Free! Art in the Alley – June 1st Friday
For a while I have been thinking about giving away my art. Not because the art I make is not valuable, because it is. I want to give it away because I cannot put a price on it. I was thinking about the “open source” model of software development. Many of the software applications I use every day are developed to be given away or used for free: Firefox, Gmail, Open Office.
Musicians, too, are exploring this new model of distribution. Issa (formerly Jane Sieberry) uses a ““self-determined pricing” system,Radiohead experimented with the pay-what-you-will economy, and NIN has been giving away his stuff for a while now (his new album is the best non-instrumental NIN since The Downward Spiral.)
Why not open source art, then? Giving away my art raises many questions. Does the art I sell become less valuable than the art I give away, merely because I put a price tag on it? Does the art I have previously sold become less valuable? There are more questions, but those are two that came up for me, and I would argue that the answer to both questions is no.
I’ve written before about how to price artwork, but I wanted to bypass all of it and get straight to the good stuff: bringing people joy and beauty. So I load up the car and head downtown to set up in the invisibleAlley. When I arrived, I had 4 framed photos, 7 framed collage, 5 mixed media pieces from the 404 NOT HERE & REBOOT_ series, and a rack of about 30 matted artworks of various kinds that were enclosed in Mylar bags.
As with previous times I’ve done art in the alley,I hadn’t done any formal advertising, no email blast, no SMS blast, nothing really. Just word of mouth and, this time, a little bit of Tweeting and Facebooking.
I started with the #freeartmissoula hashtag, but quickly forgot what hashtag I’d decided upon, and switched back and forth between that and #missoulafreeart. @nShontz even stopped by for a visit with his wife & son. (His son had a blast racing his toy car through the alley, smashing into the artwork. Very fun.) Oh, right, then Twitter goes down for scheduled maintenance.
The evening itself was so much fun. People’s responses were as varied as the people themselves. The biggest initial reaction was one of surprise and wanting to know WHY? The biggest answer is that I want people to enjoy my art. I also want to make room for the new art that I am creating, and instead of destroying or throwing away the old stuff, I thought I’d give it to folks who could appreciate it.
Some folks said that they felt guilty taking artwork from me, but took it anyway. Some wanted to donate cash. Some wanted to trade for other artwork, while others offered to buy me dinner, or breakfast, or a beer. One woman in particular couldn’t believe I was giving it away for free and walked right past the alley. Then, about 30 minutes later, she stopped back, chose a piece and ran off. She turned back long enough to say, “I’ve never stolen anything before!” She seemed pretty pleased, being able to “steal” something without having to face any unpleasant consequences.
After people’s surprise wore off, they were genuinely enjoying themselves. People loved the art and had a good time deciding what they would take home with them. I made some new friends and had a blast watching everyone smiling and laughing in the cool of an early summer evening in the best gallery in town.
The evening was about gifting, about appropriating public space, about making art accessible to everyone, exciting and affordable. I won’t give away all of my artwork, but I’m thinking about matting up some of the other stuff I have lying around and doing another free art show in July.