Should You Boycott Charity Art Auctions?

A Close friend sent me this article to consider and I really do not know where I stand on this issue.

I donate images to charity events.  I have donated to some of the big name national events but mostly I donate to local causes such as our High School Arts Program, local Food Banks and Women’s Shelters.

Part of me understands what he is saying, but part of me disagrees.  What are your thoughts?

Cole

The Career Benefits of Boycotting Charity Art Auctions

By Matt Gleason

Posted: 06/ 8/11 12:25 PM ET

There is a tradition of auctioning original works of art donated by artists to raise money for charitable causes. There are many good causes that hold such events. No matter how good the causes, though, I have come to the conclusion that artists must stop donating to every single one of them.

Don’t ever donate your art to a charity auction again. Half a century of charity art auctions have changed the way collectors buy art. These fundraisers have depressed prices of art across the board and kept artists in a subordinate position that has no career upside or benefits.

Instead of tossing away another great artwork to a good cause, join the good cause of boycotting charity art auctions. When you join this cause …

•You stop taking revenue out of the art world
•You stop shifting art collector dollars to the bottomless pits of recurring annual Beg-A-Thons
•You don’t contextualize your art as being a synonym of pretentious panhandling
•You don’t announce that your art is worth low bids
•You don’t risk that your work will be publicly seen getting no bids
•You don’t empower strangers to devalue your artwork
•Most importantly, you stop publicly proclaiming that you give your art away

The argument against me is simple: Donations of art to charity auctions raise money for good causes and raise the profile of artists who put their art in the public eye. It is a good argument. It has worked well. This seductive sales pitch has pulled in countless millions of dollars over the past few decades.

Problem is, this argument has not lived up to its bargain. Sad news: Your profile got humiliated because the collector got such a bargain on your art. If your art was one of dozens of trinkets on a wall with a hundred other artists, your profile actually disappeared there in the crowd anyway.

I would love to hear the story of the artist whose career rocketed to success because he or she donated a work to a charity auction and this act alone tipped the first domino toward an avalanche of success coming his or her way. This narrative is always implied. I’ve never seen it happen.

Charity art auctions are the emptiest of promises to artists: you give us your work, you get nothing in return except a party invite to an event where you are a second class citizen. Watch as the price of what you really will let your work go for is nakedly advertised to the select group of people to whom your work is meant to be seen as rare and desirable.

Suppose you want to at least deduct a donation of your art to the charity, guess what? The law only allows an artist to deduct the cost of materials. Meanwhile a collector can buy your work for the minimum bid, have it appraised at its full retail value and donate it to some other good cause for that top dollar amount.

As for the merits of the infinite number of good causes out there, what is the value in giving up a painting that would sell for a thousand dollars retail in order to see it raise 50 Bucks for that cause? Pick one charity, donate generously and keep the collectors assuming that the price you ask at the gallery is the best and only price they are going to get.

Someone has to be the bad guy here, so you can blame me for inspiring you to donate cash to a good cause and to keep your art career safe from the bargain bin. Print this out and send it with your regrets to anyone asking you to devalue your work in the name of glamorizing their efforts on behalf of yet another worthy cause in a world of infinite and endless good causes. Tell them the art stops here.

Matt Gleason


24 Responses to “Should You Boycott Charity Art Auctions?”

  • Harry Cutting Says:

    I agree with Gleason; stop the charity madness, if only to restore / preserve your reputation. What turned me away from donating was a call I received years ago from the Clinton White House requesting three pictures, gratis, for some WH charity. Their attitude was cavalier and snobbish. When I offered the photos at a small discount instead of free, they acted insulted and hung up on me in a huff. The more artists give to charities, the more this attitude will fester.

  • Benoit Jansen-Reynaud Says:

    I agree with Gleason as well but part of me wonders that perhaps it may be worth it if you were a new artist looking for exposure. Having said this, I would choose the appropriate charity and event to maximize my exposure.

    Great article Cole as always….

  • Stacy Gardner Says:

    There is a prevalent paradigm of making every move to improve one’s station in life…sell more pictures, make more money, increase one’s reputation. When did we stop being a cohesive community, looking out for each other, and realizing that we are all in this together? So for me the question is, “which paradigm do you choose…the one of the individual or the one of the greater community?”

