Stop it MOAR!

2 min read

Deviation Actions

socar's avatar
By socar
Deviant Art is at it again, this time in cahoots with Neil Gaiman:…

At first, I thought this was a charitable effort, with Blackberry as its corporate sponsor.  Under that supposition, I disapproved, and expressed my disapproval, but very mildly.  Now, watch me disapprove rather more forcefully (but still quite politely, because I'm repressed, that way):

The Keep Moving Project is NOT a charity, with Blackberry as its corporate sponsor. It's an advertising campaign for Blackberry, from which Neil Gaiman expects to make a small profit, which he will donate to an unspecified cause. So...problems:

1) Contributors don't know what they'd be contributing TO, beyond Blackberry's continued success.  Does Neil Gaiman's idea of a worthy cause coincide with yours?  Who knows?  (There may be somewhere online where one might discover the intended beneficiary, but I couldn't find it.  It all seems a bit airy-fairy, to me.  I am happy to donate my work and my time to legitimate, registered charities, when I can afford it, but this is not an appropriate way to solicit donations.  It's...well, awfully tacky, isn't it?)

2) Publicity for artists involved might be rather limited, as Blackberry is not obliged to credit them in all instances where their art might appear. It's highly unlikely artists would get NO credit, but their work--their free work--could certainly be used in manners far beyond the scope of its original intent.

3) This is basically your standard-issue "ha, ha; fight for the chance to work for free, lowly nobodies!" competition. It's exploitative and demeaning.  If Neil Gaiman would like to collaborate with artists, he should ask politely.  And he should not expect anything of the artists that he is not demanding of himself.  Sometimes, creative people band together to create something they're passionate about, with no certainty of profit:  artists and writers collaborating on comic book submissions are a good example of this.  But we usually do these sorts of things with our friends or trusted colleagues--people we know, people we respect, people with whom we share a mutual trust.  Not random people on the Internet, who compete for the privilege.

Let's not encourage it, and encourage everybody else not to encourage it! (That is to say...let's discourage it!)

Neil, DA, you are DOIN IT RONG!
© 2013 - 2021 socar
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Toradh's avatar
And there I thought it would be a nice idea, until I read this post and was warned and the winners might not get any credit for their hard work and can be lucky it that's the only problem. Thank you for the warning. Honestly.
socar's avatar
To be fair, as I said, it's highly unlikely the winners wouldn't get ANY credit. That's being very much overblown. I am almost positive the winners would get very clear credit, on the calendar itself, and on the website being put together for it. However, there's a possibility their work would appear in other Blackberry-related advertising material (ads for the contest, mostly, but they COULD use it just about anywhere), without credit. But as long as they don't use your image for something far beyond the scope of the contest (which they technically could, but probably wouldn't), that's not a big deal. I mean, when you see an ad banner in the iPhone's app store, just for example, it has someone's art on it. The banner doesn't say whose. But if you buy the game, or go to the game's website, you can find out who the artist is, in most cases. That is not abnormal, or bad. A problem would ONLY arise if your art was used to advertise something unrelated to the contest, so there'd be no easy way to find out where it came from, or who you are.

The meat of the problem is exploitation of primarily young, inexperienced artists in the interests of advertising for a massive corporation. Blackberry is the primary beneficiary of this contest; the participants (even the winners) get very marginal benefits--a small amount of exposure, and no compensation. They don't get to "work with" Neil Gaiman, in the sense that an artist would usually work with a collaborator in a project. This competition is being touted as a chance to be part of a project with one's hero, create with him, et cetera, but the winners don't REALLY get to do that. Mr. Gaiman (or Blackberry?) just picks a set of winners from a pool of already-completed work. :-( I can tell you, I've collaborated with a lot of artists and writers, in my day, and that's not the way it works.

This is more akin to a job where the client only wants to deal with the artist's agent, in terms of personal interaction: client contacts agent > agent passes details to artist > artist provides sketches > agent forwards sketches > client picks a sketch > artist completes work, without ever having spoken to the client. And even with the artist and client never directly interacting, the job progression is more interactive than this competition, as the client does, at some point, approve a sketch.

