This is mainly a motivational and opinion piece. I'll probably edit it from time to time to make it better by adding research to prove my thesis (that working for free as an artist ultimately devalues the craft), but the current version is the unedited version directly from my thoughts.
Being an artist in 2019, whether it’s in the fine arts or digital realm, is a difficult prospect. Well, being an artist throughout the ages was difficult for the most part, simply being that society has generally prioritized other avenues over art. Today, for example, in many schools, funding for sports is prioritized over funding for music and art (at least my high school did; first thing that got cut were art and music programs).
And in the “gig economy” that has taken over slowly since the 2008 recession, being able to get a job as an artist becomes increasingly difficult as you need to differentiate yourself far away from the other thousands of artists, not just nationally but globally. Competition is big. Still, it’s not impossible. One step that artists tend to take to differentiate themselves though, is by working for “free” in order to get that recognition and future job openings.
Before I get into my opinion, please be sure to note that there is a difference between working volunteer for non-profit organizations, and working for someone who can pay you, but doesn’t pay you (company, for profit, sole-proprietor, or an individual). With volunteer work, you generally know what you’re getting into, and the organizations generally are for good causes that really do need help and rarely have funding available.
Whether it’s doing an unpaid internship in order to possibly acquire that job with the company (unpaid internships are largely a luxury, because unless you live in a large city, or have a lot of money saved up, it’s very difficult to do) or doing free artwork on the web to “get noticed”, or whatever method that involves providing a trade of free artwork for a possible benefit (it’s not 100% that you’re going to get discovered. It’s not 100% you’re going to get that job); regardless of what it is, these methods devalue all of art and all artists livelihood to the point that art becomes treated as a valueless commodity by society.
The unpaid internship. It boggles my mind as to why these exist, but I suppose companies know there are college students desperate to work for free for just that hypothetical chance that they might … They just MIGHT get future work with the company. A future contract. A might. A maybe. A big “If”. A huge uncertainty. Those that host unpaid internships play with the anxieties of the artist, which they know artists are quite a sensitive bunch (at least many are), take advantage of inexperienced and unsure notions carried by the inexperienced artist, and take advantage of the general inexperience of young adults by luring them in with false promises and what ifs.
The fact that there are unpaid internships by companies show that companies can get away with it because they know that there are bright eyed artists that believe the only way for them to get an art job is by working for free. Because many artists are naturally self-critical. They have subconsciously devalued their own skill and talent which they might have spent years developing, and thus, believe they must work for free in order to prove themselves or insert any anxiety riddled thought artists typically have concerning their craft.
Thinking that you should work for free in order to get discovered is also not a healthy mentality. As I said, these types of mentalities not only hurt you, but they are surely do not benefit your fellow artists who also desire to be paid reasonably for their honest work.
A job is a job. You should never work for free for any reason. Many external users to the arts don’t seem to comprehend that art has the potential of being more than just a hobby. It’s very much an honorable, and dead on career choice even though it might appear softer than other career choices. But it requires great deal of skill and discipline, or at least I think it should. I do have plans to write an article on why artists should also adhere to professional standards, but that is another topic for another time.
In summary, if you decide to work for free as an artist, and the individuals or companies have the means of paying you but they do not want to for whatever reason, this is helping to devalue art, what it contributes to society and turns it into a unnecessary, fluffy commodity with no purpose. When in fact, the arts do have many purposes, namely of which is providing an honest living for those talented in the arts, and providing rich culture to society. Without arts, we would live in a cold world.
-ACE from aceillust.art
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