Why Creative Artists are Paying the Price – Skinny Artist

Why Creative Artists are Paying the Price

Who Pays Who by Andrew Macdonald


Who Pays Who?

by: Andrew MacDonald

When I started out in the arts and craft world over twenty years ago, I don’t think the idea of “artist’s application fees” had been invented.

As far as I remember, in order to enter submit a work to an art competition you sent some recent photos and sometimes text, free of charge and hoped your work was looked at fairly.

Now it’s become ‘pay-to-play’

How times have changed, a recent quick search online reveals how prevalent the demand for cash to enter an art competition has become.

An “artist’s application fee” of £10, £20 or even £30 is now necessary to accompany each submission. Paying to have your work looked at now seems to be the norm.

It’s not just visual artists either, writers are now being routinely asked to pay in order to submit manuscripts to so-called publishing or poetry ‘contests’, and photographers are now being asked for entry-fees in order for their work to even be considered.

Maybe I’m just being cynical…

Perhaps I am just cynical or perhaps this type of payment is actually a good idea. Maybe it helps to keep the standards high, pay for juror’s expenses, or maybe it has become just another way for them to make money.  Either way, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle now.

So how did we let this happen?

If every artist, writer, or photographer on principle refused to pay “application fees” to submit work for any competition of any kind the practice would probably stop, unfortunately this isn’t about to happen, soon.

For example, many thousands of people ‘willingly’ pay £25 a picture to be considered for the well-known London Royal Academy annual summer show, but why?  Obviously it’s a great money spinner for the R.A, but for the individual artist who pays up, it’s the allure of being discovered or even selling a piece that makes it seem worth the cost.

Exhibition organisers have realised this, there is some serious cash to be made here from artists’ desperation (and sadly sometimes vanity) to have their work seen. The practice started by the big famous national intuitions has now spread far and wide, even down to local craft fairs, where you are expected to pay a fee to be considered and then pay a further fee to hire a stall, chairs, electricity, compulsory listing on website, public liability insurance, etc…

And it gets worse…

Andrew MacDonald Art

A £25 fee to have a picture of yours looked is bad enough, however, it gets worse. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has noticed the increasing requirements demanded for a submission these days.

How about all this just to enter a competition; six images formatted in a precise way, an application form, an entry form, an artist’s statement, a link to your website, references, a C.V., and of course the aforementioned fee which is non-refundable and payable in advance (PayPal and credit cards accepted).

Surely something is wrong with this, the art competition organisers and publishers are demanding all of this simply because they can. After all, they are not paying for it, we are. The demand from artist is far greater than the opportunities available.

Art Competition or Lottery?

A few years back, after lots of bad publicity, TV channels were prevented from running competitions, you know the sort of thing, send a text and win a trip to the world cup etc. (texts cost £10+VAT). They still run similar things but have to call them lotteries and as such they should comply with the lottery act.

Similarly, dubious job advertisements requiring upfront application fees have been mercifully clamped down on by trading standards authorities. Banks, experts at making money as they are, now have hefty mortgage application fees, fancy paying a £2000 upfront ‘mortgage processing’ fee anyone?

Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should

Demanding an application fee to have artwork considered for an exhibition is not illegal.  It would be only if the selection process was not above board and we all hope that is the not the case. We can choose to pay or not, just as we are free to buy lottery tickets or not.

Artists are passionate about their work and many of them are desperate to have it seen, discussed, and sold. Because famous artists such as Banksy or Damien Hirst sell work apparently effortlessly for vast sums, there is this illusion that it is an easy and a realistic thing to do. The reality, as most of us know, is different.  Most artists make very little money from their art and they deserve more support from galleries, who in my opinion, should stop demanding cash application fees from artists to look at their work.

What do you think?

Do you think that these galleries and publishers who are charging these application fees are doing it in order to keep artistic standards high, or do you think that this has simply become another way for them to make money? Have you ever been asked to pay any type of ‘application fee’, and if so, do you think it was justified?


