October 27, 2013

The Systemic Disrespect of the Artist

Every couple of months someone gets the gumption up to ask me if I'll illustrate their book. Assuming their book theme interests me, I always ask the same questions:
  1. Is this a paid gig? ("No...but I thought we could be partners.")
  2. Do you have an agent or interested publisher? ("No, but I know lots of people!")
  3. How many drawings are we talking about here? ("Uh...what.")
I'd love to illustrate all of them, but I've had to prioritize putting food on the table. Then about a year ago I was approached by someone I considered a social-media friend. In order to protect their identity, I've depicted them as a gender-neutral Alien.



The Alien in question is fairly well known on the Internet. Widely followed and trusted in their niche. Respected. A solid reputation earned over many years of web presence. And also quite like-able.

Collaboration's gotta be a good fit from every angle, ya know?


I weighed the offer: I'd worked with the Alien on smaller projects and it had gone well, the book project inspired me, and it was viable...so I decided to make time for it.


We made a plan: I would do three illustrations for a book proposal that we could shop around. There was already an interested publisher from my side. It was exciting!

We moved forward with mutual trust, respect, and enthusiasm. I began to draw.



The Alien gave positive feedback on the first illustration.



And on the second illustration. Two down, one to go! It was going well. 


Then I sent the third illustration...


...there were some issues with it.


The Alien scrapped it and suggested I try another.

It's crucial to be able to clearly explain to an artist why something's not working. It's equally important to be able to accept criticism constructively and apply improvements for the good of the project. You can't be precious about your ideas.

So I went back to the old drawing board.


A fourth illustration was sent.


And the Alien said...nothing.


No response. It was like they'd vanished into thin air. Either that, or I was suddenly invisible.


I waited, thinking perhaps the email had got lost, or that the Alien was away on a trip. I made allowances. After a few months, I reached out again.


And I heard...nothing.

I worried, maybe they're ill? I thought of contacting the family. But a quick check of the Alien's social media accounts revealed they were alive and well and communicating with the world as usual.


I'm a big girl. I've been working commercially for over thirty years. I'm used to making changes and adjustments in response to client comments. Big clients, like Coca-Cola and Nestlé, with big agencies. I've collaborated on TV series for international co-productions with international broadcasters. It's a point of pride for me to be able to either defend my vision or adjust it creatively to meet revisions.

I've rarely encountered a client or collaborator who's preferred to cut all communication rather than either do the work, or end the partnership. People do change their minds; it's possible that I wasn't a good fit for the Alien's book, after all.

But all I heard was nothing. Which was disappointing and shitty.


A whole year passed, during which time I put this behind me. Then a few weeks ago I was at an event where the Alien surprised me by marching right up to greet me.


The first thing that came out of the Alien's mouth was not an apology. It was BLAME.



What would you say? I found myself slipping into, "yeah, I am really busy..." But I had made the commitment to the Alien's book project and had given it my time and energy. I decided to force the issue.


And then came the apology. I couldn't interpret actual sincerity in the moment, but I've given the Alien the benefit of the doubt for this drawing....


...but not for this one. Because I don't believe it. To blame me for their cowardly behaviour was galling.


My intention here, is not to "out" the Alien. I don't wish to shame anyone, or get revenge. Rather, I want to shed light on what I consider to be at the heart of the systemic abuse of artists: a lack of fundamental respect.


Think this story is trivial? To a greater or lesser degree, it's playing out all around us. Ego, cowardice and a lazy work ethic are no excuse.

Paid or unpaid, the Innerwebs have opened a million doors to mistreat writers, musicians and visual artists. There's no shortage of seemingly "nice" people out there, trustworthy, respectful and professional people, who turn around and truly believe it's okay to treat an artist like this.

Well I say, it's NOT okay. So just don't do it.


And if you're an artist? Then you call that shit out.


27 comments:

  1. Fantastic post JC! It does happen and it's starting to happen more often, I'm sorry you had to go through this. I know when I write it's from the heart and I put so much into it just like your beautiful drawings. People need to realize that.

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    1. Thanks Patty. I think there's a growing movement towards this. I hope so anyway.

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  2. That is major shittiness.

    When I first started my paintings I decided since they were on glass I'd eat the cost of redoing a piece if it broke in transit, afterall ones pay for an intact piece. But I put stipulations on such pieces, proof of breakage had to be sent to me, either an emailed pic or the frame returned. I held a contest as my official opening...sent out the free piece. Was told it was broken in transit, but excuses were made for MONTHS as to why they were unable to send me a pic, even though I could clearly see they were able to post 9000 other pics. And for a while they worked to defraud me, claiming I don't honor my own policy, blah blah blah, before I noticed the intact piece hanging out in the background of one of their photos, called them out on it, and then they proceeded to block & forevermore ignore me. Pretty shitty folks think it is okay to get something for nothing and make the giver out to be the asshole of the situation.

