Crowdsourcing Art

Armand Cabrera

Crowdsourcing is one of the biggest problems facing the art industry right now. It exploits the bottom end of the labor pool, and puts pressure on the top end into lowering prices to compete with the rise of free and low paid labor. It is an example of the lottery/ game show mentality of employers nowadays. What I mean by that is instead of having a large pool of  professional labor that employers pay to do work for them, they have abrogated their responsibility and knowledge of craft to the mob. Companies now spend as little as possible on development of products and advertising. Crowdsourcing development is a lottery where chance rules success, not quality.

[Instead of paying for book covers, graphic design, interior art, storyboards or any other use of art, companies now hold contests that offer exposure or experience as compensation. Some even go as far as to charge the artists for entering these contests instead of paying for services rendered.]

 There are two ways to lower risk; the first is to be very good at what you do. This is difficult and requires long hours acquiring the necessary skills to accomplish whatever goal you have. You have to understand the industry you plan on entering from a development point of view not just as a consumer. You have to understand the components for development. You have to decide on where your entry into this market will be. And if you are an honest person you have to fund it. All of this takes time and money.
The other way is a gambling approach where you take very little time and effort for each idea and spread them like fertilizer in a particular market hoping something will catch the public’s eye. Crowdsourcing is everywhere in art, the gallery system, online comics, advertising and graphic design, cover and interior illustration just about anything you can think of that uses some form of art has someone or some company out there trying to get it for free or below a living wage.
Someone decides they have an idea and then with no experience or understanding they look for free labor through crowdsourcing to execute their idea. It is trial and error at the expense and time of the people working with them. Most of these endeavors fail mid development leaving the artists with nothing to show for their work. This approach gives you garbage of no lasting value geared towards whatever is trending through the society. To minimize a company’s or entrepreneurs’ outflow of cash, these entities offer exposure or experience instead of living wages for professional work.  The problem is there is no useful experience or worthwhile exposure for making crap. I don’t need to burn my hand on the stove to know that I wouldn’t enjoy the experience and when put in the wrong place people die from exposure. Garbage is not made the same way quality is made.
When you are starting out as an artist it is important to value what you do, there are no shortcuts to success. To make a living from art an artist must have ability and a business sense about them or they will be out of business quickly. Undercutting industry standards of living wages through crowdsourcing and unfair working conditions just insures its eventual collapse.

6 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Art

  1. Seems to be the way much of the world is going now. Every day, I see another "contest" asking for art submissions for a magazine, a political campaign, a brochure, etc. These are not non-profit organizations…they're for profit clients asking for freebies. I doubt they work for free. I wish artists would just say "No" and make these clients pay for their work.

  2. Armand, I'm not too familiar with what you're referring to. Do you mean the crowd-sourced design websites, like 99 Design or DesignCrowd, or do you mean the competitions in art magazines, or are you talking about crowd funding sites like Kickstarter? Could you give some examples?

  3. Jim,

    Yeah, all of those and more. A lot of companies now hold contests for design work and other art and in my opinion it hurts the industry. Of course their are always exceptions that actually can benefit an artist but in general it lowers fees or removes them all together. Its companies or individuals using the internet to reach global audiences asking for artwork where the compensation is exposure or experience.

    Kick-starter type systems are opt in reward based projects and I think are a good use for smaller funding opportunities.

    I would like to see data on the success of the projects that make funding goals and then fail in production leaving investors with nothing compared to traditional funding of Venture Capitol money. It seems there is more due diligence on the part of VC money because the investor pool is smaller and the risks greater.

  4. I'm a little late to the discussion here but feel the need to throw in my two cents worth. I have worked many years as a freelance architectural illustrator, first with pen and ink and paint, then digitally. In addition, I have a degree in business administration and many years of experience in the business field. I have been through this experience personally and have had this discussion numerous times with various people over the years. The thing that always strikes me is the huge sense of entitlement that a majority of these people have just because they've been doing their particular kind of design for a long period of time. They seem to think that fact alone gives them the right to be paid more for what they produce. My point to them is that what gives their work "value" to an employer or customer is its uniqueness – that no one else can provide it. If some young artist or designer can do the same thing they're doing, and will agree to do it more cheaply, than a business would be crazy to pay more – they are, after all, a BUSINESS and are trying to make a profit. That's not bad, it's not taking advantage of anyone – it's just the market system at work. If, on the other hand, these older artists/designers are using their years of experience to produce something unique and valuable, that can only be produced by someone who has put in their time, then they should and WILL be compensated for it. I think a lot of this comes from many "artist's" perception that they are somehow above the free enterprise, supply and demand marketplace. That may be true if they are only producing art for art's sake i.e. for their own enjoyment and sense of producing something of beauty. Luckily for a lot of artists, this often, but not always, comes with the added advantage that someone is willing to pay money to own it, which allows the artist to spend even more time "creating." But as soon as that artist starts producing something with the express intent of selling it to someone – of producing something because it has economic value – it becomes something else, a kind of product. That's not to say that many of these "products" aren't ART (in the big sense of the word) – they fortunately are, but that's not what their value is based on. It's based on the economic need it's fulfilling.

  5. I completely agree that these art contests are aimed at the businesses getting something for free or cheaply. If they can find people to participate in the process and aren't harmed economically by doing it that way, more power to them. The example I ask artist's about is this – if a new paint manufacturer is willing to give you free samples of their paints in an attempt to get you to use their products in the long run, wouldn't you accept the free paint? Most artists, if they are being honest, would say yes. Are you betraying your old paint supplier? No, not at all. You've paid for the paint you've bought from them in the past and you don't owe them any debt beyond that. They (your old supplier) are banking on the fact that their paints are better than the new paints and give you added value. If that is true, you continue to support them and they stay in business. If not, they either adapt or go away. Again, neither a good or bad thing, just the nature of enterprise. If an experienced artist doesn't like that a company is sponsoring a design contest, they should do two things – one, don't participate; and two, go show that business your work, demonstrate your value to them, and explain why they should hire you. If what you're saying to them is true, then the good, well-run businesses will benefit from listening and using your services. Alternatively, if you're thoughts and feelings about contests are valid, the supposedly "bad" businesses will suffer from using them and lose money, the ultimate disincentive to change their ways. If they don't suffer, then – at least for them – the contests weren't a bad idea. I think artists have two choices – either become an active participant in the business process and accept that competition is constant, tough, and often unfair for most of us or go away, get another job to support yourself and your artistic endeavors and create art for its (and your) own sake, not for it's economic value.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.