Breaking Business Rule #1
Updated: Feb 29
I'm fully aware that I do not possess the qualities of a stellar business owner.
But I'm not clueless.
And I know, that one of the cardinal rules of running a business is to never do work for free.
"Exposure doesn't pay the bills!"
I've heard it. You've heard it. We know about the rule.
But artists are not known for following the rules.
Giving it away
There’s a lot of smart business advice for artists and creatives.
You can probably find it somewhere else.
I’m no expert, and I’m in wholehearted agreement that artists should value their work, and value their time, and set the expectation that others should do so.
I’m also in agreement that, as a rule, artists shouldn’t be asked to work for free. Not for employers, not for customers, not for family or friends. Exposure, experience, or free pizza is not compensation and only serves to de-value the work you do.
And now, I shall contradict myself.
Because if you’re anything like me, you are so in love with spreading beauty and sharing your thoughts, that there are times when you NEED to give your art away. You need to get it out there. You may also need to make some room in your studio for other things.
While I agree with all those smart business principles laid out above, I’m also of the belief that there are ways to send our work out into the world that are meaningful to us, and will be meaningful to those who encounter it.
So if you, too, are looking for ways to break the rules and start giving beauty away for free, here are a few of my favorite ideas:
Free Art Fridays
This is a fun, worldwide movement to do just what we're told not to do- give art away... to strangers... for free. But only on Fridays (because we're not lawless all of the time.) This movement is not associated with any one particular organization or group of people. It's simply a fun practice of artists across the globe to make art, and leave it in a public place for anyone to take home.
Just just leave a note your work saying something like, "Lucky you! You get free art today!" It's exhilarating. And it drives home the point that art is for everybody- not just those who can afford it. You can read more about it in this article, and on the Free Art Friday Blog.
Make use of this public space to share your art with your community! Decorate a community bulletin board in your public library, local coffee-shop, or community co-op. Leave a drawing. A zine. An inspirational flyer. Add a bit of beauty alongside adverts for yard sales and babysitting services.
On the slightly more deviant side of things, Guerrilla art can be quite exciting.
Note: I am not condoning vandalism
I believe there are ways to beautify a space, without explicit permission, that is also not necessarily illegal. (Let's face it: not everyone can be a Banksy.)
So what does that leave us? Well, sidewalk chalk can be both beautiful and (mostly) lawful in parking lots and public parks, and yarn bombing is a fun option, if you're quick with a hook or needle.
In cities with many vacant lots, artists have been known to surreptitiously plant flowers, erect outdoor installations, and craft welcoming spaces that invite the community into the neglected space.
Busking on a street corner or in the park is a classic way to share your art with the world. Staging an impromptu dance performance with some friends in the park, or performing a little spontaneous Shakespeare is always interesting.
And if flashy isn't your thing, leaving beautifully painted rocks alongside public walkways is also a low-risk option.
Perhaps not having permission still makes you a bit squeamish. Never fear. There are plenty of ways you can offer to beautify people's lives with their consent.
Offer to paint the windows of your favorite area businesses, community centers, or libraries. Likewise, offer up a more permanent project with a mural. Pull in other artists in the community for help, or make it an after-school project for kids at the YMCA to help with.
Can't convince anyone to let you jazz up the side of their building? Never fear. Work on your own curb appeal. Create an installation on your own property. Depending on the local community guidelines, you can get creative with landscaping, patio paint or temporary decorations. You can also give back with a Little Free Library erected at the edge of your property. Take a book. Leave a book. Or distribute some free artworks...
Are these projects feeling a little too much for you to tackle? No worries! There are lots of little ways to share:
Snail mail: pull out that Rolodex and send crafty cards, thoughtful poems, or hand-painted postcards to everyone in your address book.
Library Books: sneak handmade bookmarks into books at the public library. leave artist trading cards, mini prints, and other surprises for the next person to check the book out!
Social Media: Use technology to spread beauty far and wide! Fill your social media feeds with beautiful art, lovely poetry, or share clips of your music. We can always use more art in cyberspace.
So there you have it. Go forth and give your art away to the world!
Do have other ideas for sharing your art? Favorite tricks for brightening someone's day, for making the world a more beautiful- art-filled place?