    Sorry chick!

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    1. That's exactly what I'm talking about! I'm sorry it happened to you too. And you called them out as well and they just ignored you. Galling!

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  3. It was quite ballsome of you to take this on and speak honestly and openly about what I know was a difficult situation for you. I don't know how I would have reacted in the same situation...probably much the same way you would have. However, I don't think I would have ever had the guts to talk about it in the way that you have. Well, maybe I would have. There WAS that thing that happened with you-know-who...I eventually had to get to the place where I COULD say something about it openly, though I feel that I still have more work to do where that is concerned.

    Either way, I really hope that this post helps others view your work as what it is -- WORK, no matter how passionate you are about your art and your craft. For it to be viewed as expendable and not that big of a deal, well, that's a very big deal, indeed.

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    1. I remember you-know-who. That's is painful. The trouble with giving from the heart, truly giving....is that it's the most likely place to get stabbed.

      Love to you.

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  4. Karma is a beoatch, Jc. They'll get theirs.

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    1. You might say they already did, because if they hadn't disappeared, we'd be doing book signings right now.

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  5. The way they treated you was beyond shitty and, were I in your shoes, that behavior would destroy my respect for said Alien. Kudos to you speaking up on this topic.

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    1. You're right - my respect for them dissolved.

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  6. You're good at what you do - invest your time and ability in growing your own business, promoting your work to people that will pay for what you do - don't just give it away.
    Hugs :-)

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    1. Thanks Dan. But I do like giving it away sometimes. The problem here is the 'vanishing act'. The failure to communicate.

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  7. Bravo for calling it out. We need to stop eating humble pie over and over while taking pay cuts just because we are artists!

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    1. I need to work on a "calling out" letter, for those who have their fingers in their ears.

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  8. This must have felt good, JC — kudos for calling out this appalling yet all-too-common behavior.

    Had a similar experience to your “vanishing act” just last week — 4 years ago I was in the final throes of landing a new full-time creative position when communications suddenly went silent. I followed up… nada. That is, until last week when I received an email asking if I was interested in stopping by their new offices to talk because they may need some help. The first line of my response? “Wow — been waiting four years for this email!”

    Letting communications go silent with no explanation is so not cool.

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    1. WHOA! Amazing they called you after four frikkin years. That's balls. And not the good kind. So what happened?

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  9. I'm ashamed to say I was on the delivering side of similar situations. Until I really started getting into writing and drawing, that is. (I've gotten nowhere near your level of course.) However, I would have never just dropped off the face of the Earth or placed blame. That is pretty crappy.

    It gets tougher and tougher to put together lucrative deals on books, sites making money, etc. Everything is a crap shoot these days. I know many talented artists and authors I would love to collaborate with (you included), but being able to compensate in the online world is a VERY slow process.

    Good for you for calling out the "something for nothings" who take advantage with no conscience. :)

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    1. It takes guts to admit that Brandon, so thank-you. I'm glad you got to see the other side of the coin. You're right that it's tough out there. But whether paid or not, the silent treatment is kinda....unacceptable. Ya know?

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  10. Great post! It's amazing how many people don't consider that even artists need to put food on the table, pay mortgages, etc.

    Dear the World: Art is a skilled talent - just as plumbing and electricity are.

    Hugs, Jc :-)

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    1. Of course not! Artists and their offspring live on magical air. With sparkly sugar on top and shit.

      I believe you heard this story in the car driving back with me - how'd I do on it?

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  11. I commented on your FB post but I'll also add: It's not just artists. People do this in many kinds of situations, and it's always cruddy. People deserve clarity and honestly, always.

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    1. You're right. It's not just artists. I've heard the same from accountants and even lawyers and doctors. There's disrespect everywhere.

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  12. This is why I admire you so much Jc. You get your point across without pointing fingers, ranting or outing anyone, and you do it in such a way that informs and reminds people that ethical business practice is of utmost importance. After all it speaks volumes about your character. Excellent post!

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    1. Thanks Sandy. It would have been too mean and that's not the point, really. There's always a way to tell a story and convey a message without being cruel.

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  13. I don't know if you saw the NYT's piece on this, but I just posted this sort of "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough..." diatribe on my FB page after I read it. I've been giving it away for YEARS and I'm finally with someone who's helping me change that. I think as an artist, you just undercut what you do as semi-disposable to society's survival. Which is completely ridiculous, I know, when you think about it at all. You're really fortunate to have earned a living doing what you do and have the confidence to believe that you deserve what's well deserved.

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    1. I am lucky...I remember those days fondly. And I've noticed this blown far and wide, as I said, it's systemic abuse, since the dawn of the Internet.

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Cuz You Rocketh.