Life Experience 7
The redundancy of art - "Art is useless" and yet, everyone wants it
Disclaimer: I will add in screenshots throughout the post as examples to show you what artists in different fields have to deal with
“Living in a purely functional world would lack meaning for us as human beings. We need to express ourselves through art and we need to surround ourselves with the expressions of others.” – Lesli Walsh
People want to consume art, whether it be movies, paintings, photographs, games, music or other things. Instagram is full of art, free to look at, free to watch, free to listen to, free to share and for everyone that is a matter of course. If people see art they like, they ask artists to draw something for them. If people see photos they like and want the same for themselves, they ask the photographer to shoot with them. However, as soon as the artists ask for decent payment for their work, they and their work are being laughed at, ridiculed and belittled. “Your work isn’t that good anyways”, “I have a friend who can do it for me at a cheaper price/for free”, “Your work isn’t worth that much”. As soon as an artist offers something for free, people are quick to jump at it. People think that they are entitled to the art, that an artist should be thankful that their art is even being looked at and liked. So why should they be paid? It was their choice to make art and put their work online for free. So why are they whining about not getting paid? Why should an artist be paid more than 10$ for their work, when they can draw a picture in 30 minutes? It didn’t take long after all. There are people working harder jobs who don’t even earn 10$ an hour. Or why should a photographer be paid a few hundred dollars to take a few photos?
In the following I will share a few screenshots from the Twitter account @forexposure_txt that collects real experiences from people who were expected to work for free. If you want to know more about how artists are treated, you can check out this Twitter account with countless examples.
Art is useless, apart from short-time entertainment it doesn’t offer anything valuable. Or does it? It is not like the entertainment we consume every single day is produced by artists. If photography is not a necessity, then we can give up on wedding portraits, engagement photos, fashion magazines, photojournalism, on product photos, marketing and a lot more. If art is useless, then we also don’t need comics, books, movies, cartoons, brand logos, clothes, phones, houses, furniture, games or any other things that are designed for us to consume. You might say that nobody thinks that way or at least not everyone. But think about how much an average artist, whether it be a comic artist, any kind of designer or photographer, earns compared to someone from another industry. Or rather think about how they are treated, when they ask to be paid. You might not be aware of it if you are not active in the field, but it is very common for artists to get asked to create something for free or for very little money or they get asked if their work can be used with credit and for exposure. Even if someone does hire an artist to do work for them, when the work is done, they come up with different excuses to avoid paying the artist even if a contract was signed.
As long as artists offer their work and services for free, people are quick to take it for themselves. It happens that artists are approached by large-scale companies worth several millions or billions dollars for a “collaboration” and the compensation for the artist consists of “being credited” and “exposure”. While I was writing this blog post, something actually happened to me on Instagram that completely proves my point as I will show you in the following screenshots.
Virgin Holidays, a travel company commented on a photo I took at Laguna Beach California, asking if they can “use” my photo and that I should reply with #YesVirginHolidays to approve. They wrote that I can visit their Instagram bio for Terms and Conditions. So I did.
Their Terms and Conditions say: “When accepting rights requests you are allowing Virgin Holidays to use your content in future marketing campaigns with no copyrights. […] Copyright: Upon approval, photos become the property of Virgin Holidays and each Participant relinquishes any claims of ownership or rights therein upon approval of their content to be used.”