Oh, and there's one more step, when it's a job: artist gets paid. Only, that's missing, here. ;-)

This WOULD have been a nice idea, if Mr. Gaiman had just come to his fans, and said "Hey, let's make something wonderful together," without attaching a corporate beneficiary to it. Or if Blackberry were making an investment in the arts, by covering the cost of hiring young, up-and-coming illustrators to work with Mr. Gaiman. But that's not what's going on, so the nice idea has been spoiled; what a shame.
Toradh's avatar
True enough. It wouldn't even actually be a rip-off if people were simply told all these conditions, and if artists are willing to "work for free", then fine. It's always those conditions in the margins which you only read when it's too late, isn't it?
socar's avatar
Well, not exactly FINE...artists working for free on commercial projects carries its own set of problems. And taking advantage of people who don't understand the issues with that sort of thing is never ethical. But promising something that isn't really being offered, in this case, the chance to work with Mr. Gaiman in any meaningful sense, just makes it worse.

If Blackberry wasn't involved, and this was a true collaboration, rather than a thinly-veiled ad campaign, offering no compensation would, indeed, be fine. There IS a place for art for art's sake, and that place is far away from corporate interests. :-)
Toradh's avatar
But agreeing to work for free is a conscious decision, so it's the artist's own fault so to speak. Except if they're not aware of it ;):
timtoe's avatar
Well said, and I'm glad there's someone else saying it.

I've voiced my concern on Twitter, and received a few responses from him, but they weren't satisfying. If this is all in fun, as he states, then why does it have to have a corporate host? I'm not saying that he is exploiting the trust of his fandom, but I do hope he understands that it would be very irresponsible and destructive to misguide people for his own short term financial gain.
socar's avatar
Yeah, that's the thing, isn't it? And, really, how much IS he creating something with his fans? It looks like he has written some stories which include a few fan suggestions, and then he's going to pick 12 already-completed contest entries as winners. It doesn't seem like there's any significant or personal interaction or idea-sharing, at all. And then there's the corporate sponsor, which turns out not to be a sponsor, but the prime beneficiary of the whole campaign.

What Mr. Gaiman describes, with all this talk about fun, collaboration, and creating together, is not even remotely what's happening...the disconnect is massive.

Of course, it's really hard to admit you've made a pig's ear of a nice idea, and in front of a huge audience, to boot. Sometimes, it's hard to admit it even to admit it to oneself. Maybe, even if he never owns up to the mistake, he'll at least avoid repeating it.
timtoe's avatar
I have to assume money and contracts have crossed hands between him and BlackBerry. So, maybe we will never see him admit anything, because he legally can't.

And I'll be crass, because other people are avoiding it: this whole thing is absolutely masturbatory. From the contest lingo: "If a picture is worth a thousand words..." but Gaiman's really only offering up 600 words and expecting a lot of pictures for that. So, I agree with you on the collaboration being a sham.

All of this makes me wonder if he really doesn't remember what it's like to be in the position of the starving artist who needs a springboard in order to become something or even just to make an income from their work.
socar's avatar
Yeah, that thought crossed my mind, the possibility that he CAN'T admit his error.

It probably is hard to remember poverty, when you're worth millions, unless you were so poor it affected your health in a permanent and obtrusive way. But it seems odd to be so oblivious you can't even imagine other people's positions.

Anyone can have a blind spot; the point at which it becomes obnoxious is when repeated attempts to call attention to it are met with resistance or disbelief.
PeteMohrbacher's avatar
The basic idea behind this is pretty simple. Blackberry wants creative people to associate their brand with celebrities like Neil Gaiman. They paid DA and Neil Gaiman a bunch of money in an attempt to make this happen. They don't give a shit about this calendar or the artwork that's being submitted for it.

Nothing nefarious, or particularly insensitive is going on. But nothing really positive is going on either. It's a pretty weak event being held by uncreative and boring people.

