Charging entry fees for artists to take part in (what I like to call) money-grabbing-business-deals-dressed-in-the-gleam-of-‘artist-opportunities’ seems to be growing in popularity.
Perhaps it is only the exhibitions I have seen advertised recently, or perhaps it is wide spread. Either way, I don’t get it.
Just yesterday, after totting up the costs of several of these so-called opportunities I was ever so tempted to apply to (that gleaming £1,000 reward and gallery representation seemed a beacon of hope in these smashing-my-head-against-a-wall-and-getting-no-where days), I realised (with outrage) I could have easily spent over £90.
To put that into context, that’s about three times my weekly food shop, two glamorous nights out socializing with friends or three return trips from Birmingham to my parents’ place in Oxfordshire.
And what for? The smallest slither of a chance that my work might be seen by a few judges, curators or collectors somewhere, who might leap at my undiscovered talent and rush hastily to represent me at my own solo show?
How about an even smaller slither of a chance that my work gets more than a 10 second glance before it is tossed in the ‘unfortunately not this time’ pile.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not slating my own work. I’ve been in the art world long enough to know that you have to stand up for yourself at ALL TIMES. What I’m actually saying is that there are simply so many people willingly paying to take part in such opportunities (and of course, wonderful and talented individuals do win these things, make no mistake) that it is very easy for work to go unnoticed; lost among a large volume of entries from other talented hopefuls.
I am aware too that these things have to operate some how. Obviously it takes money to put on an exhibition; venues need arranging, staff need wages and there has to be some budget for marketing and promotion. I know that. But why must the money come from the artists? The very beings necessary to the success of the gallery; participants with a key role to play in the visual arts economy as a large and successful whole?
In what other industry does a worker pay to work?
It takes money to put on a theatre production; does the actor pay to audition?
Really, it is totally bizarre.
After this realization (I always knew it was ridiculous; those numbers on the page were a rude reminder), I have made a vow with myself to only pay for opportunities (if we can still call them that) as an extreme exception (best to remember if you never tried at anything you would never get anywhere – pros and cons people). Most of the time it is simply money down the drain that does nothing but encourage the continuation and growth of money-thieving-business-deals-dressed-in-the-gleam-of-‘artist opportunities’ (Yes, I’m sticking with that name).
There are others out there who think like me, and those who think differently. I expect that paying artists for their work (and writers for their words) will be debated furiously for a long time yet.
All I can do as an individual within this consistently undervalued (and misunderstood?) market is set guidelines for myself and try and stick to them.
I believe that the real opportunities, far from sales pitches or carrot-on-a-stick lures, not dressed in promises but glowing from within, are those that offer a chance for growth, where the value of the artist is celebrated. Probably less dramatic and without much sparkle, these opportunities are the ones it would be a real shame to miss.