What’s Your Role in the Giving Economy?

Where do you belong in this economy?

If you found yourself shrugging your shoulders and thinking, “Good question” then read on.

I know may of you reading today are involved in creating handmade products.

Call it art, call it craft, call it whatever…I don’t care what you call it. I care about how you’re leveraging these new shifts in marketing to spread your message and wealth.

My friend Sarah Lacy asked a fantastic question on her blog the other day, and after reading it I knew I had to bring it to the Reclaiming Wealth discussions.

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

“How do artists participate in the gift economy?

Everyone talks a lot about the gift economy – you’ve gotta give, give, give to your clients and audience. It’s about appreciating and respecting that they’re paying attention, listening and giving you their time.

I don’t doubt this wisdom in the slightest. I agree that it’s key.

Where I get stuck is how I, as a visual artist, can participate. Do I give work away for free? (I did for a while.) Do I offer free downloads of my work? (I tried that too, and my people didn’t really take to it.)

So I’m opening this up to discussion: how do visual artists (and other creatives who make things that aren’t educational or “useful”) participate in the gift economy? How do we give back to our people, our fans, our collectors? How do we do really cool things for others?”

(If you don’t know Sarah, then you need to. And your walls are always going to be ugly until you own her work. Trust me.)

It’s true that the major circulation of goods and services taking place online are due to the small business attached to it giving something out there in exchange for permission, trust, attention, loyalty, etc.

But if someone who’s income is generated from the exchange of tangible physical things starts giving away the work, even if it’s in digital format, that person risks a severe misconception in the true value of the high end work.

I faced this years ago, as the seeds of the giving economy were being planted online. How does someone making $2k+ Japanese inspired chests give away things in exchange for attention of buyers? There just was no conceivable element of success with it.

I’m sure that’s you too. You’re designing and making things that require your time, skills, and expertise to produce. So, backing off from that to do less profitable work in exchange for online attention isn’t exactly a formula that scales. Or is it?

What if you started shifting your focus away from the physical and began exploring the giving away of you?

Let’s be honest here. Anyone looking to make a serious living in art or craft understands that people aren’t buying their work on a fundamental level.

No, people are buying into the maker. They’re buying into you. Seriously.

So, what experiences are they hoping to have with that work? What emotional benefits are they seeing in their mind and feeling in their hearts as they’re deciding to make that purchase? What is it about you that attracts them as a client or customer?

I would like you to sit for a moment with those questions above. Just see what images those bring to mind. Then, scroll down to the comments and answer the following questions:

What if you began participating in the giving economy by giving people the experience of yourself and the real mission behind your work? What would that look like for you?

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  1. I got some really great feedback on that post & I think it comes back to what Tara writes about in the Art of Earning – people are really looking for meaning. And there are tons of ways to provide meaning and connection without actually giving away the store.

    You can give people hope, laughter, happiness, love, all sorts of emotions, that will just enhance the feelings people attach to your art/craft. It will be different for each artist & crafter, but I’ve been thinking a lot about why my people buy my art and how I can give them more of the Why without giving away my art.

    And I think you should have fun with it too – you don’t need to over think it. It can be simple but meaningful.

    Just my two cents! Thanks so much for sharing this question – I can’t wait to see what others have to say!

    • Adam King says:

      You most certainly don’t need to over think it. In fact, that’s usually what keeps it from happening.

      I’m seeing that it actually goes beyond meaning. It’s about identity. What core mission is fueling your work? What deep purpose is guiding you to choose the medium, subject, and palate for each painting? What internal truth moves your hand with every brush stroke?

      Let people in to that area, and then they’ll be participating in the giving economy in the best way for you. And vice-versa.

  2. Ashley Inzer says:

    ooooh this is good. It’s always good here on reclaiming wealth! Can you tell you are consistently meeting me right where I am on my soul’s journey at the moment?? I am actually going to have to go back to what I wrote on the comment about your friend Steve’s election project. I am one of a bagillion graphic designers. And actually, I don’t even care so much about graphic design on it’s own. I care about what happens in the process of me doing my work for the people I do it for. I care about what they take away from that experience. I care that they walk away with a free gift of feeling more empowered with their life and work than they did before they met me. As a designer I am simply not going to give away free work. That is not serving the betterment of the people on the planet. What serves this planet is making plenty of money and creating an environment where alignment, meaning and authentic connection can happen.

  3. StudioJewel says:

    i agree wholeheartedly. people buy from me, because they feel like they know me…or want to know me. they love my stories. they love my “why?” This is the true heart of who i am, and what i do!

  4. Melissa says:

    Wow, great article!! You really have me thinking and I think I really need to do a lot more thinking to get my business under way. I need a real mission and believe in it. Thanks for the deep thoughts!

  5. Need to brainstorm with Tara when she gets home about this, as well ~ how much do clients really want to know about how I develop a skirt? How can I perpetually maintain the idea that I want each lady that buys from me to feel pretty? That they will NEVER feel prettier than wearing a Rosie’s Whimsy skirt :-)

    Hmmmm…. you have me thinking!

  6. Megan says:

    I dropped off artwork at a local gallery the other day and the owner told me that people can’t stop talking about my drawings. They think they’re ‘magical’. I try to give away as much magic as I can these days (because the world is full of it but so few people see it) but I also try to make them laugh. As my mother put it, she had me to have something to laugh at and I do my best not to disappoint. My stories (both for the art and for my life) resound with irony, wonder, British humor, and several blonde moments. I’m always amazed by how well my ‘I forget that I’m weird’ posts about being a quirky artist resonate with people. I think we all get pulled into the idea that our lives are ‘normal’ but that’s so far from the truth.

  7. Janet says:

    My first time here and I’m thankful that this site exists! I heard your original interview with Tara from which this site sprang so cool to see how it’s conceived and grown. There’s definitely a need for this type of rhetoric online.

    Reading through this made me think of an artist who used you tube to help brand herself as an artist and created experiences to help people buy into her as the maker. Haven’t caught up with her work in years. I first found her over 3 years ago back when I was in my “pastlife” and still in the broken/breaking old economy.

    Anyway, her channel is called Val’s Art Diary I believe and she made some crazy awesome videos recording her art process and fast forwarding it in 5min digestible youtube videos and showing her quirky/artsy personality. She had a cool intro to unify every video and made it into her own mini art show episode+live artist’s vision on every piece.. explaining the concept and the creation from start to finish. The paintings always sold after every video! And she made a full time career of it. She’s actually my first inspiration/glimpse into this new life way before I’d heard the term lifestyle design or Tim Ferriss wrote that stupid book.

    As for my own mission, I keep reading things that reiterate what I KNOW I need to do.. or that I’m already biased is the path I’d like to choose for myself. My real mission is in helping the poor by leveraging technology and my love for writing. Truth is stranger than fiction, and I’d like to be the voice for the voiceless. It might seem cliche, but that’s where my thoughts are going..