The notion that an artwork by an artist cannot have a specific monetary value is far too often used against artists in many parts of the world. Conveniently, the idea that one cannot put a price tag on an artwork is employed to justify what cannot be termed as anything else but plain and blatantly shameless exploitation. The word ‘exploitation’ itself reflects an abuse of power but nonetheless concedes the return of some minor value, an unfair wage perhaps, or payment in the form of a meal and shelter for subsistence to keep the cycle of exploitation going until the exploited subject ceases from being. In the case of the exploitation of the artist who is asked to give their work for free, there is not even an implied exchange of value or a return of any kind. It is simply an artist making a work and handing it over to the one who demands it (for free). That said, in hyperbolic terms, this sort of exploitation of the artist is in fact worse than slavery in certain ways (and the distinction from slavery is that there is no punishment for not ‘acting accordingly’ or for revolting and refusing to labor as if one were a possession bought and sold in the market like a machine or a commodity).
What I mean to say is that even in slavery, the slave gets limited food and shelter so that they can continue being a slave to a master. In asking an artist to produce a work for free, there is not even that much ‘consideration’, nor is there an exchange of value, and if there is, it is a mere transference of value embodied by the object of art transferred from the artist to one who asks for a work without any sort of return to the artist except for appreciation. Note here that it is appreciation that is free, while the artwork and the labor of the artist are not.
In Kashmir particularly, many emerging artists in the contemporary art scene are often asked, if not downright pestered by people to make them a portrait, draw them a picture, give them a painting or paint them a mural, all for free! Sometimes, they are offered some sort of a ‘promotion’ by offering their labor for free, from making illustrations and playing at a concert to offering their photographic and filmographic works for free to be featured somewhere online or in print. This is not only insulting to the artist and their practice, but to the process of art-making as well. It reflects the ignorance of such people who ask for such things and in doing so undermine the labor, craft, dedication and training the artist has had to go through to produce such work.
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Amjad Majid is an art critic, teacher and IT professional. He is the founder of Inverse Journal; a journal of contemporary culture. He is currently concluding an art criticism book entitled "Waswo X. Waswo: The Outsider Within."