On Thinking Visually and On Getting Paid

I want to talk about getting paid for artwork, and I also want to talk about how I think about my experience differently when I'm a photographer for an event rather than a participant.

I was thinking about how, although I'm a photographer, I don't bring my camera everywhere I go (unless you count the camera on my iPhone).  I like taking photographs when I feel like it or when it's my job. I think it's because being the photographer is a different role and a different mindset. I recently started reading a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain  by Betty Edwards, and in the introduction (yes, I read introductions to books) she talks about perception as being a different type of thinking, and about the brain's difficulty in, "simultaneously processing two modes of information" (xx). I think that's why I don't photograph events that I'm participating in. It's very difficult. However, it seems that photographers are often expected to do this. 

In the summer of 2012 I went to a teaching workshop for new faculty from several small colleges in Illinois. I was the only photography instructor, and on the second day, the workshop facilitator asked if I wouldn't mind taking a few photographs during the day. I did mind. First of all, photography is something I get paid to do. You're really asking for professional photographs for free? (Let's come back to that.) Secondly, I am here to learn about making syllabi and stuff. That's a way different mode of thinking, and I'd really rather just participate in the workshop. I hate switching modes of thinking, and I hate it when people think that art and photography are so fun for me that I'd delight in any opportunity to do it, even unpaid. Certainly that workshop would benefit from using any photographs I took. They'd probably be on their website to promote the program. But what would I have received? Maybe a byline, but probably not. The facilitator seemed surprised when I refused, and tried to convince me to agree. I had to stand firm though, not just for me, but for photographers everywhere. 

So let's talk about getting paid. I just read this article from Bmoreart $Art$: Artists Unite, A Call for Sanity by Cara Ober in which the author asks creatives to unite to figure out how to change things. She focuses on Baltimore, but the issue applies to all creatives. We can't offer our work for free. We are professionals and we all deserve to eat and pay our rent and raise children.

I think one root of this problem is our anxiousness in and just out of college. We really want to get our artwork out there. We really want to add lines to our resumes. We accept "great exposure" as currency. I know that I did a lot of that in college. Now I'm more picky. I scout out venues before applying for shows. I try to choose venues that will be beneficial to me in some way. Is it likely that I will sell work out of this space?Do I get to give a lecture (and get paid)? Do I get to teach a related workshop (and get paid)? Could this opportunity possibly lead to a (paid) teaching job? I refuse to donate artwork (with some very particular exceptions). Exposure is no longer currency in my book. 

I spend a lot of time and money making artwork, framing artwork, marketing artwork. And although I love the work I do, at the end of the day it's still work. When I go home I don't want to keep making artwork. I want to cook dinner for my family, hang out with them, play a little Candy Crush, and snuggle with my cats. And there is nothing wrong with that. Even on days when nothing seems to work out, even when I feel unaccomplished, I still worked. It's not frivolous. 

Although I love making artwork, and although I make it regardless of the (lack of) money, there's no reason that I shouldn't get paid for what I do. This goes for all creatives. Don't give away free websites, don't give away free writing, don't give your artwork away to organizations that aren't doing anything for you. Value your work. Value yourself. And value the work of other creatives. You deserve to be a well-fed artist.