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The “Exposure” Spiel: How Galleries and Art Prizes Undervalue Visual Artists.

Visual artists receive little financial return for their efforts. It is the new norm that the promise of “exposure” replaces payment in many cases. Unfortunately, art galleries, museums and art prizes are contributing to this culture.


I, like many visual artists, have found myself in a predicament. With the pressures of competition, visibility, and financial return; I am dancing between creativity and entrepreneurship.

Visual artists; fueled by an unwavering need to share their artwork and connect, face a unique dilemma in a world where artistic passion often eclipses financial returns. Artists are natural givers; we give our time and skill so that the rest of the world can enjoy art for free. Unfortunately, by doing this voluntarily, we are contributing to a society where exposure is the new currency.

male photographer hanging up negatives

This generosity, however, has introduced a phenomenon, with artists increasingly paying for the privilege of showcasing their work. Galleries, once revered platforms for artistic expression, now demand entry and lease fees, burdening artists with additional responsibilities such as advertising and gallery management.

The commercialization of art prizes further complicates matters. Artists pay entry fees with no guarantee of inclusion in the exhibition with a large commission of artwork sales going to the gallery if they are shown. This raises questions about fair compensation for artists and the true purpose of these institutions.

65% of Australian visual artists do not have gallery representation.

While the performing arts charge for access to live performances, the visual arts often rely on free access, supported by community taxes. This dynamic reflects the challenge of balancing the economic realities of art with the need for widespread accessibility.

For artists with gallery representation, the burden falls heavily on individual artists, challenging the traditional model where commercial galleries played a more supportive role.

full-shot-people-clay-sculpting

Shockingly, some galleries now demand fees, even expecting artists to lease exhibition space, while piling on the responsibilities of advertising and gallery management. I recently came across a gallery that charges artists $750 per week for space, banking on artists to drive traffic to their doors. Additionally, they charge extra if the artist doesn’t wish to man their own exhibition.

Amidst this, The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) emerges as a compelling voice. NAVA champions policies advocating for fair payment and work standards for visual artists, including policies regarding payment from galleries to artists and viewer fees. This organization plays a pivotal role in reshaping prospects for Australian artists, striving to establish equitable conditions for their invaluable contributions.
crowd of people viewing art at an exhibition opening
View of gallery in Wein. Photo: Yeon Hee

Visual artists embody a deep commitment to creativity and artistic vision. However, as they navigate the evolving art world, the tension between artistic passion and commercial demands makes the preservation of core values a difficult feat.

In a world where exposure often takes precedence over financial returns, the visual artist grapples with sustaining their passion while facing the harsh realities of the business side of art. It’s a journey that requires delicate balance, resilience, and a revaluation of how the art world values its creators.

Rosie Bird

Rosie is an artist and creative innovator from Brisbane Australia. With two fine arts degrees and years of experience in the contemporary art world, she has acquired a wealth of industry knowledge. She founded open-folio as a way of creating a vibrant online community of contemporary artists and helping them reach their fullest potential.

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