On Art and Generosity

I have long said that one of the best things about the SCA is the generosity of the artists. People in general, but it’s most notable when it comes to art.

This generosity is amazing. It really is. Mind blowing at times. Your friends, your chosen family, your kingdom, people you may or may not know put time, effort, money, and heart into creating works of beauty that we treasure. Pieces of art that we show off in our homes, on our bodies, in our everyday lives. Works that tell stories of great deeds, hard work, or even just special memories that can be as simple as a good day in the park with friends.

But it comes with a downside, and I think it’s not one that is spoken enough about. There’s an unspoken, or rarely spoken about, status quo for artists that indicates you should give gifts, you should be wiling to share your art, and as for getting compensation for it… well… that’s not necessarily a thing. You should do the art because you love it, and that should be enough. Additionally, saying no may not be something that artists feel they can do, because the requestor may take it poorly (if they even do take that answer) or because they feel that not taking it will hurt them in the long run.

Now, this doesn’t extend to things like trades. When both parties are making something the other will use, and each thinks they got a good deal? That’s something else. Also, if this doesn’t apply to you – and you’re able to churn out art regularly without having to worry about the emotional cost? Awesome! Carry on.


(I’ll also be the first one to say that I’ve been guilty of this – I’ve requested art of people and then didn’t properly acknowledge the person making it or try to reciprocate in some ways. I’ve been trying to learn from my mistakes and get better, and it’s a process. I’d like to think I’ve improved on my past mistakes, but I also know that I have a long way to go.)

(I’m also pretty sure I have some gifts/prizes that are buried in my workroom and unfinished.)

So what am I talking about? And why now? Well, much of it comes from having spent the last 12+ months following a lot of creative people in the mundane world, and some talking with SCA artisans. I think that much of the discussion that’s happened in the one sphere can carry over to the other. One thing that seems to be often discussed is that artistic endeavors are not properly valued by and large. And I do mean valued in a monetary sense. There’s a perception that it’s not as valuable because artists have other jobs, this is a hobby, or simply that some work is perceived as women’s work and therefore have less monetary value. (And no, I won’t be hearing arguments against that last one.)

What I’m talking about here is the culture of expecting art, or taking it for granted. Expecting that you’ll get certain art/scrolls/clothing/etc because of your status, or something that you’ve done. That artists have the time and ability to do the work that they are asked to do, without some form of compensation. And the idea that they’re going to be making art no matter what their personal limitations or problems may be does a disservice to everyone, and it’s nothing but harmful in the long run. for many of us, there’s an emotional (or at least psychological) element to creating art, and when that’s forced, it’s brutal and can be really hard to balance out. It eventually reaches a point of burnout, where it doesn’t make us happy, and it’s just a slog. (And eventually, tied into this, let’s talk the strangeness that can be the mindset for one who would like to become a Laurel and getting their work out there.)

Artists are humans, not machines. They have lives and jobs, and when not getting paid for that art, it may fall lower down on the list of priorities. This is fine. this is normal. This needs to be understood. Also, as we continue to take art for granted, artists will be less inclined to make more of it, because why continue to do work for someone that doesn’t appreciate it?

Over the years, I’ve heard stories about nearly killing oneself over clothing commissions to get no feedback/thanks/assistance, of people doing commissions because the person who requested it just couldn’t take no for an answer and then gets really pushy the longer it goes on, of getting asked to do things like largesse or commissions but not being offered anything in return and having it held against them when it’s not possible because of time/cost/etc.

So how do we handle this? Well, I think we need to start by talking about this. We need to have a very serious discussion that addresses the role of the artist and how they work. Artists need to feel comfortable with saying ‘no’, and people need to accept that as a final answer. When art is given or received, it should be appreciated and the maker needs to be asked what they’d like – is just word enough? Do they want art or something, or just favors to cash in later. We’re adults, and while we may not be good at our words, that doesn’t mean we can’t be better. At least we can always work on it.

This post is brought to you by years of hearing artists talk about how much time/effort/energy they’ve poured into projects only to get nothing as a thank you, or half a comment somewhere. And how utterly frustrating it is. I mention above having spent awhile listening/reading/etc non-SCA people talk about taking their work for granted, or undervalued. I think that all of us need to step back and contemplate how we interact with or function as artists, and see how we can help our fellows to enjoy making art, instead of dreading it.

For now, if you’re an artist – do something selfish, just for you. If you’re a commissioner/lover of art – buy something premade from someone who does good work and don’t question the price of it (unless you think it’s too low – then talk to the artist!). Buy it and show it off.

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