The Perils of Giving it Away.....

We are nearing Christmas, the season of giving…are you planning to give your art away as gifts? do you regularly give away your art at Christmas or at any other time?…
I have given away art as gifts to friends and relatives, and donated to charity as well….each situation presented me with certain problems, and I learned valuable lessons from them
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Read what Robert Genn and his readers had to say on the subject ….

Yesterday an artist from Ontario, wrote:
“Recently I’ve been asked for a painting as a wedding present, as a birthday present, and as a keepsake. Of course all these requests, while flattering, take time or cost money. What does one say?
I recently asked my brother-in-law to pose for me while we chatted over a beer. He was disappointed when I told him I needed the sketches. Am I obligated to give him one? My colleague asked me to paint her portrait. Thinking she meant commission, I said I’d love to but she thought it would be my gift for her birthday. What does one do
?"

Genn replies..
We all have great stories like yours to tell. One time an old friend became weirdly excited about a painting he saw in my studio. He pleaded poverty, said he had always wanted one, and begged me to give him this particular one. I did. A month or so later someone told me it was in an auction in another city. Fun, eh? Then there was the time a dear friend told her new neighbor that I did “quite good” portraits and would come around and do hers at the drop of a hat. The new neighbor phoned me and asked if I could pop by. She had never heard of me of course, and I decided to explain my price structure as soon as I arrived. She was pretty as a picture in her silky negligee, but when I told her my prices she threw me out. I felt terrible. I was, it seems, living off the avails of art
.

The secret, I found, is to take your generosity into your own hands, control it, and make it life enhancing for as many others as is practical.
Heartfelt gifts can take many forms: A memory of a great trip. A thank-you to someone. A surprise or a joke painting for a friend or the friend of a friend. A fundraiser, a birthday, an anniversary. A painting of someone you really want to paint. Looking back at all the paintings and drawings I’ve given away, it seems to me they have provided me with the most pleasure of all—even more than my regular and sacrosanct “flow.”
Actually, when you think about it, an artist can be fully employed just throwing the free love around. Employed, but impoverished. But when you give a work of art you collect a friend. Try to do it on your terms and in your own sweet time. There are times when we seem too busy to give, but the day comes, and friendship can’t wait. I look at it this way: I work pretty hard, yes, but painting comes relatively easily and is also my gift. I get the joy, they get the painting, we get the friendship
.

Art is the giving by each man of his evidence to the world. Those who wish to give, love to give, discover the pleasure of giving. Those who give are tremendously strong." (Robert Henri)

In the case of sketches that you’re going to need…give the originals and keep photocopies. The works you give tend to be a specialized group anyway…they actually stimulate and round out an artist’s capabilities….testing new subjects and taking you places that you might not otherwise go. In this sense they are part of the learning curve. Also, “Art karma” is so real and reliable that it could become its own religion. For every freebee out the door there’s another work of art that sends a paycheck. Sometimes within minutes. Try not to miss the opportunities to give.
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Below are some of the responses by a selection of Genn’s readers

