7 August 2020  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

I am a photographer just starting out. My parents keep offering my services to family members and church members for free. Before I had my degree and started my own business I did do some free work for family, friends and fellow church members. I’m good at what I do, it takes hours of time, and a lot of skill. My dad says I’m being selfish and that the Lord calls us to give of our talents freely. But I need to make a living! And I don’t think he understands how much I’ve invested in this. Should I agree to work for free?

Signed, Not an Amateur Anymore

Dear Not an Amateur:

No, you should not work for free. So often artists are not given credit for their talents and their work. It is unfair of your family to offer your services like that.

There is a story  about a woman who approached Pablo Picasso in a restaurant and asked him to draw something for her on a napkin. He drew it right then and there. Then he said, “That will be $10,000.” She protested saying, “But that only took you 30 seconds!” “No,” he replied, “that has taken me 40 years.”

The story about Picasso is probably apocryphal, but it illustrates a point: whether or not your work takes a lot of your time (and having several artist friends herself, Aunt Sevvy knows that it does) there’s a reason they want you to do it: is because you know what you are doing. You have an artistic eye, education, experience, and the equipment to capture an event or a portrait as others cannot. That ability wasn’t free for you to acquire, in either effort or money, and it needn’t be given for free to others. 

You can try explaining this to your parents, but if they don’t agree, you may simply may have to set a hard boundary. Because the more free work you do, the more you will be expected to do, and the more evidence they will have that your work isn’t work paying for. 

One of the hardest things about freelancing is to stand up for yourself and demand what you are worth. And that is not always an easy thing to do. 

Aunt Sevvy

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