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Should We Donate Art?

JR Compton   Blowing Smoke   8 June 2003

This story began in 2003.

Artists in Dallas, in America — probably all over the world, are expected to donate their work for the honor, glory and financial benefit of "worthwhile organizations."

Starting this page was that I was contacted by someone who believes it was high time a book of photographs of White Rock Lake was published, and they wanted to include some of mine.

The book's organizer, Sandy Lovejoy, wanted the book to be "of high quality and professionally designed" — by the guy who did the book for the Dallas Soars project. Of course, they wanted the book printed professionally, too. And all those people will be paid their full professional salary.

But the photographers whose work will comprise the volume's content were expected to donate their work — gratis.

Even though the people planning the book had no idea what the money raised from the sale of this "Beautiful Limited Edition Coffee Table Book" would be spent for or even who would decide, they definitely did not want to pay the photographers for this book of photographs.

Ironic, huh?

Kinda like all those requests artists get to donate their work for art auctions to raise funds for organizations that normally have nothing to do with art or artists.

Those groups will pay their auctioneers, their staffs, workers and everybody else involved. But artists are expected to donate their work.

Never mind that artists can only deduct the actual cost of their work — the paint, the materials. They cannot legally deduct the value of their talent, experience or taste.

Essentially, for most auctions, artists just get screwed. Perhaps that is why they often do not offer their best work — or just donate prints. It's an easier way out.

One outstanding exception to this rule, is EASL. Like many other nonprofits, the Emergency Artists Support League raises some of its funding from auctions. However, we know exactly where EASL's money goes — to artists in trouble, usually for medical bills.

Area artists in dire financial straits can ask for — and often receive — timely assistance from EASL. The nonprofit organization was established by artists and art professionals to help artists, directly and financially.

Check out EASL's official pages on this site.

It's a joy to participate in EASL events, if only because we want it to be flush when we need help. Plus, there's a great feeling of community at those events, and artists take turns participating.

Perhaps art auctions should match artists with patrons, who would buy selected art at a mutually agreeable price — or no sale. That way artists actually profit — slightly — from their participation. The patron then donates the work, takes a full price deduction, and the art is sold to the highest bidder.

Dusk Fishers - 22 July 2002

If this seems too neat a solution to too horny a dilemma, it is.

What Patron in their right mind would buy much of the art for sale in most auctions? Perhaps someone should separate out the best, most desirable, most salable work. But if it still doesn't sell, would the artist take it back, or should the patron keep it?

Rarely do donating artists get any kind of accounting for funds raised from selling their work.

Another possibility would be to offer prize money for the best donated work. This is the tack taken by The Blue Plate Special auction committee for the Creative Art Center's benefit this September.

Something the Arlington Museum of Art has done in recent years, is allow donating artists to earn a portion of their contribution's sale price. Artists may donate full value or some percentage, which is agreed upon ahead of time.

Indeed, why not invite donors to cooperate in mutual financial goals. Artists would be more inspired to offer their best work, prices would rise, and everybody would be better off.

Meanwhile, what should I do about this White Rock Lake Book? Should I donate photographs, just so more people will see my work? I'd love to see a beautiful photography book featuring my favorite lake, and I'd be proud to be associated with it — if only it didn't rip off the very people most responsible for its success.

I've always wanted my lake work in a book, and I've never done anything toward publishing my own — nor do I think I'd make much money from it. Might it might be better to just go along with this one? Should I be wowed at their offer to let me judge work for the book? Would more people notice my art? Would it help my photographic career?

Does it matter?

As often, I have more questions than answers. I'd love to hear what other artists think about this whole donating art scheme.

Please E-mail me your ideas and suggestions. I'm curious.


Artists Donating Art

Just compensation?

While I agree that we should be practical in many things regarding our art, I deeply believe that we hurt ourselves by making too many decisions based on its value as a commodity. I, for one, feel privileged to have found my way to a life creating things, and although I would love for it to provide all of our income and so be able to spend all my time doing it, I've decided that

1.) I will make art whether or not it supports me, and
2.) spending too much time struggling to be compensated fairly will only delay or interfere with that prospect.

I put a great deal of confidence in the galleries that sell my art and allow them great freedom in determining what it's worth, because they know the market for it so much better than I do. I hope that one day that market will increase so that my pieces bring a lot more than they do now, because that will mean that I can spend all my time doing what I most love to do.