I have learned to be very cautious about art gifts to friends. When I explained to one relative that the “little” painting she wanted for her birthday was the time equivalent of mowing her lawn for a year, she was shocked. Most people mean to compliment us by asking for our work, but they have no frame of reference for the creative process. Our art may not be pearls before swine, but too often it’s fine jewelry in front of the cracker jack crowd.
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I’m not selfish, I just let friends and family know that this is my profession and paintings are my product. How many would ask their friend the accountant to do their taxes for free, just out of friendship? Once your friends and family know where you stand on the subject then they are fine. Also artists are plagued by businesses and other locations to exhibit for free. I never do that (now). They need to agree to a certain amount of purchase, first. The ‘60s are over and things need to be handled in a rather more professional way by artists in general. Also I never use my paintings as gifts. Somehow that seems wrong to me. I buy a gift, maybe someone else’s painting, but never one of my own. If I gave one of my own paintings and found like you did, that the gift was not wanted, then how does that reflect on the friendship? Best to keep all things separate. Less misunderstanding and more respect for one another.
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I have as yet not sold a painting, but I have given away 6 or so to family and friends. Most people were appreciative, but two experiences ruffled my feathers a bit. I painted a watercolour of a friend’s house before she was obliged to build an addition for her ailing parents and take out a beautiful picture window. My art teacher at the time thought it was one of my best pieces to date. When I gave it to my friend, she said, “Oh that’s very nice,” and promply put it aside. I was truly underwhelmed by her response. A little gushing would have been nice. I recently visited a different friend and saw the watercolour I painted for her hanging in her back stairway, which is seldom used or seen by anyone. I suppose I should be grateful it’s hanging up at all, but it still hurts a bit.
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I have always enjoyed helping people and sharing my art so I have been helping fundraising events and friends for many years. This year, however, things went out of control when in just one week I got 3 calls. A friend doing a fundraising event wanted 50% of all the work I would sell during 2005 on top of the painting I had already donated. A magazine wanted to use one of my paintings for the cover and wanted not only the photographs of the painting, but the painting itself to keep. And last but not least, a “friend” who opened a restaurant and asked me to hang 14 paintings for the opening ceremony kept them there for over a year (as free decoration) and wanted to keep them for good. According to her, she was doing me a favour as it was very good for me to have the exposure. She would not give them back to me unless I paid her rent for using the walls for over a year (unbelievable!).
I agreed to share the 50% because it is to help leukemia research, I said no to giving my painting to the magazine and I had to call the police to get my paintings back from the restaurant. I ended up with two enemies out of three "friends"… I guess it is just another learning experience. I am still participating in another 4 fundraising events this year. Where do you draw the line
?
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In visiting my doctor, when he found that I was an artist, he took me on a tour around his office and pointed out paintings which his patients had given him. I took this as a hint that I should, also, give him a painting but I just didn’t feel that I should do so as I really didn’t know him that well and felt that he could very well afford to buy one of my paintings. Then one day, after I had been his patient for over fifteen years, I was the featured artist at a gallery and he came in and bought one of my paintings. Yes, giving feels good, if it’s something that I want to do, but selling a painting feels good, too, because you know that someone likes a painting enough that they will pay for it.
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I can’t disagree with you more! Everyone has a gift. The salesman has the gift of gab,
the model has the gift of beauty and we artists have our gift. My lawyer friends would never think of giving me a free contract negotiation… but they used to ask for free art. My realtor friends would never think of waiving their 6% commission but you guessed it… they used to ask for free art. Until I pointed out the fact that this is my business. Yes, I love my art, I’m passionate about it but the bottom line is that it has to pay the bills. I am not a kept painter and if my work doesn’t sell, I don’t pay my house, car, etc., or eat. I think it is arrogant for anyone to assume that we artists (who are usually at the bottom of the food chain) should give away our creations.
My gift of being an artist is not more important or more valuable than the gift my brainy investor friends have, and in a perfect world wouldn’t it be “loverly” if we could all just share our gifts for free
?
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We are all asked again and again to donate artwork… many people use artists to help raise money. Several times a year I am asked to donate paintings. I have set a limit of two donated paintings a year (for me, that’s two weeks of my time/income plus framing cost). When organizations have received my limit I smilingly explain my policy. I know of no other group of people, except possibly the very wealthy, donating two weeks income.”
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I love the idea of art karma. It feels a much more exuberant flow. Thanks for the new fun ways of thinking about giving art. I have had my share of art gift traumas, such as the lithograph given joyfully in appreciation, and then I found it tossed in the trash. The gift that I have never seen in the home… regifted, hidden, yard sold? I have learned to make sure the person on my receiving list cares about art, and likes what I do. If not, then I make them jam, or a cake, or buy a gift certificate.
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Robert Genn is a Canadian Painter of International repute, who runs an art listing site called The Painters Keys…I have permission to reproduce his writing in my pages here..
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Let me know your thoughts…do you have similar tales to tell?
What are your feelings about giving away your art as gifts to friends and relatives and/or as donations
?

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