The idea that people are working for free is kinda silly because the money in this event is being spent to get them to participate. Blackberry not chipping in a few extra bucks for prizes was sort of a dumb move on their part if they wanted to get some eyeballs on their stupid thing.

I suppose that if someone really liked the idea of Neil Gaiman browsing past their collage about the month of March while his assistant keeps him up to date on his travel schedule, I think they should do this.
socar's avatar
The intent does not have to be nefarious or malign for the overall effect to be negative. It doesn't matter WHY people are being expected to donate work to a matters THAT it is happening. The more this sort of thing happens, the more people accept it as OK, and the more it undermines all artists, including professionals.

It is one more drop in a very large bucket of mediocrity and needless exploitation.
PeteMohrbacher's avatar
I would say that you posting your work on DA counts as donating your art to a corporation. You've given them the right to reproduce your work without credit or pay. They make a profit off of the traffic you drive to their site. The only distinction here is that you have real, tangible benefits to participating in DA, while this contest has little to no benefit.

Some people beg for free art and try to undermine our industry. I've gotten dozens of them. But trying to decry a corporation for running a DA contest with crappy prizes doesn't seem to fit that category. It's also just a bit too close to the sorts of arrangements that we have with profitable online community sites for me to be angry about it.
socar's avatar
Sorry, no; posting work on art sites is not working for free, or comparable to contests of this nature. For one thing, posting on art sites has a much greater chance, in almost all cases, for bringing in work, than entering a contest. Exposure via an art site also has a much greater lifespan. And participation in art sites offers a chance at GENUINE interaction with the art community.

The distinction that art sites offer tangible benefits is actually very important, in other words.

Contests with worthless prizes, not just this one, have become so prevalent that they are creating real problems, leading artists to believe it's absolutely fine for their work to be exploited like this, and, by their cumulative effect, hurting everyone's business. They are part of a larger problem.
PeteMohrbacher's avatar
Saying that it's exploitation because it has a bad return on investment is ludicrous. I didn't become an artist because I wanted to get paid every time I touched a pencil to paper. I don't work for free, but I am very clear about when I'm working and when I'm making art for fun. Just because someone would have to pay you in order to enter this contest doesn't mean that it's work for everyone. Hundreds of people will enter this contest because it is fun, and trying to say that they are taking food out of your mouth is not fair. Contests having bad prizes do not make them exploitative. If anything, having no prizes makes this one of the least exploitative DA contests yet because people aren't being tricked into making artwork for pay they'll probably never receive.

I've submitted entries to Spectrum 3 times now and I've been included twice. I've never gotten any work or pay as a result of it. I've paid a couple hundred dollars in entry fees and the book is currently available for sale at a profit. I have seen no "tangible" benefit to submitting my art to Spectrum. By you're definition I'm being exploited. In fact, one could say that I'm being exploited worse than if I were to join this DA contest, which is free to join and whose proceeds being donated to charity. Why does Spectrum get a pass? Just because you might personally want to be a part of something shouldn't take precedence over whether or not it's hurting the business of art.

We understand instinctively that submitting to Spectrum doesn't hurt the business of art. If anything, it's been a critical part of our industry for the past 20 years. But I don't think we could define it as providing tangible benefits to everyone who enters it.
socar's avatar
Oh, one thing I missed--I also thought the proceeds of this contest were being donated to charity, when I first saw it. If this contest were being put on by a registered charity, not Blackberry, again, I'd be fine with it. But I did some research, and it seems like all references to charity can be traced back to a vague statement from Mr. Gaiman, where he mentions a print version of the project, which may or may not end up being made (I've seen conflicting accounts of whether there is to be such a version, or not), and whose profits (if it's made at all) will go to some unspecified charity. No registered charity is associated with this contest. We don't know which charity, if any, will benefit from the print version, in the event that it comes to fruition. I am hesitant to recommend anybody donate anything to charity, without knowing what charity it is, for obvious reasons.