  • Cole Says:

    This is from my friend Ulvis Alberts, he has many years experience and is quite known for his work in the 60′s/70′s photographing rock stars and Hollywood as well as recent work on Poker Stars:

    Most of my print sales are in two areas: my historic photographs of famous “poker stars” particularly those that are dead. They are remembered as the “pioneers” of the game long before it became a worldwide event, largely due to TV coverage. My own photography book “Poker Face 2″ (1977- 2006) was a gamble worth publishing with investor support.

    Other valued photography from my archives are my “Hollywood years.” Actors and musicians from the 1970′s up to the mid- 1980′s And a few before then like Jimi Hendrix (Seattle 1968); Bob Dylan (1966); Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead (Seattle 1967). These images are also in my signed and limited edition book:”Camera As Passport” (1966-2008).

    Not so long ago I donated a ‘silver-gelatin” print of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (Hollywood 1976). It was auctioned off for a fund raiser at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state. I was out of the country at the time and my son Gene attended the “DANCE” themed event. I had hoped the museum would call me about a possible photography exhibit, since I had grown up and attended schools in Tacoma. They didn’t.
    I even have an exclusive Dale Chihuly, world famous glassblower photograph when he was nobody working at the Art Dept. of the Univ. of Wash. (Chihuly has his own museum in Tacoma now to showcase his glass creations). Silence. No interest from the museum or Chihuly.

    I often donate a photograph and/or a book, say “PF2″ to a good cause like vetrans who lost a limb
    in Iraq. The event at the Rio casino in Las Vegas a few years ago, during a pause in the annual World Series of Poker, went well. I was more than happy to do it.

    Recently a group was raising funds for building a much needed animal shelter in my nearby city of
    Belfair. No big deal. My photographs of “cute cats and dogs” sold well. I have no reputation or price to maintain in my hobby area of photography.

    I guess, I’ll keep donating my photographs. I’m not concerned that my work will be devalued at charity events or fundraisers.

    But I think Matt Gleason does hit some good points in his article: “The Career Benefits of
    of Boycotting Art Auctions.”

    I’m not there yet to worry about “unforseen consequences” in my prices or career. Maybe after my death, my Riga, Latvia gallery owner will have to be concerned. After all he is the “executor” of my “Last will and Testament.”

    Ulvis Alberts,photographer
    http://www.ulvisalberts.com

  • LauraM Says:

    If one is donating art to charities for the sole benefit of career promotion, then that is misguided in my opinion. I donate to organizations I have researched and I respect, either money or art, that I believe are managed responsibly and do good work that I want to support. I don’t give for exposure–I give to give. Sometimes I have received solicitation requests from unknown organizations that have obtained my name from some mailing list. I decline those.

    I think that the ability to create art is a blessing–a gift that is given. Why in the world would I not share that gift back? Artists only concerned with money place limits on themselves–their creations become filtered through dollar signs.

    I have heard the same arguments–that I should never do photography for someone at no charge. Each time I have done this, the gifts back to me are far greater than the small amount of time given. I will always continue to do this.

  • Russ Martin Says:

    Here’s another idea. You could use charitable giving to stimulate sales. You could advertise that the proceeds from the first picture will go to the charity.
    That will prompt people to quickly buy, and probably buy more. Everyone is a winner. The charity gets money, you make more than you would have otherwise, and all the people think they bought the the first picture and are helping someone. You could even send them a thank you. That would make them feel really good. It’s the Paul Newman model of marketing.
    He said that “a portion of the profits go to charity”. We don’t know what that portion is, but people buy his stuff because it makes them feel good.

  • Russ Martin Says:

    Addendum:

    Many times the charities are very crass, don’t really care about the artists, and only care about maximizing their profits. They ask for free art from artists, who they obviously don’t respect very much, or they wouldn’t request free donations in the first place. Would they ask for free art from an international superstar? Being asked to donate a piece for free is actually an insult and disrespectful. It reminds me of those people who asked me to you to photograph their
    kid’s wedding, and they will supply the film and give me a free meal! By the way. What do they offer now, to supply a free memory card?

  • Bill McMyne Says:

    My wife and I have both struggled with this. She continues to donate a painting to our local library for which it fetches about what it cost us to mount and frame it. I do not donate my photographs because they would fetch less than my cost to mount and frame it. I write them a check for more than they would get for the photograph. Ironically, because I do not participate in their auction they do not ask me to display my work periodically as they do other artists who donate artwork…despite the fact that my check is usually twice what they would get for any piece of art.

