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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