The primary beneficiary of this contest is not charity: it's Blackberry. This is a for-profit ad campaign.
socar's avatar
(The one problem I had with the contest, when I thought it was a charitable event with Blackberry attached, was that Blackberry was involved at all--I couldn't figure out quite what the connection was, there, or why the benefits should be split between charity and some corporation. And it also seemed weird that no charity was named. But the reason no charity was named is that none is, in fact, attached, as it turns out....)
socar's avatar
That's not quite what I said, though. I said that it's exploitation because a) everyone profits except the artists; b) it perpetuates the harmful ideas that visual art is not valuable, and that small amounts of non-targeted exposure are; and c) it has misleading terms (ie, artists are offered the chance to "work with" Neil Gaiman, when in fact, interaction with the man would be limited or nonexistent--but from the comments I've seen, a lot of people do not realise this). This contest is touted as a chance to collaborate with one's idol, for the pure joy of creation--and I would be absolutely fine with it, if that were the case: if nobody was making a profit, and everyone was doing it for fun. But it isn't. The artists are the ONLY ones expected to accept "fun" and "exposure" as their sole rewards. Everyone's time and effort is considered valuable, except the artists'.

If nobody profited, there would be absolutely no return on one's investment, beyond the enjoyment of it, and that would be fine. I wouldn't find it exploitative in the least. So it's misleading to boil the problem down to a matter of simple investment vs. return...which is why I didn't.

I don't think ANYBODY became an artist with the intention of getting paid every time they put pen to paper--I do a lot of artistic things for fun, myself. But the fact that this contest might be enough fun that it doesn't feel like work to you doesn't mean it shouldn't be classified as work. The intended usage of your art, the intended transfer of rights, the potential profit to others, et cetera, tend to place it within that realm. I mean, I do a lot of assignments that don't feel like work, because I am interested in the subject matter...but that doesn't mean I waive my fees.

The problem, as I have explained in detail already, is not that THIS contest in particular is taking food out of professional artists' mouths. It's that this contest, and the massive numbers of others like it, are part of a trend of exploitation and devaluation, which has been hurting the illustration industry for some time, now. Individually, they are not a threat. Collectively, and combined with other harmful practices, they are. Because they are only a small part of a larger problem, it's easy to miss the issues with them, entirely, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

And it isn't simply the lack of prizes making this contest exploitative, as I have already explained. It's that the artists are the ONLY ones not reaping financial benefits. Why should everybody involved turn a profit, including DA (they didn't put up that ad for free!), except those who probably need it the most? That seems backwards, to me. Why isn't Blackberry making an investment in the arts, maybe offering some scholarships; targeted marketing; a call for portfolio submissions, then a REAL chance to work with Mr. Gaiman, for those selected--anything at all? There are so many ways this could've been done with less exploitation involved, or none at all--so why THIS way?

Even if this contest did have cash prizes, I wouldn't consider it an optimal way of harvesting art for commercial use: Blackberry would still be getting a massive pool of art to pick from, and only having to pay for the pieces they liked. But it's not LESS exploitative because nothing is offered to anyone, including the winners.

I've made another post, where I explained why Spectrum is not the same as this contest, and not exploitative--so, no, by my logic, you are not being exploited. The main reason Spectrum "gets a pass" is that it's MUCH more likely to get your artwork in front of people who can help you, and end up more than paying for itself. Being in Spectrum is more like placing an ad for yourself in an industry-targeted publication than entering a competition. Both times I entered Spectrum, it was worth it, in terms of work. I'm sorry to hear you did not have the same experience, but people frequently do--more frequently than they would by submitting to something like this. I'm not sure exactly what percentage of those included in Spectrum sees a boost to their clientele because of it, so I can only submit that I've heard more anecdotal evidence of inclusion being worth it than not. (They are charging hundreds of dollars in entry fees now, though? Wow; when I was in Spectrum, it was only $20! Times are changing....)
PeteMohrbacher's avatar
Ending your posts on sarcasm is not an effective way to drive home a point. It only serves to be irritating.

