The offer to work for exposure runs rampant in the art world. Being an artist or small creative business is a career, but artists are constantly asked to work for free. This is called “payment in exposure” or PIE. As a creative, you have probably been lured by opportunities of free exposure, networking, or some other intangible benefit.
Learn all of the considerations to know when navigating these opportunities including why you should avoid them, common obscure or grey areas where PIE occurs, and the important questions to ask before accepting a PIE opportunity.
Why You Should Avoid PIE Opportunities
Saying no to payment in exposure means saying yes to getting paid to do what you love. Regardless of where an artist is in their career, emerging, established, or somewhere in between, an artist deserves to get paid. These are four reasons why you should avoid PIE.
PIE Doesn’t Pay the Bills
Let’s be honest, “connections and exposure” don’t pay the bills. So, why do people assume that creatives will work for free?
Art supplies, studios, insurance, marketing all costs money. Accepting a PIE opportunity will cost you both time and money because you are making or selling art free. Even if the piece is already made. Take this into consideration if you are planning on becoming a professional or full-time artist. Many professionals reject PIE opportunities because they run real creative businesses.
If you’re still not convinced, it’s time to look at your budget. Price out the PIE in real dollars. Determine how much it would cost to make and sell the piece that you’re planning on giving away for free, and how does this compare to your finances. Now compare the likelihood of generating enough interest or exposure to generate future sales income.
Payment in Exposure Perpetuates a Myth
Emerging artists often get lured into making free artwork because others suggest that this will lead to exposure, fame, or future sales. These pitches often come from people who disregard the financial ramifications of these requests and actually perpetuate the myth of the starving artist.
Be careful, when you work for free or undermine your prices. Free work, donations, or heavy discounts can actually impact the perception of value and selling prices for your artwork. Frequent engagement with PIE opportunities can undermine your future creative business and hurts other artists who demand fair prices.
Other Artists Asking for Pie
PIE requests come from both inside and outside the art world. Believe it or not, sometimes other artists will try to solicit you with these types of opportunities. It can be hard to say no if this is a well-known artist or someone who has made a name for themselves. It can be even harder as an emerging artist if it’s someone you look up to. Saying no can be difficult, but it helps to put it into perspective when saying no to PIE means selling yes to paying your bills or managing a good business.
Never ask other artists to make free art, or work for free, unless there’s a mutual agreement where both artists are donating and mutually collaborating. Collaboration and payment in exposure are two different opportunities.
It’s important to think about who is asking you to make free work, and who will the art be exposed to. Usually, the audience who will see your work is not the type to help launch your career.
For example, a popular request that has emerged in the past few years are influencers asking for free product or free artwork from makers on Instagram in exchange for a share or online exposure. Influencer audiences don’t always care about the product or person the influencer is promoting.
Grey Areas When it Comes to PIE
There are some areas where payment in exposure gets a bit unclear. However, some guidelines will navigate you so you are not exploited.
Internships & Volunteering
Although art internships and volunteering in arts organizations are often unpaid positions, you should be receiving some sort of benefit, skill-building, network expansion, or experience regardless of the lack of monetary compensation. Volunteer because you are passionate about the position or opportunity and want to give back. Intern to learn additional new skills or to complete a school program (but internships are best when paid).
Internships and volunteer work differ from making and giving away free artwork, but they can fall under a similar umbrella. Once an organization or company is dependent on your role, you can easily be overworked.
It may be time to leave the volunteer position or internship if:
- Your volunteer work the equivalent of a part or full-time job
- The school requirement is completed for the internship
- You no longer reap any benefit from interning or volunteering
- The organization or company relies on you completely for your role, work, and tasks (at this point you should be getting paid)
If you aren’t getting anything out of the internship or volunteer position then it’s no longer a fit for you.
Donations & Charity Work
Oftentimes, artists are solicited to donate artwork for charities, auctions, and other fundraising events. Like volunteering and internships, if you are passionate about donating your work or supporting the organization, consider donating work.
When you make a donation, do your research. You may not be offered a cut of the sale. Sometimes the artist is lured into the donation saying that the donation is tax-deductible but don’t be fooled by this. This is a common mistake advertised as a benefit. You may not be able to write off the full value of the work donated and many times you can only deduct the cost of materials and supplies. It’s best to consult an accountant before claiming a deduction for an art donation.
When to Accept PIE
After all of these considerations, you still may be interested in participating in a PIE opportunity. Here are some important questions to ask yourself. The more information you have before saying yes to the opportunity, the more power you have in decision-making.
- How much actual exposure will there be with this free work?
- What does the exposure look like? (Online, in-person, printed on marketing materials, etc.)
- Who is the audience?
- How many audience members will engage with the work?
- How will you be credited for your work, and where will that credit line exist?
- What is the length of time of this exposure, is it indefinite?
- What other benefits will there be besides “exposure?”
- Are there any agreements and stipulations?
- Is a contract necessary or helpful?
Do you have a great story or lesson learned regarding payment in exposure? Comment below with your experience of payment in exposure to help other artists navigate this area of managing their creative business.