You Promise Exposure, We Want to See Results

You think you're doing artists a “favor” by “giving us exposure that we can't get ourselves.”
You want us to pay a monthly fee for your nothing-else-like-it (ha!) online art gallery, enter your art competition for exposure, design your new logo for free, or purchase booth space at your event. You promise “exposure” in return for our art or our money.
Think again.
Artists are all kinds of tired listening to lines like these. We know how the world works and we know you're trying to make money by – in part – using our art.

Let's Be Partners

We're trying to make money, too. Acknowledge that. Acknowledge that we have something you want in the form of talent and ideas. Acknowledge that we are valuable to you and your business. Acknowledge that we have gifts.
Don't pretend we can't see past your motives.
Don't present your idea like you're doing us a big favor in the form of “more exposure for our art.”
You're using artists to help you make more money. That's fine, but be honest about it.
Why not try something radical and create a partnership?
Why not treat us as equals as you would with other business relationships?
Instead of: “I've got a great idea that will give you lots of exposure for your art” . . .
Opt for: “I have this great product. I'd like more people to buy it and I think you can help me. How can we work together so that we both benefit? What do you need right now?”
This is not only an honest approach, it's a keystone for a stronger relationship. If we like you, we'll help spread the word. If you're just another salesperson, we'll figure it out.
A lot of people want our money or talents and we seem to be disappointed more and more frequently. Signing on for “promised exposure” hasn't yielded great results to date.
We're tired of it. We're not dumb. We see through the marketing speak.

Prove It

Give us the numbers. You want our money, art, and talents? We want cold, hard facts.
We'd like to see a screen capture of your Google Analytics in detail.
We want to see your click-through rates from your email marketing campaigns.
We'd like to know exactly how you're going to promote your art competition: advertising, mailings, frequency, etc.
We'd like to talk personally with 5 highly satisfied customers.
We'd like to know precisely how many people walked through your doors during your last exhibit and how much art (in $$) was sold.
Any other smart businessperson would demand these statistics. We are smart businesspeople.
Stop making promises. Start showing us results. If you don't have the results, be up front. Tell us why we should take a chance on you. Make your case.

Let's Talk About This

I'm feeling feisty and hope this post starts a conversation. I receive these pitches just like you do. They come to me when people want access to you via this blog. They want me to write about their great new product or service for artists that will give you lots of exposure.
Most of them are well-meaning. They don't know what they're doing. They don't understand that I've heard it all before and get pitched to several times a week.
Others are just bad at what they do. They've obviously never looked at this blog. They just know it ranks high and that it has “art” in the title.
One poor, genuinely nice guy last week got an earful when he pitched his idea to me. Normally I wouldn't even bother responding. But I sensed authenticity in his email. I just told him he needed a different approach – that artists are tired of hearing about promised exposure.
Was I right? Are you tired of hearing about promised exposure and not seeing results?

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143 thoughts on “You Promise Exposure, We Want to See Results”

  1. Your exquisite post applies to all creatives, artists, authors, musicians, even those locked away in corporate cube farms. Everyone makes promises to us, the insanely rare to find ones *over* deliver.

  2. Right on! This is a HUGE problem in my small community of many generous creative souls. There are hundreds of festivals, auctions, public gatherings, private parties, new small businesses each year that need a piece of artwork, a string quartet for a ceremony, a poster for an event, a logo for a new business – donated, chosen by competition or just for “exposure”. When this happens repeatedly, the perceived value of high-quality creative content is diminished in the public eye. The result is that the public begins to expect all creative content at no cost AND the expectation for quality is simultaneously diminished. Please support the arts and efforts of professional creatives: don’t provide your creative content for exposure, prizes or meals!

    1. It’s funny because I really didn’t see this post as applying to nonprofits. I have a whole different response to that. But I can see that you all are getting the same pitch from them – promised exposure.

  3. Thank-you.
    I think this is the first piece I’ve read that proceeds from rather working towards the assumption that artists are business people.

  4. Thanks for thinking this thought all the way through. We are tired of these endless pitches. I like how diplomatic your response is. It seems like every business is on the art bandwagon. Very few recognize us on the opposite side of the table as business people just like them. Your simple comment “we want to make money, too” is a shocker for the larger community. Thanks for providing some response handles.

    1. Karen: We do want to make money! And I don’t think we should be shy about that.
      Glad you picked that out of this long post.

  5. Yes. I want some evidence of the claims for success and exposure before I commit my spend; it’s small, so I have to get it exactly right. And when I ask for evidence, people seem to think that I should just take their word for it. I don’t. Just as I didn’t when I was commissioning training in the day job. That was a bigger spend, but the same principles apply. Good article, Alison.

    1. Marion: Those people obviously haven’t figured out their product/service. Anyone who is trying to sell knows to research possible objections to what they have – and to be prepared to respond.

  6. Totally agree with Kim T.! And what come to mind is this recently happened with a local business where a bunch of artists were asked via a competition to do various labels for their product with the promise they would recieve profits from their sales. After a year the business started to fade and the artists were never contacted…lesson learned.get it in writing!

    1. Lisa: That breaks my heart. But it also shows that the business had no business being in business. (how’s that for a sentence?!) Otherwise, they would have tried to make their artists (those who supported them from the beginning) happy.

  7. Right on target! “Exposure” is definitely the key word; however, it needs to financially benefit ALL involved. Art festival producers get their booth fees up front (and the visitors enter for free). Art web sites get their cut. Art based marketing, consulting, and promotional services get their cut. Granted, as artists who are in the business of producing art, we need to follow up on our end and do the requisite work associated with marketing and promoting; however, in a greedy service-based economy where artists are seen as gullible and desperate, we need to take a stand against this sort of thing! (Thanks, Alyson!) ~Phyllis Walker, Hummingbird Studios

  8. Alyson, you are right on target with this one. Since getting involved in the business of art, I have been amazed by the number of sales pitches that promise the moon and stars but don’t deliver. Your approach on partnership is perfect. Honest discussion would be refreshing, and it is the only foundation for a relationship that ensures long term success. I believe the artist – business person relationship is very important, and mutual respect makes that work.
    You do a great job educating artists and others in the artbiz. I wish that I had read this post about 3 years ago. Great post, thanks.

