Creative Work is Still Work, and It Has a Definite Value

I was contacted last week by a local person that “works” in the field in which I have a master’s degree (a different specialty) locally and has done so for the past 25ish years.  You will see why I use the quotation marks around the word “work” below.  Evidently my aunt was talking to this person casually about her very talented niece and nephew (me and my husband), and finding the common thread, this person took it upon herself to email me the contact information of many different people locally that I should send my information to.  We go back and forth a bit via email, with her being rah-rah you can do this, get out there, there’s a real dearth of people in your field locally, and my saying how I’m hoping to move back towards freelancing full-time eventually.  She came back and said she had talked to someone else who had mentioned that I would need some kind of digital portfolio and resume (uh… duh?) before contacting those on the list she had given me, and I very kindly told her that I was no stranger to cold-calling/emailing people, that I had an MFA, that my online portfolio was already set up, and that I had worked professionally during and after grad school but quickly got tired of only averaging $5 per hour when you divided my fee and the hours spent working.  And the email I got back was basically “oh, well you won’t make any MONEY doing this locally, maybe gas money but that’s about it.  It’s all about doing what you love.”

The more I’ve been thinking about this email, the more annoyed I get.  It’s a big problem.  My time is the only thing I can really value, and yes, there are many things that I miss about the artistic industry that I briefly was a part of, but why the hell would I want to come home from my crappy full-time job and stress and slave away working at ultimately someone else’s creative vision of which I own no piece, when right now I can come home, spend some time with my family, and then work at either my own creative visions that I can then try to monetize myself owning 100% of any future profits while getting MY voice and MY vision out to the world or do custom work for ample pay?  It makes no sense to me.  Yes, I could become the “go-to” person for this city, I might even get to win a few local awards, which MAYBE could translate at best into future sales of my independent stuff, but that possibility doesn’t even interest me at this point because I’m quite frankly a bit disgusted.  Nothing like feeling abused and taken advantage of to put a sour taste in your mouth.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m being unspecific on purpose as I still need to separate my real identity from my creative one.  For those of you do personally know me, you know exactly what creative industry I’m talking about, and I don’t mean to denigrate you if you take part at a more local verses professional level.  But for someone with my training, crap like this is a slap in the face.  There are levels and degrees of education, and, as far as my particular expertise goes, a definite difference between a hobbyist/volunteer, a student with lots of training, someone with my level of training (which we’ll put at a journeyman level), and a true artiste.  And as with so many creative jobs, you get the level of expertise that you pay for or you’re taking advantage of an artist that really deserves better.

I have zero interest in working for free, unless it’s to help a friend, it’s a cause that I truly believe in, or it’s to further get my name out into the world (ie. I will be posting free short stories for download, etc).  I do not need your portfolio- or resume-building creative jobs that I’ll relinquish all rights to once it’s completed.  I don’t need you to undervalue my training.  I have a value, a high value, and if you want my expertise, you will recognize that value.

If you are currently a student or recent graduate and you choose to do this kind of work, then do so, but try to sign some kind of contract whenever possible to protect future interests and at the very least put a dollar-amount value on it, even if you never see a dime.  If you are a professional, choose your projects with care and stay in control to protect your creation and your business interests.  Don’t take low-paying or no-paying jobs because you’re just grateful for the opportunity to do creative work at all.  Always read the fine line and always value yourself.  It’s time for artists of all stripes to band together and stop this bullshit.

::steps down off soapbox::

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7 thoughts on “Creative Work is Still Work, and It Has a Definite Value

  1. Amen to that! I find it disheartening to say the least when even well meaning people expect you to work for little or even free on their projects. As if they have some golden egg that you just have to shine for them. After slaving away for days over their project; I have literally had clients tell me to my face “Why should i pay you, its just a drawing.”

      • I saw way to much of that when I lived in New Mexico. Everyone thought it was cool to live bohemian, especially if you weren’t but actually had money. I had to actually work for a living off my art.

  2. I find that if you see value in your own work, others will as well. I think people trying to build their brand often find little in their own worth, and will work for peanuts practically. I think they key to any success is to put great value in whatever you do, price it appropriately, and over time and through additional pieces, you’ll gain dedicated followers and customers. However that’s just me though =P. Love the blog!

    • Thank you! I agree with you. I think too often artists feel like they should be grateful for whatever crumbs they can get from the table, and that really needs to change. I don’t think we need to all become arrogant jerks, but we should be honest with ourselves and our talents and what level we’re at because if we don’t, there aren’t many other options left.

  3. People would never expect a plumber to “just fix that leak” or a mechanic to “just get the car running” for free, yet they seldom stop to think that creative services have a value as well. Thanks for getting on your soap box.

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