As you can see, if I had agreed to let them use my photo with that simple #YesVirginHolidays, I would have actually agreed to give up ALL my rights concerning my photo and if I hadn’t spent those 10 seconds to actually look up their terms and conditions, I would have handed them my work on a silver plate to profit from. It said that upon accepting the rights request you would allow them to possibly use your work in future marketing campaigns and upon approval you relinquish any claims of ownership and rights. Just let that sink in. A big company with a yearly revenue of about £2.7 billion has the audacity to ask to use an artist’s work for their very own profit, without thinking of compensating them, even possibly trapping artists or non-artists even, who might not be aware what the company’s terms and conditions actually entails, giving up on their rights while their work is profited from. They have the audacity to ask for usage rights AND copyrights for another person’s work, not even considering paying for those rights, while you spend money on your gear, money to get to that place, time and effort to learn the skills in order to take, edit and finally post that one photo. Giving up my copyrights would mean that I can’t never use that photo for anything ever again. Also, usually companies pay photographers to use a photo. Owning the copyright of a photo is again an entirely different matter. That would allow them to use the photo however they want, whenever they want, how often they want. That means they would be able to continue profiting from it in different ways, while the photographer will never see a penny ever. That is why getting copyrights for a photo can usually get pretty expensive if a photographer does decide to sell those. In this case, Virgin Holidays just went around Instagram, expecting that people will just #YesVirginHolidays for them so they can get photos to use for their business without paying a single dime. I probably would have been okay with them reposting it on their Instagram account with credit and initially, I thought that that was all their request entails. However, letting them use my work to profit from it without compensation? What do they even take me for? I’m sorry for the language, but I think the fuck not. You would think they would have enough money to hire a photographer of their own, commission a photographer or at least pay the people whose work they want to use. However, payment was never an option in their eyes and Instagram is just this pool of endless photos and people who are unaware of their rights, who often even feel flattered that a big company wants to use their work. Companies make use of that to save money, because there are enough people willing to give up their work for free. This is one of many examples that shows how artists are viewed. What artists do is not considered as work that has to be compensated and it’s not the part of a business that you should invest money in.
I have another example which is something that just happened to me not too long ago. I was approached by a company based in Italy who asked whether I would like to work with them. The company seems to function like an agent between a photographer and a client. That means, that they get an assignment from a client that they will forward to the photographer who will do the assignment and be paid a certain amount of money for a certain amount of photos. Everything is done through their website. That means they can operate worldwide and they needed photographers in Germany. I asked them why they approached me to collaborate with them to do the kind of work they were asking for, as it did not really match my portfolio. When I think about it, they couldn’t really answer my question and just gave me a very vague reply. They were saying that since I do that kind of work, I would be able to do the simple work they needed as they didn’t do anything “strange” like I do. That set me off a little bit, being told that my fantasy photos are “strange”. They couldn’t tell me how they found me and why they thought I would be a good match. Thinking back about it, it might have been because they thought I would be an easy target to use. However, at first it didn’t sound too bad and I thought that maybe it would be good to get some experience. Then they send me their contract I would have to sign. The contract was several pages long and it took me a long time to read through it. It can seem intimidating at first and I can imagine, that people might just sign it without reading it carefully hoping for a good job and that is when you can get screwed over. There were a few points in the contract that weren’t clear to me, so I made sure to ask what they mean exactly. I will attach the screenshots of the E-Mail exchange. The screenshots are from the E-Mail I sent to them after reading the contract and the parts in quotes are from the contract.
The person I was in contact with was always insisting on clarifying and explaining things via call. Because I had to put in my phone number when I registered on the website, they felt free to text me via whatsapp and also called me when I was at work. The first few times I agreed to talk via Skype. When they wanted to answer my questions from the E-Mail via Skype as well, I declined and told them that I would like to have it written down, so they sent me a reply via E-Mail a few days later. I found it suspicious that they always wanted to call instead of sending me a written reply. By calling you, they can tell you anything they want and will be able to deny saying anything of that later on and you don’t have any prove. With an E-Mail, you have written evidence.
