Maria Brophy


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Why Artists Should (Not) Be Paid for Their Artwork

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Garcon a la Pipe by Picasso - Sold for $137.5 Million

Oh after you mop the floor and clean the barn, can you finish the Sistine chapel in your spare time?”  Contributed by my Facebook Friend Ross Fletcher

I woke up feeling quite feisty this morning.  Nothing makes me spit nails more than the idea that some people under-value the work of artists.

Last night I was at a Blog World Expo party in Las Vegas.  I met a pretty boy from a social media company who asked about my blog.  I told him that I help artists make a living doing what they love with art.

Pretty boy replied, “Artists shouldn’t be paid for their art.  Getting paid prevents them from creating really good stuff.”

Drew and Maria June 17, 2000

I thought back to the artsy photographers I hired for my wedding day.  They were more expensive than your average wedding photographer, but they gave me something wonderful:  stunning photos of the most important day of my life!

I can’t even entertain the thought that being paid makes your work less good.  That’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.

I asked him, “If they don’t get paid, who feeds their families and pays for their supplies?”

“They should work another job,” he said, rather smugly.

I want to make three points about Art, Contribution and Money with this article:

  1. Your art is a CONTRIBUTION to society. It brings joy, it solves problems, and it makes this world a better place.
  2. Being paid ALLOWS you to make that contribution to society.
  3. Your contribution expands in relation to the amount of time you put into it. More hours = expanded contribution to this world with your God-given talent.

We live in a money-based society. That won’t change anytime soon – so those of you who say “money isn’t important” get over it!

I almost punched pretty boy in the face when he said to me, “Artists are better off working a job they hate and then painting in their spare time.”

This is the problem I have with that:

a.)     No one should work a job they hate.  You were put on this earth with talents and you are meant to do that which you are good at and what you love!

b.)    The world is missing out on your contribution. The less an artist creates, the less they grow.  It requires hours upon hours to hone your craft.

If you are at a “real job” for 40-50 hours a week, doing what you hate, and then you have to come home and be a parent, and mow the lawn, and feed your kids, when will you create art?

I have friends who regret living most of their lives working in an office job and only creating a few paintings a year because that’s all there was time for.  Think of how much their talent would have improved, how much they could have shared, had they created all day instead!

Soooooo”, I asked the pretty boy, my blood getting hot with frustration, “do you get paid for YOUR work?”

Of course, the answer was yes.  “Does getting paid make your work less good?”  I asked.  “Well, no” he said.  “That’s different.”

Yeah, I thought so.

This topic drives me insane.  Why should one small segment of the population have their work devalued so much that they are forced to struggle?  Should interior designers also not be paid, and should musicians play for free and should the guy who artistically installs my decorative bathroom tile do it for nothing?

And an even better question is this:  why should my plumber be paid more than an artist?!

FlyingFish Surfboard by Drew Brophy for Surfrider Foundation 2005Drew Brophy has been a working artist since he was a teenager.  He’s always “Lived by the Paintbrush.”

When he was in his twenties, he painted surfboards for a living.  A lot of them.  So many that he’s become known in the surf industry as the artist who changed the way that surfboards were painted.

He says that painting 10-15 surfboards a day helped him to get really good and to develop a very strong style of his own.  His style is now well recognized and many people try to emulate it and attribute their artwork to being inspired by Drew.

If Drew had been working in another field and only painting in his spare time, he would have been wasting his talent.

Drew paints what he wants, and he loves doing it.  When someone commissions a painting, it’s because they love his style.  It’s a beautiful way to put art into the world and be able to live a good life.

Charging for his artwork allows him to make people happy with his art. Without payment, he wouldn’t have the time, because he’d have to pay the bills by working on something else.  And there’s only so much time in the day.

Though he hardly paints surfboards anymore, occasionally he will.  These paintings BRING GREAT JOY TO PEOPLE.  When they see their very own Drew Brophy surfboard painting for the first time, their eyes light up!


One happy surfer boy!

(The picture to the left is from a thank you card that ten year old Spencer wrote, thanking Drew for his painted surfboard – he is proud to be seen with it!)