  9. Thanks for this Alyson! But perhaps we need to be proactive in this. I got tired of this a few years ago and started proposing some of the following:
    – I won’t donate but I will do 50/50. Pieces at auction sell for about 75% of retail
    – I will provide my work at wholesale – you sell it for what you think you can get for it
    – If you want my work for a door prize – you provide a display showing my picture, a brief descriptive bio and my business cards.
    This is what I usually say to those who want my work:
    You have contacted me because my work is well-known in this area therefore you will not be giving me “exposure”, I will be giving you credibility. I need something in return. (Then we negotiate.)
    Sometimes I will donate without return. If it a cause that I truly believe in or it is a friend, etc. However, all work sold in this way is expensed as marketing!

    1. I think there is a danger in allowing our work to be “auctioned” when we know that the final price may be below market value. This hurts us in both the short and long run, even when we are getting a percentage of the sale. I have heard more than once someone say, “Oh I only buy my work from charity auctions. This way I get work at a cheaper price, and support a charity I like.” This is in no way a win-win for artists.
      That said, I do like to support some worthy local charities with my work, but I’ve come up with a way that doesn’t devalue my work and gets more bang for the buck for the charity. I only donate lower priced items, such as etchings, and I make this deal: I am giving this $200 work to the first person who donates 3 to 10 times the value of it to said charity.
      I donate a $200 work.
      The Charity gets $2000.
      My donation no longer becomes a place to get my work cheaply.
      everyone wins.

    2. Anne: That’s the nature of the beast of auctions. I think it’s better if they are all-art auctions and people in the room are there to buy art. But it still must give us pause.

    3. Jim: I love this:
      “You have contacted me because my work is well-known in this area therefore you will not be giving me “exposure”, I will be giving you credibility.”
      Right on!

    4. I love that too! The same goes for the businesses who want you to decorate their offices indefinitely to help give you exposure! How about a “Lease-to-Own” plan instead if you like my art so much!

  10. Great post Alyson!!! I am so tired of people pitching promising great returns and then when I do a little looking discover no track record and that often they can’t answer the most basic of questions.

  11. Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront in such an empowering on target post. As a whole artists are often asked to give, one reason I often hear is what we do is considered talent, and if its a natural talent, well then … as we read, you know the story – an artist is expected and asked to easily give it away. Concrete evidence is not too much to ask from any entity, perhaps we could all make this list our prerequisite. I like Jim’s response about credibility too. Sharing this with my world – Robin

    1. Robin: I liked Jim’s response, too.
      I will write more posts like this to remind artists about their responsibilities as members of a larger artist community.

  12. I guess I’m not tired of these pitches because I don’t pay attention to them – that’s what my ’round file’ is for. Having said that, I do donate art to a couple of entities that I believe strongly in, but I do it because I believe in them, not for what the connection might do for me.
    I believe it is up to us to be more respectful of what we do. No one can take advantage of us if we don’t let them. Kim T and Jim L above both make excellent points.

  13. I agree with a lot of what is being said here. I do think though that one of the problems isn’t the promise of exposure, it’s that the people asking artists for help don’t understand the difference in an artist’s business vs say a retail one, or another service oriented one.
    It often costs a service oriented business, like say an insurance brokerage, little to nothing to donate a small amount of money in support of a cause, and to them, it’s a great deal. For their $200 donation, they will get exposure. They can’t buy advertising with that kind of reach for that amount of money, and they are getting good PR for supporting a good cause. But it doesn’t work that way for artists. I’ve always felt that this is the crux of the problem. As an artist there are many other ways for me to get exposure just as good or better than this event being proposed to me (as a visual artist it’s already built into my occupation that people want to see what I’m doing), without me having to give away my work for free or for little compensation. If I ran a different kind of small business, then supporting the cause would be a boon for me – little expense for a lot of return.

    1. Exactly, Robert!
      Service oriented businesses can definitely use this type of exposure–they need the public to become aware of their existence.
      But all it seems to do for us artists is tell everybody that we’ll work for free. Not the exposure we’re looking for!

    2. Thanks for that addition, Robert. Very important distinction.
      I think what sticks in my craw is the assumption that artists can’t get “exposure” on their own. Or that the entity’s exposure is somehow better.

  14. Yes, yes YES you were right!
    I give the benefit of the doubt when it’s small organizations/charities asking. If it’s something I believe in then I’ll work with them.
    However, us photographers seem to get hit extremely hard by this because everyone has a digital camera now and think “Oh, I don’t need to pay for that photography–I could take that photo myself!” etc… Of course they never do. We often have BIG companies with big budgets approach us all the time who become belligerent and argue with us when they’re told they’ll have to pay a usage fee. I’d sure like to be able to tell my mortgage company: “Hey, I’m not paying my bill for the next couple of months because I told everybody I financed through you and gave you tons of exposure!” Think how much we could save on groceries! 🙂

    1. Spot on, Jamie. I saw this A LOT when working for an art consulting firm. We specialized in healthcare art placement and my boss definitely viewed photography at a lesser value than fine art– usually 1 budget step above poster art. I hated the way photographers were beat down in their usage fees ( we would often pay the photog flat usage fee for the rights to print X # of their photos & use them in patient rooms, etc ). The exposure argument was always part of her sales pitch to photogs. Did some photogs get inquiries? Yes, but the rates we paid them were, in my opinion horribly low, especially considering that I’d worked in the stock photo world for years, so I knew what Rights Managed stock photo rates would be for the same usage. Really unfair to the photographers.

    2. Jamie and Lesley: Thanks for sharing your experience.
      I really didn’t know photographers were getting so hammered – especially by people in the biz. Not good. Not decent.

