The Cost of Working for Free

A fellow artist once chided me for working for free as a makeup artist and production designer, believing that it devalued my work as an artist. In my mind, I believed it a good way to gain exposure as a new artist, network with others in the industry, and get practical experience. However, it is a slippery slope. It is far too easy to be taken for granted and fall into a place where one’s work loses value because it was produced for free. I don’t have the answers, on this topic. But it is good to read another’s exposure of the issue. Jessica Hefland explores this in her article Why Are Designers Still Expected To Work For Free? in reference to Doubleday’s recent announcement of an open competition for the design of the cover of Dan Brown’s upcoming book. Undoubtedly this will stir up the hankering to submit for gratis. But should it?

One of the most compelling arguments that has come out of the free-work conversation is that agreeing to it perpetuates a culture in which creative work goes unpaid and undervalued. As Helfand argues, it also sends a message that art and design are more like hobbies than careers. “If you are lucky, the fun and easy part is a lovely benefit,” she writes in her email. “But it is still business, and it is absolutely work—ergo, something changing hands that deserves compensation, plain and simple.

Should artists work for free?

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