the charity, I forwarded the letter to the purchaser, so they knew that the charity had received the money. It's a win win win situation.

on 8 Sep 2012 8:00 AM

Perhaps the final value/effect of making any donation depends on all parties concerned. I have given away my paintings many times and always with a prayer for the best outcome for all. I have never been disappointed by the results. One time the charity concerned, put the painting I gave them up for raffle. They sold less then ten tickets and did not tell me anything. A friend informed me the winning ticket landed the painting in a children's hospital. I could not have imagined a better home for the work!

corigarrett wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 10:15 AM

I just love these suggestions and I am going to use them. The last charity that solicited a piece from me got insulted when I clarified with them that they wanted me to contribute a framed (!) painting for their auction AND purchase a full price ticket ($75) to their function. They wanted the art and the artists present for the auction, or giveaway, depending on how you looked at it.  

Thanks for the 'business' responses, because the incredulous look on my face didn't work last time!  Now, if you could only suggest a line for friends and family who think you should give them the pick of your best work for their homes...

paregan wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 11:01 AM

In addition to the #1 item, a minimum price should be set and if not sold for that amount the work is returned to the artist.

paregan

on 8 Sep 2012 11:09 AM

Dear Carolyn, this is exactly the problem today, no respect!  I have several groups who ask me to donate work for their auctions to raise money, when they came to the house to choose which one they wanted, they just up and left and said they would be in touch.  At the end of the auction, apparently one sold and the other was hung in the person's bedroom.  When asking where was the other piece? "you donated the work to the auction, now they belong to us", you could possible imagine my response to her.  After having to use veiled threats and sending a very large person to retrieve it for me, it came home...but...no money with it.  Guess what?  no more invitations to donate again.  So!  I love your advice,,,I will use it...and I will pass it on.

Thank you so much......Joanna from Montreal, canada.

on 8 Sep 2012 12:02 PM

Members of the clergy have to be the worst about asking you to "Do it for the Lord" and then put you on the spot with, "God gave you this talent, don't you think you owe Him a lil' something back?" I've been asked numerous times to paint Baptismal scenes in various Churches, all for free with only the "blessings of the Lord" as compensation. I do NOT fulfill these requests...ever. Why? Was the church built for free or did it cost hundreds of thousands to build? If it cost to build it, and even coat the interior with house paint, why would I feel inclined to even entertain the idea of creating art in it for free? So, what do I say to these pandering preachers? Simply, "Sure I'll do it for the Lord, but it's going to cost YOU  "x" dollars."

moonwaves wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 1:49 PM

I am not a professional. I do not try to sell my art.

But I don't give it away (other than to loved ones who will treasure it) because that would make it harder for those who are professionals.

And as for Doctors Without Borders, their work is wonderful and I contribute to them, but there have been places where they have inadvertently put the local medical system out of business.

teamjli wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 2:19 PM

I like the approach suggested here.

Do want to note that, indeed, "they" (nonprofits and everyone else also) definitely do ask for free legal advice, free plumbing, you name it, "they" want it free.

Nonprofits actually need the help in order to serve the community.

Artists, like every other professional, need to decide what causes they want to support, and how much they can afford to give.

Both "no" and counteroffers seem appropriate responses.  Being gracious can be tough, but usually worth it in long term.

teamjli

on 8 Sep 2012 3:22 PM

The problem with educating though, is that it´s  not the artists responsibility to do so. Everybody knows art costs money and that artists have to pay their bills. This is not the issue. People ask artists for art donations as much as they ask for the donationa of a car from a car manufacturer, for a trip at a travels agency. Usually there is a quid-pro-quo implied insofar as the donation may be good advertising. In my experience evaluating the offer is a good way to go. Is the public likely to purchase my art in the future? Will the art piece be nicely presented and will people leave the auction or event knowing who I am and wanting my art? In short: is it good advertising? If it is, fine, they can have the piece as long as they do their part in promoting it. If it won´t bring me any business, I decline.

