Being an artist - the BIG gamble
The heart of my very being is based on the belief that being an artist is an important, fulfilling, and viable job. But the more I look around at those who are supported, funded and legitimised as artists- the more I realise that at every turn an artist (usually the lowest paid) is being used and used badly.
I have always advocated for art as work & encouraged young people to consider being an artist as a real job prospect. The average wage for most artists is under £10 000 a year and many artists I know earn much less than that whilst working the long unsociable hours. It seems it is often acceptable for others to pay artists low wages or ask for 'freebies' because artists 'love' or 'live for' what they do - so the money is not important. If an artist can 'survive' the art is worth the struggle - in fact the struggle is what makes the art better. That's not 'the narrative of the artist' that should be persisting in the 2020s. Struggling financially is not good for anyone. It doesn't feel good and eventually it will wear you down to the bone. If you are an artist and do it as a hobby and don't rely on it for your income- then enjoy making art and be honest. Say it's not your main income, say you have your mortgage all paid up, say your partner earns enough to cover the bills, say you are living off your savings, say you are middle class (or above). The rest of us won't judge you - but you need to consider how your relative wealth and actions impact on the behaviour of the market and the plight of the artists who live on woefully low incomes.
One glaring great injustice for artists on low income is the 'Call for Artists' paid submission 'scam', where artists are invited to submit their work for inclusion in an exhibition (but by also by offering prize money that exhibition is actually a gamble). The artists are being asked to gamble that they may win.
I wanted submit work to the Football Art Prize but I can't afford to take the gamble. It's £10 to submit 1 work and another £5 per work up to 4 works - so £25 tops. Doesn't sound like a lot to you - but why do you need to pay to show them your work when they have invited you to show it to them? If your online submission leads to you being shortlisted you will be asked to submit the actual work and drop it off at a given collection point and a specific time- for a fee. There is no information on where the collection points are, nor is there any information on the fee to drop off. If the judges decide actually, they don't want the work after all, then off you go to collect it from the collection point at a time that they specify.
I assume as work is for sale that the organisers take a commission on any work sold. If your work is selected but doesn't sell - you must collect it at a given time and place that suits the organisers. You may say - well they are running a competition so all that is OK and if you don't like don't submit. I would say the submitting artists are subsidising the exhibition and prize money as a gambling wager. Without the work of artists there would be no show. I would point out that the prize is funded with Arts Council England lottery funds. Arts Council England say: 'Arts Council England's role is to champion, develop and invest in arts, museums and libraries in England. Our mission is 'Great art and culture for everyone'. We invest money from Government and the National Lottery to support arts and culture across England.
Is it ethical and best practice for an organisation like the Arts Council to fund projects that use artist submissions fees to subsidise publicly funded shows/organisations? Should the Arts Council insist that any publicly funded exhibition pays the artist? - not the artist paying a funded venue through a wager?
Arts Council England say:
Arts and culture help tackle social injustice - theatres, museums, galleries and libraries are the beating heart of our towns and cities. Not only do they bring prosperity, they bring communities together and make life worth living.
I believe that by the Arts Council funding a prize that charges individual artists to submit, drop off and sell work that they are contributing to social injustice and creating a barrier to participation for many artists in a publicly funded exhibition. I would continue that this type of prize should not be publicly funded in its present form. It does not bring 'prosperity' to anyone other than those artists able to gamble and the organisers of the show. This exhibition does not bring those in the art community together but divides them based of economic circumstance. The submitting artists appear to be a collective cash-cow and source of match funding. The Arts Council should have advocated for artists and ensured that they as funders supported an inclusive exhibition - free to submit and drop off .
If Arts Council England, the National Lottery, or any one of the venues- Touchstones Rochdale, Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, or any one of the judges David James, Jo Cunningham, Kirstie Hamilton, Mark Doyle, Mark Wallinger or Sacha Craddock want to respond and have a meaningful conversation about this please get in touch.
If you are an artist and you have felt excluded from an exhibition opportunity (receiving public funds) because of the submission costs - please get in touch and share your stories.
If as Arts Council England say 'Great art and culture for everyone' then everyone has to include artists of all economic and social circumstances.