The more I read about the business side of art, the more convinced I am that working for free or "for exposure" just screws artists over.
I believe in an ethos that goes by many names, such as "fuck you, pay me" or "freelance isn't free."
Anyone who doesn't charge for their work is hurting the rest of us. They are setting damaging expectations. They show they don't value their time or effort, so why should a buyer? Charging too little is nearly as bad. We don't need to be in a race to the bottom.
I spend a lot of time around women artists, and I’ve noticed that we just don’t seem to take ourselves as seriously as the men. Very, very few men are out there on the internet giving away their knowledge. They all charge for it, via books, videos, Patreon, classes, etc. Try it for yourself—google info on prominent watercolor artists and compare what the men are doing versus the women.
Women are told every day of their lives that they need to give, give, give of themselves, with no expectation of reward, and certainly not payment. And if a woman chooses not to do this? To respect herself and her art enough to charge for it, and even--heaven forbid--charge what she's worth? She's instantaneously labeled a "bitch," a "gold digger," "selfish," etc. It's some hot double standard bullshit, and it doesn't appear to be going away any time soon.
And for myself? Even though I know all these things and feel very strongly about them (obviously) I still fall into the same traps. While I have almost always charged for my work, even when I was just getting started, I have also charged too little for it. Especially if friends or family were the buyers. (Although that's a whole other ball of wax I think--it's a bit of the situation we're always warned about, to not mix family or friends & business).
For all the reasons listed in the previous paragraphs, somehow it's easy for me to get up in arms about this for others but still fail to listen to my own advice. But I think we could support and encourage each other, and perhaps break the cycle that way. If you ever need a pep talk or an outsider's objective view of your art and if you should charge for it or not (the answer is yes, duh) you can find me on social media or email me through this website and by god I'll find a way to show you you're worth it. We're all worth it.
Still, let's end on this advice from an excellent Tumblr post:
"Protect yourself, because no one else will. Protect yourself, because no one else will. There are people lining up around the block to exploit you. Protect yourself because no one else will."