Artists are being paid with “exposure” rather than money

Shauna Power

The culture of underpaying or not paying artists is unfair and unsustainable according to the Arts Council of Ireland, who have recently launched a policy to ensure artists are paid fairly.“With this new policy we are asserting the importance we place on improving pay and conditions for artists,” said Arts Council Chair Prof. Kevin Rafter. “The Arts Council wants to bring an end to the idea that it is acceptable to get artists to work as a ‘freebie’ or to offer work without proper payment because it might somehow enhance an artist’s career.”

He said, “The Arts Council is the development agency for the arts in Ireland and in this role, it is proper that we want artists to be able to earn a living for the work they create.”

“Artists should be paid fairly and equitable for their work. The best way to deliver on this new policy, Paying the Artist, is more resources for the arts,” continued Rafter. “As Chair of the Arts Council, I would encourage the new government and the new Minister for Culture to be ambitious for the arts, and to let that ambition be seen in the Arts Council budget for 2021.”

In the music industry, the biggest controversy of the paid streaming era is the situation with Taylor Swift in 2014. She pulled all her music from streaming platform Spotify after stating that artists only receive a tiny royalty per song play.

In an essay for The Wall Street Journal Swift wrote, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.”

The issue of non-payment is not only confined to the music industry and filters through to most creative professions.

Twitter page “For Exposure” chronicles instances where people expect artists to work for free and for exposure.

After discussing the budget of a piece of art, one artist was met with the reply, “I’d totally do it because you’re offering a really good price but I don’t think I have the budget, my original vision was to make art and support you as an artist by spreading the word and posting about your work.”

Other artists were called “entitled” for declining unpaid work whilst another was told, “You should feel privileged I want to have one of your paintings on my wall.”

In a society where cheap and sometimes even free art is readily available, many people expect artists to do original work for free.

Former National College of Art and Design student Niamh O’Brien believes peoples’ unwillingness to pay for art comes from people’s ignorance surrounding the work and effort put into the artwork.

“People don’t recognise being an artist as a real job,” said O’Brien. “They don’t realise the amount of hard work and effort put into the artwork and the ability to access art so freely is affecting our livelihood.”

Shauna Power 

Image Credit: Leeannah McNew