Art as a Labor of Love


Aurelio Madrid

Art as a Labor of Love

So many literary magazines describe themselves as “labors of love.” The writers get paid in copies, the editors work for free. The same is true of non-Equity, start-up theatres, where income from tickets, subscribers, private and corporate donations, and grants goes to pay rent and royalties, utilities and advertising, not the theatre artists involved—the actors, directors, and scenic designers who bring you that thrilling  or hilarious experience in the theatre.

Artists give up a 50% commission to the gallery on any works sold, and have to price their work accordingly, making some crucial decisions all along the way. And many artists are asked to donate their artwork to charity causes or arts organization fundraisers. The artists do not receive anything from the proceeds of the sale and sometimes are not even invited to the event, to share in the food, champagne, and general goodwill and to receive a wee bit of honor and praise.

I’m pleased by the enterprising Etsy stores, the start-up small presses doing their own chapbooks and magazines, the online adventures like this one, and all the resourceful and creative solutions to the problems of surviving while making and promoting art of all kinds.

But I do notice that businesses manage to get paid for most of the goods and services they provide, while artists and arts organizations do not. Yes, businesses are in the business of making money, and artists and arts organizations are in the “business” of making and supporting art, but I’m wondering how often the caterer donates goods and services to the arts fundraiser? Are the cooks and servers working for free that night, the way the artists did, who donated their art to be sold to support the gallery? How often does the newspaper donate the advertisement for the event? How often does the printer donate the color postcard costs? And so on.

It seems like it would be good business to donate goods and services to arts functions, leaving business cards for patrons who might hire the caterer later, etc., and I know that does happen sometimes! And I know that private sponsors do pay for certain things so grant money can be spent on what is more directly connected to artists and art-making.

But what I’m wondering now is what, specifically, is done for or given back to individual artists who give of their time, energy, and labor over and over again for free—performing, painting, reading their poetry or fiction, etc. They do it for love, yes, but how can we share the love, as they say?

A magazine editor I know bought a drink (coffee, juice, or wine!) for all of the readers at the release party in a bookstore/coffeeshop/winebar in Chicago. A gallery I know gives a free artist’s membership to artists who donate a work to their annual summer fundraiser. I wish the local theatre, which does not pay its actors, would at least give them a season ticket. Seems like it would be good for audience development, as they’d come back with friends, no doubt!

If you are laboring for love as an artist, you are already “giving back” to the community. I’m wondering what the arts community has been giving back to you? What are some fine and generous examples of reciprocity you’ve experienced?

And/or what are some you might suggest, to help “share the love” in a practical and meaningful way?

Artworks by Aurelio Madrid in the Escape Into Life Store!

And please visit Labors of Love to see a sampling of poets who love what they do!