If you are wondering why I am talking about RAW images so much is because they are like the raw diamonds of photography. Those are the unedited and therefore unfinished raw files photographers work with to achieve the end result. You can do anything with the raw file and if you hand it over to someone else you will lose control over it. It is not common for photographers to hand over Raw files, unless the right price is paid and usually the price you have to pay for Raw files are pretty high in the industry. This company says it like they are doing me a favor, because I don’t have to edit the photos. Yes, it could have been a favor, if they didn’t pay 75€ for 5 images in total. That is 15€ per image and that is nothing. They say there won’t be any travel expenses but don’t take into consideration the time it takes me to get to the client, the time it takes me to take the photos, the time it takes me to get back home, the time to transfer my files, the time to select the photos and the time to send off the files through the post office like they request. The company would profit from my skills, my time, my camera, my laptop and my harddrive. 15€ is nothing as a compensation. If they paid me 75€ per image (which is still low for Raw files), I would have considered it. The reply I got from them didn’t really clarify anything and it felt like a general roundabout answer so that they will still be on the safe side of business. Furthermore, the laws the contract is based on are Italian laws. If I decided to sign an agreement based on Italian laws would that mean that I wouldn’t be able to appeal to the German laws in case anything happens? I didn’t see myself benefitting from it in any way, neither monetary nor as an artist as I wouldn’t have any creative freedom and wouldn’t edit the images myself. I had a bad feeling about them and I think I would have been at a disadvantage working for them. I was sure that it would be more of a headache to work with them and as I didn’t see myself getting any artistic fulfillment either, I decided to drop them.
I thought that it was quite funny that this happened right when I was in the middle of writing this blog post. It just proved my point again and would serve as excellent examples.
People don’t want to pay artists or even think about paying them when they ask an artist to do something for them. Since it’s their hobby, their passion, they must be doing it for fun and for their own pleasure, which means that it is not work for them and therefore payment is not necessary. They should be thankful, that people are even interested enough to approach them for their artwork. Artists and their work even get insulted when they get upset and dare to ask to be compensated for their work and time. Artists need to eat, pay their rent and other expenses like every other person. And no, they shouldn’t have to “study something decent” to make a living and I have already shared my thoughts concerning this issue in one of my previous blog posts. With that way of thinking society creates an hierarchy for professions, deeming some professions more important and valuable than others, therefore being more worthy to pay for. As any person in a profession artists have learnt a skill and offer their services that they should be paid for and yes, even if they enjoy what they are doing, it is still work. It takes time, it costs energy and the materials and equipment also have to be paid for. Why does the thinking even exist, that unless we don’t enjoy it, it can’t be considered as work? Should people suffer and be miserable in their job? Is that how we are supposed to live in this capitalistic society? Everyone invests time and energy into something and they want to be compensated for that, so why should it be any different for artists?
Even if artists share their work online, they still need to pay for living expenses. Even if they share their work online for the public to see, they still own the work. They shouldn’t have to fear that their art gets stolen when they put it online. Social media has become a valuable tool for artists to share their work more easily, not having to depend on galleries, so why should they be the ones giving up on it, because people and companies have to be assholes?
My question is, why is it so difficult to respect artists when they’re not famous or dead? We have so many museums where we display artworks of artists who are long gone, artworks that are worth several million or billion dollars. Do artists have to die first in order for their work to be recognized and valued? Maybe only works of dead artists become valuable because now someone else can profit from it. Now that the artist is dead and they can’t create anymore, their art has become a rarity and therefore something valuable people are willing to pay several thousands dollars for, which by the way is only possible for the rich. The artwork then becomes a mean to show off someone’s status. “Look at these artworks worth several million dollars that I can afford to display in my living room”. It becomes elitist.
We always say that being an artist is equal to being poor or we tell the stories of artists from a few centuries ago who struggled with poverty. Artists draw all day, photographers snap some photos and struggle to make a living. However, what is the reason for this kind of image we have of artists? Maybe it is because artists don’t know how to market themselves. But isn’t it rather because there is an unwillingness to pay an artist what they ask for for their work? It’s not rare for people to try and bargain with artists and photographers, trying to get something for a cheaper price. They don’t even think about how they are devaluing the work and disrespecting the artist’s time, telling the artist that they want their work or service, but don’t think it is worth paying the price they are asking for. So why don’t people just do it themselves, if they don’t want to pay the price? There are couples willing to rent a luxurious venue for thousands of dollars for one single day for their wedding, while bargaining with a photographer they selected, who would take photos that will be forever, trying to get them to offer their services at the lowest price possible, instead of looking for someone who fits into their budget. People just want to fulfill their need for something at the lowest cost. With that they also devalue and disrespect the time and effort the artist has put into their craft. People see the art that they want to own, but don’t see what’s behind it. They want the art, but they don’t care for the artist.
