Dealing with money is one of the hardest things I deal with in my career. I hate it. I never wanted to be a business person but it just comes with the territory, unless you make enough money to hire someone else to do it. This topic is much too large to launch into a full philosophical discussion here. But I think it worthwhile to share a few issues knowing that others out there deal with the saem things on a regular basis. I am constantly struggling with needing to ask for what I feel I am worth, contrasted with wanting to work on projects I enjoy (which often pay little or nothing.) Lately I have been doing a lot more projects out of love and let go of the need to ask for more. This can be difficult when you are trying each month to pay the rent. In my opinion art and commerce should never mix, but that is not the world in which I find myself. So I make compromises. The question comes up again and again, how much do you choose to compromise?
Today I was asked to do an illustration for a magazine that I love and have always wanted to work for. I was excited and flattered. My heart sank when the fee that was offered was lower than any fee I have ever worked for in this business EVER, (even when I started out). So I asked for more, not a lot more, sometimes it is just the principle of the thing. But also I needed to make it worth my time, (preferring to make more that someone who works at a fast food restaurant.) The result…I was turned down, the editor saying the magazine could not pay more given that they were “indie”, a point which is true and yet I know that the print quality of the said mag is extremely costly to produce, so they are spending money somewhere though obviously not on the illustration. (it is a known fact in the illustration world that in the 1920′s the cover of Time magazine paid an illustrator $1000 to do the cover, the same fee is given today.)
So the question that comes up for every artist is ‘what am i worth?’ Most of us have learned the hard way that when we do work for little or free, most often the treatment and amount of respect we recieve is of equal value, little or nothing (there are some exceptions to this.)
I wanted to share with you another way of looking at this which I learned from the artist Gord Peteran many years ago. Gord is an accomplished conceptual furniture designer whose work is like none that you’ve seen before. Over coffee one day the subject of “what to ask for” came up in our discussion. I mentioned I always have a hard time with asking for anything. Gord mentioned that when he sits down with a client he calmly explains his process. For every project he creates there is always a lot of blood, sweat and tears. He will have moments of doubt, frustration, and emotional exertion. So because he is going to hurt, then the client must feel some pain too. The way they can do this is financially, they must put forth energy in that way, (‘feeling it in their pocketbook’ so to speak.)
I’ve always remembered that story because it clearly illustrates the transfer of energy, (from one form to another).
This is not to say you should never work for free or for less, I do it often actually, preferring sometimes to not have the work ‘tainted’ by money. But this is just another way of looking at the issue. And I thought I would throw it out there for what it’s worth ;)
-good wine from an amazing wine store
-Jeff plays a house show, a night of friends and good music
-a hike in the magical Albany Bulb. A place where for many years artists have been creating public art out of object that have washed up onto the shore. we watched an artist working on a sculpture of a 20 ft sea goddess made of rusted wire and found wood. some great photos here. The wild fennel growing there creates a wonderful “scented” walk.
-an inspiring new cookbook by Blake Spalding (who my husband serendipitously met and stayed with when he rode his bike accross the u.s. last year.) Blake opened an organic restaurant (with a buddhist bent) in the middle of a remote community in Utah, called the Hell’s Backbone Grill. She is doing wonderful things for this world by sharing her lifestyle and food philosophies. A symbol of what passion and determination can create.
-another new cookbook from the Candle Cafe, which is a must when you visit New York. So far I’ve made the marinated tofu, sweet potato mash, wild rice and cranberry salad. All are excellent.
-my husband and i are what you might call ‘urban campers’. we recently acquired a car that is perfect to sleep in (like a mini camper actually), dubbed ‘the grey elephant’ in honor of Emily Carr’s grey elephant which she wrote and painted in for many years. we have been taking mini vacations with wonderful freedom to sleep where ever we find ourselves. and even created a ‘car journal’ to document the trips. there is also a small library in the back (I always like to have a selection of reading material for when you take a spontaneous journey). including, of course, a few books by emily, poems by gary snyder (since we are in california), william carlos williams, plus a few others. the goal this week is to sew some privacy curtains for the back window and a sack for our “collections” of beach finds and found objects.
