Opinion

Considering the creative buyout

The designers behind two of the world's most iconic advertising images were paid peanuts for their efforts. Marketing guru Seth Godin ponders whether it's ok to sell the rights to your work and argues there is a difference between art and illustration

Is it ever okay to sell the rights to your work?

Milton Glaser was paid about $2,000 in expenses to create the I Love NY logo, one of the iconic marketing images of its decade. He later said, “I was very happy to do it. I was very happy about the consequences.”

Carolyn Davidson originally made $35 for designing the swoosh that Nike made famous.

Neither was paid enough, certainly.

It’s tempting to reject the idea of a creative buyout on principle. After all, you’re getting paid a relatively small amount for work that could end up in front of a billion people.

But there’s a difference between art and illustration. Between commotion and expression.

Illustration has a client. The client may have an idea or a specific need. And the client is taking on all of the risk, doing all of the promotion. Of course, if it doesn’t become a home run, the client isn’t entitled to a refund.

The artist, on the other hand, works for the muse. She’s responsible for the execution, sure, but also the content, the market fit and the magic of what happens next. The artist is free to wander, and free to own the consequences.

Illustration is a bit like copywriting, corporate music, industrial photography- anything where you’re doing your work for commerce, for a client, under direction.

As Milton Glaser has shown, being associated with dramatic success as an illustrator opens the door to even more success. It can fuel your art and create opportunities for higher leverage in your illustration work as well.

Illustration can pay some bills at the same time it chips away at your obscurity problem.

When you’re willing to do art, do art. Do it wholeheartedly. But the world needs illustrators too, and if it’s a useful tool for you, embrace it.

Seth Godin is the author of 17 books and creator of Permission Marketing. This post first appeared on his blog.

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