(Note: I wrote about this a year ago, but it’s worth repeating.)
All right, itâ€™s late in the evening, youâ€™re exhausted after working your day job, and now youâ€™re working your real jobâ€“your art. No you’re not making much money from your art. In fact you’re likely broke, or close to it, with your credit cards maxed out and the debt rising.Â But at least you have your passion, your vision, and the freedom to pursue it. So you’re pursuing it when the phone rings: some well-meaning dilettante (who has probablyÂ never experienced your level of risk and debt)Â wants you to donate a work of art to their School Auction, Public Television Auction, or some other kind of auction. They promise you great exposure, enhanced collectorship, and career advancement. Should you do it? No.
At least, donâ€™t do it without setting the following rules:
1) You set the minimum bid, meaning that if the piece sells for $1000 on the retail market, it sells for no less at auction. If no one meets that price, it doesnâ€™t sell.
2) You require that they pay you a percentage of the sale price to cover your expenses (unless youâ€™re already well-off; in which case, donate away).
3) You make certain the event is established and well-attended before consenting, and that your contact information and website will be plastered all over the joint–in an understated way of course.
Look, these people mean well. What they donâ€™t understand is how much damage theyâ€™re doing to the art world, artists’ careers, and the art market in general. How? Inevitably, in most of these auctions, they virtually give away the work, undermining the market, making you look like you donâ€™t deserve real prices, and making artists in general look as though they donâ€™t deserve any better. The exposure you typically get through this process is insignificant, counter-productive, and convinces everyone who attends that artists and their work are not to be valued.
Once you establish the ground rules, these folks will respond accordingly. Theyâ€™ll also begin to better appreciate the realities of your life, the sacrifices you have to make, and the difficulties you juggle (not that ours are any worse than those of most people, but still they are quite real, and likely outside the scope of caller’s experience).
Artists are among the last people in the world to ask a charitable donation of in terms of money, although theyâ€™re often generous with their time. The dilettantes want a donation? Let them go to a local BMW dealership, law firm, medical practice, bank, or congressman. In your case, if they canâ€™t abide by the above-listed principles, I advise you donâ€™t participateâ€“just be nice as you decline.
In my gallery, the word went out long ago that our rules are as Iâ€™ve listed, hence the only calls I get for auctions any longer are those that are worth our time, and which I help structure. I enjoy working on those events, because I know everyone will benefit. Otherwise I save my charitable donations, both in terms of time and money, for the seriously underprivileged. But this gig of well-intentionedÂ socialites demeaning artists out of ignorance, indifference or pure naiveteÂ is something I ain’t got much use for. I advise you establish a similar policy of low tolerance.