Andrew MacDonald Artist

Andrew MacDonald makes a living running a pottery studio called “The Pot Shop” since 1987.   The shop is located at 16 Steep Hill in Lincoln, Lincolnshire in the U.K. You are invited to stop by the studio anytime to say hello or you can give him a call at 01522 528994  or email him at: andrew.macdonald33[at]ntlworld.com





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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(15) comments

This is such a great post. To answer your question, more and more I am not paying to enter art shows. So many of them are just not worth it. I set a budget for application fees and try to stick to it. This year I ended up paying $100 to be in a show. Guess how much I earned selling art there: $10. That was the only show I paid to participate in this year. I blew my entire application fee budget on one lousy show.

Last Friday was the deadline for a well-known Chicago art show that has a (notorious) $50 entry fee. I decided, once again, not to enter it. I entered it a few years ago and was not accepted, and was very angry about the $50 I wasted. What’s worse, the entry fee doesn’t even cover the cost of attending the show’s grand opening. Tickets are more than $50! Such a waste. I’m happy to say that despite my rules about not paying more than $100 per year to enter shows, I have still have numerous opportunities to show my work at different venues over the past few years. I just have to be strong enough not to yield to the temptation to enter “prestigious” shows with fees.


This definitely resonated with me. It can be so difficult to sort out honest charges from those of ‘vanity galleries’. I agree with Tiffany that having a personal budget is a great idea & from personal experience recommend reaching out to the hosts and addressing questions & concerns. That will always give the artist a better idea of what/who they are supporting, where their cash is going & what they can expect as far as what they gain whether it be profit or experience.

I have no problem paying fees that I know are honest or going to events or galleries that clearly show the charge is fair & going to support the arts, but completely avoid outlandish charges that offer nothing but risk. Its a jungle out there. Excellent post.


    Andrew, great article on the artist scammers. I would like to link your article to my website, is that ok?

    The fact is that not only do they ask for money from the artist to “possibly” be selected to show, but they want 50% of the price if it sells at all.
    Also, the majority don’t even give any monetary awards if there is any best in show selection. Its all about making money, not art, they could be selling hot dogs for that matter!

    Thanks for the article, and if you are ever in New York City, I would like to invite you to speak at the artist salon that follows my Friday evening workshop in Chelsea.

    Here is a link to my Renaissance Workshop and Artist Salon: http://www.renaissanceworkshop.biz/Workshop-members-weekly-notice.html

    Looking forward to your reply

    Raúl-Raphael Santiago Sebazco
    Renaissance Workshops


As a practising artist and a retired gallery-owner-director [who handled work from ninety-nine local and national painters and sculptors over a 13 year period] this is my view on ‘applicatiuon fees’ ‘hanging fees’ and the like: if a private gallery cannot make its business pay by charging only a commission on sales, it has no business being in business – if you get my drift. If a public gallery, a festival, or a charity event organisation cannot make do with the funds provided to it by the taxpayers or donors then it should go crawl under a rock. Before an ongoing health condition forced me to retire from gallery business, which was a lot of fun, my gallery stuck to the traditional 33 percent of sale price achieved. Horrified was my reaction to the 50-60 percent plus ‘hanging fee’ charged by city galleries world-wide now. It’s simply greed, I think. But galleries know we artists will always make art, as publishers know we’ll always write or make music. So just keep on keeping on folks. And keep your day jobs. Cheers, Dorothy


I agree! I have decided to no longer enter competitions, shows, etc that charge to enter. I have felt for quite a few years that everyone is making money except for the artist! Unfortunately as artists are starting out it sounds like a good idea, so that will still continue to happen. Now there are some that say the art gallery scene is changing, and this is where it’s heading, but I sure hope not. I guess I am hopeful that people will see my work and appreciate it and want it, if I can just get it in front of them! Greta


I have given a lot of thought to entering competitions and juried showes, but I have always gotten a hinky feeling whenever I read about those “application fees”.

After reading this article and the commentary that followed, I have a feeling my instincts were more spot-on than I had thought.

Thanks for sharing this.

