This morning I awoke with every intention of going into the studio for a major clearing session. I’d just put two large projects to bed and relished the thought of restoring order to the chaos that my fabric stash had become.
But then I remembered: today is International Women’s Day. And I have a simmering rant to share, reanimated by an email I received only yesterday from an American quilting magazine’s editor. Her request closely ran as follows, with some edits to protect her identity:
She was writing a series of articles on how to stitch (particular styles of) quilts, and showcasing the quilts of various artists for examples. In her article for an upcoming issue, she was focusing on ‘a certain topic’. She came across my ‘wonderful’ website in her research for this article, and hoped I would agree to having three of my quilts (listed) shown in this article. She needed full and detail high resolution photos of each quilt, with its name, dimensions and copyright date, and a paragraph or so about how I accomplished the quilting, my thread choices and why I chose those threads, and what machine was used. She also needed a statement giving my nonexclusive permission to publish this quilt in print and digital media. She concluded by adding she was working on a very short deadline, so would appreciate it very much if I would get back as soon as possible.
Now, since I do not subscribe to magazines in general, I had never heard of this publication. I generously assumed this was a recent startup, with an editor who, though polite enough, hadn’t quite mastered the etiquette of asking for a favour. Upon Googling, I learned that this is a large publication with physical and online subscriptions, with a Facebook following numbering over 200,000 Likes. Hello?
With my usual empathy for deadlines, I quickly sent my standard response,
“Thank you for your invitation.
I am wondering what is your fee to artists for using their images and information? There was no mention of this but I’m sure your publication compensates artists for their contribution to its success.”
And the swift response was,
“ … we do not pay a fee to artists for this type of publicity. If that is something that you would require, I’m afraid I won’t be able to include your beautiful work in the article.”
Fair enough. I don’t blame the editor. Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? And citing ‘publicity’ is the gold standard for this type of response. Translation: “the excellent exposure we provide for you should be enough renumeration in itself!”
If I accepted all offers of free exposure, I would have little time or energy left to do the real work in my life. Artists have been known to ‘die of exposure’.
But sadly, there’s nothing new here. I am frequently asked by commercial publications to contribute articles and images for free. I am not alone. I don’t know a single artist, textile or other, professional or hobbyist, man or woman, who has not been mined for free stuff, from auction donations to images for calendars, to public presentations.
Many requests come from a good place, with charitable intent, and I’m pleased to accept some of these commitments as part of my desire to make the world a better place, with gratitude for my luck and ability to be able to contribute. But over the years I’ve learned that commercial forces try very hard to prey on this generosity as well as the gullibility of new and emerging artists, and women are excellent targets. After all, isn’t the crucial work of mother, homemaker, family cook and social supporter usually done for free? Isn’t your quilt making part of that?
I make my living as a textile artist. Historically, very little has come back from free images and articles I provided to quilt magazines over my thirty years of professional practice. I’ve had articles published in Canada, Europe, Britain, the US, and Australia, and only one time has anyone contacted me for a (very small) purchase, and not one offer to teach paid workshops. This, after hours spent collecting the information, and wrapping it up the way the editor wants it – just the tip of an iceberg when taking into account the making of the artwork itself and all the years it took to get there. Moreover I’m struck by the realization that editors who ask for free services, and the audiences who enjoy it, likely earn a more stable income (with benefits) than I can ever hope to reach with my full time work in art making. They are essentially feeding on my creativity while giving nothing back.
The problem is endemic. I wonder – Do we, as female quilt artists, offer ourselves up too cheaply? And what about the editors, many of whom are female? Do they not hold some responsibility?
As quilters and textile artists, it is time to stand up for ourselves whether we are professionals or hobbyists, and ask for financial compensation for the use of our words and images. It does work! One of my favourite successes was to convince a Seminar Series organizer at a local University to pay artists for their presentations. I am happy to say I was the first artist to receive an honorarium. My seminar was released online and got thousands of views, many times more than any previous count. It was excellent publicity for them. Both sides won. This is how we need to approach it. Ask politely. Explain. Enlighten.
And for certain quilt magazine editors, I respectfully suggest that you reconsider your historic stance of not paying your art contributors. Artists have a most difficult time earning income, yet their audience enjoys the visual benefits for free. Especially in this age of digital sharing, artists are already giving their imagery away. Of this I do not complain: this is one of the beauties of the visual arts and it brings me great joy to share. However, if there is no renumeration for creative work that brings profit to others, eventually the very foundation of your livelihood is undermined, as is mine.
On International Women’s Day and every other day, I want to see women supporting women where it counts. Please consider being part of the solution. Stand up and ASK FOR IT.
Let’s help each other! Your opinions and experiences, successes and failures, are most welcome in my Comments box.