If you are an artist and out in the public’s eye, I’m pretty sure that you have been approached to donate a piece of your art for a charity or a good cause.
I get asked about 2-3 times a week, sometimes more, especially in the fall and spring when they are in full fundraising swing. Some of the requests are for simple small things but some ask for original art with the explanation that the exposure will be great. This may be true in the rare case but I have found in most it’s not.
When I first started my career, I was so eager to get known or have ‘exposure’, that I donated alot, I mean ALOT, to various charity gala events. Some would provide two tickets so that we could enjoy the evening and I have some great memories of how exciting it was to have my art up on the auction block. My heart would race when the bidding started and I’d be soaring with happiness when it sold for a significant amount. I however started to notice that more often than not, that many pieces of original art were selling way below their actual value. Not just mine but artists who were very well established. Too many times I’d hear, ‘I stole that’ by the winning bidder, which on so many levels is wrong but that's a whole other blog. What really sunk in was that after the events, my phone messages machine (this is before cell phones were in everyone's hands) definitely was not jammed with people wanting to purchase my art and I had just given away a piece of art that was worth up to a weeks salary. I was starting to get bitter and I shouldn't have been because I was giving to a charity...right?
It dawned on me that I was donating for absolutely the wrong reason. I wasn’t doing it to help the charity with an open heart, I was giving to help myself. That is not how it should work and I slammed on the brakes and had to shake my head.
So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that giving original art to a charity is a bad idea and that we, as artists, shouldn’t do it but we need to be balanced at it and do it with the right intentions.
I realized that I needed to change how I viewed giving my talent and resources to a cause. First of all, I had to set a limit and give myself permission to say no without feeling guilt. It was also important that I acknowledged that my art is how I contribute to our family expenses, it is for paying towards groceries, the mortgage, household bills... and lets face it, the grocery store doesn’t care that you gave away part of your income for ‘exposure’ and I guarantee you that they are not going to give you a cart full of groceries for exposure either. So can I afford to give? And if so, how much?
The next thing I had to do was research more of whom I was donating to. I had to ask myself if I actually knew or even believed in the charity? This is a pretty important question for so many reasons. By donating, you are tying in your name and reputation to their cause and you are giving a part of your potential income. Both of these are pretty precious.
The most important though, was I had to ask myself why I was giving? Was I giving only to bring attention to my art, making it all about me? If this was the main reason then I knew I’d never really be happy.
So over the decades I have gladly given donations of art to various charities that mean something to me, expecting nothing in return and this has brought contentment. I also have taken the time to really figure out what charity I personally have a strong passion for and made that my primary focus. I give what I can afford now and strongly advocate the philosophy of ‘profit with a purpose’ so that both the charity and the artist can benefit and because of this I have not felt bitter in a very long time.