  15. Alyson,
    Interesting post from you, different. I like it.
    Whether genuine or not do you think it things like the competitions are a bit of scam? $20 to $35 for some judge to simply look at one of your images, and they pick a couple out of hundreds…could their primary motive be simply to rake in money by taking advantage of artists’ desperate need to be shown?
    To confirm the idea of partnerships Mark Giberson kindly proposed my teaching a workshop in Tuscany in Oct. 2012, and he would arrange everything: the villa, wine tasting, inviting opera singers to serenade us, etc. All the things I could never arrange. He is paying for ad is a couple of national art mags, with one of my images. That kind of exposure is awesome as it makes sense to everyone. A great fit.

    1. Michael: Glad you liked the post. Yes, different. As I said, I’m feeling feisty and tired of the same old niceties.
      The nice gentleman that contacted me re a competition wasn’t collecting entry fees.
      Most competitions aren’t worth their salt, but there is a place for them – often at the beginning of an artist’s career. Again, I encourage asking a LOT of questions about the organizers.

  16. Yes, tired of everyone wanting a free lunch. Some are obvious and some not so. I really appreciate this blog and actually going to print it and keep it in my Blast Off binder. You said it so well, I want to remember every line. Thank you for being our Art Advocate.

  17. I wrote on this topic on my blog yesterday, as it relates to “charitable art auctions.” I’m finished with them unless it’s for a cause I already support. I don’t need this kind of “exposure.” I’ve seen the traffic they bring…almost nothing. After donating thousands of dollars worth of work, I discovered that I brought in about $400 in sales.
    I’d decided that I wouldn’t do them anymore and then I was approached to do one that allowed me to set the reserve price. I let them have a painting that retailed for about $500 while I set the reserve at 50%. That way if it sold, I’d at least get $250 out of it. I was pleased to hear that a woman bought it. But after she learned that I was getting $250, she returned it and asked for her money back. This was all laid out in the auction’s marketing info…but apparently, she thought artists deserve nothing!
    I simply won’t do another charitable art auction unless it’s for a cause that I already support anyway.

    1. Thank you, Alison. Much appreciated! Yep. She did. The funny thing is, it was to support a school that her own daughter was attending. And they call artists “strange.”

    2. Wow. Just…wow. I’d like to be able to say I’m shocked or that I can’t believe that happened to you, except that it unfortunately doesn’t stretch my imagination at all.
      Your work tells such interesting stories, Brian. What I can say is that I’m sorry that happened to you!

    3. Brian: Feel free to leave the URL of your post here.
      I do understand that people want to donate to a specific cause, but it’s their responsibility to understand the parameters.
      Can you imagine the gall?
      What did she pay for it – if I may be so bold?

  18. Boy, am I ever!
    Great post, Alyson! I’m going to pass it on. This is the best response I’ve read yet to that tiresome pitch for use of our art. It also applies to charities requesting donations.

  19. The reason that creatives get treated this way is because WE DON’T INSIST ON IT!! We need to teach the world, by our words and our actions, the way we expect to be treated. Smart business people ask the questions you listed above. We are responsible for asking the questions, we shouldn’t expect the answers to be given to us. If you don’t ask the smart questions, well too bad for you. There will always be those out there that will take advantage, it’s up to you to not be taken. It’s a big hard, tough world out there, especially when it comes to business.
    Why do you think we get treated this way? Because over the years too many of us have ALLOWED it. As creatives we have given our power away too easily, to gallery owners, charities, book publishers, blog writers etc, etc. the list goes on.
    We need to take our power back. But this won’t happen until the majority of artists realize we have something of immense value to offer the world. To not allow not only other people, but ourselves as well, to treat it lightly. If you believe in your worth and that of your artwork, then others will believe it too. If you do that, I promise that you will then be treated with the respect you insist on.

    1. I just re read my post and I realize that I wrote the first sentence incorrectly. I meant to write:
      ” The reason that creatives get treated this way is because WE DON’T INSIST ON BEING TREATED CORRECTLY!! We need to teach the world, by our words and our actions, the way we expect to be treated”.
      I’m glad you agree with my Alyson, it is up to all of us to be insistent. I like the fact that you spoke with that gentleman and explained (tactfully) how you expected to be approached. He will be more aware next time.

  20. Thanks Alyson! I think benefit auctions are the worst offenders. The assumption is that artists have pieces “just laying around” and of course will give it away for the exposure. Years ago, I would offer pieces, but after no accounting of where they went, or if they were even sold, and one even turning up consigned to a gallery, I stopped. Now if I believe in an organisation, I will offer my services – such as doing an art workshop for children. I find that personally more rewarding.

  21. What a timely and spot on column, Alyson — thank you for articulating what I have been feeling intensely these past many months. I’ve been asking myself if I’m doing enough to succeed as an artist?? Besides FaceBook, ETSY, Daily Painters, FAA, PFAA, Twitter, a website, a blog, LinkedIn, 2 networking groups, a storefront studio that’s also a gallery; being in a couple of galleries; and a few other marketing things I can’t remember at the moment — what is the magic piece of the puzzle that will make me successful?? After all — with all of the “fabulous” offers from people creating websites for artists; forums forming to help the artists; expensive books promising exposure for the artists; groups demanding/requesting free donations from artists; individuals promising coaching for artists; groups forming to help the artists; networking groups created to help promote artists; marketers specializing in helping the artists become known — I ask myself if I’m setting myself up for certain failure if I don’t join/subscribe/donate/network/hire/etc. these UNSOLICITED inquiries? What makes them special and why should I add their service to my already filled-to-the-max plate of art marketing services? What can they do better than I’m already doing myself? And just how much do they want from me?
    Bottom line is they are the predators and we artists are the prey. I limit whose columns I want to read (yours is #1!); and what sites I will share my work with. If any of these groups are eventually proven to be worth joining, I will find out about it through other artists I know — and not an unsolicited email from someone who picked up my name because of the marketing work I’ve already done myself.
    Thanks again for being the voice — yours is one of the few I listen to.

