It happened again. An artist wrote to me about a project she was offered, excited by the opportunity. She wasn’t going to be paid, mind you, but it would be “good exposure.”
Ah good exposure! The two words that should make every artist cringe.
I get it. Trust me, I still do things for good exposure. And I find it just as difficult to pay my bills with exposure as you do. Exposure is a tricky thing. We all want it, but we don’t want to give ourselves away in the process of getting it. So should artists do things for exposure?
Well, it depends. If you want to get eyes on work and the venue’s appropriate, then why not? Just make sure that the work is going to be taken care of, that all of the relevant information is available, and that you have a clear under standing of terms should something sell.
And dare to look deeper. Is there anything else in that situation that might benefit you?
Something other than money?
- Do you have books that could be sold or calendars or small prints?
- Could your bio be added to the business’ website with a link to your own?
- Could the organization promote you on their social media channels?
- Perhaps if it’s for an event, you can ask for the attendees’ names so that can build your mailing list? (with their permission, of course)
I’ve hung artists’ work at coffee shops, restaurants, and doctors’ offices a few times. I always made sure to go the extra mile. I formed relationships with the staff and educated them about the art. I even promised them a small private kickback should they make the sale. I held an Opening Party, and always made it a point to have my meetings at that location.
If the work was going to be more of a permanent display, or if I didn’t see a whole lot of art buyers going through the space, I suggested a trade instead. The venue could own the work and in exchange I received credit towards their goods and services. Win! Win!
But I digress. Because this particular artist wrote that the exposure she was promised was lacking. She was given certain assurances that were not delivered. How, she asked, could she complain without sounding difficult?
Ah! The fear of sounding difficult! Funny thing about difficult. I’ve worked with hundreds of artists in my career. And some of them were what you might call difficult.
But there’s two different types of difficult.
- There’s the egotistical, pain-in-the-ass difficult. This is the artist who leaves hergood manners at home and acts as if everyone else is an indentured servant.
- And then there’s the artist who’s not afraid to be an advocate for her work. She respects herself and takes her job seriously, always maintaining the highest standards.
Do you see the difference?
I’ll tell you what I told the artist who wrote me with her quandary: when you speak up for yourself, when you push back, no matter how nicely you do it, there’s always a chance you’ll be labeled difficult. Because for some reason, those who don’t take their work seriously are easily threatened by those of us who do. It’s easy for them to label us as “difficult.” But that’s the risk we take.
In my experience, the most successful artists are successful because they’re adamant about protecting their work. They bring 110% to the job and their standards are high.
So how do you protect yourself without getting a bad reputation? It’s like this:
- You’re always professional and courteous, never angry nor defensive nor accusatory. You meet deadlines, budgets and you exceed expectations.
- You value what you do and value those who help you do it.
- You stop taking on projects where it’s not specified – in writing – exactly what you expect in return. And you advocate for your work when you feel it’s in a compromising situation. I wonder what would happen if we replaced the word difficult with the word strong?
Because when it comes to your work and your career, being strong will get you where you want to go every time.
And that is nothing to be afraid of.