How to Give a Shit No 6

SUBJECT: Corporate Art Opportunity

​Dear Idiot Artist,

Would you like to put a whole bunch of your art in a corporate lobby for the people who work there to admire/ignore for a full year? If so, we’ll pay you 1,000 to 2,000 dollars per year–that’s PER YEAR–depending on the size of the lobby. But wait, it gets better. We’ll offer you an exclusive contract making it impossible for you to remove your work for actual exhibition opportunities that matter. Not only that, but if someone in the corporate building takes a shine to your art, they can buy it, but only if they’re really really patient because we certainly can’t let them have it before the year-long contract has expired. Just think what you can do with all that money while we tie up your inventory for a full year! Please respond in the affirmative if you know what’s good for you, you big brainless dumb-dumb!


Goofball McSwindleton
Corporate Art Hanger Guy

Most artists I know receive a lot of “opportunities” in their inbox. Sometimes these “opportunities” are so poorly considered that it’s hard to tell whether the person writing is just inexperienced or, for some reason, thinks I am. The artist often wonders, does the person contacting me intentionally seek to con me or is he just kind of…well…not bright?

This was the question I asked myself recently when I received an email with the subject line  “Corporate Gallery Opportunity” from a company I really want to name, but am not sure of my legal risks, so I’ll decline this time. The exchange that resulted has me leaning to the worst possibility, that many art-related entities take advantage of artists deliberately, and that it’s easy to do for the simple reason that if one artist declines, there are plenty more who will accept out of fear and desperation.

Although I really did receive an email with the above terms from someone scamming artists, I paraphrased it sarcastically and gave the writer a new name. The ridiculous exchange that actually resulted, which I have not changed (except for names), is the focus of this edition of How To Give A Shit.

SUBJECT: Re: Corporate Art Opportunity

Dear Goof,

I frequently receive emails with various kinds of offers, and since receiving your email last night, I’ve tried to think about the most appropriate way to respond for my own benefit, that of other artists, and yours as well. I decided directness is the best way to go, if for no other reason than that you’re not likely to get it anywhere else unsolicited.

First, this model is bad for artists. I’m not sure what percentage of your yearly income $2,000 would comprise, but let’s just say, for the sake of argument, it’s one or two percent. Why would I tie up my own work for a negligible fraction of your income, and not have it on hand for studio visits or exhibitions?

Second, not only is it bad for artists, but, perhaps unintentionally on your part, it’s insulting.  Doing what I do has taken a lifetime to perfect and to understand in a deep way. Like many other artists, I’m very good at it. I thought, at first, when I saw the $2,000 compensation, that you might have been missing a decimal point. That’s how much it would take for me to say yes to something like this, and even then, I would be selective about what would be on view and how it would be displayed.

Third, I’m not sure what the businesses in the corporate building do, but I’m 99% sure they can afford to buy art. Whatever they’re paying for the service you provide, you are, however unintentionally, assisting in creating a culture that devalues art and undermining artists’ ability to sell art frequently enough to matter to their quality of life.

Fourth, although you say that the work will be listed for sale it’s highly unlikely sales will occur. That’s because, for the most part, without a trained person to educate potential collectors about the artist, the work, its connection to art history, and its cultural relevance, the work will seem merely to serve the space as decoration, and the prices will seem outlandish to those outside of an informed art crowd. But what’s worse is that with the work being tied up for a year, the rare buyer will be deterred if he or she has to wait the better part of a year to get it. Having it for sale seems like bait to convince the more desperate artists there’s a chance they could get something out of the proposition, which they almost certainly won’t. Fifth, only artists pumping out kitsch, or young artists who are good  but inexperienced, will say yes to this proposition. That might not be alarming to you, but if that’s what you want, I suggest better research.  With the terms of this agreement, reaching out to mid-career artists whose work has content will not yield results and will be an inefficient use of your time. I’m sure there are anecdotes of artists selling work and corporate employees gaining new insight into art, but unfortunately, the exception is unlikely to become rule with a model like this, and until or unless it does, I personally feel that you, as business owner working with artists, are obligated to offer better terms. Remember that the artists are risking more than anyone else in the equation, and live, day to day, in less-than-ideal circumstances.

If you can find a more equitable solution, then I wish you well, and hope the best for the artists involved.

Good luck and take care,


SUBJECT: Re: Re: Corporate Art Opportunity

Thank you for your very well thought out and in depth response.. I found your work durning [sic] my research and I really like it… so I reached out to you with the opportunity I have to offer.. I understand your arguments. I still have a job to do and will continue my search. I look forward to seeing more of your work now that I have found you!