    1. JJ: Thank you for continuing to read this blog.
      I wonder, thought, what makes this site different for you?

  22. Hi Alyson !
    I very seldom respond to these inquiries as I feel that most of my thoughts will be expressed by other creative individuals . This one however touched a big nerve ending for me . I read each response by the artists carefully . Many of them did express very intellectual and reasoned thoughts about OUR problems as artists . Before becoming a full time artist in 2000 I was a independent Marketing Agent whom was hired by Presidents or CEO’s of Agricultural Companies to represent their product lines as a Marketing Manager in defined territories . I was successful at it and sought after by some companies . My point was not to brag about my Marketing background but to emphasize that I do have at least a fairly decent understanding of what it takes to market a product . Art is a product–it is not a service for someone to make a profit on our creativeness . I will be the first to admit that I have been really digging into my soul recently trying to figure out WHY I have not been more successful with my art career. I have had my art evaluated honestly by people I respect in the art world . I have attended workshops with several famous artists . I have attended art festivals or shows with great credentials . I have had several solo art shows and been accepted in galleries . I have examined my marketing approaches repeatedly to viewers . I am a very positive oriented person whom truly believes that my art has a significant place in the world . All art is subjective as to whom likes it or whom doesn’t –I understand that . My bottom line is this . Art is in economic doldrums in America . People are afraid to spend much money . I know it is a cliche but I really believe we are all suffering economically because of the prevaliing economic conditions around the world . It sounds too simple but I believe it is true. If your price points are above $100 with your fine art–you are in trouble for sales. Yes, there are exceptions . If you are lucky enough to be represented by a organization or gallery that truly believes in promoting their artists to their established clients–you have a chance to sell some art . Festivals, solo shows, give aways-web sites–twitter-facebook all leave a lot to be desired for art sales today . So, what is a artist to do ? Continue becoming better creatively . Be very conservative with expenditures in the near term. Never give up . Remain postive but be a realist also . Continue to be a better business person with your art endeavors. LIsten and watch for the REAL art advisors whom have the artists back rather than their hands out for money from you. People like Alyson. Jack White, Robert Genn, and a few others I have not met or discovered yet . Hey, I feel better already. This is a very important topic that a lot of introspective artists are carrying in their psyches right now. It is very depressing to continually be creative and trying to improve your skills and have little response economically from the viewers or public . I think a wise person could conclude that a lot of education needs to be undertaken by advisors etc. as to the REAL values that artists routinely put on the table for the public to view. It should have a lot higher respect than it currently does in our society .
    Personally, I would rather GIVE my art to someone I respect or admire as a gift from my soul to theirs rather than a donation that brings me no return mentally or economically. Alyson has been a recipient of mine for expressing her very astute advice to artists. I appreciate it Alyson !

    1. Joseph: It’s good to see you here and to hear from you.
      I appreciate your faith in me and also appreciate your kind gift a couple of years ago (has it been that long?!).

  23. This is my first response to one of your posts. I think you state the feelings perfectly. I doubt the promoters are thinking of changing but what are your recommendations to artists on how to propose a more partnership arrangement? I think we can do more to encourage this but like so many other areas of our lives, we don’t have control. But, we should be able to influence.
    Thanks for bringing up the topic.

    1. Don: Thanks for speaking up.
      Did you not like the suggestion I made above? Or do you need more than that?

  24. Wow! Stimulating discussion that really rings true. After leaving a 30+ year corporate career, I am finally now working as an artist and finding it difficult to “live” on the proceeds, even in addition to my pension. Since I am just getting started in developing a following, I am tempted by al the shows, fesitvals, etc. but so far, have found them to cost more than I make. My sales so far have been from people that I have known or met from my own networking. So, I think I might stick to that approach. Thanks for posting!

  25. This article needs to find its way to the people who ask us for our art for free. We need to keep educating people! We artists certainly understand the folly of it all, but it re-lit a fire under me, as I was in marketing in a previous life. One of the things I came away with is that big ‘exposure’ (through advertising, promotion, etc.) does not necessarily equate with big returns and vice versa, so I am not won over by those types of promises. Marketing art is more than casting a large net haphazardly all over the world hoping to snag a few elusive art-buyers. I only donate my work to an annual art auction for a public gallery where my work is already in their art rental program. For my donation, I receive a tax receipt, an auction ticket, and intimate exposure to an interested art-buying public in a small community, not to mention goodwill with the gallery. The gallery gets exposure and funds to continue their programming. The buyer gets art (albeit sometimes at a crazy bargain), and feels good about supporting a worthwhile cause. Often I will create a painting to fit the auction ‘theme’ as opposed to taking something out of my existing inventory.

  26. Alyson,
    I just stumbled across your blog, and I must say that I’m impressed with this post. Thank you for so elegantly stating what’s been banging around in my head for a while now! I’ve always found these ‘offers’ vaguely insulting, and you’ve put voice to that reaction. I hate that we must be so cynical about this sort of thing, but it’s true.
    Mr. Murray,
    I don’t believe that there is a market slump. I HAVE noticed that the wealth has shifted. Lots more people from Asia are looking at my art these days, and fewer Americans.
    As for charitable auctions, I attended one this weekend, hoping to do some research before allowing my art to be used this way. I am SO glad I did! It seems they take whatever is offered. I thought it was odd that the chairperson of the committee said to me that if I attended “I could pick up some cheap art there”. She was right. I saw prints from the Dollar Tree stacked in with M.C. Escher prints. I saw filthy, nasty old framed prints, and even one that looked like it had been torn from the pages of a book! No thank you…I’ll not lump my work in with yard sale items.
    Ms. Stanfield, I’m a fan. Thanks!

    1. Jimelle: Thank you for visiting and for returning in the future.
      I agree with your response to Joseph that art is selling. There are also TONS more artists trying to sell art, This makes for a very crowded marketplace!

  27. You have hit the nail on the head! I recently turned down a “fabulous opportunity” to create more exposure for my cartoons. Thanks for reminding me I did the right thing. I have been singing this song for some time now and it’s great to read it articulated so well. Consider me a fan.

