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'Free Art Friday': The point is?

James George paints watercolors, self portrait
James George paints watercolors, self portrait
James George

Artist Jessica Kallista and I have been having a discussion (or debate) about the value of artists giving their art away. There is even a Facebook page called “Free Art Friday” at So, what is the big idea here? Last year at about this time, Johnathen Duran wrote an article for PolicyMic titled “Free Art Friday: A Global Art Movement Everyone Can Appreciate.” Duran describes it as a random act by artists who deposit their art with a note that says that the art is for free to someone who claims it. He summarizes the five-step process.

James George and Jessica Kallista, debating 'Free Art Friday'
James George, Jessica Kallista

“Here's how it works:

1. Create a piece of art. Drawing, painting, poetry, etc.
2. Write on an attached tag "free art to take home and enjoy" or something as lovely. Adding artist name, email, or web address is optional.
3. Place somewhere in public indoors or out. Easy or hard, it's up to you.
4. Some make a game out of it and leave clues on Twitter, Facebook, geocache, or make it a scavenger hunt.
5. It’s NOT an exclusive group or movement, ANYBODY can join in. THIS MEANS YOU.”

According to Duran, the activity isn’t new and may have been born in England. What matters now is that some artists in Northern Virginia and the DC Metro have engaged in the practice of giving art away on Fridays. When I first learned about it I told some of my artist colleagues that I object. That initiated some conversations via social media, and now it is high time to make the debate a formal one, and here it is. First, there is this note from Jessica.

“Hi James,

I really love discussing Free Art Friday with you. I've been thinking a lot about our conversations about Free Art Friday. I really would love to know more of your thoughts about it. I'm grateful for your input and for putting me in a position to truly explain myself and my intentions. I just added this section to a new website I'm putting together:

"As part of the worldwide phenomenon that is Free Art Friday, Jessica has placed at least one piece of free art in Northern Virginia for any person to find and keep nearly every Friday since August 2013. She views this project as a way to disrupt the isolation of those living in Suburbia by creating situations of surprise and instigating dialogue about ownership, creativity, and connectivity. Jessica's activity with Free Art Friday has also evolved into an ongoing, documented performance. You can view past Free Art Friday pieces and look for clues to find pieces yourself by following Jessica on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram."

I've really been viewing the ongoing project as very akin to performance art. I'm particularly interested in the transitory and ephemeral nature of my Free Art Friday project, as well as the need for audience participation. The audience, whether finders, admirers, or critics, help to form the project and have a great influence on its evolution. Hope we can have more chats about it all.


Jessica Kallista is an accomplished artist who is known for pushing the envelope in creativity. One reference that she provided was by a performance artist who wears a bull’s mask and chains himself to various places whereby the act is recorded to see how people respond to seeing him in this state. In other instances, he chains up some friends in public places where passersby responses are recorded for future sharing. Artifacts of that nature are in the genre of performance art. Speaking with my daughter who is a performance artist about the subject, she reminded me that artists sometimes have amnesia and forget that performance art has been around a very long time. In recent history, it may be traced to 1910, but if you think about it, street performances go to ancient history. Maybe even that bull drawing on the wall of a cave was an art giveaway.

Before I bury the lead, let’s classify some art. A painting, print, photograph, or sculpture are artistic products or outcomes that are created for sharing either by looking at them or purchasing them. A performance may be a one time occurrence or repeated, and may or may not be documented for prosterity and admission may or may not be free.

In art, all things are possible, and making a living doing it may not be.

Why should I care about artists giving away their work? One one hand, I know artists in various associations who care very much about how art is priced. A printmaker who has devoted a lifetime to learning methods and techniques, and mastering artistic creation may not appreciate another printmaker selling their work on the cheap in the same venue because that undermines the perceived value. The same may be said about a painter or a potter for that matter. Price and value issues are important to artists who are trying to earn an income through the sale of their creative products.

Mary George provided Allan Kaprow as a pioneering reference for performance art in addition to her own.

"How to Make it Happen"

Artists who have the perspective that protecting and supporting the value of art through appreciating its price may not take kindly to art giveaways.

More from Jessica…

"True. And so also cultural education. I'm thinking a great deal about commodity fetishism. I'm considering the role of money and how the exchange of money for goods and services has the potential to devalue human relationships. What is the balance regarding art that has a monetary value (which I understand is important to many artists) and art that has a different sort of value, for example, a value that enables forming and nurturing human relationships. Art that has a purpose of breaking the isolation of our current culture--with no regard for market trade. This is the concept that has been in my mind since starting the project last August. And if you had known me last year when all of this started I think you might be shocked (but that's an entirely different and very elaborate story having to do with genealogy, agoraphobia, the return of long lost relatives, and more)."

Alight, we have teed up the topic, now let's discuss.

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