Tips: 7 completely selfish reasons why you shouldn’t underpay an artist


You already know all the ethical reasons why you should pay visual artists a decent amount for their work. There’s plenty of memes and articles and videos about how screwed up it is to expect people to work for free or cheap just because they love what they do and are in a tough industry.

I’m not going to tell you any of that right now, because I get that most people that do those things aren’t evil sadistic bastards trying to screw creative people over.

I’m self-employed, and although my partnership is only small, we face similar financial decisions from most businesses: how to increase our revenue and keep expenses down. So if someone offers a service or product that is the same quality (and ethical / environmental standards) for a lower price, I’ll usually choose the cheaper one. I think most people do. If I had the option to get a service for free, I’d probably get it.

So I do understand: when you pay an artist $100 bucks for a mural, you’re probably not intentionally disdaining all the effort that person has made, and you’re not trying to fuck the entire industry over. You’re just making a consumer decision based on what’s important to you at that point: getting the best option for the best price.

Having said all that, you SHOULD NEVER get an artist to work on your project if you’re not willing to pay them a decent rate.

And I don’t think I need to appeal to your morals to convince you, I’ll just tell you some of the things that happen when you get artwork done for free or very cheap :

  1. No professional would charges absurdly low prices or is willing to work for free. If an artist does, they are not a professional or experienced. That will be reflected in the quality of the work, how they communicate with you, and if they can deliver in time.
  2. Would you apply yourself to a job if you were paid peanuts? No one does, artists are no different. The artwork you get from an artist that is poorly paid / not paid at all will be rushed and careless.
  3. Artistic communities are often tight. You / your business might develop a reputation of exploiting creative people, so when you need to hire good professionals to work for you they might not be willing to.
  4. There’ll be no accountability. You can’t expect the artist to take responsibility in case the work turns out badly or if they make mistakes. We’ve had clients ask us to redo murals they got for free where the artists even spelt the name of their business wrong (and never turned up to fix it)!
  5. You’ll feel that they’re doing you a favour (because they are) and you’ll feel uncomfortable making requests and giving them feedback. This means they’ll have no guidance or information to help them create work that you’re happy with.
  6. The artist will be forced to use low quality materials to keep their costs down. This means the art you get won’t last. I.e We’ve had to redo murals done for free that were painted with low quality paint and faded after less than a year in the sun.
  7. When the artist doesn’t do a good job, you’ll end up having to spend more time and more money getting a professional to redo it. We have had several projects where we had to redo a previous art piece, when someone got an amateur to work for free, and the results were disastrous! If it is an important project (like art at the facade of your shop) it might hurt your business to have it up and you’ll have to rush to hire someone to do it in a hurry, which is often costly.

So always pay artists well because it’s just the smartest, most cost effective, safest thing to do. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting a healthy creative industry and helping artists dedicate themselves to what they’re best at: making the world more beautiful.

About the author

Julia Palazzo is half of Mayfield Palace, a creative partnership based in Melbourne. They create exhibitions, travel the world and offer creative services such as mural art, custom paintings, live art, illustration, and much more