Saying “YES!”

Donuts for sharing (flickr user Johnny MrNinja, Creative Commons)

Donuts for sharing (flickr user Johnny MrNinja, Creative Commons)

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.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
This entry was posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, arts infrastructure, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Saying “YES!”

  1. Daniel says:

    Among my musician friends, we talk about the notion of the “gig triangle” a lot. So generally to take a given gig you need at least 2 of 3 components, good hang, good pay, good music (eg. your best friends are playing experimental stuff that won’t make any money, so you play because you’ve got 2/3).

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  7. I liked the “No” post a lot, (but comments there are closed now). You are right, you need to be able to differentiate between good giving requests and bad ones. IMO most are bad. They flatter artists by making them think they sought you out, love your work, etc…but they just love your money and love getting free stuff. Better choices are often arts orgs or true charitable causes that you can personally check out and determine it’s what you really want to be involved with. They should not charge you to give away stuff, either. And if work is sold, unless it is a charitable contribution entirely, they should split the money with you like a gallery. Watch out for contests and such that grab your copyrights. Not only is it unethical, they won’t really promote you. There are many benefits to being involved at least a little with local arts orgs. Even if participating in their events without much if any compensation, they are often good networking org’s, and just plain enjoyable. The more you expect in return from giving, probably the more disappointed you’ll be. That’s why it’s so important to choose them very carefully.

  8. I think people have given up looking for paid internships — they are hard to find, but they exist. If students stopped taking on these unpaid internships, perhaps more companies will offer pay. As a parent, I don’t like students being taken advantage of. Time is always worth money. I would prefer my children get paid in an unglorified job, than work at an unpaid internship. There should be a connection between work and money.

    • KathyD says:

      I don’t disagree with you, Angel. Paid internships are harder to find, but they do exist. As a gallery manager, I had my first an intern in 2012 – but the actual terms of the internship as set by her instructor were that there should be NO compensation. She was a great student and committed to working in the non-profit art sector, but I still telephoned her instructor to clarify. He insisted, other than mileage reimbursement for running errands, that her program required her internship to be unpaid. He said she would receive three credit hours, and that at her college that amounted to about $1,700.00 in “free” class fees.

      Moving ahead, my intern learned a lot about art, artists, hanging works, running sales, databases for contact management, but also how to structure a benefit art exhibit, work with outside stakeholders, time-sensitive project management, real marketing, catering a 300+ person reception, financial reconciliation, paying vendors & artists, and sending thank you notes (a disappearing art). She received college credits and I am confident that she could step into any arts organization after this experience feeling more confident and be of greater value to them. A few weeks after she was back at college, I sent a solid reference letter for potential employers. I do indeed believe she received a valuable education and real world experience even though it was an unpaid internship…

      And, I also sent a “scholarship” equal to about $10/hour for all the time she was here.

  9. As an artist who routinely gives and often receives by the good grace of other professionals, I like this article. Much of the latest flaptrap about Unpaid Internships is justified by those feeling exploited, and most of what I’ve read is probably whining. And so in the meantime, those of us Givers wait for the right intern to Give. I especially like the part about lifting the spirits, because that’s why I often perform pro bono — I do it because it lifts not only the spirits of others but mine as well, and this fills my spirit so I have more to pass on. Intern for free because you love the topic and want to learn — and want to fill your spirit so others may overflow as well — not because you expect to build a resume.

  10. Chris Johnson says:

    Incidentally, this whole yes/no – internship/underpayment thing is hardly unique to artistic careers. I posit that it’s becoming endemic in the USA.

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  12. Zeke says:

    As someone who was exploited by this system after graduating with a BFA. I am very much against it. I found myself in the situation where I had better credentials than the people who were managing me. I learned nothing from the experience. These companies can find money in their budget to at least pay the interns something. They are predators preying on people’s desperation. As to generosity, and social networking. I find it more effective to work on my own projects, and help other artists early in their careers rather than some corporation. Before that experience I would have thought that these internships are an okay practice, But I suspect the majority of them turn out like mine did.

  13. UsedToBeProNowJustCreative says:

    I like this one! I decided that it’s better to give than to expect payment, and I’m fortunate to have a “day job” that I get a lot of fulfillment out of as well. Frankly, it’s better for my psyche to give my creative talents away to causes I believe in.

  14. Kat Richter says:

    Every bit as well said as the “No” post 🙂 Thank you for sharing and for helping those of us who work in the creative sector figure out better ways to deal with and articulate the difference between power and empowerment.

  15. Jaye says:

    Reblogged this on Jaye Em Edgecliff and commented:
    And a lovely followup to a post I reblogged last night …

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  17. Deb G says:

    Very nice follow up. I think you should have personally secured your favorite donut and used a picture of it so IT (the donut) could give you pleasure for its real self (as opposed to its lack of value as real payment). I don’t write as well as you so I hope you understand what I’m saying. And seriously, I do mean “secure” the donut by whatever preferred means because I can just imagine you whipping up some incredible flavor. And sharing it with friends who live closer. Boohoo.

  18. This is great advice. Thanks for sharing!

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