I’ve kept saying over the past few months that giving back shifts my focus, and that’s really an understatement. Giving back has completely changed me. I never thought that giving a little money here & there and volunteering my time would drastically change the way I see the world. But it has. I have recently come to see that the way I’ve been running my business and creating art has been detrimental to my overall well being. I tend to fall into a hole of depression in the winter, but this year’s seasonal sadness has been a little different. I turned that depression into a deep introspection and have done some really hard work on my self; asking myself some hard questions.
Toxic thought: a back story
Since I quit my job 2 1/2 years ago to focus on art, my thoughts have (mostly) been focused on how to make my business profitable. Fellow creatives who have turned their creative work into a career will probably understand this. We are constantly told (usually by other creatives) not to give work away, that you deserve to be paid, to stop underselling yourself. While it’s true, you do deserve to get paid, the rest of these comments have always rubbed me the wrong way. Mostly because my entire philosophy is making art affordable. I’ve been criticized in the past for underpricing my work, to which I always respond with this philosophy. Everyone should have the opportunity to live with art and make it part of their everyday lives. You serve a different market than me, and that’s ok.
Side note: I have learned that donating artwork (in-kind donations) can be a slippery slope. What they don’t tell you about donating artwork in full is that it is not tax deductible. Technically you can write off the cost of materials, but why bother? I only participate in a few of these shows a year. Some organizations will give the artist the option to keep half if the piece sells. You’re still donating half of the sale price to the fundraiser which is not tax deductible either, but it’s worth it to me if it is for a worthy cause. I tend to lean toward these shows instead of the full donation shows.
I should note that I’ve only had a few of the underprice critics contact me directly. The others are all on the internet and social media. Here are some examples that I’ve encountered recently…
When you undersell your work, you water down the market and devalue not only your work but every other artist.
It’s not your problem if they can’t afford it.
It shouldn’t be our burden to supply the world with what they need.
Don’t work for free exposure because you’re killing the market for the rest of us.
This kind of narrative is drilled into creatives even before we switch from hobby or side hustle to full time creative career. Let me make it clear that I’m not solely placing the blame on the people making these comments. I bought into it for a long time, even while keeping my prices lower. I would turn offers down and I participated in very few fundraising shows.
Now, I personally think it’s pretentious and a privileged attitude. Yes, we have to pay our bills and make a living just like everyone else. But I think it is naive and very outdated to assume that there aren’t multiple markets out there; one for affordable art, one for high priced art, one for moderately priced art, one for FREE art, etc. It’s a dangerous path to go down, and let me tell you from experience, you could very well be setting yourself up to FAIL by constantly demanding the highest price and acting like other artists who’ve chosen a different path are beneath you. Having said that, everyone has their own way of doing things. Some art requires certain expensive materials and is more time consuming.
My overall point is this kind of thinking was toxic for me, and it wasn’t until I shifted my focus to giving back, that I realized just how toxic.
Toxic thought: realization
I realized that I had been so focused on profit that it clouded my view of the world. I know that sounds so drastic, but it’s really true. Even though I offered lower prices & payment plans, I was caught up in my own world. I took a certain pride in the fact that my philosophy was to bring art to everyone. It’s ironic, I know. I was accusing the critics of being pretentious, but my own twisted view was pretty pretentious too. This was only the beginning of my realization.
Rewind to March 2018: I had a group show where 20% of sales were donated to The Homeless Alliance. This is what really started to spark an idea in me, and my focus started shifting. I talked to the other artists in the show about going to tour the facility or even volunteer, but it never happened. We were all too busy.
Later in the year I donated artwork and money to different charities. I recognized this shift in focus was making me feel good, and I stopped thinking about money so much. This led to my plan for the 2019 Year of Giving.
During my winter introspection, I couldn’t help feeling like I should be doing more. I started by taking some clothing and supply donations to the Homeless Alliance day shelter. This is when I realized that giving monetary donations made me feel good because I didn’t actually have to face the people who were suffering. Donating money online and actually seeing homeless people at a shelter face-to-face are two different things entirely. Monetary donations are always needed and definitely helpful, but volunteering time is so so valuable. It is not tax deductible. But I can tell you without a doubt, it is life changing. I have since volunteered in the kitchen for lunch service at the Homeless Alliance, and it is far more rewarding to see and interact with people. Even if you don’t have time to make it a regular thing, they have a lunch break option or you can schedule a tour of the facility.
Toxic thought: change
Changing my focus from profit to giving made me start to see things. For example, I drive past people on the street corner with signs that say “hungry” or “anything helps” almost daily. I usually don’t give them a second glance. Now I was seeing them, like really seeing them. I started noticing tent cities under bridges that I had overlooked before. It was overwhelming.
If you follow my social media closely, you may have seen that I’ve been taking care of some feral cats out at Lake Hefner. This is not part of any program, but all the cats have been spayed or neutered. There are a few of us who take turns feeding and checking on them. During the numerous ice storms and cold weather we’ve been having, I kept feeling the pull to go check on them. One day after feeding a group of five who were skin & bone, I saw a goose with a broken foot. It was being bullied by the other geese and was forced to sit on the frozen edge of the lake. I was so overcome with sadness that I just burst into tears. Why was nature so cruel?
I had opened my heart up so much that every little thing set me off down a spiral of sadness. I told myself that this was just part of the process and I needed this in order to change. But it was overwhelming and my heart ached all the time. It felt very isolating. I knew I needed to find some kind of balance.
I listened to a lecture by Ram Das where he talked about the difference between empathy and compassion. “With empathy there are still two, with compassion there is only one.” The question he urged us to ask was, “Is there anything I can do to alleviate this suffering?” If the answer is yes, than do whatever you can. If the answer is no, move on. This is easier said than done, but with the instant news media these days, it is necessary for our mental health. It’s no wonder everyone is so depressed.
It’s taking a lot of courage just to put this out there into the world. But I need to share it. My goal is not to get everyone to change the way they look at the world or to start donating or volunteering. If you feel compelled to do so, that’s great. This is about my journey. I just want to share my story. Know that if you support my art in any capacity, you are contributing to these causes too. Because this is not just a Year of Giving for me anymore. This is my life now. I have found my purpose.
In January I donated 20% of sales to the Central Oklahoma Humane Society.
In February I donated 13% of sales to the Alzhiemer’s Association.
Why the weird percentages? At first I said I would donate 10% of sales every month, but the first few months of the year are not always the most profitable for me. So I changed the percentages based on how much I made. I wanted to make sure I was giving an adequate amount.
For the month of March, the charity I have chosen is TEEM. I searched for a local charity in OKC that focused on criminal justice and helping people who have been incarcerated re-enter into society. TEEM does that and so much more. They help with job placement and social skills as well as education, financial support, and addiction treatment. At least 10% of sales from March will go to this wonderful organization.
Up next for April is LifeShare. Some of you may know my step-dad, Phil received a kidney transplant over 30 years ago. He also worked for LifeShare for many years & now works for the equivalent organization in Florida. LifeShare works to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation & transplantation through public education. If you’re not already registered as an organ donor, feel free click that link to learn more.
I have gotten so many great charity suggestions for donation, but now I’m looking for organizations where I can volunteer my time. Know of any? Let me know in the comments or CONTACT me.
Last but certainly not least. My husband found a great organization called Pine Pantry. They have little pantry cabinets on the sidewalks all over town. Click that link for a map of all their locations. You can donate canned food, non perishable items, personal hygiene products, pet food, etc. Anyone can take whatever they need, no questions asked. I love it!
Thanks for reading and thank you so much for the support.