By asking questions like...: What is the public? How will the piece be presented? Are the people attending your event familiar with the art world? Do they have an interest in and /or buy art regularly? ... the artist puts the request into the right perspective. You wouldn´t ask for a car to auction at a bikers reunion... so there is no point in asking for a piece of art if the public is not into buying it. It would just be wasted advertising.

artgirl715 wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 5:24 PM

I agree 100%. I think your suggestions were great.

montagael wrote
on 8 Sep 2012 10:35 PM
mizzbarton wrote
on 9 Sep 2012 8:12 AM

II understand what you are saying....really, I do. I have plenty of paintings to prove it.

But, having run a small school based charity for a couple of years, I have to say that we ask EVERYBODY to donate for free - and that includes artists. It also includes furniture stores, auto mechanics, chiropractors, grocers, toy manufacturers and sellers, travel agents, airlines, jewelry designers, clothing retailers, attorneys....the list goes on and on. It's often the only way to get the materials we need for our fundraiser - we don't have enough budget for major purchases.

HOWEVER -- we always accept the answer "no" cheerfully and gratefully. (I know not everyone does.)

And if someone is willing to consider donating, we allow the individual or business to choose what they will donate. If you have a pair of simple earrings that you will share, I am grateful for that. It doesn't have to be the elaborate sterling and semiprecious stone ensemble that you worked on for weeks.

It seems to me that the real problem is not that people want your work for their good cause, but that they don't appreciate the real value of what you do.

Always, always, include an invoice listing the full retail value of any donation and marked to show any discount or donation. And insist on a receipt showing the value of the donation for tax purposes.

And don't do more that you really can. If you can't help, or you've already donated and can't do it again, don't feel guilty.

If someone won't take no for an answer, they'll be out of resources soon enough.

tgsloth wrote
on 9 Sep 2012 4:00 PM

I notice that Carolyn's strategy (charity ponies up wholesale value or remits 50% to artist) delivers the full value that an artist is paid from a gallery to that artist.  So there's no donation or sacrifice from the artist; he/she gets all the proceeds they would normally.  Nice work if you can get it.  I advise her to just say that she has no interest in ever giving anything she has to a charity.  The snarky, "educational" response is uncalled for.  Charities and those who support them deserve better.

n7lqk wrote
on 9 Sep 2012 7:15 PM

I am not an artist in the sense of this blog, but I am a needle crafter.  I am amazed at the number of people who think that your handmade item should cost less than a similar item in a discount store.  They don't have any concept at all of how much the supplies cost, how much is used or how long the items take to make.  On top of that, there are people selling their needlework for less than the supplies would normally cost.  It is no wonder we can't get people to respect the value of a handmade item.  I had one lady that offered me less than half of what I was asking for a pair of booties (and less than you could get them at a discount store).  When I told her no, she asked, "Well, wouldn't you rather get something for them than not sell them?"   I told her that I would rather get what they were worth or not sell them and donate them to someone who really needed them.

I have come to the point that I refuse to let people "steal" from me by selling my work for less than it is worth.  My work is also worth different values for different people.  For some, I don't charge as much because it is a way of saying thank you and the discount is a gift.

Who you choose to donate to and how much is a personal thing.  If you choose to donate an item or give a gift or discount, it needs to be a conscious decision.  Otherwise, artists and crafters do need to band together.  By not devaluing our work, people will come to expect to pay a fair amount.  It has worked for gasoline.  People will pay fair value or they won't, but at least they won't be taking our work and us for granted.  They will also be more likely to treat the item with the respect a handmade item deserves.

on 10 Sep 2012 2:24 PM

Great ideas, great discussion, nice range of experience and beliefs.

I would like to clarify for tgsloth that this strategy we have come up with does not result in our receiving the full value of what we would receive from a gallery sale. The charitable auctions we have opted to give to generally result in sale prices considerably lower than anything that resembles retail -- there is an unspoken understanding that "these are great places to get good stuff for a lot less than you'd pay for it elsewhere -- PLUS, you help the charity."

So, let's say you have a $1,000 painting that you would receive $500 for in a gallery sale. It goes for $200 at the auction. $100 to the artist, which pretty much covers the cost of the frame.

And when we quote wholesale, we quote generously lower than what we would expect from our gallery commission.

