March 29th, 2006
what am I worth?
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 ;)