There are artists whose work I really love, but can’t afford at the moment. The prices might seem high, but that is the value of their work. If I can’t afford it now, then I’ll wait until I can afford to buy it, instead of telling them that they are too expensive. Saying that their work is too expensive is like telling them that their time and energy they have put into it is not worth paying the price they are asking for. And if that is exactly what you are thinking, then maybe you are better off buying mass produced canvases from IKEA. Why is that so many people who need the services of artists, designers or photographers are never willing to value their work? If being an artist or photographer is so easy that it can’t be considered as work, why do we still ask them to do that stuff for us?
As someone who is interested in art, I like to learn everything that has to do with. I don’t only like to draw or take photos, I like to build websites, and make it look how I want, I like to learn how to use designing and editing programs like Photoshop, Lightroom or InDesign, I like to learn how to design business cards, I like crafting and designing accessories, I like writing and podcasting and a lot more. That also means that I will invest the time and energy to look up resources like tutorials on YouTube to teach me those things and I take the time to learn. That way I can say now, that I have been able to accumulate some skills in different fields. Knowing a little bit more is always useful, in life and for work. However, the latter can become a problem. If you know how to do stuff, you will become responsible for a lot more things as an employee, but you won’t get paid more. I already spoke about this before. They always tell you to learn anything you can, because then you have more chances to get employed. Yes, you will be employed and they will profit from all your skills that took years to learn in your own time, while they still pay you the same minimum wage, because you should be thankful they even hired you. I offered to take photos one or two times for events at work, when I was involved in the organization and since then I have become the person who of course will take photos at events that can last a whole day or even two days, even if I’m not involved in the organization and even if it is outside my work schedule. Also, it doesn’t just end with the event, because after that I still have to transfer hundreds and hundreds of photos over to my harddrive, which can take a pretty long time. It also takes up a lot of space on my harddrive, that I have to buy myself which is not cheap either. Then I have to transfer them over to my editing program and look through all the images and select the ones to edit and to send off. This can take me a whole weekend after such an event. People who aren’t active in the creative industry never see the work behind it and will assume that it will be just a matter of a few minutes. If you are overly enthusiastic and offer your help in those areas, people will think that you are going to be willing and happy to do it all the time. It is easier that way and they can save money, because they don’t have to look for and pay someone else outside of the workplace to do it. One time I said that I can use InDesign and could deal with a problem someone had with a project. Since then I have become the person in the office who can use InDesign and should be responsible for all the design matters. Before that they actually had to hire and pay someone from outside, but ever since there is me, that is not necessary anymore and no, I don’t get paid extra. It has just become one of my duties. It is expected of me and it is difficult for me to decline because I hate to let people down. So does that mean I’m a pushover and that it is my fault? I always tell myself, that I should see it as gathering experience and of course it is a way to gain experience in some things that I haven’t done for a long time. I can use those in my portfolio, so I can benefit from it in a way. But for how long should I keep doing it for “exposure” and “experience” until someone is willing to pay for it? An accountant took the time to learn the skills needed to do their job and when someone needs their services, nobody will ever think of asking an accountant to do their taxes for free. So why is it different when it comes to creatives? Because they are happy to do it? Because it’s a hobby anyways?
People say that by using artists’ work they will give the artist “exposure”. “Exposure” simply meaning to make the artist known to more people when the work is published elsewhere and that should be enough payment. In 99% of the cases artists don’t actually benefit from their work being shared by someone else. Maybe they get one or two more followers, but does that pay the rent? The utility bills? The food? The equipment? Most people who consume art are rarely interested in the origin of the artwork they are looking at. Unless they really like the style and would like to be exposed to more of that kind, many move on after looking at it and maybe giving it a like.