  28. Thank you, Alyson! You’ve said elegantly, how artists feel, when this happens to us. The kind of “speculative” requests I get, puts my teeth on edge! No other skilled professional gets asks for these kind of freebies! No…we made may not save a life in the trauma unit of an E.R.; but the beauty of art on a society and on individuals is long-lasting and rewarding.
    I’m raising the power salute to you! Power to the Artists! YEAH!

  29. Thanks to whichever deity brought us you, Alyson!!!! Thanks in spades for this timely (for me) and absolutely pertinent post!
    I enthusiastically second Jim Lorriman and Jan Vanderhoof, as well.
    It seems strange to me however, that the comments are focusing on the topic of *donations* to events when your post focused more on being pitched to by paid concerns claiming to garner more exposure, but not necessarily for any cause other than filling their pockets.
    The proliferation of online galleries/forums/sales venues whose purported *mission* is to support artists through exposure is absolutely staggering. But many of them absolutely WILL NOT give the proof/evidence of their efficacy that you mentioned.
    Many of us get taken in by the promise of the Artist’s Holy Grail of cooperative community in some of these sites. I’ve given some the benefit of good intentions, but my patience is at an end. Even if a venture started abusing artisans in the way you describe through ignorance, that does not matter once the facts of their practices are brought to light. If the practices continue, logic demands that we reassign the motives as intentional and leave, however heartbroken we are to lose the camaraderie. Our art is our business and our product – both suffer when we accept poor contractual terms.
    This may seem harsh, but I believe it is a duty to warn others to examine this aspect of individual specific businesses and sites as well.
    Thanks again for the validation – are you magic? You seem to know just when I need it. :^D

    1. Perri,
      This isn’t strange at all to me. I brought up the subject of “charitable auctions” as they relate to “exposure.” My post yesterday was on the subject of exposure and charitable art auctions. I even linked to the same post by Jack White that Alyson did. This is entirely relevant as far I’m concerned.

    2. Brian: Yes, I can easily see how it relates. It was an unintended consequence of what I wrote, but it definitely relates. I just have a different response for charities.
      Can you post your link?

    3. Jim, No slight intended – I understand the point you made and totally agree with it – I am in the same boat as Karen T. :^D Didn’t mean to imply that it was irrelevant in the discussion. The strangeness/interesting part to me was more that many subsequent comments focused primarily on that exposure option (if you will) instead of the point that Alyson made – namely that paid businesses are asking for what amounts to an act of charity!
      I’m kind of aghast at the chutzpah of that, as well as the objections when one brings it up. Her huge point seemed lost in the thread at the time, hence my reaction. :^)
      Of course, I agree, both warrant discussion. Thanks for bringing the one to the fore on your blog. :^D

    4. I hear ya, Karen. My inbox gets flooed, too.
      If it’s a ‘commercial” pitch you want to see discussed, Perri….you can Google “Artspace 2000” and see my Art Studies blog post on their spam. Any outfit that spams people is one I would always avoid!

    5. Aw, shucks, Perri.
      Glad you picked up on the donations focus, though. As I said above, I have a whole different response to that.

  30. In cleaning out my inbox today, I came across an email from a gallery in a far away state offering to represent me with very flattering comments on my art. When I read through the prospectus, it turned out to be one of those charge you to display your art deals: a group show for one month for $700 or a one person show for over $1000.
    I turned them down and pointed out that from a business standpoint it was not a sound investment. Thanks to you, I will make sure to mention “business” frequently when I reply to these sorts of things.

  31. What an interesting and informative post, Alyson! As an art blogger of 6 months and a friend of many artists, I am always looking at what I am doing on my website and whether it is beneficial to the artists I feature. This article, along with many of the commenters have given me some food for thought as I look to the future of the website. I would never EVER want an artist to feel like I was taking advantage of them or they were only a commodity. ( side note: my blog makes no profit ) That would break my heart. It is unfortunate that others are more mercenary and artists must be vigilant about assessing true cost vs. value for “exposure”.

    1. Lesley: Your blog is great. Loved seeing Leslie Parke’s work there. She’s been in my classes.
      Featuring artists free of charge is VERY different than asking them to pay or contribute something in return. You’re just a reporter.

  32. Last year I almost applied to an art festival about an hour away from my home. However, after reading the fine print, I discovered that the event organizers were not going to allow the artists to sell any of their pieces! No, this event was basically an outdoor art gallery, though participants were “certainly welcome to offer their business cards” to guests who were interested in their work. I wonder how many artists paid the entry fee, lugged their tents and display systems and artwork from all over the state, only to discover (too late) that selling was forbidden? I’m thinking the organizers must have assumed this would be great exposure for the artists.

  33. Here are two things we need to overcome. First, there is a common belief that being an artist or a crafter is a hobby, and cannot be a business.
    Second, there are a lot of hobbyists out there who are quite willing to give away their work, or trade it for supplies and “exposure”. They make it difficult for the rest of us who are trying to put food on the table to price our work fairly.

  34. There are a couple of ways to deal with donation requests from fundraisers.
    1. You can donate.
    2. You can ignore the request.
    3. You can decline the request.
    4. You can offer another solution, and explain why you are offering it.
    Instead of getting annoyed I do #4. I feel this is the best way to educate people.
    Here is the reply that I gave to an organization who requested a donation of a painting or a portrait gift certificate. Please feel free to use this wording if you’d like to:
    Dear M,
    Thank you for contacting me regarding your event. The Zoo is a wonderful place.
    When a patron purchases a piece of artwork at a fundraising event, they can claim the entire purchase price as a charitable deduction.
    However, when an artist donates a piece of artwork that they cannot claim the retail price of it as charitable contribution. An artist can only claim the cost of the materials, which normally is a fraction of the price of the finished artwork.
    A piece of art is different than say a vacation, or a spa visit, or donation of that kind. Artwork has an intrinsic value, especially portraits, a deeper value than say a golf package.
    After donating many paintings (or portraits), I’ve come to realize that many of the people that attend these events expect to get a “deal”, to be able to purchase artwork at less than market value. This devalues my artwork and it is extremely unfair to my clients who have paid full price for my work.
    I would never do this to my clients. It unacceptable to me.
    In light of this I no longer donate my artwork outright to any charity.
    I do want to help you in your fundraising efforts however, and there is a way that we can still do this.
    You can purchase one of my paintings at full price, and then offer it in the auction, where you will be able to price it at more than the cost to you. You could also get the attendees to understand that the event is a fund raising venture and they should get behind the Phoenix Zoo by bidding big to raise as much money as possible for this worthwhile cause.
    Please let me know if you would like to pursue this avenue.
    Hope you can all incorporate something like this into your business!