But I can do little more to help bring that day about than to focus on the work itself, not on marketing issues like effective exposure and profit margin. And these are the issues that we're talking about when we explore whether publishing or auction
opportunities are worth the effort.

Of course, the history of modern art, especially Recent History, includes many examples of artists who have shrewdly managed their careers to become millionaires, and if that's what's important to them, then they deserve what they've achieved.

But I have no interest in that, in and of itself, let alone in making sure editors and publishers and auction organizers value my work properly. I'm having too much fun making things, and putting it out for others to react to (the latter which, in itself helps me become better at what I do).

To the response of some artists that we are treated unfairly I can only ask "what else in life is fair?" Feel free to go about changing the world if that's what you feel called to do. I'll just be here making art, enjoying it for its own sake, and not feeling at all diminished by how little others think it's worth.

And what is this stuff worth anyhow? Can anyone really assign an objective value to it, in dollars and cents? I may love doing it, but does that mean someone else has to want it? (That all seems to border on a sense of entitlement.) Certainly, it makes sense that if a publisher or auction organizer asks for it, then they see value in it, and they should offer compensation.

In the examples we're discussing, the compensation they offer is what they believe to be valuable exposure. If we believe that's not FAIR compensation, then we have the
option of saying no thanks. Get frustrated if you want, but I suspect some form of this problem has always existed, and likely will.

Naturally, you'll do what feels right to you. My belief is that if an artist feels they're called first to create things of beauty, then they have the best chance of fulfilling their purpose by allowing others to see the beauty they create. But if an artist feels they're first objective is to make money, then I guess it IS a dilemma, but one with which I chose not to entangle myself.

James Michael Starr


Good Exposure?

I have been working professionally as an artist now for over ten years. It has been a long, tear-jerking climb to get where I'm at, and I am still not a "recognized" artist in my home state, let alone elsewhere, despite the fact that many of my paintings have sold for amounts comparable to more "famous" artists. I also was juried into and participate in one of the most prestigious art shows in my state, which is attended by people from all over the country.

Since I began as an artist, I have regularly received requests to donate to one "worthy" cause after another. The mantra offered by all of these organizations is that participating in their charitable event will be "good exposure" for me as an artist. They actually believe they are doing me a favor, instead of the other way around, but someone once told me that "you can die of exposure."

My experience in donating my art has almost always resulted in the same disappointing experience. I have found that because I am not "famous," my work tends to become "wallpaper" for the more "famous" artists.

While the auctioneer goes on for five minutes about some wonderful, "famous" artist's painting, practically telling their life story and gushing about all the awards they've won, by the time they get to my painting (which, by the way, I might have worked on for a month), I find they suddenly get in a terrible hurry.

I am lucky if I get the title of the work mentioned, let alone my name. One auctioneer's
total review of my work before auctioning if off was "Here's a nice painting of a fall scene". I don't know about other artists, but I don't think it's too much to ask that, in exchange for donating part of my livelihood and risking putting my hard-earned reputation on the line, that I at least get my name mentioned along with the title and description of the medium used in the painting.

However, when I have mentioned my disappointment following an auction to the organizers of the event, I have been met with the attitude (clearly communicated through facial and physical expressions) that I am somehow "ungrateful" for the experience of having participated in their "wonderful, worthy cause".

How could I been so "ungrateful" for the exposure they've given me? Well, tell me what good it does me, having clawed and cried my way to get where I am, to see a piece that I can sell through galleries or shows for $900 go for a measly $75!

Do you think this kind of exposure is going to help my reputation as an artist? Or is it more likely that it will, in fact, be quite detrimental to me if clients who've willingly paid the $900 for a painting of mine find out that another comparable painting sold at auction for $825 less!

Like someone said, "You can die of exposure!" I consider myself a generous person who
has contributed to many charities, but as far as donating my artwork, I just gave my last donation. I would like to be able to donate artwork to charities, but until I am "famous," I think it is very detrimental to most artists who have not reached fame to donate their work.

To me, it has been a hurtful and disappointing experience. Mostly I am hurt by the attitude of the people who ask for my work in such a nice way, then don't care to promote me, nor do they feel any responsibility to do so, once they have received my work. It is sad, because I don't think I ask for much in return for something I've put my heart and soul and personal money into. I am sad to say that I'm done donating.

A dilemma, as I see it.

I would want to be paid for the use of my photos in the book. People will see your work, admire it and enjoy it. Publicity is a good thing, but who knows how that would pay off? Do you think folks would then come to you asking to buy your work, after they've already bought the book? Maybe.