Best!! [sic]

SUBJECT: Re: Re: Re: Corporate Art Opportunity

​Dear Goof,

You might like my work but only in a superficial way. You’re not taking the time to understand or value it. I can only assume the same goes for the other artists you’re reaching out to. That you have a “job to do” is not a response to the points I raised, and the main point that I raised is that what you’re offering is not an “opportunity” at all, but a trap. Artists face a systemic social undervaluation of what we do. You’re acting as a part of that problem. You need to understand that fundamentally. You’re acting irresponsibly and unethically. I’m actually curious whether your clients even know what the artists are getting paid to have their inventories tied up for a year, and how those clients might compare that financial situation to their own. Would any of your clients be willing to agree to that kind of a deal? Would you be willing? Why should I be willing then? Do you think I’m less deserving or that what I do is less important than what you do? Or are you the sort for whom compartmentalizing your ethical standards is an easy way to disassociate from the negative implications of what you do? Confront the truth of what you are doing: providing a cheap and easy way to decorate offices at the expense of artists.  Consider why it might be so important to me to take the time to respond in this way. It must be that this sort of thing is something I’ve faced dozens of times.  It must be that your idea isn’t such a new one. If you want to contribute in a positive way, visit studios, buy art, educate new collectors, connect artists to those collectors, take the time to understand the work in more depth, feel something, bring what you’ve learned to the corporate world and improve the culture of that world by imbuing it with the capacity for abstract thought found in the work itself.  If you can find creative solutions toward those ends, then you’ll really be doing something valuable and new. It won’t be easy. Things worth doing rarely are.

[too annoyed by Goofball McSwindleton’s insipid response to include formal closing]

SUBJECT: Re: Re: Re: Re: Corporate Art Opportunity

I’m not here to argue man,  you don’t know me and at thus [sic] point I don’t want to know you.

A simple ” I’m not interested ” would have been fine.

Take care.

For longer than I should admit publicly, I sat with Goofball McSwindleton’s final response, formulating my own response, deleting it, formulating another, and deleting. If Goof was right about one thing, it might be in his implication that I had wasted my time. From the look of it, he never took even a second to consider any of my points. And if I wasted my time genuinely trying to persuade him to think differently about his business model because it’s bad for artists, then it might also be true here, that I am wasting my time turning the exchange into this month’s edition of How To Give a Shit. The truth is, I ask myself the same question every month. Who died and crowned me King Shit Giver and why should anyone care about what I care about? Why should I take time out of my own studio practice to do this each month? But then the question extends to my art too, and just about everything I’ve committed to. And if it’s the case that everything I commit to out of conviction and feeling is a waste of my time, then it’s justified that Goofball McSwindleton put what would be a waste–my effort–to use use. Profit.

This is how I convince myself that the attempt to change his mind and to share it with you, the reader, is at least as good as anything else I could be doing with my time. If the contest is between authenticity and exploitation, then, perhaps, however absurd, it’s justified not only for me to put up at least a basic fight, but that, actually, it’s a duty if I care about art’s role in society.

Days later, I lock myself out of my studio at about 8:30pm. I call a 24-hour locksmith. A shifty looking red-headed boy of about 23, with something of a sleazy French accent, named Bob, and reeking of Hugo Boss shows up with toolboxes his own size. Something about him makes me feel that he probably takes side-jobs for an organized crime boss breaking into his enemies houses to steal documents.

He breaks me in by using a “bump key.”  The technique involves putting a key in the keyhole and “bumping” it with the handle of a screwdriver.  I ask him if there’s any risk of breaking the lock that way.  He says it’s not possible.  A couple more whacks and quick key-turns, he gets me inside.  When I get inside, I grab the key I left on my desk and immediately try it.  It doesn’t work.  I do the older-bigger-guy eyebrow lift at Bob.

​“It’s the wrong key!” He insists. He repeats this several times.

“Bob, it’s the only key I have for the door.  It’s the right key.”


​We agree to disagree and I pay him 60 bucks and send him away.

I try to call the company but they seem to keep getting disconnected between sessions of insisting that they’re not responsible for any damage.  I look them up on Better Business Bureau, and discover they’re not certified and have an F.

The next morning, I call a different locksmith, who very kindly and quickly fixes the problem and gives me new keys for $70.

Leaving the key on the desk cost me $130.

I suppose you can’t win every fight, but I wonder if I win any.  I reflect on the novel “The Trial” by Franz Kafka and compare it recent experiences.

“Like a dog,” I think to myself. “Like a dog.”

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