Huffpost Arts
Mat Gleason Headshot

The Career Benefits of Boycotting Charity Art Auctions

Posted: Updated:

There is a tradition of auctioning original works of art donated by artists to raise money for charitable causes. There are many good causes that hold such events. No matter how good the causes, though, I have come to the conclusion that artists must stop donating to every single one of them.

Don't ever donate your art to a charity auction again. Half a century of charity art auctions have changed the way collectors buy art. These fundraisers have depressed prices of art across the board and kept artists in a subordinate position that has no career upside or benefits.

Instead of tossing away another great artwork to a good cause, join the good cause of boycotting charity art auctions. When you join this cause ...

•You stop taking revenue out of the art world
•You stop shifting art collector dollars to the bottomless pits of recurring annual Beg-A-Thons
•You don't contextualize your art as being a synonym of pretentious panhandling
•You don't announce that your art is worth low bids
•You don't risk that your work will be publicly seen getting no bids
•You don't empower strangers to devalue your artwork
•Most importantly, you stop publicly proclaiming that you give your art away

The argument against me is simple: Donations of art to charity auctions raise money for good causes and raise the profile of artists who put their art in the public eye. It is a good argument. It has worked well. This seductive sales pitch has pulled in countless millions of dollars over the past few decades.

Problem is, this argument has not lived up to its bargain. Sad news: Your profile got humiliated because the collector got such a bargain on your art. If your art was one of dozens of trinkets on a wall with a hundred other artists, your profile actually disappeared there in the crowd anyway.

I would love to hear the story of the artist whose career rocketed to success because he or she donated a work to a charity auction and this act alone tipped the first domino toward an avalanche of success coming his or her way. This narrative is always implied. I've never seen it happen.

Charity art auctions are the emptiest of promises to artists: you give us your work, you get nothing in return except a party invite to an event where you are a second class citizen. Watch as the price of what you really will let your work go for is nakedly advertised to the select group of people to whom your work is meant to be seen as rare and desirable.

Suppose you want to at least deduct a donation of your art to the charity, guess what? The law only allows an artist to deduct the cost of materials. Meanwhile a collector can buy your work for the minimum bid, have it appraised at its full retail value and donate it to some other good cause for that top dollar amount.

As for the merits of the infinite number of good causes out there, what is the value in giving up a painting that would sell for a thousand dollars retail in order to see it raise 50 Bucks for that cause? Pick one charity, donate generously and keep the collectors assuming that the price you ask at the gallery is the best and only price they are going to get.

Someone has to be the bad guy here, so you can blame me for inspiring you to donate cash to a good cause and to keep your art career safe from the bargain bin. Print this out and send it with your regrets to anyone asking you to devalue your work in the name of glamorizing their efforts on behalf of yet another worthy cause in a world of infinite and endless good causes. Tell them the art stops here.

Around the Web

Art News Blog: Charity Art Auctions

Dealing with Charity Art Auctions - Absolutearts

Art sales: Bono breaks the mould - Telegraph

Shelter launches 52 Weeks charity art auction | Society | guardian ...