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.
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’.
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’.
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/watch?v=GEu6wNNSck8
SAU Rates of Pay guidance for the year 2016- 17 http://www.sau.org.uk/rights/pay/
VAI Visual Arts Payment Guidelines for Professional Visual Artists http://visualartists.ie/the-manual-a-survival-guide-for-visual-artists/the-guidelines/
Extended text from an original commissioned as a video by The Art of Living Dangerously http://theartoflivingdangerously.com/?page_id=277