The Unfettered Joy of Sharing your Art

Our vigorously capitalist society has trouble with the nuances of creative production. Broadly speaking the overriding theme of our modern cultural narrative is that you should never do anything for free but if you can get something for free should. Anyone doing otherwise is a sucker.

All of the hobbyists I know who are doing creative production are told constantly that we should be selling our work, going into business, monetizing all the hard work we do making pretty, novel, and interesting things. It is meant to be a compliment, I’m sure. “That’s so good you should sell it.”

We’re so steeped in our system of monetary exchange that we sometimes forget that there are other things of value besides dollars. Often, the money one would accrue selling something has far less value than what might be found in giving it away for free.

Some time ago I made some dragons for a theatre production. It was something I did as a volunteer to support my community. I then posted the pattens here on MAL for the world to use as they might. Again something I did to support a broader community. Something I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to do.

I’ve been treated to a couple theater companies using the design in thier versions of the same production, which has been an indescribable delight. Most recently I was sent a video of an absurd and incredible piece of haloween creation:

The thrill of someone taking my design to this sort of rediculous extreme, delighting and terrifying neighborhood children with it, and going on to share their process has value well beyond some $10 price tag that I might have slapped on the pattern. Moreover, that price tag might have been enough of a barrier to give them pause and prevent them from building this marvel. Or at the very least keep me from being a small part of it.

This is not to say that artists should give their work away for free, or that people should not pay for the work of professional artists. What I’m trying to say is there is room in the world for more than one model. Sometimes the price of our labor is the dollars we need to feed and clothe ourselves, sometimes it is the look kid’s face as they walk by a terrifying animatronic dragon. Sometimes it’s both. Sometimes it’s neither.

Consider the next time you suggest to a skilled artist that they should sell their work that the true value of it may not be something they can put on a price tag. Maybe let them decide, and instead compliment the work on its merits rather than its monetizeability.

featured image screenshot from youtube video by Nelson Everhart


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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