I recently started my newest photography project for one of my biggest patrons, Elle. I really enjoy taking on her projects because it allows me to explore new creatives avenues via my photography style. Sometimes, however, taking on commissions can be a bit harrowing. A lot of my fellow artist friends usually balk at taking them on and after talking to them and drawing from my own experiences, a few ideas as to why this happens come to mind:
The Burger King Approach:
Remember those Burger King commercials from back in the day where they had that famous slogan “Your way, right away?” Great motto to have in mind when ordering that whopper but it really doesn’t apply when commissioning an artist. Some patrons treat art commissions like they’re hamburger orders. They dictate every nuance of the work so much so that want it no longer feels like artist has the creative freedom that is necessary to work. A fellow photographer friend of mine told me that he hated taking on photography commissions because his patrons frequently constrained the creative freedom that he needs to do his work. I think that unless you’ve both agreed that it’s going to be a creative collaboration, you have to stand back and let the artist work. Having faith in an artist’s abilities can really pay off, which leads me to my next point….
Not Respecting an Artist’s Style
When I tell people that I’m an artist and they seem interested in my work, I immediately hand over my business card to give them an idea of the kind of work I do. Sometimes this doesn’t work because people’s ears seem to kind of glaze over when they hear “artist” and they expect you to create what they want in a style totally unlike your own. For example, someone who visited my site came up to me the following day complaining that he didn’t really like my abstract paintings and that he was more into landscapes and paintings of French countrysides. Rather than respecting the fact that we had different tastes, he went on to insist that I should paint him a French countryside, “Monet-style”. Changing my style just to make him happy with be inauthentic; I don’t do inauthentic and neither should any artist.
Not Really Having a Clue as To What You Want:
I really hate this one. I do. These are for people who want to brag to their friends that they’re commissioning an artist to do a painting for them or something without really knowing what they want. It just sounds cool. It’s also highly annoying because, aside from being the complete opposite of the Burger King Approach, it is also likely to backfire on you and the commissioner when the end product doesn’t meet their standards. I had someone beg me to paint something for them after they glanced at some of my works. I asked her what she wanted and her response was, “Oh, I don’t know, it could be anything. I know I’ll just LOVE whatever it is you’ll do.” Being a clueless 18-year-old, I went ahead to do a watercolor painting that was not at all what this person wanted. How do I know? Because when she saw the piece, she twisted up her face and said something about how she was expecting me to do something else. When I went over her house a month or so later, I saw the painting shoved in the corner on the floor, tucked away behind some stacks of clothes. What she really wanted was a print of another piece that I had done. It would’ve been better if she had told me that from the get-go before I put in the effort of creating the other piece.
Not Wanting to Pay The Artist What They’re Worth:
I know times are tight and you are not trying to mortgage your house to have a nice piece of art but creating art is work, whether it’s a painting or a photography commission. Artists have to account for cost of materials, time, equipment and plain labor. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of haggling, but trying to stiff or short-change an artist is not cool. I try to be very upfront with my commission prices and I usually find it pretty helpful to give a flat price when it comes to paintings and hourly rates for photographers. It does get hairy, though when people start nagging me about how many hours it will take and saying over and over that they don’t want to pay too much or get gouged. Ouch! It’s okay to state that you’re on a budget but walking into an agreement with that kind of presumption that the artist is out to gouge you can set a negative tone for the commission. This is when having a written agreement comes in really handy because both parties are mutually protected. Add to that, I’d also suggest that artists ask for a deposit before starting the work. This has worked very well for me and it lets the patron know that you mean business. It will also increase the likelihood that you won’t have as much trouble collecting final payment when the work is completed.
Being commissioned to create a piece can be a flattering and exciting experience when there’s mutual respect between the artist and the patron but it can be a real drag when there isn’t. These are just my thoughts about the difficulties with taking on commissions. What are your thoughts?