  • Jim Digby Says:

    Like you I have mixed emotions on this issue. I believe we were put on this earth to do more than suck air so I do support a couple of local charities. However, I was getting so many requests that I put together this response:

    “Thank you very much for your invitation to add me to your list of silent auction supporters.

    As you are probably aware, the IRS allows me only to use an amount equal to the actual cost of materials in the image for tax purposes.

    Because I am receiving so many such requests, I have established the following guidelines for donations.

    •Minimum bid $100
    •20% commission of the sale price
    •The name and address of the purchaser
    (It is my practice to send a thank you note to all my patrons.)

    If your organization can meet these criteria I will be delighted to donate an award winning image of $300 to $600 value.”

    This has dramatically reduced the number of requests and when I do donate I think we both benefit.

  • Benoit Jansen-Reynaud Says:

    I like your approach Jim D.

  • John Lombardo Says:

    I disagree with Gleason on nearly all of his points.
    I have received art donations for my organization for nearly ten years now and ask artists if they would like a reserve placed on their work. Even when they don’t put a reserve on the work, I often do in order to ensure that it goes for at least pretty near what it is worth.
    As others have stated here, I don’t know that any artist would donate for self gain. That goes agains the spirit of donating. I also don’t know any artists who have taken a loss for participating in an auction.
    Many bidders at our auctions actually comment on how nice it is that well known artists make such contributions to auctions, which, while I count as a gain, Gleason probably would not.
    It has also happened that the work I receive from artists goes for a price higher than the value placed on it by the artist. Further, additional work from many artists has been purchased by those who participated in an auction.
    Also, it’s fine for Gleason to have his opinion about auctions, but a bit silly that he would encourage others not to participate.

  • Gary Larsen Says:

    Lot’s of pro’s and con’s… obviously mixed opinions. For me, the answer is to give photographs to those charitable causes that I like. If I find that my donation has been disrespected (even with that condition), then there won’t be another donation… (and that happened once). I don’t expect great rewards from the donation, but some recognition through the event is appreciated. Mostly, that means I stick to local causes… libraries, art venues and local benefits. If I like the cause, then I am satisfied with a sense of having added social value (and a tax deduction for the cost of my materials). I also like having shared my work though a worthwhile venture.

  • Michael E. Gordon Says:

    Hi Cole!
    I will not donate my art for charity auction again unless the organizer sets the opening bid somewhere around 50% of my retail. My work has been auctioned at prices that should have embarrassed the bidder, and did in fact burn the charity AND me. Only the high bidder wins under this scenario.

  • Christine E. Horner Says:

    I have a disability, I have an appartment, i have some food, I lose money on art supplies all the time, I have been stubbed by the art community, galleries unwilling after expressing interest and telling me i’m in, finding out that i’m disabled mentally giving me the door. Art auctions give me a purpose. My art is worth more than it is auctioned for, it is priceless when i give it away. i have sold art to individuals comissioned me to paint something or purchasing something of of my home walls that i would have rather sold in a gallery. I get treated like since i have a mental ilness that my work has little potential to evolve, mature, as if my subject matter and techniques have a glass ceieling because i have emotional issues. right now i have a set for sale in a florist in portsmouth nh for a good price 1200, but the florist hung it to fit the space and not in the right order. top right is in left hand corner, bottem left at the other end, linear. am i insulted maybe sometimes. if you devalue my work did you do it to me? for a moment yes, but think about the reward i got when i took the collection that david’s gallery was soposed to hang and marched them with friends carrying two in a hand all the way down to catholic charities in portland, just down the street from the snobs into a club for the mentally ill and addicted, and gave the whole club all those valuable works of art, every piece of the collection!!!! do those snobs who could afford my work if the galleries would support it support my ego and my heart like those less privaledged did? would any of them exclaim like its christmas to find out that there club is bieng GIFTED the “impulsively express last oil collection i would do on canvas”? who among those who can put a price on my work can give me a purpose in it that feeds me gratitude and happiness? the set for 1200 could be purchased appreciated and set aside for redecorating in a month devalued in the purchasers own way. at anytime my parents could die and legally leave me nothing to collect to create the works i enjoy doing. water colors may then prove economical and if art is my life’s purpose i will continue and learn and grow in my art in new ways. right now i am doing mixed media recycling my own art into new renued pieces. tell the world you got it for 50 dollars, get it for 20 somewhere else. the value isnt the pay off. its the ability to continue working and achieving, i have a diasablity but you cant SAY I DONT WORK, YOU CANT PUT A PRICE ON ME, OR MY WORK, CAUSE MY WORK HAS A PURPOSE BEYOND A DOLLAR, AND ITS NOT VALUED BY A CUSTOMER, BUT BY THE LOVE OF THE VIEWER WHO FINDS NEW LIFE AND VISION IN THEMSELVES FOR FINDING IT, EVEN IF THEY FIND IT IN THE TRASH THEY ARE THE TRUEST ARTIST AND I WORK FOR THAT POTENTIAL IN HUMANITY. so yes I will donate when my heart needs to. and no i dont buy art, i exchange mine with friends art when i need a new piece, I cover my walls with me and my fiance’s work, his music fills our house, you say i am poor and unable i live richer in an environment of creative life and life prospering and i cant afford to make these works on my own and no one gives me gallery space to present my beauty and life, but I DECREASE THAT HE MAY INCREASE, john the bapitist said, and so then call me little, and i will show you great things, cause my art you can have but you cant have my soul. I have a purpose a story to tell, but you cant destroy me by rejecting my art. I am an artist, not cause you will affirm that to me, but because I dont back down cause no one has put a high enough price on my work. does that sound disabling to you? then you are poor and cannnot afford to see my work. even if it were in the trash you dont deserve it. But you should have it., you might grow and learn and find grace if you stepped out of those thought cramps and expeirenced NEW LIFE IN VIEWING AND FEEL ALIVE AGAIN, like the poor when we are greatful we have a donut instead of a piece of bread and butter.

