22 May

I know many of you have been reading and sharing Artist Opportunities May 2013, and hopefully you’ve been reflecting upon the tragic fact that I hardly needed to exaggerate in order to make my satirical point. I’m sure many of you encounter their real world counterparts very frequently. However, Gallerina Butthurt* writes to say: “It’s easy to mock, but I don’t think anything is achieved by attacking places that are under pressure already and try to help artists.”

Firstly, au contraire ma petite pomme de terre. It is easy to mock (and fun), but I hit close enough to the nerve that it gave you a guilty sad, didn’t it? Secondly, many of the outfits I have in my sights are doing anything but helping artists. They’re helping themselves to artists’ money. Many of them are just plain old nasty con artists and psychos.

But to help Ms. Butthurt out, I shall take the liberty of offering my positive advice about how not to be one of those places.

* Not her real name, nor even the pseudonym she’s hiding behind, but apposite.


  1. Nobody needs another new art magazine full of impenetrable artspeak gobbledygook or another pseudo-professional online aggregator of shallow, glib reviews, reposts from better blogs, and listicles or slideshows about your favourite art. There are already numerous people doing that very well (or at least extensively). What are you adding, except your snout to the trough?
  2. If you want professional work for a professional situation, pay me. This is also applicable to exhibitions, festivals and the like. I have done and will do things at reduced cost or no fee, but this is pro bono work. Pro bono has nothing to do with U2, luckily. It means “for the good”. In other words, there may be (and in fact I know there are) situations in which myself and/or other people can benefit from being involved in a project in ways that don’t involve money. Sometimes I do favours for people because I like them, or I believe in what they’re doing, or just because it’s absolutely no loss or bother to me if I help them out. This doesn’t give anybody license to take the piss by assuming I’ll always work for free and that providing content for them never costs me anything. I can’t pay my bills with kudos, good company or “great exposure”. Or, as it’s summarised brilliantly in this article: “We don’t do it for the money. But we won’t do it without the money” See also: Should I work for free? A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free
  3. If I do something for your magazine or site (or exhibition or festival), especially for no or low pay, you tell me when it’s coming out, you tell me where’s it’s on sale or otherwise available to the public, you invite me to any event you’re having related to promoting it (even if you don’t think I’ll be able to attend), and if it’s in print you give me at least one copy of it. You say thank you. To neglect to do any of these things is unprofessional and really fucking rude. As you can probably tell, people have indeed neglected to do all of these things when I’ve done them a favour. So guess what? I won’t be helping you out again in future. To actively bug me, to be disorganised, demanding and scatty, and to generally make my life difficult when I’m trying to do you a favour is just as bad.
  4. When you advertise an opportunity for artists, make sure all the details are clear, correct and that finding this clear, correct information doesn’t require the combined skills of Sherlock Holmes, HAL 9000 and a hacker from the Chinese government’s cyberwarfare department. If you know you want something specific from the applicants, tell them so. Don’t pretend you’re all laid back about what you’ll accept when you know perfectly well there are certain types of application or applicant who’d be wasting your time and theirs if they applied. If you don’t give them time to get themselves together, or allow them enough space to describe what they’re about, then don’t be surprised if you’re overwhelmed with entries, 99% of which seem incoherent or unsuitable. You’d get annoyed if an applicant sent something in an obscure, mangled format with horrible fonts, so don’t knowingly send out your documents in that kind of state. Be reasonable. Stop being so bloody lazy and cowardly; you definitely have time to (at the very least) give a few sentences of constructive feedback to everybody who was shortlisted if not to every applicant.
  5. Pay invoices to freelancers and contractors promptly, without quibbles or excuses. Don’t involve freelancers and contractors in your petty office shit because whatever’s going on at your desk is not under their control and does not concern them. Just pay.
  6. If you work in an office, or if you otherwise conduct some or all of your work by means of the internet, then answering emails or other messages is not a drag, a dreadful imposition by people who just don’t understand how busy you are, or an optional thing that sits on top of your regular workload and can therefore be dealt with whenever you get around to it. Answering emails is an inseparable part of your job. You didn’t have time? Bullshit. Make time.
  7. In short, if you work for a gallery or an arts organisation and it’s important to you that artists behave in a professional manner then please put your own house in order and behave in a flawlessly professional manner yourself.
  8. The money should flow towards the artist, not away from them. Legitimate artists are paid to make or exhibit their work, and/or they sell their work in some way. Although a painter selling her painting is the most obvious example, this transaction can alternatively or additionally be a sale of the artist’s presence, input or research. As Whistler perceptively noted in the 19th century when he was sneeringly asked why anybody should pay so much for a painting, you’re not just buying the paint on canvas: you’re buying the experience of an artist’s lifetime.
  9. An “artist in residence” is paid for their time and their work. Anybody who pays to stay in a studio or a flat is on holiday, not on a residency. Renting your studio or home is just renting your studio or home, so why is it suddenly an “artist residency” when you pay for a studio or home in some remote region?
  10. No paid-for portfolio or artists’ e-commerce site I’ve ever encountered is any substitute for having your own site, provided you keep it relevant, professional and up to date. Not even close. And I don’t mean a Facebook page or Tumblr, I mean something that is yours and provides a coherent, unique overview of who you are and what you do. No sketchy pay-to-play gallery’s mailing list is more valuable than connecting with other artists and arts professionals through social networks, by attending previews and art events, looking at lots of art, and collaborating with other artists like yourself to directly bring about the whatever kind of success you want for yourselves.
  11. There is sometimes a case for small organisations (e.g. an unfunded, artist-led group) recovering the genuine costs of putting up an exhibition, running a competition or administering a commission. In most instances there is no reason for charging a submission, administration or whatever fee other than sheer greed. There can be absolutely no good excuse for the charging of entry fees by large, building-based arts organisations like foundations, university or public galleries, and major institutions who have salaried staff and are all funded and sponsored by the state or by other bodies disbursing funds for public benefit. Again, do you want a professional standard of work and commitment by an experienced artist? If so, respect them as professionals and pay them (or otherwise hand over promptly whatever money they are due from sales or commissions). They don’t pay you. Nobody else pays to make a job application.
  12. There are no shortcuts to success. Anybody who implies there’s a shortcut doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is probably not even very successful themselves or they wouldn’t be trying to bamboozle you. Anybody who tries to sell you a shortcut is a bullshitter. Anybody who asks you for money when it’s not clear where the money goes or what you get for your payment is at best a chancer trying their luck, at worst a deliberate, cynical scammer. If a gallery or artist promotion scheme looks dodgy from the outset, they almost certainly are dodgy. Even if they don’t look dodgy, many of them still are, but you can at least do yourself the favour of avoiding the ones that are blatantly wrong. Tell all your friends the same. Let’s boycott the scammers, fee administrators and “unfortunately this opportunity is unpaid” arseholes out of business.


  1. Alistair 26/05/2013 at 1:39 PM #

    Re: working for free, I was wracking my brain for a great, foul-mouthed bit of work on this subject… and behold, via coverage of illustrator Mr Bingo’s exhibition of semi-consensual abusive postcards in London ( ) I was reminded that it was he. Does Mr Bingo work for free?
    Spoiler: “Get fucked you motherfucker” (etc.)

  2. Alistair 26/05/2013 at 1:45 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.


  1. £0=GTFO | CAREER SUICIDE - 20/06/2013

    […] don’t do it for the money.” (AKA The Oompa Loompa Defence) We may not do it for the money, but why should we do it without the money? Would you work anywhere else for no money, even if you enjoyed it? Even if you’re […]


    […] Update: How not to be one of these arseholes. […]

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