Most professional artists are often asked to donate artwork for various charitable auctions. I have very mixed feelings about this. I like to support charities and not-for-profit organizations when I believe in them. However, there are a few problems. One is money. Money is something of which I have very little, so I try to be pretty judicious about how I spend it.
I love it when someone buys a piece of my artwork. LOVE IT! But, that doesn't happen as often as I'd like. I also don't want to sell my work for less than I think it's worth.
Where does the selling fit in with auctions? People bid on my work. They buy it. However, I generally don't see any of that money. And I hate it when it goes for less than its retail value. It seems crummy to me that someone might get a donated piece for a lower price than they might spend on it in a gallery. It seems unfair. It also seems like it could discourage people from buying in a gallery if they expect they can get a nice piece of artwork for a deal at an auction.
Of course, not all auctions are created equal. I did do an event called Wall Ball that included the artists painting the work during the bidding process. It seemed fun and interesting, and I was happy to have been asked. I liked that the money was going to help SCOSAG. This past fall, I accepted an invitation to participate in Art Attack for KDHX. I had declined the previous year because I couldn't bear to see my artwork cut up if it came to that. However, they added a great website showcasing the artists with quality photographs and links to their websites. KDHX did a great job promoting the event, and the artists all got tickets to the event, which was really fun. I always wish that I could donate during their pledge drives, so I felt it was something I could do for them, especially since they were supplying the canvas.
So, those were fun, and I'd definitely do the KDHX event again. But sometimes the organization doesn't do much for the artists. They just want the work. They aren't going to do anything to promote you other than have the work there. And if it's an event with expensive tickets, they probably aren't going to invite you either. And they certainly aren't going to give you a cut of the profits.
But you can write it off! That's bunk. You can write off the supplies, sure, but I already do that on my tax return. I can't write off the retail value, and I can't write off my time. So what do I get out of it? Not much. If I write the organization a check for $300 I can write off $300, but if I donate a piece of artwork that retails at $300, I really can't write off anything, since the supplies are written off under my business expenses.
So what's an artist to do? We can't just go around giving our work away for free, but how do we also support the organizations that we love? Artist friends, what are your thoughts?