For me, art and gift giving have always gone together. I remember giving handmade gifts for birthdays and holidays from when I was a little kid, all the way up until recently.
When you’re an artist, giving away your art as gifts almost seems a no-brainer.
It’s low cost, it’s meaningful, and most of the time the recipient more than loves it.
But . . .
is it a bad idea?
Should Artists Give Their Skill Away for Free?
It really brings us back to that age old question of if artists should give their work away for free. If you are an artist, writer, craftsperson or other creative, I bet $100 that at some point you have been asked to donate or give your work for free for “exposure.”
Many people seem to be under the assumption that asking a creator to create and not pay them for it is a perfectly reasonable practice because of this mysterious and elusive bird of exposure. The thought is that getting the creator’s name or work “out there” will help them make money . . . from other people.
Nowadays, most artists and creators are aware of the exposure game and we don’t particularly like it. There’s nothing fun about spending time, money and effort on something only to see no return.
A lot of times, exposure is a convenient way to say “we love your work, but we don’t value it.”
I have never heard someone ask a plumber, auto mechanic or lawyer to give their services away for free because it will give them good “exposure.” Maybe they decide to do a certain amount of work for someone for free because they want to help people, but asking a skilled person to do work for free just because you don’t want to pay them is usually a no-no across the board.
But is giving mixed media paintings away as gifts the same thing?
Giving Paintings as Gifts: Yay or Nay Nay?
I often give art as gifts. To me, it makes sense: I am an artist and what is more meaningful than an original piece of art given as a gift?
I created my first gift painting when I was in college, and I have gifted paintings and art over the years since then. To me it’s like baking someone cookies or making a handmade card or gift. Only recently did I start to wonder if paintings as gifts are the same thing as giving artwork away for free.
I am currently working on two paintings that will be Christmas gifts. One was my idea, and the other I was asked to do as a gift for my fiancé’s boss. Now that I have done many hours of practice at painting, I know I can produce a great gift, but I also know it takes me a lot of time. I have worked almost exclusively on these two paintings in the past several weeks. I pushed some other things to the side in order to complete these paintings, since Christmas is a pretty unshakeable deadline.
Gifting Art: It’s a Personal Decision
I’ve come to the conclusion that deciding to gift art to another person is a personal decision. Some people might be okay with creating an assortment of art gifts for the important people in their lives, while other may feel that gifting a painting is the same as giving your work away for free.
I’m still a little torn on this issue. On the one hand, I have always made artistic gifts, and I know they are some of my friends and family members’ most prized possessions. On the other hand, as I work toward making my living as an artist, it really does put pressure on me as I halt everything else to create gifts for people.
This is why I came to the conclusion (for myself, anyway) that deciding to give the gift of original art is a personal choice. You may be gung ho about it, or you may be totally against it. Either way, it’s a perfectly acceptable decision. You do you, and all that.
In the End, It’s What You’re Comfortable With
I will most likely continue to give the occasional art gift, although I may not do it as often as I have in the past. To me, gifting art and being asked by someone to do a painting for free are slightly different. For a gift, I am deciding what I want to do, and when giving art away, it is often another person asking – and sometimes making you feel guilty for saying no (whether that part is intentional or unintentional is debatable).
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue! Do you gift art to friends and family? Do you think giving paintings as gifts is a great way to save money during the expensive gift giving season or is it a drain on your art time?
Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
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