Paying artists in “exposure” is not okay

Haley Promise '21

Imagine you are a struggling professional artist. You share your art online and have a decent following, but you haven’t been able to find a steady artistic career. You mostly live off of commission and selling art prints online, but it isn’t enough to pay the bills. Suddenly, you get a message from someone asking for help with a project, wanting to commission you to draw them some art for a video on their Youtube channel. This could be great. You give them your payment information and wait for a response, eager to help if it means being able to keep a roof over your head. However, they don’t want to pay you in money. They instead claim they will pay you in the exposure their video will give you, claiming that even being involved in any of their projects is a privilege on its own.

This is not okay, and absolutely not the way to “pay” a struggling artist.

These days, with the rise of the internet, it’s become easier and easier for artists to be able to share and sell their work. Social media sites such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram have become prime destinations to check out the work of artists both big and small, and it makes finding the type of art you enjoy simple. However, with art being easier to share comes art being easier to steal without credit, and taking advantage of smaller artists who don’t know better is unfortunately common, whether or not the person asking for the free art or using people’s art without their permission had malicious intent or not. Although many people draw as a simple hobby, there’s been a steady increase of people looking into becoming an artist of some sort as their full-time career. Some people’s only source of income is money they get from commission and selling their work both online and in person, so doing free work can take a massive toll on their bank account.

Asking an artist to make you free art and expecting to pay them “in exposure” is the equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant, ordering a huge meal, and simply not paying the bill because you’re going to write a review on the food later. Someone is doing a service for you, and you should be ready to pay whatever price tag the artist puts on their work. Becoming a good artist is difficult enough, but imagine going into it as a career and not getting any money for the work you do. It’s unfortunate how common it is for people to ask an artist for a commission and be completely shocked to find out that it costs money to get a custom-made piece of artwork.

Reposting or stealing art is already bad enough, but what’s even worse is when people steal art and sell it online without the original artist’s permission. This has been an increasingly common occurrence, with clothing sites stealing or copying art to sell on t-shirts, tote bags, mugs, and more. The worst thing is that this stuff sells. People oblivious to the fact that stolen artwork was used will buy these stolen t-shirt designs without thought, not realizing someone out there is losing money they should get for the hard work they’ve done. Again, the ease of posting art online can be great, but also comes with many risks. It’s important to be careful where you buy your t-shirts, and to make sure the places you buy from only makes merchandise with art original to them.

Overall, it’s hard to be an artist, especially when posting art online can be both a blessing and a curse. Artists work tirelessly to perfect their craft, but some don’t even get the proper compensation for the work they put in. Supporting small artists is so important, especially with a steady increase in people wanting to work as an artist as a full-time job. Please, if you find an artist whose work you enjoy, please consider supporting them through commission or through buying any merchandise you sell. You’ll mean a lot more to them than you may realize.