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Being asked a while back to provide some advice to artists on pay and pricing matters for a new website was the generator of this short text. It begins with summarising some of the issues and ends with a few sugges­tions for what artists might do to improve their chances of making a living while steadily moving their art practice forward.

The context

In an ideal world, it would be all plain sailing this money and pricing thing for artists. Every­thing in the way of work and oppor­tu­nities in the visual arts – partic­u­larly in the funded visual arts — would be openly adver­tised. Employers and commis­sioners would all be very well-informed about artists and their profes­sional terms and economic expec­ta­tions. All artists would know the ropes profes­sionally speaking, whether a new graduate or estab­lished artist and whatever their type of practice and audience. 

But this isn’t how it is. Employers may know very little about artists and their needs and expec­ta­tions for artistic devel­opment and economic reward. As Australian perfor­mance artist Julie Vulcan commented, producers and commis­sioners can’t ever know exactly where you’re coming from and are not psychic, so: Never assume anything”. Artists have varied profes­sional needs and artistic aspira­tions and their family and personal circum­stances differ too. There is no one-size-fits-all’.

Guidance material

Infor­mation on artists’ fees is readily available from long-standing industry bodies such as a‑n The Artists’ Infor­mation Company, Scottish Artists Union and Visual Artists Ireland. The guideline day and annual rates they each publish are well-researched and, impor­tantly, are backed by the high numbers of artists they consult with and whose interests they represent. Bodies such as Arts Devel­opment UK, and the arts councils in England, Scotland and Wales also signpost to these industry rates to employers and commis­sions. In the case of Arts Council England which publicly states its commitment to fair pay across the visual arts, it is signposted within the infor­mation guidance for all appli­cants for the Grants for the Arts Scheme. 

Regret­tably though, many artists fare badly in the earning a living game – they are barely scraping by. This is not to say all artists are poor or need to be. Many do make a reasonable living, often because someone other than themselves is doing the negoti­a­tions and handling the discus­sions about money.

Improve your chances 

Any guide­lines are only as good as the work that goes along around them which means artists themselves have a vital part to play in making their own case about their specific economic needs. In this very short resource, here are a few sugges­tions for artists who want to improve their own and their family’s livelihood and to be able to afford to be more ambitious with their practice. 

  • Know what you need to earn – don’t expect employers or commis­sioners to know your precise needs and circumstances.
  • Practice being business-like – that doesn’t mean you have to put profit first. But be objective about each oppor­tunity that comes under your radar. Weigh up the pros and cons. Many are just not worth the effort of making a proposal or appli­cation. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Concen­trate on the ones which are most in tune with your artistic ambitions.
  • Learn how to negotiate – it’s a life skill which all freelancers need whether in the arts or elsewhere. Practice your negoti­ating skills at every oppor­tunity so that when you need them for art, they come naturally to you.
  • Strengthen your profession – spread the word about the good commis­sioners and employers whose terms and condi­tions are favourable to artists. Use the evalu­ation process to feedback to those who could do better as well as to find out where you yourself could do better next time.
  • Take charge — it’s you who respon­sible for making sure your needs are met. No one other than you has your best interests at heart and remember, shy bairns get nowt’.

Further reference

Collection: Negoti­ating better selected from a‑n resources by Susan Jones (membership required to access) https://www.a‑n.co.uk/collections/negotiating-better

Guidance on fees and day rates for visual artists 2017, a‑n The Artists Infor­mation Company https://static.a‑n.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Guidance_on_fees_and_day_rates_for_visual_artists_2017.pdf

Julie Vulcan: artists’ self-care @ I’m still standing: how to keep surviving as an artist video https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​G​E​u​6​w​N​NSck8

SAU Rates of Pay guidance for the year 2016- 17 http://​www​.sau​.org​.uk/​r​i​g​h​t​s​/pay/

VAI Visual Arts Payment Guide­lines for Profes­sional Visual Artists http://​visualartists​.ie/​t​h​e​-​m​a​n​u​a​l​-​a​-​s​u​r​v​i​v​a​l​-​g​u​i​d​e​-​f​o​r​-​v​i​s​u​a​l​-​a​r​t​i​s​t​s​/​t​h​e​-​g​u​i​d​e​l​ines/

Credits

Extended text from an original commis­sioned as a video by The Art of Living Danger­ously http://​theartofliv​ing​dan​ger​ously​.com/​?​p​a​g​e​_​i​d=277