(Above: The incredibly beautiful vase by Shiho Kanzaki, which he has contributed for our online campaign. This piece is available to purchase here: www.igg.me/at/saveclarkpottery . Thanks to Robert Yellin at www.japanesepottery.com
A few days ago, an acquaintance and Facebook friend sent me a message regarding an article that I had shared on my fb wall a few weeks ago, which discussed one person’s dissenting view on artists contributing their work for auction, and the idea that to do so might not be a practice that is necessarily beneficial to the artist.
Here is the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mat-gleason/charity-art-auctions-_b_872953.html
When I posted it on my wall, (a few weeks before our oil spill) I commented rather flippantly that maybe Lee and I should consider *not* donating any more works for the many auctions and fundraising events to which we are invited to donate throughout the year. Like many artists, we are approached with great frequency, to donate our artwork to various fundraising initiatives. In the ensuing fb discussion, I also expressed mixed feelings about the whole issue, particularly because it has been our habit and inclination to give pieces freely to almost every request for donations to every cause (and when we have not donated, the reason has simply been our own disorganization rather than declining to donate).
I don’t know any full-time artist, who derives their entire livelihood from their artwork, who doesn’t feel ambivalent about donating works for fundraising. I don’t know any full-time artist, who derives their entire livelihood from their artwork, who doesn’t feel ambivalent about their chosen profession, and the sometimes-desperate struggle to make ends meet.
The person who contacted me, expressed that they felt that the article was extremely “disheartening”, and that it implied that artists approach these “opportunities” to donate with the simple question of how submitting pieces for fundraising efforts might benefit *them*, the artist, rather than as ways for them (the artist) to give their skills, craft and expertise to help an organization in need.
I didn’t read the article that way. Instead, I saw it as a valid critique of the status quo in which artists are still viewed, unconsciously by many, as privileged, and dilettantish, and possibly deluded, and that we should be happy to give our work away for some measure of possible exposure, as opposed to professional people who actually work for a living. No, it is not as simple as this. Yes, “professional” workers and corporations do also give. But I have noticed that artists are often among the least compensated in our society, and among the least secure financially. Instead of donating artwork to every worthy cause–and instead of boycotting charitable giving altogether, The author of the article, Mat Gleason, encourages artists to “Pick one charity, donate generously [with money] and keep the collectors assuming that the price you ask at the gallery is the best and only price they are going to get.” I admit, this resonates, some days more than others.
To be quite honest, I *did* immediately think of the article, and my sharing of the article, when I created our Indiegogo campaign, (www.igg.me/at/saveclarkpottery) with some concern that some people might look askance at the situation that Lee and I now find ourselves in, in light of my sharing an article that might, possibly, be construed as a rebellion against the regular influx of requests for artists to support charitable causes.
And it was the recollection of my sharing of this article–along with my deep understanding of how difficult and demoralizing it can be, to be an artist who struggles to sell work, while being frequently asked to give the work away–that nearly caused me to decline the *offers* from other artists, to give their work to us, in support of our efforts to clean up the oil spill we have suffered, and to help rehabilitate our property.
To clarify: neither Lee nor I have contacted any artists, asking for their work in support of our cause. When I set up the Indiegogo campaign, the “perks” were entirely made up of work by Lee and myself. We were approached, entirely spontaneously, by the many artists whose work is now featured on our site, and we decided to accept these donations gratefully, and graciously, with the knowledge that they had been given entirely freely, with a sense of love, camaraderie and solidarity. (www.igg.me/at/saveclarkpottery)
I am very grateful for the message I received from the individual wanting to know how I felt about our own situation, in relation to the article I posted. I suppose my initial instinct was absolutely correct–that there might be people out there who would be questioning our motives, or assuming hypocrisy. This is understandable, and I am sorry, now, that I didn’t immediately address my sharing of the article earlier, when I set up the Indiegogo campaign, in order to be perfectly clear as to our thoughts, feelings and motivations.
The person who contacted me, wanted to know whether or not, in light of our recent tragedy, my opinion on the subject of donating art to charity has changed.
And my answer is, No, my opinion on the subject of artists donating artwork has not changed at all. I remain entirely ambivalent. Obviously, each artist must weigh the question of whether or not to donate to a cause based on the specific merits of the organization or the event, his or her own situation, and myriad other factors. Will Lee and I continue to donate to various charitable causes? Yes, I think we will. Is this entirely selfless? No, of course not. We want to support our community, we want to see others prosper, we want to promote our own artwork, and frankly, we want to be seen as generous people. Giving benefits our reputation. We have also made a point of endeavouring to navigate through our careers and communities with a spirit of openness and support and encouragement towards our fellow artists and potters. Have we been impeccable, always? No, probably not. But we will continue to try to be.
Of course, we will also continue to refrain, completely, from approaching artists and asking them to give us their work in support of our oil spill. I would simply never do that, out of my own sense of propriety, but also because I know how it feels to be asked, and to feel obligated. All the artists we know are struggling.
Is there a difference between donating to a charitable organization vs. giving work to an individual or a family (such as ours?). Well, sure. It is easily and legitimately argued that we (The Clark Family), are much less worthy and deserving than charities. Despite our oil spill, and the upheaval in our lives, we are much much more fortunate than so many people out there, who are struggling with much greater hardship. This also, has given me pause, and mixed feelings.
Asking for money is serious. Along with being the recipient of others’ generosity, we understand and expect a certain measure of publicity and scrutiny. Hence, this public response.
And of course, if anyone who has donated to us either money or artwork, feels that in neglecting to disclose the fact that I shared this article (here it is again: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mat-gleason/charity-art-auctions-_b_872953.html) a few weeks prior, I have somehow misrepresented us, or our cause, please let me know and I will rectify the situation immediately.
Fundamentally, on the issue of artists and giving, I can safely say that it is because Lee and I are artists that we understand exactly just how profound it is to have been offered and given art works in support of our home and pottery. Those who have offered us their work are fellow artists who, like us, put their entire lives into creating. We have been touched, moved and inspired by your generosity. Thank you.