Wednesday, January 30, 2013
How Much Do You Think This Photo is Worth?
There's been a rash of "art going cheap" tales of woe lately. For starters, the good folks at Glasstire.com have been running a series of articles about Dallas Contemporary putting up some very (otherwise) highly-valued artwork for $15. These are not your usual prints, no, these are from folks like Julie Speed. Now, work by Julie Speed usually retails for considerably more than $15, suffice it to say, and now the good folks at Glasstire.com are discussing how the folks over at Dallas Contemporary might never be able to re-gain their reputation in the art world, after letting such work go for so cheaply on Ebay. There's another matter of the legal contracts involved, which basically boils down to the artists agreeing to sell work through Dallas Contemporary but not having legal rights to re-claim work that is unsold and, through the magic of "loopholes" the folks at Dallas Contemporary can now (legally) "fire sale" off the otherwise reputable work on Ebay. As Glasstire pointed out, for prices that "might allow them to purchase a package of pens." Artwork that normally retails for thousands of dollars was available on Ebay for $15, yes it's true.
If this were not enough, a bunch of photographer friends are also bemoaning that Getty Images has licensed many of the Flickr/Getty Image stock pool over to Google.com and, as a result, are paying the photographers one single "flat" fee, rather than the traditional royalties they normally receive. This would not be a bad thing except for the fact that the "flat" fee in question is, well, quite very "flat" indeed, clocking in at a whopping $12. Yes, you read that right, the folks at Getty are now paying their stock photographers $12 to allow unlimited licensing of their work, even including some of the work found in the Getty archives and such. This situation, I'm sure, will be made worse by the fact that Dell had helped finance Getty Images in the past and now Dell is, well, having a fire sales themselves, thinking about going private thanks to the new economy and all.
So, what does all of this mean for the artists in question?
Now, that's a good question. For starers, the legal contracts you once signed might very well come back to haunt you, and it's probably a good idea to, before you sign anything at all, think about how things could possibly go wrong. What happens if the work in question does not sell? What happens if my exhibition venue goes out of business and closes with my work on display? What happens if the people skip town? All of these are valid questions to ask and, hate to say it, but there might be some opportunities that you might just want to pass on, just based entirely on the answers to these questions here.
These recent events bring about bigger questions though, and they relate to the art market in general and the views of society in terms of how artists get paid. With recent technological advances, many people, for example, view the images on Flickr "for free." But, nothing is really "free" now, is it? No, somebody had to go and buy that camera, had to go and take that picture, had to go and take the time to post it online, let alone tag it and whatnot so that you could find it and enjoy it all "for free." As long as artists devalue their own work, the market will respond so, in my view, artists are guilty here too. We should never work "for free" or should at least put forth the viewpoint that, even if it looks "free," even if you think it might be "free," even if you are enjoying it "for free" there's work behind that artwork and the viewers should maybe think about helping to pay for it all. Even in the land of digital technology, yes, nothing is really for free.
So, the next time somebody asks you how much do you think this photo is worth, or even the next time you are asked how much one of your photos is worth, I hope you'll take into consideration these recent events and not sell yourself short. Yes, technology is great and it allows us to share our work but they call it "work" for a reason-it's not really and should never be considered "free" for the taking.
Until next time...