I wrote a piece last week about saying “no” to unpaid/underpaid artist labor that took off in the inter-webs like a bat out of hell with over 4000 hits/hour at its weekend peak. I would much rather be remembered as the person who says “YES!” than the person who says “NO!” so offer this follow-up.
Just – or even more – important than knowing when to say “no,” is knowing when and how to say “yes.” Giving builds community; giving builds friendships; giving builds social capital (although one need not think of it in those terms); giving lifts the spirit of both the giver and receiver. We may give of our time, we may give of our money, we may give of our things, we may give of our talent. Related to giving is sharing – we may share knowledge, share food, share an experience (good or bad), without any exchange of material goods.
Sadly, there will be those who take advantage of the generosity of others for their own material gain or, as in the case of the donut company, place little or no value on the talents of others. Maturing as an artist, an artist who wishes to work in the public sphere, to interact with the social system in which we now live, must learn not only the art of making art, but also the art of differentiation. I wish there were a magic bullet for differentiating between the worthy project and the unworthy, the excellent professional opportunity and the opportunity to be exploited, the worthwhile and the worthless. No magic bullet, but a few thoughts:
- Know yourself and what motivates you to make art
- Have values and principles and let them guide you
- Love something [with credit to Laura Zabel for the phrase]
- Do “good” work: work that is excellent, impactful, and ethical [adapted from Howard Gardner]
- Look around you and ask for help when you need it
- Always be learning
- Remember, after Kant, that people are never a means to an end, they are ends themselves – that includes you, the young artist, trying to decide whether or not the unpaid gig is truly a learning and professional development opportunity
Ultimately, as I’ve said before, “no” is an exercise of power, while “yes” is an exercise of empowerment.