Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Behind Sullivan's Slough, 24 x 36" soft pastel. Lisa Gilley~2010

Auctions and Benefits:
The Art of Giving

If you're a showing artist I'm sure many times you too are asked to give to auctions or causes. In any given year I may be asked by a dozen or more organizations. Why should an artist give to such a cause and when should they refrain? This of course is really a personal decision. Some artist refuse to give away work for any cause. Some are giving it all away. Here's how I decide:

Where are you in your art career? Artist in their mid-career and above may answer this differently than an artist who is just starting out. And that's okay. An auction/benefit might be one of the first opportunities to show your work but I still believe whether you are emerging artist or a master you still need to ask yourself the following questions...

Is it a cause I believe in fully? Supporting an art foundations/associations, museum, or just a reputable do-gooder cause I'm behind might fall into this category. I can't tell you how many times half-rated organizations have asked me for free art for their cause with no compensation or guarantee that the money will really go where it needs to go. Helloooooo! Artist are not banks. Which leads me to the next question...

Do you feel appreciated/compensated for your generous donation? Does this organization thank the artist in anyway with free tickets to the event, sales percentage or advertisement/portfolio pieces? How you feel about this varies for each individual and you really need to be clear with yourself about your bottom line or you may regret it later.

Is this too much of a strain to give at this particular time financially speaking or in reference to available art stock? I may give one year to an event but if my stock is low then I have to consider my galleries and other upcoming events that support me regularly as an artist. For example if I'm in the middle of creating a body of work for a upcoming show, I ask myself if I have the time and resources to do this at this time. Artists have to eat and put a roof over their heads too. Giving is great. Giving all the goods away is not. If you really want to give to one of these foundations but just can't let go of stock at the time, just let them know that you are currently bogged down and would like consideration for the next year. No worries. If they asked you once they'll probably ask again especially if you let them know your circumstances.

Is your gallery (if you have one) cool with this? Some galleries have contracts regarding where their artist show and some don't. I had a very in depth conversation with a Seattle Gallery owner regarding this and she had mixed feelings. She did not tell her where her artist could or could not donate. She was okay with an artist donating as long as it didn't take the attention of her artist off their work that was expected in the gallery. Concerns again were around who was the foundation and how did they spotlight (or not) the artist. I believe galleries generally support their artist showing in places that benefit their career such as museum benefit. When artist are spotlighted in such venues it only helps their reputation and that comes directly back to the gallery.

Does this help or hurt your career as an artist? Yes, its okay to think about yourself and that question can be directed in a couple of ways: Will the audience you are trying to get the attention of see your work? It is possible to put your work in the wrong place. Are you supporting something, say an organization or museum, that will prolong the career of artists, yourself included?

All that said, if you do decide to give to an auction, benefit or charitable foundation realize that what you give is what you get in the end. Giving old work you've been hiding in the back drawers because you thought about tossing it isn't a great idea especially if you are trying to be "seen" in our art community. After all what does that say about your work? First impressions are everything (and so are second, third, 120th, etc). I have been to important benefits where people who I consider masters donate a below average piece. It is much noted by others and talked about around the wine table so be careful.

My next donation will be going to the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner WA. They do offer partial compensation if you cannot donate fully and they treat their artist very well with an invitation to their auction and a pre-party the night before. Growing up in the Skagit Valley I have been a long time fan of MONA, a museum who has stayed committed to the Northwest Artists and NW Art Movement. It is my turn to give back and I look forward to it. Cheers and happy givings.

See related sites to this topic:

Museum of Northwest Art—2010 Art Auction
ArtTalk Blog article "The Pitch"