Artists' Work Is Not Just A Labor Of Love

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WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Over the years, many people have asked me, “Do you know an artist who would volunteer to .. paint a mural for my son’s school … perform at a benefit for our library … do a workshop for a group of seniors?” 

This is a well-meaning request on the part of someone who wants to do good for a cause.  Yet, my answer would always be “no.”  So, on this the advent of Labor Day, as an artist myself,  I would like to come clean on this matter.

Yes. Of course I know lots of artists who would probably stand up for a good cause in a Westchester minute.   The truth is that, I would not want to ask them. When pressed further on such a request, I just can’t help myself from blurting out,” Do you pay your dentist and your plumber?” Yes, of course you do because what they do for you is “work.”  And that is what artists do…”work.” 

The fact that artists may enjoy their work more than a dentist or a plumber (no offense) is no reason to punish them at the checkout counter.  Being an artist is hard work.  It takes years of training, hours of practice and days of self doubt.  It takes years to travel that road from amateur to professional … from “I paint” to “I am a painter.”  And there is no precise moment when, like a lawyer or a doctor, an artist’s fee grows from $35 an hour to $200 an hour.

But it’s not about the money, although that is the measure of value in our society. It is about worth.  We could say that worth is value, but I think we would be cutting it short. 

Worth to an artist is likely to be about a quality that commands esteem or respect, as used for example to describe “a person of worth.”  And, because an artist’s work is an extension of self, the transaction is always about self worth.  So, if you are ever tempted to ask an artist to do something for nothing, think on Labor Day how hard it is to make a living as an artist every day.

Janet Langsman is chief executive officer of ArtsWestchester. Her weekly blog is published with permission of ArtsWestchester and is also posted online.

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As an artist and the child of two artists, I say bravo for your words of acknowledge and honor. I cannot tell you how often people make false assumptions about artists. Thank you for giving your praise.