Even if many artists publish their work online for free to share it with their audience, so many artists become victims of art theft. Their art gets stolen, by individuals claiming it as their own, or to repost it on social media platforms without crediting the artist to gain followers, or by companies using that stolen art to promote their products or even to design their own products to sell. They make profit from something someone else has put their sweat, their passion, their time into whereas the artist gets nothing. People feel entitled to use the work of others, just because they published them on the internet.
There have been several cases where well-known clothing brands, who for sure would have enough money to hire the artists, stole artworks from artists on Instagram to print on their clothes (the following examples are from the article “84 times artists caught companies and fake artists copying their work and selling it as their own” by boredpanda).
If these big companies, who could easily afford to pay people don’t even show the respect for artists, then who will? What does it say about them when they rather steal designs than hire those people and pay them for their work? With this practice they prevent artists to get the chance of being paid for their work. They assume that the artist is too small to even defend themselves. Big companies can afford lawyers and have a whole team to defend them in court, whereas an artist mostly have to deal with those issues themselves, which costs them time and energy and money as well, if they choose to hire a lawyer.
There are people who say that art is useless and they don’t see the value in it and therefore don’t see the need to respect the person behind the art. When artists get upset, they are told that they shouldn’t post their art online if they don’t want it to get stolen. Yes, they don’t have to put it online, but isn’t it very generous of artists to share something so personal for free for everyone to consume? Aside from that, why should we tell artists to not upload their work instead of condemn the stealing? Saying that it’s the artist’s own fault is just victim-blaming and sends out the message to the thieves that it is acceptable to steal someone else’s work without having to fear any consequences. Is that the world we live in now? So it’s too much to ask to respect the artist and their work? The audacity of some people just make me speechless. I can’t believe there are people wandering on this planet who think they are entitled to do anything they want. Do they know no manners? No shame? Don’t they have any human decency. Just because the artist published it on the internet for everyone to see, people can just steal it however they like? Are you going to say the same to a bookstore? ‘Oh, if you don’t want your books to get stolen, maybe you shouldn’t display them on the shelves for everyone to see’.
Maybe every artist on this planet should stop sharing their work online. We don’t need art anyways, right? So it won’t matter, if you can look at art or not. Art is not a necessity. If art is useless, it is really not worth anything to become an artist. Artists don’t have any valuable skills after all. That means companies should easily be able to promote and sell their products without designers, videographers or photographers. That means people can design their wedding invitations themselves and take photos of their special day themselves. That means a businesses can just come up with a brand logo themselves. Drawing something doesn’t take much time and snapping a few photos isn’t too difficult either, right? It’s easy right? So why hire and pay someone else if everyone can just do it themselves just fine? We don’t want to pay artists for their work anyways and if it gets stolen, well sucks to be an artist. You should have studied something decent then, if you want to be paid properly. So what is even the point of making and showing art? We should just all become managers, CEOs or doctors, because only then people are willing to have some respect for you. Nobody needs artists.
Imagine a world without art. You wouldn’t have a phone. You wouldn’t have anything to look at on Instagram. You wouldn’t have fashion magazines. You wouldn’t have theaters. Does art truly mean nothing more than short time pleasure or entertainment? Art is not only the painting you see in a museum like the Louvre. Art is not only Picasso or Monet. Art is not only the Scream or the Mona Lisa. Art is the billboard you see on the streets. Art is the cup you’re drinking tea out of. Art is the book you’re reading. Art is the song you’re listening to. Art is the t-shirt you’re wearing. Art is the Apple logo on your phone. Art is the game you’re playing. Art is the sticker you send to your friends in the group chat. Art is the movie you’re watching. Art is a mean to express ourselves, our feelings, emotions and thoughts. We capture events, history and the time we live in through art. We can communicate through art. Art can offer new thinking approaches and ideas. Art can help us understand and connect with other people and cultures.
Art is part of our existence. So tell me, can we exist without creativity? Can we live in a society without art? Art is more than a pretty picture and being an artist does not mean that we owe the world free labour.