Artists and creatives are consistently under-paid, or expected to work for free. Though I have written previously about how offering free work can be a good strategy for starting up in a new field, it’s a pattern worth investigating.


It’s not that people aren’t willing to pay. And it’s not that art is undervalued. It’s just that art is seen in a different light than most other professions.

Have you ever seen a house painter do work for free just to get his name out there?

I know I haven’t. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t either. Painting sucks. It’s not enjoyable, and everyone knows that, including the customer.

That’s the difference between art and everything else. People create art because they love it. It’s a creative process that allows you to express emotions, thoughts, feelings, or whatever you want to express. It’s fun. It’s personal.

It can be a “trade”, much like house painting is a “trade”. The service is traded for money. House painting, however, is always a trade, while people do art for fun all the time.

So maybe this is why: everyone knows art isn’t necessarily a trade, thus it’s harder to pay somebody for something they would be doing for free anyways.

Let’s flip this scenario around.

Maybe it’s not that customers view it as harder to pay artists. Maybe it’s that artists know in their hearts they would do it for free, so they create a mental block that keeps them from confidently demanding a payment.

Think about something you really enjoy doing that produces value. For me, it’s photography. While I have gotten paid to do photography, I’ve done mostly free work because I enjoy it. Some of which I bet I could have gotten paid for if I pushed for it, but I didn’t, because I enjoyed it and didn’t feel like someone should pay me to have fun even though it was providing value for them and I could have used the money.

I’ve also done house painting, but never for free. Every time I approach a house-painting customer, my mindset is totally different from when I’m doing photography. There’s a rock solid mutual understanding that if I’m going to put in the work to complete a quality job, I’m going to get paid well for it.

I wonder what would happen if I approached a photography customer the same way. If I went in with certainty that my work was highly valued and is unquestionably worth trading for money.

Artists can, will, and do work for free. But art and creativity is unanimously valuable. Thus, people are willing to pay for it.

All you have to do is ask. Own it.