Andrew MacDonald

The comments show that us artists are at best uneasy and at worse fed up with the situation. It seems to reflect a shift in attitude here in the U.K where uncultured money grabbing is ordinary and almost to be expected in most walks of life now.
Sure there are lots of different types of galleries out there, from ultra commercial galleries which are really just ‘posh’ shops to the ones which receive public funding who should really think hard about what exactly they are doing. Are they really saying to us ‘we have the power, tough luck out there, guys we want to make money, your art efforts are just a mere commodity’?

weak stream

I disagree. Application fees pay for administration. In business you pay for advertising hoping to get something out of it. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you keep up ads because visibility can be ‘cumulative’. Some studies show that people don’t act until they’ve seen an ad x number of times. If you feel like you’re slaving away in the studio for nothing, believe me, you’re not alone. But nobody is going to do you any favors in this world. The record companies didn’t think the Beatles could make it in the US (?!). Even keen observers often can’t tell whether or not an artists vision will catch fire. Every art gallery and promoter would love to say that they discovered or ‘broke’ some fantastic new talent and give them preferential treatment but that’s not the way it happens. Rich kids with daddy’s many connections get treated differently but the public is well aware of the pretense. In the meantime we have to pay.

    David Randall

    No, I disagree, I’m afraid we don’t have to pay. It just takes a little screening. Yes, it’s hard to make to rent. I see no reason I should pay the bill. When the money is already made getting grants and charging artists what motivation is there to market and sell the art? I want someone working for me and I’m more than happy to pay a commission to a good gallery working to sell my work.


Well, duhh….fees are the most cost effective and profitable way to CENSOR art thru status quo institutions. There is a culture war art is a part of. This is divide and conquer.


Keeping artistic standards high is done by screening the art, not by people paying the fee. It just limits the entrants to those who can afford, not the art that they would even like to show. It’s biases the competition from the outset.


Great post and to the point.

Regrettably the vast majority of art competitions are a waste of time, a license to print money and nothing but a sham. I too wrote post about my disgust at the way these shows are organized and curated.

Personally I don’t think that integrity or upholding quality have ever passed through the minds of these idiot organisers.



Submission fees are inherently exploitive of artists. Fee-based juried shows operate much like a protection racket. They extract money from vulnerable artists with limited resources and a strong desire for validation and transfer it to administrators who are not able to promote their galleries and exhibitions sufficiently well to patrons, audiences and funders to make a go of it without artist fees. Instead, artists subsidize administrators for shows that don’t clear the market. Here’s a radical idea, why not pay artists to apply, or at least pay finalists in selection processes for their effort. In the alternative, far better to find channels for promoting your own work and to band together with other artists to mount provocative, satisfying and renumerative shows.

Anon Ymous

Please see Canada’s CARFAC.
Outside of a commercial gallery an artist should be paid to show work.


Yes, totally.

Not only this, but a community center run show now requires all those tedious, frustrating things too. I felt it was about supporting the local artists, but after all the effort and not hearing anything, I feel like they in the end caved in to the bigger wigs of the scene and possibly shoved aside those who cannot afford the big shows.

I don’t even bother with anything above a $60 table fee, as I make a max of $100 generally but less in the past couple years. Things just don’t sell well anymore, likely due to my main art demographic at fan conventions being drowned in student debts and high living costs.

There was a fantasy-themed faire/event that was supposed to be Christmas-themed or such that had the nerve to charge $200 for a table with no ads or marketing outside their little facebook page and horribly-made website that itself was hard to find. The idea was exciting, but I has so many reservations, especially that no prices were listed online. I asked an artist who paid this fee on site about the costs.

Worse yet was that indeed, the event seemed a real dud. I saw nobody really there, and those artists got severely ripped off. I hoped they asked for a refund. I wanted to believe in it, but, I just couldn’t shake how sketchy the site was: the title included artwork belonging to Ciruelo, a dragon artist (you likely seen his work on his own wall calendars, they still publish).

Also, if “you teach others how to treat you” is honestly true, than, certainly free art shows are teaching the public that art is just some silly thing that people do that don’t have any realistic life goals. Some seem to think we should do it all for nothing, and that they are entitled to our work at no cost. Hard to look realistic when nobody respects us, but doesn’t that start with changing the way people see art and artists? At very least, have all shows by donation, and not simply “free”. Make it noted that there are costs associated to create and to display.

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