  35. Some years ago, an active art blogger examined and reported on the statistics of various well promoted online galleries. They measured the number of incoming visitors, the number of artists in the gallery, and several other statistics. These values gave you a feel as to how one might be noticed amongst the others showing at that gallery. And if the cost was worth while. These reports seem to have died and are a great loss. I suspect that most online galleries are not a good deal for many artists. If one could see how much activity, and actual sales, the work of putting ones art up on each site could be better evaluated. But then, many online galleries would go out of business.

    1. Peter, I use the Yessy online gallery; I can view statistics and see the “click-through” info for any or all of my pieces, as well as most popular, and some of the demographics. I can’t see specifically WHO looked, but I can tell where they are from, and if they clicked on an image to see the larger image, etc. It’s easy to use, AND, although not alot of sales, it has paid for itself. Just FYI.

  36. Excellent post! They sound like telemarketers who tell you they aren’t trying to sell you anything! I enter contests sometimes just because I like to, but I think it’s mostly other artists who look at the art, as is true of art magazines!

  37. This article is and will ever be timely and “right on”!
    I am not a “”, so to speak! In the 80ties I worked as a curator and consultant in the LA area and did my best to help artists with exposure and sales. It was NOT easy then.
    Today I do my own artwork, show with galleries and try to get some sales. It is still just as almost impossible task.
    Like in all professional fields it is not what you know and do, but WHO you know and what THEY do!

  38. Alyson- from the number of comments alone you have pushed a hot-button issue! I hope I have learned my lesson (in Kenya the craft fairs always want you to donate something to the “tombola”- that is one thing when you’re selling wine or manufactured items, and quite another when you have only original art.) I have decided to donate a few greeting cards going forward- I just can’t give away original paintings or sketches like that. I hope artists will continue to value themselves enough to resist “exposure” and start partnering with businesses…. great post!

  39. Good points Alyson. The first thing I thought of is the scenario you outline as ideal is exactly what the *good* art galleries have done since the invention of the art gallery. The gallery thinks the artists’ works have value to their clients and the artist thinks the gallery’s clients have value to his/her career……..they strike up a mutually beneficial deal to put those two together and share the revenue.
    Good galleries also do what you suggested – encourage prospective artists to talk to existing artists to get proof that they can deliver results.
    Loved this post, thanks.

  40. Dear Alyson,
    Amazing, I opened my E-mail just 15 minutes ago and there were two adds of the type you just described in your comments. Thank you for all you write and do, and for confirming what I’ve felt for so long now.
    Phyllis Solcyk

  41. ok. read all 103 previous posts, and i agree in the aggregate, if something has value, it has worth. insightful as the reparte’ has been, however, i haven’t seen one solid solution being put forward. i understand that you can’t solve a problem if you can’t identify it. having said that, who out there has a workable solution?

  42. I personally have run into the problem of fund raising events having the fantastic “original” idea of having an art auction…of which they plan to have artists donate all of the work. While my heart goes out to all of these well deserved organizations that promise great exposure, I’ve come up with a basic policy for my own consideration: Generally I only will consider 2 donations a year…when I am contacted by others, I inform them that I have hit my annual quota…thus helping them to understand that artists are getting hit up more than they may know. Next, for a more valuable piece of work I will only donate to an organization that publishes a catalog that is viewable on line and that will have my work photographed for me. The auction must be artwork only…attracting galleries and art buyers only. The other type of donation I will do is of inexpensive production oriented work that I do under a business name…this work I will donate to local non profits within my community when requested. This is what I can do to support my local community as they support me as an artist.

    1. This very issue of art donations for charity has haunted me for years. My gallery has been in business for 37 years and at least twice a day I get a request for an art donation in “exchange” for some type of publicity. I want to help because am I blessed and able to help…but giving my artist’s work away and losing control over the very thing that I work so hard to protect is unthinkable. I have come up with a solution that works.
      1. NEVER donate artwork! This applies to both galleries and artists…your art has value and must be treated as precious and unique output, never to be given out for free. Once the art is donated, you have no control over anything that happens to it. A $3000 piece could sell for $300…years of marketing and calculated pricing out the window. So what to do with donation requests?
      I give gift certificates. If one of my artist wants to donate to a certain charity, they determine a dollar amount they want to donate and I will issue a gift certificate for that amount from the gallery for that artist’s work. The “winner” of the certificate redeems the certificate for the specified amount OFF that artist work…its a win-win all the way around. The gallery gets a new client, the artist has the power to choose a specific and ascertainable dollar amount… that they can deduct for taxes, the client gets to choose the art they like from the collection and last but not least price consistency is maintained!
      I cant tell you how much heart ache this has saved me.

    2. Sylvia: Thank you for sharing your perspective as a gallerist. This might make a good guest post in itself if you’re ever interested.

  43. Nice one Alyson! This has needed saying for a long time. I’ve said bits of it myself over time but this is an excellent summary – and I’ll be including it in “who’s made a mark this week?” on Sunday and also on relevant other websites.

