There is a conflict between two ways of understanding the role of an artist: The romantic fantasy of the artist as someone who spends their days being creative, doing what they want to do versus a more practical understanding of the profession as work.
Unfortunately, the romantic vision prevails and functions as a very convenient fall-back for artists not being paid. I can only think of a few instances in my career where I have been paid adequately for my work.
In the past I have called for more openness between organisations and artists in talking about the issue of pay and for artists to be responsible for standing up for themselves so that we have a situation where artists are no longer afraid to express their reservations in the knowledge they can easily be replaced by someone who is willing to work for free.
That’s why I’m pleased to see that Transparency and Negotiation feature in the 4 core principles of a-n/AIR’s Exhibition Payment Guide, backed up by a sensible approach to Budgeting and Written Confirmation. The processes outlined in the guidance will produce a culture of openness so that artists will know where they stand from the outset and where a discussion about pay will become the norm, diffusing the fear around what can be a difficult conversation.
Paying artists isn’t just about fairness; it’s intrinsic to a society where people from all walks of life are able to read, critique and challenge their experiences. The implementation of the Exhibition Payment Guide will help make that happen by ensuring diversity amongst artists; because the kinds of people who become artists shape what art is and a less diverse artistic pool makes for a less diverse audience with fewer possible points of engagement, recognition and connection.
Image: Rachel Maclean, Venice 2017. Courtesy of Scotland + Venice 2017. Photograph by Patrick Rafferty.