Charging for your artwork enables you to make a contribution to the world with your art. It allows you to develop your style and to get better and better at what you do.

Most of my friends are creative people.  The rare few that don’t care about being paid are either supported by a family member or have another career that they really enjoy.

We live in a money based society.  That isn’t going to change right now.  It costs money to eat, put your kid in sports, to have a home.  We most likely won’t see that change in our lifetime.

As long as we are stuck in a money based system, I find it an outright insult to all hardworking artists to say they shouldn’t be paid for what they do.

It’s just a crazy notion that this one, single profession should work for free!  (While everyone else gets paid…)

What do you think?

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361 Comments Why Artists Should (Not) Be Paid for Their Artwork

  1. Sarah

    Great article! btw pretty boy is exactly the type of person I enjoy crushing into a pile of loser by reminding him of the ignorance that permeates his whole being….ha..

    I’m an artist and if something takes energy, skill, intense concentration, attention to detail, and lots and lots of time (sometimes my back gets sore and my brain gets mushy from concentrating so long) then it should be paid for like any other job. I only give art away for free if it’s a gift, for example a birthday or wedding present.

    Therefore, that is why it is always a good idea to keep a daily log of how many hours you painted and breaks you took so that when it comes time to price your art you are not selling yourself short and it demonstrates that you are a professional who recognizes the value of their WORK.(work? hint hint)

    Moreover, those assholes that don’t want to pay for artwork are those who do not understand or appreciate art in the first place.

    Besides, those that really love my work are actually quite eager and willing to give me their money :). It is only money after all and people spend it on tattoos, coffees, takeout, cinema, alcohol, etc…

    With this in mind, is art less valuable than those other things we buy for our pleasure? The answer is Absolutely not!!!

    Conclusively, I always say it’s called artwork because you had to WORK to create it.

  2. Ian

    One thing only… is something you have in your soul and you present it in the world..How much your soul costs?What i want to say is how you put a price in your soul,isn’t that degrading?And i thnk what pretty boy wants to say is that if you after money you will do art for the masses/popular which usualy sucks,,still art but bad art….one last thing you can not study art..a fellow artist(sorry for my english, not my native language)(always friendly)

    1. Amandah

      Art is not some mysterious thing you “have in your soul”. We don’t wave our hands at a canvas like some wad of dandelion fluff and a picture just appears out of cosmic rays and bunny butts (and if I’m wrong and it does work that way, someone better clue me in ’cause I’m doing it all wrong.) It’s a skill, honed the way any other skill is – with hours and hours of mind/hand-numbing practice. The difference between an artist and a non-artist is the same as the difference between a doctor and a non-doctor – the artist/doctor put in the time, effort, and schooling to learn their craft. That’s it.

  3. AM

    I agree with you and I’m only playing Devils advocate here… I think part of the reason people have this view is because the type of art you’re talking about is considered a luxury whereas having running water isnt. (Wheye you ask why should a plumber be paid more than a painter or whatnot.)

  4. AM

    And I agree with what ESL person said too: If an artist still creates despite being paid for it, that shows art is in their soul. There are so many so-called “artists” nowadays who do do it only for the money, and because we “enable” this (via paying ppl for art), a) it’s hard to distinguish between true artists and people who don’t have art in their “soul”. B) it allows for a lot of bad art. Pretty Boy agreed had some bad delivery but maybe this is a less mean version of it.

    And sorry for my typing too–I’m writing this on my phone and I suck at it.

  5. Pingback: Priceless – Limpidfrog

  6. Diana

    Too bad pretty boy wasn’t speaking with Pablo Picasso! Picasso more than likely would have picked up a board and wacked him over the head to give him thst “finishing touch.”

  7. Aggrey

    Anybody who critisizes what they dont understand reminds me of a symbolic thought I always get when I meet them, imagine a goat trying to direct a quantum physics project! A pig reverse engineering an advanced alien species ship, a donkey trying some Gymkhana or is it an elephant trying ballet? It’s really confusing when those that can’t do what you do get so quick at attaining a “gift” of making you look as non-talented, but you know darkness reminds us of daylight.