  44. You know as I reflect back on my gallery days. I would add something to the “prove it” section.
    That works both ways. The “partner” may need to prove the size of their mailing list and the effectiveness of their salespeople. It seems they would then have the right to ask the artist to prove they, the artist, can deliver the number of pieces needed, the quality needed, on time and in good condition.
    I’m not saying this to be antagonistic in any way. But I remember getting burned a few times after investing a pretty good chunk of change.
    I guess my point is, when you ask the other party to prove it, be prepared for them to make the same demand of you.
    On a tangential note, I don’t know if “We’d like to see a screen capture of your Google Analytics in detail.” really proves much unless all the other party is promising is eyeballs. Traffic != Sales, and, in my past experience, the two are fairly often, not correlated. You’d need proof of actual sales or, at least, traffic from qualified buyers. By the way, If you want to jack up GA numbers go buy stumbleupon ads, your visitor counts will go through the roof, and your sales will stay right where they are as people “stumble” away.
    Again – I agree with the concept of getting proof, it’s just that I see so many articles that use web traffic as a proxy for “success” in some way (I’m not saying Alyson is suggesting that) that I’m kind of sensitive to that issue.

    1. Clint: You’re exactly right. It’s a two-way street.
      And you’re right about GA, too, of course. I do think, though, that promising exposure is promising eyeballs.

    2. Well I’m not sure what you mean. You say you agree about GA but then qualify that promising exposure is promising eyeballs. Does that mean you agree but don’t like the word exposure? Or does it mean that promising exposure and eyeballs is enough as long as you deliver the promised traffic (even if not qualified)?
      The word “exposure” is so loaded and broad. I’m assuming most artists, when they say “I need exposure” really mean “I need exposure to more people that might actually be interested in my art.”
      If that is true, then promising exposure really isn’t just promising eyeballs IMHO. It’s promising the right eyeballs. If I put your work on the home page of, maybe that’s the right people. If I put it in a stumbleupon rotation, you’ll get tons of eyeballs but no sales I suspect.
      So if I go to an artist and promise exposure, show them GA numbers, and then stick their work on pages that get high traffic but no qualified prospects, then, have I kept up my end of the bargain? My answer would be no, I haven’t kept up the bargain because I wouldn’t have delivered any value to the artist.
      Or put another way, if I told an artist – you have a choice of two options:
      option 1 – I’ll get you 100,000 visits to a page featuring your art but to get the traffic I have to buy a bunch of ads with google and stumbleupon.
      option 2 – I’ll introduce you to the person whose bought the most art from my gallery over the past five years, he’s actively building his collection and I think he’ll love your work.
      I’m suggesting go for option 2, even though option 1 is a whole lot more “traffic.”
      So I guess what I’m saying is GA numbers aren’t enough, they need to be coupled with other data that proves your “exposure” will be the right kind of exposure. Of course the best proof is sales data. (If the goal is selling)

    3. Clint: A great answer. Qualifying the exposure is much more difficult without the cooperation of the owner of the website or gallery (online or brick). Of course, if the website or gallery has only anemic useful traffic, the owner does not want to let on as it might cut into his income. The problem for the artist is no different than that of many other marketing decision makers in many other fields. There are plenty of scams, and very few really good opportunities. One should always be skeptical until proven results are offered. And in general, go with your gut feel when gambling with your promotional (and hanging fee) money.

    4. Clint: Trying to formulate a response to this and realized I’m too tired to be coherent. Great points, as always. I think you took what I wrote to its ultimate conclusion, but my point still stands that these people have to be willing to prove what “exposure” means. And artists have to ask for that proof and to decide what kind of exposure is best for them.
      Let’s hope they choose Option 2.
      Thank you for being part of this dialogue.

    5. Obvious Clint you know your stuff. Asking galleries to “prove” themselves is meaningless. A gallery “proves” itself to the artist by taking on their work. The overhead associated by representing an artist should be all the proof an artist needs if they have chosen the gallery wisely. I can tell you that I would never take on art that I didn’t believe was beautiful, would sell, and be worthy of the substantial financial and personal resources I invest to make the sale and further our mutual reputations. Why would I consider art that I cant sell, of poor quality and created by an untalented and uninspired artist? The only “proof” I ask for is obvious in the quality of the artists work, and their commitment to our partnership for mutual benefit. Demanding these “proofs” would be insulting to me as a gallery owner and businessperson.

    6. Sylvia: I never mentioned galleries in my post and didn’t intend to include galleries in this dialogue.
      Galleries prove themselves by staying in business, caring for the art, and promoting their artists work. A gallery’s track record is quite public.
      But perhaps there is a different burden for newer gallerists to prove themselves. Do you think?
      I’ve heard from too many artists whose galleries have gone bankrupt or have sold work without ever paying the artists. Of course, many of those artists have admitted that they didn’t do enough to stay on top of their business dealings with the galleries.
      What do you suggest in those instances? When galleries aren’t responsive to the artists’ questions?

  45. Thank you for this post! Yes I’m so tired and frustrated by people who just use artists for their own gain. I’m sick of being treated like I deserve to come in last because I’m “doing what I love”. I say NO to these people. What makes me sad is that there’s always another artist lined up ready and willing to be taken advantage of. As artists we must demand the treatment we deserve or things will never change.

    1. Really Christine?
      Stop crying in your soup and use your brains about how you conduct your life as an artist. No one is holding a gun to you…do your research and make educated choices…you do have choices. If you get “taken advantage of”…only one person to blame.

  46. No doubt the “opportunities” for artists are just staggering…and if all of these were accurate…well…
    I wrote about this yesterday…yet about online art consultants…and how an ever increasing number are cropping up…just dying to help create that business that we artists lack the acumen for…
    I read 7 art consulting blogs every morning…each fundamentally trying to stimulate my already stimulated brain in and around art…marketing and sales…each consultant has the “answer” to success or at least the direction to the road to getting there…and for such a small fee per month….yet my question is what have these consultants done…prior to art consulting…are they versed in art and marketing… business…what are their credentials…track record…past glories and success stories…we hire based on history and reputation….not flash and stimulation…
    The online gallery opportunities don’t seem that far removed from the online consulting opportunities…I am bombarded with solicitations for classes…seminars…tutorials…video podcasts….etc…and often wonder who is the true beneficiary….
    I realize we all have to make a living…as an artist for many years…part of my thinking is helping those who have been where I have get where they want to be with no expectation…or strings….because in the end the payback is enormous…
    Great article…thanks for the insight….