At art auctions for a cause, I think artists should receive 50% of the sale of their work, unless they are wealthy and don't need the money. If that's the case, the artist can choose to donate 100% if they wish. I wish the standard was 50/50, and that is incentive to donate, plus, there might be higher quality work donated.

It's rough to donate something really nice and end up with no compensation, no advancement and no art.

You want to be in that White Rock book. You BELONG in it, as your photographs are fabulous. Perhaps if you say no they will come back with a financial offer? If not, then decide if it's worth it to give (give) your work to them.

Meditate on it.


J R,
It's always a hot topic among artists and others. By the time we pay teachers, directors, curators, designers, magazine editors, website critcs, photographers, carpenters, foundry guys, movers, suppliers, not to mention the cost of running and maintaining these vacuous spaces that warehouse our creations — there isn't much left to pay the artists.

In fact, by the time the artist itemizes for Uncle Sam, we're usually in the hole. At the end of the day — it's hard to turn around and NOW give your art work away.

When we ask ourselves what in the hell we're doing and we come to terms with reality, we realize it's (the artworld) one of the greatest places to become... and we figure out to who, how and what we can do to volunteer: be it our time, actual art work, our money, and our creativity to keep this "thing" — that sustaines us — going.

Cindy Hurt



Run away…. I would never pay to have my work looked at for “possible consideration, for a possible publication.”

What if they never raise enough money…? how will they refund all those $30 charges?

Trust your gut instinct on this project. You might receive better exposure on a street corner.


One more thought on the White Rock Project. I agree it's crap that they do not wish to pay you for the work you might submit to them, because people are going to make money if this project happens, and there is no reason why you shouldn't get compensated.

But if you've never been published in a book and you want to be, I think you should submit one work (maybe not your best) and let them pubish it. At best you're in a nice book; at worst someone thinks the picture is crap.


JR, any book that highlights White Rock Lake photography should include your work absolutely.

However, if photography is to be the prime content of the book, then if a single cent is paid for printing, design, editing, etc., photographers should be paid as well.

Is this just a spark of an idea? Is someone trying to determine what to do with funds raised from the sale of such a book?

Here is a thought, let some of those funds go to the photographers!

Marty Ray

See Marty Ray's DARts Supporting Member page for examples of her fine art ceramics


Hey JR

Very selfishly, I hope you do "donate" your photos. I would love for your work to be viewed by more people! I think your White Rock Lake Journal is beautiful and I am really looking forward to your show next April.

With that said, I am still shaking my head. I am continually awed at how many people "ask" for art donations. A good number of them are complete strangers, haven't seen my work or don't even know what I do...

Don't get me wrong, I donate, but I decide about a year out how many pieces I can "afford" to donate and to whom. I really try to pick things that I believe in, but on occasion I don't and those donations are always the ones that get me wound up.

I do have a rule though...if I donate and don't receive some sort of written "thank you" within the year that the donation was made, I will not donate to that "organization" again.

All in all, I kind of look at donating as a karma thing and that something good comes out of it.

Thanks for the dialogue,


On Sunday, June 29, I got another letter from the book Ms Lovejoy, whom I have never met or heard of before this exchange of E-mail correspondence. She said amateur photographers will be charged $30 per entry for the possibility of being judged into this proposed book. But only the first 1,000 entries will be accepted. She explained, "This is a grassroots endeavor, the contest is meant to raise funds to cover the printing/publishing expense — which is approximately $30,000." She offered no breakdown of those expenses.

Lovejoy continues, "If that changes, then by all means I will compensate the professional photographers. I would not be able to pay the Amateur ranks — this is a marketing opportunity for them." Then, the following day, she said she was looking for a sponsor, "which will save a lot of time and headache in completing this project."

I suspect the whole thing is in the beginning stages of possibly becoming something real, maybe. $30k is a lot of money to raise in these trying times.

That was all in 2003. After I wrote and published this page, I never heard from Mrs. Lovejoy or her project again.

JR Compton


All Contents Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003, 2004, and 2005 by JR Compton. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any analog or digital medium without specific written permission from JR Compton. This especially applies to you bozos who reprint stories and change the wording to suit your own distorted sense of justice.

EAT ART was named from the bumper sticker promoting the bond election to pay for the new, downtown Dallas Museum of Art. Emblazoned in white on a dark blue background, it said, "A GREAT ART MUSEUM FOR A GREAT CITY."


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