As many of you have observed, giving is an important concept, and many good charities rely upon the generosity of others to keep going.  It's a good idea, as a buinsessperson artist, to clarity early what your policy is. It's a dicey walk.

KatPaints wrote
on 10 Sep 2012 8:09 PM

Comparing art donations to Doctors without Borders is no comparison. People who buy art from an auction are looking for a good cheap deal. The amount profited is only a fraction that actually goes to people in need after the overhead. This probably includes everything from a caterer to general expenses. Doctors do direct work that benefits people. No one is auctioning their services to get help at a cheap deal. Imagine a doctor standing on a stage and the auctioneer "Do I have twenty dollars for a cleft palate, twenty. Do I have twenty-five dollars... This is a fine doctor, graduated at the top of his class..." It would be better if a group of artists got together and had a show in which the 10% of the sales off the top would go directly to a group of people in need.

Generally, the artist really doesn't get much attention from a small number of people. and I'm not sure how I feel about the comment of using unsold stuff for an auction. I guess it really depends upon each situtation

on 15 Sep 2012 12:21 PM

OMG you are SO right. I really like the counter-offers you suggest, I will remember that for next time. I am so tired of being asked to donate my work - I can't tell you how many times I've been told "It's going to be a big gala fundraiser, you'll get SO much exposure!"....right.

And do let artists know that you CAN'T deduct the (estimated) value of the work from your taxes - only the expense of the physical materials!

Thanks so  much for this article, and I will certainly spread the word on this "new" concept of being compensated in some way for "donations"!

ConorOBrien wrote
on 27 Oct 2012 12:20 PM

I am very often asked to donate my work to various fundraisers. I always say I'd be happy to provide a painting, or two, for the fundraising event...all I ask is that I receive half of my regular (retail) price when it is sold...the same as I would get from a gallery. They can sell it for a million dollars as long as I get half of my price. My offer is often turned down, but not always. I have made quite a few sales through fundraisers. The way I see it: the fundraiser gets the money, the purchaser gets the painting...what does the painter get? Nothing, unless they get their share of the procedes. Otherwise, they're out a painting and a lot of work.

ConorOBrien wrote
on 27 Oct 2012 12:32 PM

In response a a couple of previous comments: it isn't at all the same for a painter to give a painting to a charity as any other business, such as a furniture store, etc. The owner of the furniture store can use the price of the furniture he gives as a tax write-off. The painter can't do this. The painter write-off only the cost of materials.

As for the selling price at the auction/sale, I specify that my painting must be sold for at least 80% of my regular price (they still have to give me half of my regular price, leaving them with 30%). If it doesn't sell for at least 80%, there's no sale.

on 22 Dec 2013 2:20 PM

I have run a nonprofit agency for 27 years".  We did not do auctions.  As I have gotten older I can no longer give back to my community the way I have in the past.  With that in mind I simultaneously worked on improving my art abilities. I am now represented in a gallery.  Our working relationship includes my telling the gallery to which charity to write my checks.  It works out well.  My art is not discounted, the gallery gets the donation write off and the charity gets the cash, which they much prefer and I get to give back to my community doing what I enjoy.  My collectors know that I do this and have purchased paintings from the gallery to donate to their favorite charities.  I would be surprised if any gallery wouldn't be happy to sell an artist's work and write the check to a charity for a full write off for any artist that is willing to donate but doesn't want their art discounted.

on 22 Dec 2013 2:22 PM

I have run a nonprofit agency for 27 years".  We did not do auctions.  As I have gotten older I can no longer give back to my community the way I have in the past.  With that in mind I simultaneously worked on improving my art abilities. I am now represented in a gallery.  Our working relationship includes my telling the gallery to which charity to write my checks.  It works out well.  My art is not discounted, the gallery gets the donation write off and the charity gets the cash, which they much prefer and I get to give back to my community doing what I enjoy.  My collectors know that I do this and have purchased paintings from the gallery to donate to their favorite charities.  I would be surprised if any gallery wouldn't be happy to sell an artist's work and write the check to a charity for a full write off for any artist that is willing to donate but doesn't want their art discounted.