    1. You’re right to demand that, Robert. Always ask for the success stories.
      I feel that I somehow need to defend Art Biz Coach, which has been growing strong since 2002, after reading this, so here goes.
      If you go to Art Biz Coach you’ll see that I have testimonials on most sales pages (I’m slower getting some of them up!). And whenever someone tells me how wonderful something was, I ask them what was most helpful. I want to know if they got results. Still, it’s hard to quantify some results. I keep trying. Keep pushing my clients and asking them to measure.
      My story is everywhere about what I think my strengths are and my experience in those areas: building relationships and communicating about art. I’m very clear about how I can help and when it might be better to go with someone else.

  47. Oh my goodness! On the nose, nail on head. I don’t know how artists
    make ANY money! Exhibits now require payment for shipping- both ways! Galleries take up to 50%!! Show exhibits are very expensive. Forget advertising!
    Great post!

    1. Wen: That’s why I’m all for selling directly to people unless you can deliver to a nearby gallery. Otherwise, it’s cost prohibitive.

    2. I”ll tell you what, I will take you on as an artist and not take my 50% when these things happen:
      My employees work for me for free.
      My mortgage company will no longer require payment for the gallery.
      My insurance company will insure your art for free.
      My gas and electric company will offer service for free.
      My van loan is forgiven.
      My vendors will supply all the necessary products and services to run a gallery for free.
      I decide that I love your art so much that I will sell it even if I don’t make any .money.

    3. Sylvia: I’m a big advocate of responsible gallerists. No one can replace the professional gallerist in an artist’s career, but not every artist is cut out to be a gallery artist – as I’m sure you know far better than I.
      And I’m very well aware that galleries have high (!) overhead. I educate my artists about this whenever I can – and about the connections that a gallerist will have.
      My comment immediately above wasn’t in response to the 50% earned (not taken) by the gallery. It was in response to the shipping costs, which have gotten prohibitive for many artists.
      Notice that my post didn’t say “galleries” anywhere.

    4. Alyson, I am happy to answer any “gallery perspective” questions that you or your readers may have. Misunderstandings and lack of knowledge on artist/gallery collaborations sadly, happen too often resulting in many lost opportunites. My gallery frequently offers Professional Development seminars, especially to university fine art students. It is critical that emerging artists have a realistic understanding of how the “business of art” works and how they can successfully navigate this world…especially if they intend to make a living with their art.

    5. Silvia and Wen,
      Artists need to price their work to cover materials’ cost, time and the shipping expenses. They also need to remember that it is the whole sale price and double it because the gallery will take 50% off for the sale, to cover gallery’s expenses. That is how it works. The problem is that many times it makes the artwork too expensive and it does not sale, so no body wins!

  48. I agree with Wen. Thus, I have cut back on entering shows. With entry fees at $30-40 and having to pay shipping both ways it is too expensive. In several years of showing my work, I have had one sale from an exhibit and that was Fiberarts International. I decided the “fame” of exposure was not worth the cost.

    1. Carol: I frankly think that fiber art shows are the worst. They’re incestuous and feed off of themselves. They must find a larger audience in order to survive and make it worth the artists’ time.

  49. Timely, well-written and entirely to the point – great piece you’ve written here! As an artist who has heard all of these lines time and again, I have found myself very jaded to the whole concept of “exposure” from a source other than my own efforts. There are a few very good friends who share my work, and I share theirs in return, but every other venue that has promised exposure has produced nothing in terms of sales for me. I recently responded to a request with, “Thank you, but I don’t see how your proposal benefits me or my business. I appreciate the compliment of your asking, but I must decline.” What I got in return was being written up in the askers blog and Facebook page as “grasping” and “selfish.” Yes, I guess I am. I work hard, I’m raising two children with a husband who works hard to provide for our family. The money my business generates helps to ease that burden on him and I will not give cheapen his sacrifice by giving away what I can sell. I spent 15 years in corporate sales and have managed to translate a lot of that experience into the online marketplaces. I find myself getting very tired and very frustrated with those who promise what we both know they cannot provide.

  50. Wow! Thank you – from so many artists. I don’t know why we are so taken advantage of. I have taken it up the you know where so many times.
    I do want to say, a professional appearance in forms of a good looking blog and website really helps. Collectors can take you more seriously. Before onliney stuff – it was far more difficult to prove you were good at your craft. Before, good looking marketing ate up so much of your profit. It was hard to work and eat.

  51. Asking artist to donate art to silent auctions, live auctions and raffles is standard operating procedure around here. I appreciate the various responses the participants in this discussion have offered.
    I simply say, with a kind smile, “I don’t give my work away. You are welcome to buy it at a discount; that way you will have a write-off and I will still earn a living.”
    Usually, they are very understanding. Occasionally, they say, “Don’t you just have some cards or a print?” Then, I get pulled into giving it away again, or feel like a jerk.

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  53. This post is well overdue! Art students need to hear this when they are still in school. Why should everyone else get paid except the artist?
    My most valuable piece of advice to artists is to work with people who are going to pay you.
    I have been given the excuse, “We’re not making money now, so we don’t have the money to pay….” or “We’ll pay you on the back end.” Haw about giving those lines at the gas station when you need gas? or at the supermarket when you buy food? It doesn’t work anywhere else and shouldn’t work with artists!

  54. Very timely. I am constantly being asked for donations, with the consistent sales pitch of “It’s a great opportunity to get your name out there” The truth is, it rarely is. I typically lose a potential customer in the process, and locally, my customers get the impression that if they wait, they will be able to purchase something as a write off.

  55. Pingback: How to Investigate an Artist Call for Entry [Infographic] — Art Biz Blog

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