  • Karen Says:

    I know I’m really late on a responce on this one but I just read this article and completely disagree. I think this is just sick. One who donates to a charity should be donating for the charity, not for the sole intentions to gain a reputation, or to see how much they can claim to get back. I understand your argument that work sells for less and you could just give a cash donation, but some people, such as myself, can produce art works at an enormously lower cost then giving a cash donation. Yes understandably it will take more time and effort to do work to donate, but isn’t that part of the whole “raising money for a cause” aspect. I don’t care if my work sells for 10 dollars or 100 or 1000 or whatever as long as i know what it does sell for is going to a good cause. I am willing to take the chance that it will sell for less then what I would get elsewhere because I know it will be going to a good cause. Anyone can donate money. Only artist can donate art.

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  • David Tribby Says:

    Matt is missing the point.. People who donate to these charities know they aren’t likely to see a return. If you can’t afford it, don’t donate. Its as simple as that. Its a charity event, not an exhibit or a release party. They’re not trying to make their careers off of it. Anyone who is a working photographer knows exposure alone is hardly ever profitable. Matt is making this article for photographers not a general audience so I understand the points he’s making. (But)Charity events are held for a cause, not to showcase artists.

  • Maude Lorman Says:

    This looks so fun -and inspiring! Working with new people can be so rejuvenating; glad you have the opportunity. I’m really loving your style btw, it’s a good balance between calming and energetic.

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  • David Randall Says:

    I’m with Matt on most of this. I don’t donate originals any longer. The cost is too high on several levels. It often takes me two weeks and more to paint a single image. It just doesn’t make sense for me. My time is too valuable. If they are willing to split the sale price or place a minimum on sales price I’d be more interested. However most will not consider doing this. I sometimes give prints knowing they will not get the price I would charge however I can print more and the materials cost is relatively low as compared to an original.

  • JR Says:

    Never again without stipulation in writing that the art will be auctioned off and not for less than X dollars. I donated a work, (again), I did specifically for a local fund raiser.

    I made the mistake of stopping by the event. It was the only piece of art. They stuck it behind a bunch of stuff on a raffle table – not even silent auction – didn’t put it in the auction, and, I do believe it went for 25 cents.

    I did this work because I couldn’t donate money. I could have managed 10.00. My option was to load the raffle cup. But it actually made me sick enough that I had to take medicine.

    My fault for not getting it all squared away beforehand. They didn’t even bother to put the information about the piece that I had written, where it could be seen.

    I seriously thought I might have a heart attack. Never never again.

  • JR Says:

    PS to Karen. You sure would care if you could have donated $10 and that’s all your work sold for.

    In my case, I’m not building a reputation – have no public presence unless it’s ME in public. But there’s horrible disregard, and utter lack of courtesy surrounding these events – and, newly, a sense of entitlement.

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