  8. Eric

    I almost punched pretty boy in the face when he said to me, “Artists are better off working a job they hate and then painting in their spare time.”

    I think that’s a super dumb philosophy!! the problem in our society is the excuse not to pay artists so the big corporate machine can continue to take money from their creations and people can keep downloading their music for free! All art can contribute great things to this world, as can plumbers and brick layers, but to say that art deserves to be in the realm of irrelevancy is not fair to those who work long, hard hours to share their gifts!

  9. Debbie

    Great article thanks. I needed to read this as my husband is the pretty boy. It’s hard to hear him say “why don’t you just give her the picture” or “it’s only your hobby.” Or They Can’t afford it.” …. When I’m only charging for supplies not the 8 hours I put into the painting anyway. It makes me mad. He devalues me by not acknowledging my work as important because I dont make a living at it. He tells me to get a real job. Ahhhh!!!!!!!

  10. 300mbfilms

    Therefore, that is why it is always a good idea to keep a daily log of how many hours you painted and breaks you took so that when it comes time to price your art you are not selling yourself short and it demonstrates that you are a professional who recognizes the value of their WORK.(work? hint hint)

  11. Sibuna

    Getting paid is fair. However I have tried to sell my art in the past and people start asking for specific stuff and dont feel connected with. Most of the time I have given my art away to people who are importatnt to me or they just touched and feel connected to an specific painting. It would be so nice to just dedicate most of my time to art. I like and do art in many ways, music, dance, painting… But there is this other thing that happens to me (and I dont know if someone else feels the same) I love it when someone likes and wants my paintings in their house and at the same time it hurts to see them go . I see them (my work) like my own children. I dont see a product where i feel comfortable talking about a price. Sometimes I feel like im selling my child away . Im very connected to my work, I dont do it because I know who to do it and impress people with it. It is more of an emotional need . I work a lot and when i have sometime off I paint for placer, just like going on a cruise during my vacation, it feels the same. And then seeing this source of happiness going away …. Real mixed feelings. Do you know how to work this issue? I think I need serious help.
    And off course getting paid is necessary, supplies are so damn expensive. X

  12. Alisa Rose

    I can’t believe how naive it is to say artists shouldn’t be compensated for their work. I’ve put 30+ years in to hone a skill that IS in my soul and always has been. If the client wants the artist’s soul then perhaps they should give the artist more creative freedom when they commission their work. Remember, before there were cameras, artists were paid very well to capture a king’s portrait or spend a lifetime on the Sisteen Chapel. Just because you may have a faulty opinion that states real artists don’t do good work when they’re paid doesn’t make you right. There are several types of art and design and some of the very best get paid top dollar. No it’s not fair to starve an artist and render any person struggling to keep a roof when they’ve paid their dues and deserve compensation for something you want them to do for you. If you’re not interested in an artist’s work fine but don’t run around instilling in other people’s heads that art isn’t worth much if it’s paid for. That is degrading my years of skill, of trial and error, and dedication. And if you deserve to get paid for your years of skill, trial and error, and dedication then so do I. Stick with your cheap Ikea cityscapes and shut your mouth. You really do NOT have a clue what you’re talking about or what it’s like to be STARVING and made to feel worthless for having a practiced, polished, and difficult craft to hone. How anyone could be so entitled to think they are any different is beyond me. How dare you insist that you’re any different and deserve to be paid more for your skill? How would you feel if a large part of the population mocked what you do by telling you you shouldn’t be paid for your work, that your work suffers its integrity when money is involved, and that your soul is being compromised if you’re allowed to eat and live under a roof? It’s not different. Artists are not different than you for having a skill and we do not deserve to be thought of as incapable of bearing our souls when money is involved as though we are not intelligent enough to remain creative when we lack struggle. You’re wrong and it’s insulting as hell, not to mention rude, and insensitive. Get off your high horse. If anyone gives you any part of their hard-earned skill, you should expect to pay for their time. Everyone needs to eat, breathe, and survive including artists.


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