-a random opening of Emily’s recently published ‘unknown’ journals “opposite contraries” finds these words…
“Movement is the essence of being. When a thing stands still and says, “Finished”, then it dies. There isn’t such a thing as completion in this world, for that would mean Stop! Painting is a striving to express life. If there is no movement in the painting, then it is dead paint.”
written on the dust jacket of the book “Al Que Quiere!” (to who wants it) by William Carlos Williams…
(typed a bit too quickly. i’m not fixing it.)
an open bag of dried apricots sit on my desk, they are painfully tart, like sour candy. just how I like them.
nearby a pink shoelace lies in a heap, found in a junk store, i had thoughts of using it to make tags for things, or to wrap small gifts to friends.
a lone piece of green gum, unchewed.
a green apple of the pipin variety, my current favourite.
tepid tea in a mustard yellow cup. lion mountain keemun.
a japanese postcard with a red elephant on it that you can cut out and assemble, which I will do shortly. a gift from a friend that came in the mail yesterday.
two books, “no nature” by Gary Snyder, and “independence day” by Richard Ford. the snyder has a page marked with a folded down corner, a poem entitled ‘what you should know to be a poet’ which is actually a list that includes…
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
names of stars, and the movements of the planets and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful and elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic.
i spent the weekend by the ocean again, smelling the eucalyptus in muir woods and listening to the rain. breakfast by a fire in stinson beach.
this morning i search the depths of myself for a small piece of motivation that will somehow get me to start work. I might rather take mr. snyder with me onto a train headed along the coast of california for some unknown destination. I could sit reading on a train for days.
watching the world through a window.
but the phone rings.
I owe you and Jeff Pitcher an apology.
I’ve heard from a few of your readers concerning the column I wrote attacking Adfreeblog.org. While the sentiments in the column were 100% honest, in retrospect I should have been more civilized in the delivery.
I attacked you and Jeff personally when I should have made the same point by sticking to the issue. I apologize to you both for that.
Some of your readers have written letters expressing their displeasure. I will urge my editor to run them without comment from me.
On a related point, you may be pleased to know that the column “This Owl Brays Like a Donkey” was chosen by an online journalism class as the “Bad Example” piece of writing for the week.
I am told I’ll have the critiques in my inbox in a week or two. If that isn’t karma, I don’t know what is.
PS: You can post this, or not. Whatever you choose.
karma indeed :)
thank you all for writing to direct mag and sharing your opinions. apparently they hit home.
Thank you very much for your apology. It is greatly appreciated. It may surprise you to know that I am not upset with you at all, though at first i did feel a little hurt by your words. I did not feel that they reflected me or Jeff (my husband) at all. It was brave of you to write.
keri (lower case “k”) smith
thank you janice. thank you all for your words.
I am learning the meaning of the phrase “roll with the punches”. sometimes when you stand up for your beliefs people will try to attack you on a personal level because they don’t know how else to bring you down.
it is akin to little children who when angry and flustered will pull out something irrelevant like, “oh yeah? well you have a big nose!”
it is somewhat funny, but as we all know words can hurt too.
but here lies the beauty…
the lesson i am learning is that no matter what, my feelings are not wrong. my whole life I have been in doubt of them. questioned them, barely recognized them, ignored them, rejected them, feared them, stuffed them away, felt them invalid, misinterpreted them, put them after the feelings of others, held them in until I thought my lungs would burst. the reasons for this are numerous and too much to get into here, but because of this, as an adult I have had trouble recognizing them (read: numbness). (I will experience discomfort somewhere in my body, usually my stomach, which swirls, churns or aches). I didn’t know before but these are my emotions sending me a message, “something is up. stop and listen for a moment.” STOP AND LISTEN.
sometimes it takes a few hours for me to understand what the message is. often when I get it, it comes in a flash. big knowing. “oh my god, of course! that’s it.” onto step number two, expressing those feelings. somewhere along the way, you learn (usually the hard way) that you also need to express those feelings and that you have a right to do so. here lies another great challenge but one worth doing.
and so a message to those who will try to bring me down. you can attack my writing, you can attack my spiritual beliefs, you can attack my chosen profession, you can criticize my talent, you can insult my physical appearance, you can do whatever you think of to make me look bad in the eyes of others.
I WILL NOT BACK DOWN.
because from the deepest place in my heart there is an incredible strength, something I have not felt until now. an unshakable knowing that I have a right to these feelings. and no matter what you do to me you cannot take that away. my feelings and beliefs are my own, and they come out of a loving place, a place that wants to heal me and take care of me at every turn. even the anger. i have never really known what it meant to love yourself, until now. it seems so simple, to act in a way that honor’s your feelings and beliefs. to trust what your body is telling you. to stand up for your beliefs even when you feeling like the whole world is against you.
i sit looking at a photo of myself on my desk. I am two years old, with long brown hair and bangs, sitting on my bed wearing my pink p.j.’s with the feet in them, looking shy and apprehensive about the world, (I was an intensely shy child). for the first time i feel such incredible love and admiration for this girl, I want to hug her up and tell her everything’s o.k.
you are strong, and powerful and loved. even if you don’t know it yet.
(adapted from a project entitled “Use this Poster”)