"The intended usage of your art, the intended transfer of rights, the potential profit to others"

This is the only point I'm arguing. Under purely legal definitions, this contest doesn't differ from other contests/annuals/online communities. Though I can understand why this contest gives you an icky feeling. It's because it's being run by idiots who don't understand artists. I'm arguing that they are stupid idiots and you are arguing that they are malicious idiots.

There is a lot of gray area between a respected annual and a stuntman begging your for free concept art so he can pitch some movie that won't be made(you can replace stuntman with male model and you've got 2 real life examples in one). How dark or light that gray area is can be tough to measure, but I'm always one to look on the bright side. The way you've written your post and the replies reads to me like this particular contest registers as PITCH BLACK SHROUDED IN DARKNESS. It's not a contest I think most people should enter, but it's not as bad as you make it sound. Really. I think it personally just rubs you the wrong way. The only company making money on this contest is DA, who you seem to support.

The reason I argue in its favor has to do with the many artists I've met that don't do constructive things like post on DA or enter spectrum because of doomsayers telling them that they are being exploited. I met a talented man by the name of Raimundo a couple years ago at Dragoncon that I haven't been able to track down since because he was too afraid of posting anywhere online. My friend Leslie had to do a hard career reboot after she ended up between jobs for the first time in several years without any internet presence. Shying too far away from profiteering corporations can be a costly mistake. Balancing the amount you give away versus the amount you hold back is a tricky issue with few hard and fast rules. Trying to define what is or is not "working for free" for someone else is unfair because it means different things depending on experience, industry and personal preference.
socar's avatar
What sarcasm? I was absolutely serious, with that--I had no idea they'd raised the fees for Spectrum that much! I haven't submitted in around 10 years. I guess it makes sense, though, that they would raise the rates to be more in line with other annuals, like Society of Illustrators, which has always been much more expensive.

I'm really not suggesting that they're malicious idiots at all--I honestly do not think they are. I don't even think they're idiots, just not particularly well-informed. My belief is that silly contests like this have become SO common that people have begun to think there's no problem with them. I thought I had got that across, but this IS a pretty bare-bones post; I guess I didn't.

It isn't quite true that DA is the only company making money on this contest. It's actually an ad campaign for Blackberry, and the idea of advertising IS to increase profits and brand awareness. But I'm definitely not saying it's "pitch black surrounded by darkness," just that it's part of a larger problem, and not the world's best or most ethical idea. And I would certainly not discourage people from submitting to Spectrum, posting to DA, or doing other constructive things, just because problem areas exist. (I actually have a second DA journal post about things that are often compared to working for free, but aren't, which addresses a lot of those issues, and gives some examples of things you could do without compensation, and without having to worry about being exploited.)

I wouldn't say I'm trying to define "working for free," so much as I'm trying to help other artists, mostly beginners, see that there are problems out there, and start thinking for themselves about how to avoid those problems. I'd have wanted to hear these things, when starting out, so I am posting about them now.
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Caelicorn's avatar
I wasn't that upset about it, not having looked very far into it. But I was linked to your page via someone on FB and you are exactly right in all of your points...Shame on Neil...He used to be my hero.
0SupermarineSpitfire's avatar
Considering it's Blackberry (or The Corporation Formerly Known As RIM), I would say not so much 'continued success', more 'getting some credibility again'. :hmm:

The only conclusion I can draw from shenanigans like this is that dA is ignoring professional artists and appealing to the amateurs and those who don't know any better. :hmm:
fuckshit's avatar
I can't ever agree with corporations bypassing the formality of paying a designer to work for them and using students hungry for many glimmer of experience instead. Deviant art is well known for being populated By teenagers and even 10 to 13 year olds

Really they just shouldn't be doing anything like this. They aren't aiga where their user base is professionals that will demand money for their designs, they're taking advantage of all of their users when they do this. They known full well what these corporations are trying to pull.
Merlkir's avatar
Socar Man, the angry defendor of the internetz! ;)
Sophia-Christina's avatar
Good Points!!! I never get involved in corporate contests because of those issues and more.
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