At the Art Unknown Store, one of our basic values is that the artists get paid from every sale. You see, our clothing is unique. Unique in that the patterns and designs on the clothing were not computer generated, or drawn by some in-house graphic designer or taken off a royalty free design website. The patterns used in all of our clothing and accessories were created by professional artists.
The design on that crop top was originally a mural, painted across the bricks of a warehouse wall. Those leggings, a canvas of original art on display above a collectors mantle. That bomber jacket was a photograph, digitally manipulated and reformed into an original work. All of the patterns that the Art Unknown Store use for our products had a life as art long before they were ever imprinted onto cloth.
As a co-founder of the Art Unknown Store, I am first and foremost an artist. I have worked much of my adult life as a professional photographer, and though I feel fortunate to never have gotten pigeonholed into any one photographic discipline, my artistic endeavors really shine in my advertising and fashion work. That said, I too have struggled as I transitioned through genre to genre from the “work for trade” or “work for exposure” trope.
One of the ironic truths about being and artist is that is can take years to develop one’s craft into a true art form and yet during much of that time the artist is expected to give their work away, for trade, credit, recognition, or just because perhaps they have not yet established themselves and therefore are not valued as an artist.
It has happened throughout history and it is prevalent perhaps more today due the internet than ever before.
Ask any artist not “if” but “how many” times they have been asked to create work for trade or exposure. The numbers will astound you.
Many people still don’t understand that artistry has value. Of course the value is often subjective, but unless one is a complete novice, their work has value, no matter how small.
To put it into perspective, why don’t you go to your boss tomorrow and offer to work for exposure? Tell him or her that you’d rather spend 8 hours working for trade than a paycheck, and you’ll start to get an inkling of what artists, even established artists go through on a regular basis. Remember, exposure is great, but it doesn’t put food on the table, shoes on Johnny’s feet or keep the lights on after dark.
The idea of exposure has proliferated on the internet. Social media influencers have become masters at flipping the script, offering businesses exposure for promoting their latest hair gel, bath balm, or lipstick. While this too is a travesty, businesses may finally be getting a small glimpse of the payment shaft that has been stuck to artists for so very long.
So why am I sharing all of this with you? Because art has value. Whether you like it or not, when an artist spends months, years, decades of their life perfecting their craft, their work has value.
This is best exemplified in the story of a woman, a portrait, and Pablo Picasso in Alastair Dryburgh’s Everything You Know About Business Is Wrong.
One day in Paris a wealthy woman goes into a café and sees Picasso.
After a few minutes, she summons up the courage to approach him. ‘Monsieur Picasso,’ she asks, ‘would you make a portrait of me? I’ll pay you anything you want.’
Picasso nods, grabs a menu, and in five minutes has sketched the woman’s portrait on the back of it. He hands it to her.
‘Five thousand francs,’ he says.
‘But Monsieur Picasso, it only took you five minutes.’
‘No, Madam, it took me my whole life.’
But what does all this really mean? For us, as we learned from the start, we value artists and their art. At the Art Unknown Store we share in the profits from all of our sales with our Artists up to 30%. Because we believe art has value and artists are not merely here to make this planet a more beautiful place, but that art at any level should be celebrated, and artists should be compensated for a lifetime of study, craftsmanship and creative genius.
Remember, Your Life is a Masterpiece. Dress Like It.