'In December of 1972, Donald Richie, then film curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote to artist Hollis Frampton and suggested that they organise a retrospective of his work [...] Frampton took issue with one particular line in the proposal, a single detail of Richie’s which rendered the suggestion entirely unattractive: “It is all for love and honor and no money is included at all…” (lettersofnote.com)
Rather than romantic notions of 'love and honor', the modern day compensation for an artist's time and work is the tantalizing promise of EXPOSURE. Exposure nowadays, however, doesn't constitute a gallery show as was promised to Frampton (MOMA? In our dreams!), but is manifested through a flimsy shout out on social media - often by a self-styled Influencer with thousands of fake followers - or, if you are lucky, a scant mention on a website or in a magazine. Sometimes it's multi-million dollar corporations who 'generously' use your work and time entirely for their own financial gain. ('Discover How Our Innovative Products Can Empower Creatives to Succeed!'...Riiight.) Sometimes it's non-profits asking you to donate work which they can then auction off to their Gucci-clad patrons during fancy $1000/head galas (this actually happened to us with a mental health non-profit - exactly in the same month that I was battling with a mountain of unpaid psychiatry bills. IRONY ALERT!). Artists cooperate in this Dance of Artistic Death because they are either clamoring for that elusive big break (hey, the 'Exposure = Guaranteed Sales + Fame + Untouchable Artistic Legacy' Formula is fucking REAL, dude), or they are simply desperate to pay their outstanding electricity bill.
If you are a benevolent soul who works in a different field and has stumbled unsuspectingly into this self indulgent mega-rant (God help you), try imagining for a moment a world where at the end of each month, instead of receiving a paycheck for services rendered, you were encouraged to convert the disinterested Insta-scrolling of your potential customers into Magic Exposure Vouchers (accepted at all major grocery stores and gas stations obvs)! Or a world where your societal value was measured solely by Unicorn Fart Promises dispensed by resin-headed Art Twats rather than a real salary. Wouldn't that be refreshing and utopian?! CORRECTION: This world would be fucking crap. How do we know? Because we live in this world every day and it stinks worse than Koons' ego. It exploits artists' desperation for survival and trades blatantly on a lack of respect. We hear that insidious disrespect every day. We are LUCKY to get exposure! Art is a GIFT to the community! Our work is PLAY! We can take time off WHENEVER we like! We are so FORTUNATE to have a job where MONEY IS UNIMPORTANT! To anyone who has ever said those words: kindly fuck off. Come and do our job for a day and see if it still satisfies your fluffy bullshit assumptions. Bolstered by years of training and experience, we are simultaneously ideas machines, materials scientists, structural engineers, PR experts, social media specialists, animators, illustrators, advertising execs, small business owners, budget proposal writers, negotiators and elevator pitchers. Seven days a week, subsisting on less than the minimum wage. Nice.
Artists, don't be fooled. I know you want to make it. I know that you want the Big Cheeses of the New York Art World to pluck you from obscurity, but don't be sucked into this awful web of lies and false hope. If an unpaid offer of exposure guarantees tangible results (I dunno, maybe a few sales? Or the promise of a future show?) then by all means, knock yourself out. But otherwise, SAY NO. Stick the Magic Exposure Vouchers in the bin. Blow the Unicorn Fart Promises back in their faces. Take a stand against power like Frampton did in 1972. By showing you have a backbone and respect for your self and craft, you might even get that solo show at MOMA you've always dreamed of.
A huge thank you to Melissa Thomas for sharing this letter with us.